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c. 2003 Religion News Service

Lawyer: Constitution Prevailed in Nigerian Stoning Case

WASHINGTON (RNS) The Nigerian government prevailed over Islamic Sharia law when an appeals court overturned Amina Lawal’s death-by-stoning sentence after she was convicted of adultery in March, Lawal’s lawyer told a news conference Wednesday (Oct. 8).

Hauwa Ibrahim, the first female lawyer in northern Nigeria, was Lawal’s lead counsel in both her appeals cases.

“The rule of the law and due process were our ultimate goals,” Ibrahim said.

The decision set a precedent in Nigeria, where in some Muslim-dominated states, Sharia laws are held above those outlined in the Nigerian constitution, Ibrahim said. Ibrahim and her team of lawyers argued that Lawal had not been read her charge in her native language _ it was read in Arabic _ and had not been represented by a lawyer in her first trial.

“This was a huge victory for Amina Lawal … but it was an even more huge victory for Nigeria because it upheld the constitution,” Ibrahim said.

Ibrahim said her victory in Nigeria’s highest appeals court also reinforced that the prosecutor _ not the victim _ had the burden of proof in court.

Ibrahim, who defied her village’s rule that women older than 13 cannot continue their education, received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from a Nigerian university. She said she represents women like Lawal, many of whom come from small, primitive villages and do not know their legal rights.

“(Lawal) came from a village where there is no light, no roads,” Ibrahim said. “She is uneducated, she cannot read.”

Since she started her practice in 1999, Ibrahim said she has been representing those in Nigeria who don’t know they have the option to fight Sharia law.

“Of most of the cases I have been involved with, (my clients) have been mostly poor people,” she said. “They are powerless, they are voiceless, and they are victims.”

_ Michelle Gabriel

Poll: Americans Divided Over Acceptability of Gay Marriage

(RNS) Americans are almost evenly divided on whether they think legal marriage of same-sex partners is acceptable, a USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll shows.

Forty-eight percent of respondents said they think permitting gay unions “will change our society for the worse,” while 40 percent said gay marriage would have no effect and 10 percent said it would make society better.

The survey also found that churchgoers are more often among the percentage of Americans who think society would be worsened by legal marriage of same-sex couples, USA Today reported.

Sixty-seven percent of those who attend religious services weekly feel this way, along with 51 percent of those who attend at least monthly.

Sentiments are different among those who attend worship services less frequently or never.

Forty-seven percent of those who seldom attend services say permitting marriage of gays and lesbians would have “no effect” on society while 14 percent say it would improve society. Almost three-quarters _ 72 percent _ of those who never attend church said there would be no detrimental effects.

The survey also found that younger respondents were more likely to think that gay unions would either have no harmful effect on society or improve it. Sixty-seven percent of 18- to 29-year-olds and 53 percent of 30- to 49-year-olds felt this way.

Overall, pollsters found that Americans were also split on whether gay and lesbian couples should be permitted to have all the same legal rights as married couples in every state. The study found that 32 percent thought that should be allowed, 35 percent thought it shouldn’t and 32 percent said it didn’t matter to them.

The poll of 1,003 adults was conducted Sept. 19-21 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

FCC: Bono’s Use of Curse Word Did Not Violate Indecency Rules

(RNS) U2 lead singer and AIDS activist Bono did not violate indecency rules when he used a curse word during the Golden Globe Awards, the Federal Communications Commission decided Friday (Oct. 3).

The FCC rejected complaints from the Parents Television Council and more than 200 people who charged that dozens of television stations violated restrictions on obscene broadcasts by airing portions of the awards program in January. Most of the individual complaints were from people affiliated with the council, the Associated Press reported.

The Irish singer has become very popular in some Christian circles because of outspoken advocacy for victims of AIDS in Africa and his campaign aimed at galvanizing support by churches and governments for increased funding to combat AIDS.

During the show, Bono uttered the phrase “this is really, really f—brilliant.”

The FCC, in a decision whose explanations used the F-word more than Bono did on the show, said the word “may be crude and offensive, but, in the context presented here, did not describe sexual or excretory organs or activities.”

David Solomon, chief of the commission’s enforcement bureau, said in the ruling that the grammatical use of the word affected its potential indecency.

He said the artist used the vulgarity as an adjective or to emphasize an exclamation and that “the use of specific words, including expletives or other `four-letter words’ does not render material obscene.”

