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c. 1999 Religion News Service

Christian retailers pleased with called-off book merger

(RNS) The decision by Barnes & Noble to call off its proposed $600 million purchase of distributor Ingram Book Group is good news for Christian retailers, an industry expert said.

Christian bookstore owners had been concerned about how the planned purchase would affect their business because Ingram owns Spring Arbor Distributors, a major wholesale distributor to their stores.”The main thing this does is it clarifies what role Spring Arbor can play for our retailers,”said Bill Anderson, president of CBA, the trade group formerly known as the Christian Booksellers Association.”It lifts the veil of uncertainty.” Some Christian retailers had wondered if other stores would get preferential treatment when there were new releases or limited stock available if Barnes & Noble, which also carries Christian products, were to purchase Ingram.”Whether it was real or perceived, (that concern) can be eliminated,”said Anderson.”We’ve really encouraged our stores not to be focused on the competition but to stay focused on the consumer. This frees them up to do that.” Barnes & Noble and Ingram Book Group, who first announced the purchase proposal last November, said Wednesday (June 2) they thought their businesses might suffer during a prolonged Federal Trade Commission review. Some FTC staffers had concluded that the merger could give the world’s biggest bookstore chain an unfair competitive edge, the Associated Press reported.”The review process has been disappointing to us,”said Ingram chairman John R. Ingram.”The events of the last several days have made it clear that some staff hold an outdated view of the marketplace, making an objective analysis of the transaction impossible.” Barnes & Noble had said the acquisition would have allowed Ingram to distribute a wider selection of titles and Barnes & Noble to provide books more quickly and at a lower price. Critics, including the American Booksellers Association, thought the deal would have permitted Barnes & Noble to delay delivery of best sellers to big competitors such as Borders as well as independent stores.”This shows that David can beat Goliath sometimes,”said Oren Teicher, chief operating officer of the association of 3,400 independent bookstore companies.”When this proposed deal was first announced, virtually nobody predicted that this deal could be stopped. Small booksellers wrote letters, made phone calls, did everything to raise awareness of this issue, and against extraordinary odds, they have succeeded.”

Update: Plaintiffs to appeal Maine ban on parochial school aid

(RNS) A federal appeals court decision upholding a Maine law barring voucher payments for religious schools will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The American Center for Law and Justice, a legal advocacy group founded by religious broadcaster Pat Robertson, plans to appeal on behalf of a group of Maine parents. They had argued the law violated the Constitution by showing hostility toward religion.”It is clear that once a state decides to fund private education, it must do so with neutrality,”said Vincent P. McCarthy, Northeast regional counsel of the ACLJ, based in New Milford, Conn.”They cannot discriminate against religious schools and punish parents who hold religious beliefs. That is why we are asking the Supreme Court to consider this issue.” Currently, Maine families who live in towns without public secondary schools may send pupils to any public or nonsectarian private school _ but not religious schools _ with the state paying for at least part of the tuition. The ACLJ sued the Maine Department of Education on behalf of several families who wanted to use public tuition benefits to send their children to a Roman Catholic school.

The appeals court rejected the ACLJ’s argument.”All it means is that the cost of religious education must be borne by the parents and not the state,”wrote Chief Judge Juan R. Torruella in the ruling.

Zikmund to step down as head of Hartford Seminary

(RNS) The Rev. Barbara Brown Zikmund, who failed to win endorsement as the official candidate to head the United Church of Christ, plans to resign next year as president of Hartford Seminary.

Zikmund called the process that led to her rejection”disastrous”but said that, in any event, after a decade of leadership at the seminary, it was time to take stock of her life.

An ordained minister of the United Church of Christ and a religious historian, Zikmund, 59, had been selected by a national committee after a 10-month search as the candidate to succeed retiring President Paul M. Sherry.

She and nominees for four other top positions to lead a restructured denomination were to be presented for election to the UCC’s General Synod meeting in Providence, R.I., in July.

But in a series of closed-door votes in March in Cleveland by the boards of several key church agencies, the nominations of Zikmund and the Rev. Charlotte H. Still, a national staff member, to be executive minister of local church ministries, were rejected.

The denomination has appointed a new search committee to come up with new nominees. The election process is complicated and secretive. Even the names of the members of the search committee are not made public.”We see this as an internal matter,”said Robert Witham, a church official in the Cleveland headquarters. That the process is so secretive in a denomination that prides itself on democratic openness is ironic, Zikmund said.”There has been a lot of discussion about the best way to choose leaders,”Zikmund said.”I know this disastrous stuff in March has provoked a lot of talk.”Zikmund said she will attend the General Synod of the United Church of Christ in Providence July 1-6.”I think it is important for me to be there because things happened but this is my church and I love it,”she said.

