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c. 2005 Religion News Service Jews and Christians Ask State Department to Lift Israel Travel Warning JERUSALEM (RNS) American, Jewish and evangelical Christian leaders sent a joint petition to President Bush on Monday (Feb. 14) urging him to cancel the State Department’s warning against travel to Israel, according to Israel’s Ministry of Tourism. The petition […]

c. 2005 Religion News Service

Jews and Christians Ask State Department to Lift Israel Travel Warning

JERUSALEM (RNS) American, Jewish and evangelical Christian leaders sent a joint petition to President Bush on Monday (Feb. 14) urging him to cancel the State Department’s warning against travel to Israel, according to Israel’s Ministry of Tourism.

The petition _ signed by Malcolm Hoenlein, who heads the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, and evangelical talk-show host Janet Parshall, among others _ states that the long-standing travel warning should be eliminated “in light of the improved security situation” between Israelis and Palestinians.

The State Department warning, which was established at the start of the Palestinian uprising (intifada) in September 2000, urges American citizens “to defer” their travel to the Holy Land due to ongoing violence. The Israeli and Palestinian economies suffered greatly after tourists canceled their trips to the area.

In recent months, however, the number of Palestinian terror attacks and Israeli military strikes has decreased markedly, leading the Israeli and Palestinian governments to officially declare an end to armed attacks last week.

In a press statement issued Monday, Israel’s Tourism Ministry noted that “the American travel warning has not been relaxed since 2000,” despite “numerous requests” from the Israeli government.

In an interview, Jonathan Pulik, the Tourism Ministry’s foreign press liaison, said that “numerous other countries have already adjusted their advisories to reflect the new, more positive reality. We hope the Americans will follow suit.”

_ Michele Chabin

Leader of National Religious Broadcasters Criticizes FCC Ruling

ANAHEIM, Calif. _ The head of the National Religious Broadcasters, an association representing more than 1,700 Christian groups, opposes a recent Federal Communications Commission decision on digital broadcasting regulations and is vowing to take his fight to Capitol Hill.

The FCC voted 4-1 on Thursday (Feb. 10) against a provision known as “multicast must carry.” It would have required cable and satellite operators to simultaneously broadcast multiple programs offered by local stations on their single digital channel.

“Because multicast must carry represents an expansion of the ability of religious programmers to get their message out, NRB is supporting that, and we’ll go to Congress and lobby for multicast must carry,” NRB President Frank Wright said Saturday at the group’s annual convention.

Digital broadcast signals allow stations to send significantly more information than the analog technology currently in wide use. Some stations use this technology for enhanced, high-definition broadcasts, while others use it to transmit up to six programs on the same channel.

Wright unsuccessfully attempted to delay the vote with a letter to President Bush asking him to wait until the appointment of a new FCC chairman.

The FCC’s decision reaffirmed its 2001 ruling that broadcasters are entitled to only one program per digital channel.

_ Robert Iafolla

Church Council Urges `Constitutional Sobriety’ in Togo

(RNS) The World Council of Churches’ top leader has called for a return to “constitutional sobriety” in Togo, saying the African nation’s churches and churches around the world are concerned about the crisis.

“It is a gospel imperative for the churches in Togo to stand for what is just, noble, true and honorable to safeguard the people’s right to be governed according to the constitution without manipulation,” the Rev. Samuel Kobia, general secretary of the WCC, said in a statement.

The Togolese crisis was sparked when the army installed Faure Gnassingbe as president of Togo just hours after his father died. The country’s constitution was hastily amended to allow Gnassingbe to succeed his father.

On Saturday (Feb. 12), at least three demonstrators were killed in protests opposing the military’s actions. Opposition leaders called for a day of calm Sunday so the country’s faithful could attend church, the Associated Press reported.

Gnassingbe’s father, President Gnassingbe Eyadema, died Feb. 5 after 38 years of autocratic rule.

Togo’s constitution calls for the speaker of parliament to become interim president until national elections are held in 60 days. In addition to forcing the amendment of the constitution, the authorities also banned all political rallies and demonstrations for the next two months, designated as an official mourning period.

“Church leaders condemn the coup performed by the Gnassingbe family and ask them to return to the constitution,” the Rev. Cosmas Egbibli said in an interdenominational statement read at Immaculate Conception Church on Sunday (Feb. 13), the AP reported.

