c. 2003 Religion News Service
Ford Foundation Admits Funding Anti-Semitism, Releases New Guidelines
(RNS) The Ford Foundation has admitted its grant money funded some anti-Semitic and anti-Israel groups, and the organization vowed to institute a series of measures to prevent future misuses of its funds.
In a Nov. 18 five-page, single-spaced letter to Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., Ford Foundation President Susan Berresford said the foundation was “disgusted” by anti-Semitic and anti-Israel sentiment at the 2001 U.N. Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, which Ford had helped finance. The foundation also said it was concerned that other Ford-funded organizations have refused to certify their opposition to violent and terrorist activities.
Berresford and Nadler met Nov. 3 after Nadler circulated a letter to his congressional colleagues urging the foundation to revisit its grant-making process. He collected 20 signature.
Nadler’s involvement, as well as a speech on the Senate floor by Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., came on the heels of a Jewish Telegraphic Agency series, “Funding Hate,” that detailed Ford’s pattern of awarding grants to organizations which then funneled the money to allegedly anti-Semitic and terrorist groups.
Berresford’s letter outlined new guidelines and measures to ensure that future Ford grant recipients do not support terror.
The JTA series said several grantees had refused to sign a U.S. government document pledging their groups do not endorse violence, terror or hatred.
Berresford said the foundation would add a similar provision to its standard grant agreement letter, which each grantee must sign in order to receive funds.
The agreement letter “will now include explicit language requiring the organization to agree that it will not promote violence or terrorism. This prohibition applies to all of the organization’s funds, not just those provided through a grant from the Ford Foundation. Organizations unwilling to agree to these terms will not receive foundation support,” Berresford wrote in her letter, the JTA reported Wednesday (Nov. 19).
Berresford also said the agreement would include a provision that grantees recognize the rights of sovereign states _ including Israel _ to exist.
In addition, Berresford announced that Ford will institute a system of audits that will require grant recipients to account for how they have used their funds, ensuring that no money has been funneled to terror groups.
The program will be instituted within weeks, Berresford said.
_ Holly Lebowitz Rossi
Religious Groups Criticize Energy Bill
WASHINGTON (RNS) A coalition of religious groups said a massive energy bill pending in Congress does not include enough provisions to protect the environment.
The Energy Policy Act of 2003 contains at least $23.5 billion in tax incentives for energy companies and alternative energy sources like wind power and ethanol. It would also provide money to upgrade the nation’s aging power grid and improve infrastructure.
Critics from both parties say the bill is loaded with subsidies for Midwestern farmers and coal producers. They also oppose a controversial liability protection for a gasoline fuel additive that has been linked to groundwater contamination.
“It favors special interests, it contains billions of dollars in wasteful subsidies and it fails to promote energy conservation,” Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, told the New York Times.
The bill, a priority for President Bush, was passed by the House on Tuesday (Nov. 18) but faces a possible filibuster by Collins and others in the Senate.
A coalition of mainline Protestant churches joined with the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life to oppose the bill because of its “unjust disparity” between provisions for traditional energy and renewable energy.
The bill “represents a perpetuation of a system that values exploration over conservation, industry protection over creation stewardship and the present over future generations,” the letter said.
Leaders said the bill should include higher fuel efficiency standards, steps to reduce carbon dioxide greenhouse gases and more environmental protections. “The energy bill fails to chart a bold path for the future and instead perpetuates the unjust and unsustainable practices of the past,” said John Hill, who monitors environmental policy for the United Methodist Church.
The joint letter was signed by representatives of the Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church (USA), National Council of Churches, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Quakers and others.
_ Kevin Eckstrom
Judge: Religious Display OK in Florida Holiday Lights Event
(RNS) A Florida judge has ruled that Broward County officials cannot exclude a church’s “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” display from a holiday lights event in a county park.
U.S. District Judge William J. Zloch of Miami said Wednesday (Nov. 19) that the county violated Calvary Chapel’s right to freedom of speech when it rejected its application to participate in the event, reported the Sun-Sentinel, a Fort Lauderdale newspaper.
Aware of church-state concerns, the judge ordered that the display by the Fort Lauderdale church be slightly modified to say “Calvary Chapel Says Jesus is the Reason for the Season.”
In a suit filed Oct. 22, the nondenominational church said it paid $15,000 to participate in the two-mile “Holiday Fantasy of Lights” but an original approval was revoked by county officials.
John W. Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute, which filed the suit on the church’s behalf, was pleased with the outcome.
“This ruling clearly sends a message that the First Amendment protects religious speech just as it protects secular speech,” Whitehead said in a statement. “Government may not, in the name of political correctness, single out the views of religious persons for discriminatory treatment.”
