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c. 1999 Religion News Service

Appeals court overturns Ala. decision limiting student prayer

(RNS) An appeals court has overturned a judge’s ruling that restricted the right of students to pray and lead prayers in the public schools of DeKalb County, Ala.

In a 3-0 ruling, the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered U.S. District Judge Ira DeMent to rewrite a portion of his 1997 ruling.”Permitting students to speak religiously signifies neither state approval or disapproval of that speech,”the appeals court said.

But the Atlanta-based court did not throw out DeMent’s restrictions against school officials leading religious activities, including prayers.

Pamela Sumners, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, said an appeal is likely. The ACLU represented Michael Chandler, a former vice principal at the county’s Valley Head High School.

Sumners said much of the ACLU’s position was vindicated by the ruling, the Associated Press reported.”Schoolteachers still can’t grab students and ask them to pray in a class, which is what they were doing in DeKalb County,”she said.

But Attorney General Bill Pryor believes the decision was a sweeping triumph for the state.”This is a victory for all the schoolchildren in the public schools of our state, that they do not surrender their constitutional rights when they attend a public school in Alabama,”Pryor said.”They do not surrender their religious faith and their religious beliefs.” In his suit, Chandler asked the court to end teacher-led devotionals, pre-game prayers at sports events and distribution of Bibles at school by Gideons International.

Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, a public interest law firm founded by religious broadcaster Pat Robertson, worked with Pryor on the case.”This decision is a major victory for student religious speech in public schools,”Sekulow said in a statement.”It sends a clear message to the ACLU and its allies that censorship of religious speech will not be tolerated in our courts.”

Christian fish symbol unconstitutional, judge rules

(RNS) A federal judge has ruled that the use of a Christian fish symbol on the city seal of Republic, Mo., is unconstitutional.

Jean Webb, a former resident of the city, sued Republic in 1998 claiming that the symbol _ known as an ichthus _ created an uncomfortable environment for non-Christians and violated the separation of church and state.”While the purpose of placing the fish symbol on the city seal may not have been to endorse Christianity, the effect of the seal is to do so,”ruled U.S. District Judge Russell Clark.

Clark released his decision on Friday (July 9), the Associated Press reported.

The city has 30 days to appeal before it must start replacing the seal that is emblazoned on city signs, stationery and vehicles. Mayor Doug Boatright said city officials will seek citizen input when they determine whether to challenge the decision.

Webb, a practitioner of Wicca, a neopagan religious movement, moved to the southwestern Missouri city in 1995 and wrote an opinion piece in the local newspaper in opposition to the seal. After she and her children were harassed, she filed suit and moved to Springfield.

The fish, an early Christian symbol, has appeared on Republic’s seal since 1990. The designer, Republic resident Marilyn Schexsnayder, created it for a public competition and has said she thought it represented all religions.

Colombian archbishop threatens guerrillas with excommunication

(RNS) Archbishop Isaias Duarte of Cali, Colombia, has threatened a group of leftist guerrillas with excommunication unless they release 36 worshippers kidnapped during a church service six weeks ago.”I’m telling them officially that if they (the rebels) don’t release their kidnap victims by July 30, they will be excommunicated,”Duarte said Tuesday (July 13).

The rebels from the National Liberation Army (ELN), the country’s second largest rebel group, kidnapped more than 150 people during a Mass in a Cali church at the end of May. Although the guerrillas released many of the hostages last month, they are still holding the 36 and are thought to be demanding ransoms for their release.

The ELN was established in the 1960s as a pro-Cuban force and attracted a number of radical Roman Catholic priests and followers of Christian Marxism to its ranks, Reuters reported. The group, which has an estimated force of about 5,000, was led by a Spanish former priest, Manuel Perez, until his death last year.

According to Reuters, Nicholas Rodriguez, the current leader, recently slipped out of Colombia and traveled to the Vatican to apologize to church leaders for the raid on the church. He reportedly told the officials that many of the members of the ELN are fervent Roman Catholics.

American Association of Lutheran Churches elects new leader

(RNS) The American Association of Lutheran Churches, the breakaway denomination of American Lutheran Church congregations that refused to join the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America at the time it was formed, has elected the Rev. Thomas Aadland as presiding pastor of the church body.

Aadland, of Duluth, Minn., succeeds the Rev. Duane Lindberg, of Waterloo, Iowa, who was one of the founders of the AALC and has led the denomination for 12 years.

The denomination has some 18,000 members in 90 congregations in 22 states.

In other action at its convention, delegates unanimously approved resolutions calling on Congress to override President Clinton’s veto of a bill banning controversial late-term abortion procedures and urging an end to foreign aid to countries that are persecuting Christians.

Quote of the day: the Rev. Robert Drinan

(RNS)”The sad and incomprehensible factor in the explosion of human rights around the world is the reluctance and the resistance of the United States to join fully in this moral revolution. … The resistance by the United States to accede to world law is uniquely visible and dramatic in America’s retention of the death penalty in defiance of the decisive change in all of the nations most respected by Americans.” _ The Rev. Robert Drinan of Georgetown University writing in St. Mary’s Law Journal, as quoted in the July 1 issue of Context.


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