Zikmund also said she is satisfied she has made some major contributions to the seminary during her tenure. The faculty is strong and she has introduced new educational programs, she said.”I just decided 10 years at Hartford Seminary was a good point to take stock,”she said.”I am not retiring. I am looking for a new professional opportunity.” Hartford Seminary, which has Congregational roots, is now a non-denominational institution. It dropped training students for the ministry in the 1970s to offer graduate-level and non-degree programs for clergy and lay people, conduct research and promote interfaith understanding.

Zikmund’s resignation will be effective as of June 30, 2000. She said she has some ideas about writing and teaching.

The 1.4 million-member United Church of Christ was formed in 1957 in a merger of the Congregational Christian Churches and the Evangelical and Reformed Church.

New Jersey school district to close on Muslim holidays

(RNS) In response to its rapidly growing Islamic population, a New Jersey school district will cancel classes for all students on the two holiest Muslim days beginning next year.

The Paterson school board voted last month to close its 37 schools and administrative offices in observance of the end of Ramadan, the monthlong fast in the Muslim faith, and Eid al-Adha, which marks the end of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.

The decision may make Paterson the first school district in the country to cancel school for Muslim holidays and may reflect a new level of understanding about the Muslim faith, according to some Muslim leaders.”The issue has always been how can Muslim students take off from school for their holidays without being penalized?”said Ibrahim Hooper, national communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Washington, D.C.”If schools are off for Yom Kippur, Christmas and Easter, why not Muslim holidays?” Hooper said while it would not appropriate for a school with one Muslim family to designate a holiday for everyone, schools with a significant number of Muslim students should examine the issue.

Riad Mustafa, president of the Islamic Center of Passaic County, which has between 8,000 and 10,000 members, said the policy recognizes the exploding Muslim population in northern New Jersey as more families relocate there from the Middle East and throughout the Muslim world.”Kids are proud that their religion is being respected as much as they respect the religions of others,”he said.

About 8 percent of the Paterson school district’s 24,500 students are Muslim, but some schools report that up to 50 percent of students are absent on Muslim holidays. Muslim parents appealed to the school board several months ago to institute a schoolwide holiday because they didn’t want their children missing instruction.

School officials said the only concern raised about the holidays was whether the school year would have to be extended. But administrators say because the school calendar was developed with the holidays in mind, schools will end at the same time next year.

Next year the holiday Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan, will be Jan. 7 and Eid al-Adha, which commemorates the prophet Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son at God’s command, will be March 17. The dates will vary from year to year according to the Muslim calendar.

Westminster Abbey gets a Roman Catholic organist

(RNS) For what some believe is the first time since the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, Westminster Abbey, the church in the heart of London where the English monarch is traditionally crowned, has a Roman Catholic as its organist and master of the choristers.

He is 38-year-old James O’Donnell, who for the past 11 years has been organist at the Roman Catholic Westminster Cathedral just down the road.

The appointment of O’Donnell brings to an end a yearlong fight between abbey officials over the post.

O’Donnell’s predecessor, Martin Neary, was summarily dismissed in April 1998 by the dean and chapter of Westminster Abbey for alleged financial irregularities.

The abbey is a”royal peculiar,”which means it comes under the immediate jurisdiction of the queen, and Neary appealed to her against his dismissal. His appeal was rejected in December by Lord Jauncey of Tullichettle, one of the law lords who constitute the House of Lords as Britain’s supreme court.

In the past the abbey organist was required to be a communicant member of the Church of England or another church of the Anglican Communion.

But this time officials said only that a candidate needed to be”a communicant member of a Christian church and at home with Anglican worship.” Cardinal Basil Hume, archbishop of Westminster, said he is disappointed at losing the services of O’Donnell in his cathedral.

Westminster Abbey was re-founded and restored by King Edward the Confessor in the mid-11th century just before the Norman Conquest. It was a Benedictine monastery until the dissolution of the monasteries by King Henry VIII in the 16th century.

Quote of the day: Tad Hardin, Ouachita Baptist University

(RNS)”It wasn’t so much that I could see, but I heard his voice and I saw his silhouette and I knew that if he was there things were going be handled smoothly and orderly, and he wasn’t going to leave until everyone was out of there. He didn’t even know where his own children were and was right there helping total strangers. He was really being the father for all of us.” Tad Hardin, a member of the choir of Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Ark., speaking of choir director Charles Fuller guiding victims out of the burning wreckage of American Airlines Flight 1420 in Little Rock, Ark., on June 1, as quoted by the Associated Press.


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