The Parents Television Council said Tuesday it would appeal the ruling and called the FCC “a toothless lion.”

“They don’t take indecency seriously and that’s why you see it proliferating on the broadcast airwaves,” said Lara Mahaney, director of corporate and entertainment affairs for the Los Angeles-based watchdog group.

The council had cited Bono’s language in a recent report called “The Blue Tube: Foul Language on Prime Time Network TV.”

At Christian `Feast of Tabernacles,’ Evangelicals Support Israel

JERUSALEM (RNS) At a time when most tourists and pilgrims continue to avoid Israel due to the ongoing violence between Palestinians and Israelis, more than 3,000 evangelical Christians from 80 countries are expected to arrive in Jerusalem this week for the 24th annual Christian Feast of Tabernacles.

They will be joined by 3,000 local Christians and non-Christians.

The event, which is being organized by the International Christian Embassy, a Jerusalem-based organization of Christian supporters of Israel, is timed to coincide with the biblical Feast of Succot, when Jews commemorate the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt and their sojourn in the desert.

“Christians are coming from all around the world this Succot to demonstrate their sincere love and concern for Israel,” ICEJ Executive Director Malcolm Hedding said in a statement preceding the conference, which will open on Oct. 12. “They will bring joy and encouragement to the streets of Jerusalem and to a nation under fire.”

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is scheduled to present the conference’s keynote address, and many other prominent Israelis will also take part in the event.

Christian Zionists, most of them evangelical Christians, donate millions of dollars every year to Israel and its citizens. Many contribute funds to assist Diaspora Jews to immigrate to Israel. They also lobby on behalf of Israel and its policies in their home countries.

This support derives from the belief, based on God’s covenant with Abraham, that God bequeathed the land of Israel to the Jews as an eternal possession, and that the ingathering of Jewish exiles to Zion _ present-day Israel _ will precede redemption and the coming of the Messiah.

_ Michele Chabin

Catholic Anti-Poverty Grants Award $8.75 Million

(RNS) A Catholic anti-poverty initiative has awarded $8.75 million to local programs around the country that aim to help the poor lift themselves out of poverty.

The $8.75 million was the lowest amount in four years distributed by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. Since 2000, the grants program had distributed at least $10 million in grants each year.

Barbara Stephenson, a spokeswoman for the office, said last November’s collection that funded this year’s grants was down about 5 percent. Stephenson blamed the lagging economy, a drop in investments and ongoing “concern” about the church’s sex abuse scandal for the dip in giving.

The campaign, launched by the U.S. bishops in 1969, uses an annual offering to fund local projects that seek to teach the poor to help themselves. To date, it has given $270 million to 4,000 self-help programs across the country.

One-quarter of the CCHD offering is kept by local dioceses for local anti-poverty programming.

“In many cases families are poor not because of lack of initiative or effort, but because of changing social and economic conditions, or lack of education,” said the Rev. Robert Vitillo, the agency’s executive director.

“CCHD grants help community organizations work toward long-term solutions to affordable housing, access to employment, equal justice, immigrant issues, better schools and community services, all of which are barriers to overcome on the climb out of poverty.”

The 2003 grants will fund 318 projects in 45 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the the U.S. Virgin Islands. More than half of the projects are in urban areas, and another 90 projects combine rural and urban areas. Forty-six grants are in rural areas, and nine are in the suburbs.

Among the programs receiving funding this year are the Day Care Justice Co-Op in Providence, R.I., which seeks to help child care providers with legal working conditions and adequate pay.

Other programs include $20,000 for a New York City program to help the mentally ill; $20,000 for a program in Harrison, Mich., that teaches people automotive repair as an entry into that profession; $25,000 for the Somali Radio Service in Stone Mountain, Ga., for recent Somali immigrants and $30,000 to Metropolitan Congregations United in St. Louis to help create and protect urban jobs.

_ Kevin Eckstrom

Quote of the Day: University of Washington Sociologist Pepper Schwartz

(RNS) “We believe more in the church of `My Way,’ a shift in the sense of the ultimate authority from God and church elders to our own soulful searches.”

_ University of Washington sociologist Pepper Schwartz, author of “American Couples,” discussing the increase in civil marriages, where couples choose not to receive a religious blessing on their union. She was quoted by USA Today.

DEA END RNS

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