The WCC’s Kobia, in his statement, said it is “a great tragedy that while the continent is progressing towards the values of democracy and human dignity, the people of Togo are still being subject to misrule and exploitation.”

The 52-nation African Union and United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan have also expressed concern about the security situation in Togo.

_ David E. Anderson

Grammy Awards Give Religion Prominent Role

(RNS) Religion played a prominent role at the Grammy Awards on Sunday (Feb. 13), with the late Ray Charles honored in the new gospel performance category and artist Kanye West winning in the top rap song category for “Jesus Walks.”

The show, which aired on CBS from Los Angeles, also included a gospel segment featuring West, Mavis Staples, John Legend and the Blind Boys of Alabama. West appeared on the set of a church with stained-glass windows and ended the segment with the dramatic addition of white-feathered angel’s wings on his back.

Charles posthumously won five awards, including one for gospel performance for “Heaven Help Us All,” a track from the “Genius Loves Company” album that featured him in a duet with Gladys Knight.

West’s winning single was featured on the album “The College Dropout.” Last year that CD was pulled from consideration by the Stellar Gospel Music Awards because a nominating committee determined its overall selections _ which included lyrics containing profanity _ “were not in the best interest and spirit of gospel music.”

On the day before the ceremony, Staples accepted a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award on behalf of the Staples Singers, a gospel and blues group known for “I’ll Take You There.”

Other gospel category winners were:

Best Rock Gospel Album: “Wire” by Third Day

Best Pop/Contemporary Gospel Album: “All Things New” by Steve Curtis Chapman

Best Southern, Country or Bluegrass Gospel Album: “Worship & Faith” by Randy Travis

Best Traditional Soul Gospel Album: “There Will Be a Light” by Ben Harper and the Blind Boys of Alabama

Best Contemporary Soul Gospel Album: “Nothing Without You” by Smokie Norful

Best Gospel Choir or Chorus Album: “Live … This Is Your House” by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir.

_ Adelle M. Banks

Sikh Leaders Welcome One of Them in FBI Advertisement

(RNS) Sikh leaders have applauded a recent advertisement campaign by the FBI that seeks a more diverse corps of intelligence analysts.

“I have an international relations degree. I speak Panjabi fluently,” said a Sikh man as he looked into the camera during a TV ad that first ran during the Super Bowl on Feb. 6. “I analyze and decipher security threats. I am an intelligence analyst in today’s FBI. It’s not the same world. It’s not the same FBI.”

Tarunjit Singh, secretary-general of the World Sikh Council-American Region, said in an interview that his Columbus, Ohio-based organization sent a letter of thanks to the federal agency.

“We’re very pleased to know of the FBI having put out this advertisement, which features a Sikh American, especially since Sikhs have been preferentially victimized since 9/11,” said Singh, whose organization represents more than two dozen Sikh places of worship across the country.

“This advertisement is an example of how Sikhs are increasingly being woven into the fabric of America.”

Megan Baroska, a public affairs specialist with the FBI, said the advertising campaign has included television, radio and print outlets in the Washington, D.C., area and will expand in March to major markets across the country.

She said the investigatory agency has extended its outreach to Muslim, Arab and Sikh communities and is working to foster partnerships with them.

“We want to build relationships and we also want to expand our personnel to include representatives from all communities that the FBI serves,” Baroska said in an interview.

Within the first week of the airing of the television ad, the agency received more than 1,900 applications for the position of intelligence analyst, she said.

Baroska said statistics about how many Sikhs are currently employed by the FBI are not available.

“We do not track religious preferences,” she said. “Even on the application, it’s not something that we ask.”

_ Adelle M. Banks

Quote of the Day: Justin Hage, College Student Visiting Vatican

(RNS) “It’s powerful, but it’s also a disconsolation to see him so frail. I expected to see him speaking, but he said only about a half-dozen words at the beginning and end.”

_ Justin Hage, a 21-year-old college student from Virginia, reacting to the fact that Pope John Paul II read only a few phrases of his remarks at St. Peter’s Square in Rome on Sunday (Feb. 13), which came after a recent hospital stay. Hage was quoted by The New York Times after hearing Archbishop Leonardo Sandri, a top aide, read most of the pope’s message.

MO/PH RNS END