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c. 2003 Religion News Service

Bush Petitions Supreme Court to Hear Pledge Case

WASHINGTON (RNS) The Bush administration has formally asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overrule a lower court decision and allow the Pledge of Allegiance to include the words “one nation under God.”

U.S. Solicitor General Theodore Olson said last summer’s ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that said the pledge violates the separation of church and state is “manifestly contrary” to previous church-state cases.

“Whatever else the (First Amendment) may prohibit, this court’s precedents make it clear that it does not forbid the government from officially acknowledging the religious heritage, foundation and character of this nation,” Olson wrote Wednesday (April 30) in his argument.

California atheist Michael Newdow sued in 2000, saying his daughter should not be forced to listen to the Pledge of Allegiance in her classroom. The first court to hear the case dismissed it, but the San Francisco-based appeals court ruled in Newdow’s favor.

A three-judge panel found that the phrase “one nation under God” _ inserted into the pledge in 1954 _ amounts to government endorsement of religion. The court’s ruling affected only the nine Western states in its jurisdiction.

But after a public outcry, the court stepped back and stayed its decision pending appeals. On March 3, the court refused to change its decision. “We may not _ we must not _ allow public sentiment or outcry to guide our decisions,” Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote.

Olson also questioned whether Newdow could bring the suit since he does not have custody of his daughter. After the initial ruling, the girl’s mother said she had no problem with her daughter reciting or hearing the pledge.

Newdow and his attorneys will now have a chance to respond. Four of the court’s nine justices, however, must vote to hear the case. Olson said the appeals court ruling is so “irreconcilable” with earlier decisions that it should be overturned without the oral arguments and a formal ruling from the high court.

_ Kevin Eckstrom

One Percent of Cell Phone Towers in Church Steeples

(RNS) About 1 percent of all cell phone towers in the United States are housed in church steeples, according to The New York Times.

Cell phone companies that have looked to expand their coverage areas often pay churches between $1,000 and $3,000 a month to rent space in church steeples, said Jim Fryer, a cell phone analyst in Landsdown, Pa.

The steeples provide the height needed to transmit signals and often receive the blessing of urban planners who do not want transmission towers cluttering the skyline.

“When churches were originally built, they wanted them to be the tallest structure in the area _ the closest to heaven, or so people could hear the bells,” he told The Times.

Fryer predicted that more churches would rent their steeples to cell phone companies as the country’s 100,000 towers are expected to triple within the next five years.

In Ipswich, Mass., the landmark steeple on the historic United Methodist Church was destroyed by a lightning strike in 1973. In 1996, under an agreement signed with Bell Atlantic, the steeple was rebuilt and a cell phone tower was installed.

Still, the phone company brought in a consultant to convince the congregation that they “wouldn’t glow on Sunday morning” from radiation, said the church pastor, the Rev. Bob Ebersole.

Ebersole was unconcerned about sordid conversations that might be relayed through the transmitter in the steeple.

“We don’t require a statement of faith from the person that empties our Dumpster,” he told The Times.

One Dies, 15 Ill After Arsenic Poisoning in Lutheran Church

(RNS) Investigators in New Sweden, Maine, are looking for the source of arsenic at a Lutheran church that killed one man and sickened 15 others when they drank coffee after Sunday services.

W. Reid Morrill, 78, died one day after drinking coffee at Gustaf Adolph Lutheran Church. An additional 15 people who became violently ill about 20 minutes after drinking the coffee were hospitalized.

Investigators are trying to determine if the arsenic poisoning was deliberate or accidental. Church members told The New York Times that an old coffee urn was used on April 27 for a church council meeting following the regular Sunday worship.

Officials have found no trace of arsenic in the church’s well, and children who drank Kool-Aid made from church water did not get ill. They have also ruled out arsenic found in pesticides in the rural farming community of 631 residents.

Lt. Dennis Appleton, the lead state police investigator, told The Times that detectives have found arsenic on something “not expected to have arsenic,” but would not elaborate.

Local residents were stunned by the church poisoning. “I just can’t picture any beef that anybody would have with any of these people,” said New Sweden resident Sara Anderson. “Around here, if you have a problem with someone, you walk up to them and say, `You made me ugly the other day.’ You don’t poison them.”

The 50-member church has no pastor. Leaders from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America have dispatched counselors to the church, and other Lutheran and Episcopal pastors are working with the congregation.

“I have assured the congregation of Gustaf Adolph Lutheran Church that the prayers of the entire ELCA have been raised on their behalf,” said New England Bishop Margaret Payne, who will preside at services Sunday (May 4). “I know that is true.”

_ Kevin Eckstrom

English Survey Finds Priestly Dissent From Church Teaching

LONDON (RNS) A survey of Catholic priests engaged in parochial ministry in England and Wales has found that 43 percent of them oppose the church’s official teaching that artificial contraception is wrong and a further 19 percent are unsure about the teaching.

The survey was carried out by Professor Leslie Francis, an Anglican priest who is a professor of theology at the University of Wales, Bangor, and a Catholic priest, the Rev. Stephen Louden. Their findings are contained in a book, “The Naked Parish Priest,” due to be published in September.

The researchers sent questionnaires to all 3,581 priests working in parishes in England and Wales and received responses from 1,482 of them, or 41.4 percent.

Their survey also found that 40 percent thought the church’s stance on divorce and remarriage should be liberalized, while 25 percent thought a woman could be ordained not just to the priesthood but to the episcopate _ despite Rome’s firm rejection of the possibility of ordaining women.

Overall, 21 percent thought that being an active homosexual should not be a bar to serving as a priest, but the survey found attitudes increasingly liberal among younger clergy. While some 80 percent of priests over 60 thought being an active homosexual should bar a man from the ministry, this proportion dropped to 60 percent among those between 45 and 49 and just 47 percent of those under 45.

In a statement the Catholic bishops’ conference of England and Wales noted the research was carried out in 1996 and 1997. “Since then, the views and understanding of priests on certain issues may have changed,” it said.

_ Robert Nowell

Quote of the Day: Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams

(RNS) “(Islam) is one community under God. That is what has given Isalm its moral power and passion through the centuries. Whereas Christianity has, I think, been more inclined to ironies and paradoxes, which has made the Muslims very impatient with us.”

_ Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams in an interview with London’s Daily Telegraph.


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