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c. 1999 Religion News Service

Boy Scouts will appeal court decision overturning their ban on gays

(RNS) The Boy Scouts of America says it will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold its ban on homosexuals, claiming its constitutional rights of free association and speech include the right to bar gays.”We’ll argue the First Amendment,”attorney George Davidson said in the wake of a ruling Wednesday (Aug. 4) by New Jersey’s Supreme Court finding the Scouts’ ban on gays violated the state’s anti-bias laws.

The ruling was the first time a state high court has invalidated the Scouts’ ban. The group also bars atheists and agnostics from membership and leadership positions.

The American Center for Law and Justice, a conservative legal advocacy group founded by religious broadcaster Pat Robertson, said it found the New Jersey ruling”troubling.””The decision is troubling and turns the Boy Scouts’ constitutional right of freedom of association on its head,”said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the ACLJ. The group had filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case on behalf of four members of Congress.

But the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force hailed the ruling as a victory for tolerance.”Discrimination is a harmful and serious moral wrong,”said Kerry Lobel, executive director of the task force.

New Jersey is one of 11 states and the District of Columbia that bar discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The decision was a victory for James Dale, an assistant scoutmaster who was kicked out of the Scouts nine years ago when leaders found out he was gay. He sued, seeking reinstatement.

In its ruling, the court held that the Boy Scouts”is a place of public accommodation”and therefore subject to the state’s anti-bias law. It rejected the youth group’s argument that the words”morally straight”and”clean”in the Scouts’ Oath and Law”explicitly or implicitly stand for the proposition that homosexuality is immoral.”The words `morally straight’ and `clean’ do not, on their face, express anything about sexuality, much less that homosexuality, in particular, is immoral.” Dale praised the decision.”This is exactly what scouting has taught me: to believe in the system and that goodness will prevail,”he said at a news conference following the ruling.

But Davidson, the Scouts’ lawyer, said the ruling, because it conflicts with other rulings, will allow the Boy Scouts to”go to the U.S. Supreme Court and get a definitive ruling to put an end to these lawsuits.” In 1998, the California Supreme Court upheld the Scouts’ right to exclude gays, atheists and agnostics.

Hindu group says Vatican acting rashly on sainthood for Mother Teresa

(RNS) The vice president of a militant Hindu group said Thursday (Aug. 5) the Vatican is acting with undue haste in pursuing the question of whether Mother Teresa should be declared a saint.

Giriraj Kishore, of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, or World Hindu Council, said he believes the Vatican’s decision to waive the customary five-year waiting period to start the canonization process was to encourage missionary activity in India.

Kishore’s remarks come at a time of heightened tensions between Hindus and Christians which earlier this year erupted in a spate of violence, including the killing of Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons.

Mother Teresa died two years ago after a life spent caring for the poor and the outcast in her adopted home of India.

The inquiry into the nun’s holiness officially began last week in Calcutta with the gathering of testimony from witnesses to prepare a case for beatification, a step in the process toward canonization, the Associated Press reported Thursday. Beatification requires the confirmation of one miracle; sainthood requires certification of two miracles.

The Hindu Council has led a campaign against missionaries, who it argues are forcing or bribing poor Hindus to convert to Christianity.

In the Staines case, Reuters reported that the government will make public the report of a probe into the killings.”The cabinet today (Thursday) decided to furnish the Justice Wadhwa Commission report and the action taken on the report to the Speaker of the lower house of Parliament,”Information and Broadcasting Minister Pramod Mahjan said after a cabinet meeting.

Staines, 58, lived in India for 30 years and ran a home for lepers. He and his sons were burned alive as they slept in their jeep in January in an incident Indian police blame on the Hindu extremist Bajarnag Dal group. The group has denied any involvement in the crime.

House panel approves bill extending rights to unborn

(RNS) The House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on the Constitution has voted to extend the protections of federal criminal law to the unborn _ a move supporters hailed as the first of its kind at the federal level.

Under the provisions of the bill _ which has a long way to go before it can become law _ anyone who intentionally or unintentionally injures or kills a fetus while committing a federal crime would be charged with an additional federal offense.

Supporters said it would apply to an abortion that a woman agreed to have or to acts by a pregnant woman that could affect her fetus.

Eleven states currently have similar laws on the books.

The bill was drafted by the National Right to Life Committee, the nation’s largest grass-roots anti-abortion organization.”What this bill seeks to do is face up to the reality that an unborn child is not a nothing,”said Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., a longtime abortion opponent who chairs the full Judiciary Committee.

But opponents claimed the proposed law was an attempt to undermine Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that made most abortions legal, and criticized the effort to distinguish between a woman and her fetus.”Such separation is merely the first step toward eroding a woman’s right to determine the fate of her own pregnancy and to direct the course of her own health care,”the American Civil Liberties Union said in a statement.

The proposed legislation must be approved by the full Judiciary Committee and the House as well as the Senate before it can go to the White House for the president’s signature.

Charges dropped against nuns who shot intruder

(RNS) Two nuns who made headlines in Colombia when they shot an intruder in their convent have been cleared of murder charges.”The nuns acted in legitimate self-defense,”the public prosecutor’s office said in a statement.

Sisters Luz Adelia Barragan and Eva Maria Silva, admitted that on July 21 they took turns firing a .38 caliber pistol into the darkness after hearing an intruder at their El Tobo convent 80 miles northeast of Bogota.

The nuns spent two nights in jail as a result of the incident but, fed up with growing violent crime rates, many Colombians said they sympathized with the two nuns, the Associated Press reported Wednesday (Aug. 4).

Quote of the day: Bishop Christian Krause, president of the Lutheran World Federation.

(RNS)”The (Roman) Catholic Church may now be able to agree to such guest participation as in the Lord’s Supper and the Eucharist as we have been extending to them for years. This is an especially important sign for marriages and families of mixed confessions.” _ Bishop Christian Krause, president of the Lutheran World Federation, expressing what he hopes will be some changes as a result of the Lutheran and Roman Catholic churches signing a joint declaration on the doctrine of justification.


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