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c. 2003 Religion News Service

Scalia Won’t Hear Pledge of Allegiance Case

(RNS) Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has recused himself from the Supreme Court’s upcoming consideration of the constitutionality of the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Scalia did not state why he would not consider the case, but the filer of the suit regarding the pledge had requested that he do so, the Associated Press reported.

Michael Newdow, a California atheist and parent, had asked Scalia to recuse himself because of comments he made criticizing the appeals court decision that the phrase “one nation, under God” in the pledge was unconstitutional.

“I think that was an amazingly courageous and upstanding thing for him to have done,” said Newdow, who sued on behalf of his 9-year-old daughter. “He was right to do it. I didn’t expect that he would.

If the high court makes a 4-4 decision in the case, the lower court ruling would be upheld, affecting millions of schoolchildren in nine Western states.

“It makes our case more difficult,” said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, which is supporting the Elk Grove (Calif.) Unified School District in the appeal. “We’ve got to find that fifth vote, and that fifth vote is not going to be Justice Scalia.”

In remarks at a “Religious Freedom Day” event in Fredericksburg, Va., in January, Scalia said that courts have exceeded their authority in keeping religion out of public schools and the Pledge of Allegiance question should be answered by legislators instead of judges.

The other justices will hear arguments and rule in the case next year.

Emergency Meeting of Anglican Leaders Begins

(RNS) The leaders of the world’s 77 million Anglicans gathered at Lambeth Palace on Wednesday for two days of closed meetings to see if they can find a way to resolve without schism disputes over the election of a gay bishop and blessings of same-sex marriage.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, called the extraordinary meeting of the primates in August following the U.S. Episcopal Church’s affirmation of the election of the Rev. V. Gene Robinson to be bishop of New Hampshire. Robinson is openly gay.

Conservatives, led by the primate of the Anglican Church in Nigeria, Archbishop Peter Akinola, have condemned the U.S. church’s action as well as a decision earlier in the summer by the Bishop of New Westminster, in Vancouver, British Columbia, to approve a liturgy for use in blessing same-sex unions.

In the United States, conservatives, organized as the American Anglican Council, have announced that they will no longer financially support the Episcopal Church and may leave the denomination.

The U.S. conservatives want Williams to declare the Episcopal Church “out of communion” with the worldwide communion.

Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold has insisted that the church’s approval of Robinson should not be seen as an end to the debate and discussion of the issue of human sexuality but as a ratification of the action of a local diocese’s right to elect its own leaders.

The Nigerian church has already said it is not in communion with the Canadian New Westminster diocese.

The Rev. James Rosenthal, communications director of the Anglican Communion, said the closed meeting began with prayers and Bible study and then each of the 37 primates was given five minutes to make a statement. One primate, Bishop Ignacio Soliba of the Philippines did not attend.

The Rev. Jonathan Jennings, Williams’ spokesman, told reporters that the mood was “relaxed,” the Associated Press reported.

Despite the calls for action from the conservatives, however, the decentralized, non-heirarchical nature of the Anglican Communion makes its very difficult to impose discipline on dioceses and provinces that are essentially autonomous.

A statement is expected to be released by the primates on Thursday, at the end of their two days of talks.

_ David E. Anderson

Bishops Encourage Catholic Involvement IN Political Life

(RNS) Admitting their need to “heal wounds” from the sexual abuse scandal, the nation’s Catholic bishops nevertheless say they cannot abandon their encouragement of Catholics to “act on our faith in political life.”

The bishops issued “Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility,” its traditional statement during the election season, on Monday (Oct. 13). But they acknowledge they are “working to heal wounds” even as the 2004 election year approaches.

“Our community of faith and especially we, as bishops, are working to face our responsibility and take all necessary steps to overcome the hurt, damage, and loss of trust resulting from the evil of clerical sexual abuse,” they write. “While working to protect children and rebuild trust, we must not abandon the church’s important role in public life and the duty to encourage Catholics to act on our faith in political life.”

The bishops urge Catholics to focus on the “common good” rather than partisanship.

“The church cannot be a chaplain for any one party or cheerleader for any candidate,” they conclude. “Our cause is the protection of the weak and vulnerable and defense of human life and dignity, not a particular party or candidate.”

The bishops urge great Catholic involvement in politics, by running for office, contributing to campaigns or working with political parties, despite the fact that some “may feel politically homeless” because too few candidates share their moral concerns.

“As Catholics, we are not free to abandon unborn children because they are seen as unwanted or inconvenient; to turn our backs on immigrants because they lack the proper documents; to create and then destroy human lives in a quest for medical advances or profit,” they wrote. “Catholic teaching requires us to speak up for the voiceless and to act in accord with universal moral values.”