After the decision, County Attorney Andrew Meyers said: “We understand the judge’s ruling. We’re going to have to discuss the logistics of getting it done.”
The church’s lawyers hope the display will be ready in time for the entire event, which begins Friday and lasts through Jan. 4.
Study: College Worship Attendance Drops Sharply by Junior Year
(RNS) The proportion of college students who attend worship services drops from more than half to less than a third between freshman year and junior year, according to initial findings of a $1.9 million study at the University of California, Los Angeles.
The Spirituality in Higher Education survey found that 52 percent of students frequently attend services before entering college, but that segment dropped to 29 percent by the third year of college. Seven in 10 students said they had attended at least one service in the past year.
The findings, to be released Friday (Nov. 21), are part of a survey of 3,680 students at 46 colleges and universities. Researchers plan to expand the study to a more in-depth survey of 90,000 students on 150 campuses.
Despite a drop in worship attendance, researchers say college students are intensely interested in spiritual matters, but often find limited outlets to express or explore their spirituality on campus.
Nearly two-thirds of students said their professors do not encourage discussions of spiritual matters, while 55 percent said they were satisfied with “opportunities for religious/spiritual development” on campus.
Just over half _ 53 percent _ of students said time in the classroom had no impact on their spiritual development, even though college juniors said their desire to integrate spirituality and develop a meaningful philosophy of life had grown since they arrived on campus.
“The survey shows that students have deeply felt values and interests in spirituality and religion, but their academic work and campus programs seem to be divorced from it,” said Alexander Astin, director of UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute and co-director of the study.
The survey found that more than three-quarters of students pray or discuss religious issues with friends, and 70 percent said a person can grow spiritually without being religious. About one in five students expressed skepticism on spiritual matters, from belief in God to the creation of the universe to feeling “a sense of sacredness.”
_ Kevin Eckstrom
Beliefnet.com Wins General Excellence Award for Online Journalism
(RNS) Beliefnet.com, a Web site focused on religion and spirituality, has won the Online News Association’s award for general excellence in online journalism.
“Beliefnet has taken one of the under-covered topics in American life, one which seems even more important to explore and understand in today’s world, and developed a rich, interactive site which both breaks news and facilitates a dialogue among a diverse community of users,” the judges of the contest said in announcing the award.
The judges noted the site’s broad coverage of major world faiths and smaller faith groups as well as its coverage of the war in Iraq that related to opinions of different faith-based groups and plans of American missionaries.
Beliefnet won in the independent category for sites with more than 200,000 unique visitors per month. It competed with finalists Slate.com and Space.com.
The awards, given in partnership with the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication, were announced Nov. 15 at a conference of the association in Chicago.
_ Adelle M. Banks
Participant in Supreme Court Public School Bible Reading Case Dies
(RNS) Ed Schempp, a principal party in the 1963 Supreme Court case that declared public schools’ mandatory devotional readings from the Bible unconstitutional, died Nov. 8.
Schempp, 95, had Alzheimer’s disease and died in a Hayward, Calif., nursing home, The Washington Post reported.
His case was joined by the high court to that of the late atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair. While she gained widespread media attention, Schempp tended to be forgotten.
Schempp, a native Philadelphian and a self-taught electronics engineer, was a Unitarian. He supported his teenage son Ellery’s 1956 protest of a state statute requiring public school students to read biblical verses daily without comment. Ellery read from the Quran as an act of civil disobedience and was reprimanded, prompting his father to start legal proceedings.
Schempp objected to the Pennsylvania Legislature’s altering of a law so nonbelievers and people of other faiths did not have to read from the Bible. He said the changed statute was unfair to young dissenters and might lead to them being ostracized.
A special Philadelphia district court found in his favor. When the town of Abingdon, Pa., appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, it was joined with O’Hair’s suit.
In 1963, the high court decided 8-1 that government-backed religious activities such as compulsory devotional readings were unconstitutional.
That decision was considered an important expansion of a 1962 Supreme Court decision that found mandatory prayer in public schools to be unconstitutional.
Quote of the Day: The National Council of Churches
(RNS) “We stand in solidarity with Jewish communities in Turkey and throughout the world who feel particularly vulnerable in this climate of violence. We further stand together with Muslim communities whose faith is denigrated by terrorist groups propagating violence in the name of Islam, such as the one that claimed responsibility for this attack.”
_ The National Council of Churches in a Nov. 17 statement condemning the Nov. 15 bombing of two synagogues in Istanbul.