_ Adelle M. Banks

Study: Overall Giving By Church Members Increased From 2000 to 2001

(RNS) Giving by church members increased in 2001 for both internal operations and activities beyond the local church level, a new study by empty tomb has found.

Giving as a percentage of income increased for total contributions from 2.63 percent in 2000 to 2.66 percent in 2001, based on data from a group of denominations studied by the organization since 1968.

Sylvia Ronsvalle, co-author of the study with her husband, John Ronsvalle, said the findings indicate that church giving was generous in the year when the nation was rocked by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“The data suggests that church members continued to support their congregations even during a year of social upheaval,” she said in a statement. “The upturn in benevolences may suggest that church members chose to help victims of the 9/11 tragedy through their church structures.”

The study by the Champaign, Ill.-based research organization found that giving was higher among mainline Protestant denominations studied than evangelical Protestant ones from the period of 1968 to 2001.

Among denominations tied to the National Council of Churches, per member giving as a percentage of income to congregational finances increased from 2.67 percent to 2.78 percent, a 4 percent jump. There was a 38 percent decline in the category of benevolences, or activities beyond the local congregation, from 0.63 percent in 1968 to 0.39 percent in 2001.

Among denominations affiliated with the National Association of Evangelicals, per member giving as a percentage of income to congregational finances declined from 5.01 percent in 1968 to 3.56 percent in 2001, a decline of 29 percent. Giving to benevolences dropped 38 percent from 1.14 percent in 1968 to 0.71 percent in 2001.

“The State of Church Giving through 2001” was released Oct. 15 (Wednesday), the 13th in a series published by empty tomb.

_ Adelle M. Banks

Williams Challenges Weigel on Just War Theory

LONDON (RNS) In dealing with terrorism and rogue states “no government can simply be judge in its own case,” Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said Tuesday (Oct. 14).

Williams, leader of the world’s 77 million Anglicans and a critic of the American and British war in Iraq, made his remarks challenging the interpretation of just war theory put forward by the Roman Catholic theologian George Weigel in his pamphlet, “Moral Clarity in a Time of War.”

Weigel is a Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington D.C. His views were widely circulated by supporters of the Bush administration’s position at the time the nation was debating going to war against Iraq..

The archbishop criticized Weigel’s denial that the just war tradition began with a “presumption against violence.”

“The ruler who administers the law may use coercion for the sake of the common good, in domestic policing and in international affairs,” Williams said. “But such coercion will always need publicly available justification in terms of the common good, since otherwise it will appear as an arbitrary infringement of natural justice.”

Coercion is simply not to be justified unless it was answerable to a clear account of common human good, and even the security of a specific state had to be seen in the light of this broader framework, said Williams. Violence is “essentially anomalous” because the essence of healthy social life is the voluntary restriction of any one agent’s liberty in the corporate act of social life.

Williams went on to describe as “a sweeping statement, instantly challengeable,” Weigel’s case that the terrorist has no aims that can be taken seriously as political or moral. “The terrorist is objectively wicked _ no dispute about that _ in exercising the most appalling form of blackmail by menacing the lives of the innocent,” said the archbishop. “Nothing should qualify this judgment.

“But this does not mean that the terrorist has no serious moral goals,” he said, citing the Irgun, anti-British Jewish terrorists prior to the establishment of Israel. “It is possible to use unspeakably wicked means to pursue an aim that is shared by those who would not dream of acting in the same way, an aim that is intelligible or desirable.”

“The risk in claiming so unproblematic a right to define what counts as politics and so to dismiss certain sorts of political calculation in combatting terrorism is that the threatened state _ the U.S. in this instance _ loses the power of self-criticism and becomes trapped in a self-referential morality which creates even deeper difficulties in the application of just war theory,” Williams said.

Williams acknowledged the weakness of international legal institutions such as the United Nations, but said “it is important to allow that no government can simply be judge in its own caseâÂ?¦ Indeed, this issue takes us back to one of the absolute fundamentals of just was theory: violence is not to be undertaken by private persons. If a state or administration acts without due and visible attention to agreed international process, it acts in a way analogous to a private person. It purports to be judge of its own interest.”

_ Robert Nowell

Quote of the Day: Ammar Saadeh, Creator of Razanne Doll

(RNS) “The main message we try to put forward through the doll is that what matters is what’s inside you, not how you look. … It doesn’t matter if you’re tall or short, thin or fat, beautiful or not, the real beauty seen by God and fellow Muslims is what’s in your soul.”

_ Ammar Saadeh, creator of Razanne, a doll with long-sleeved dresses and head scarf that is a Muslim alternative to Barbie. Saadeh, whose NoorArt Inc. is based in Livonia, Mich., was quoted by the Associated Press.


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