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c. 2005 Religion News Service

Major Faith Groups Praise Court Decision to Ban Juvenile Executions

WASHINGTON (RNS) A U.S. Supreme Court decision Tuesday (March 1) banning execution of juvenile offenders is finding strong support among some national religious groups.

The 5-4 decision in Roper v. Simmons will remove about 70 individuals from death row who were convicted of murders committed before they turned 18. Prosecutors will also be prevented from seeking the death penalty for future cases of juvenile capital crime.

The Rev. Nicholas DiMarzio, domestic policy committee chair for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in a statement that the conference has taken a stance for decades against the death penalty for all offenders.

“This ruling affirms the position held by a broad cross section of religious denominations,” DiMarzio said.

Jane Wishner, chair of the commission on social action of Reform Judaism, cited studies showing the death penalty is ineffective in deterring crime.

“Today’s ruling will ensure that juveniles, who are unable to make mature distinctions between right and wrong, are punished for their crimes in a manner that allows for redemption and rehabilitation,” Wishner said in a statement.

The United Church of Christ also weighed in with a statement supporting the decision. The Rev. Sala Gonzales Nolan, a UCC spokesman, said all human beings should have a chance at redemption and “vengeance does not belong to us.”

The Supreme Court found differences between juveniles and adults, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion statement.

In addition to lacking maturity, “juveniles are more vulnerable or susceptible to negative differences and outside pressures, including peer pressure,” Kennedy wrote.

Justice Sandra Day O’Connor dissented, saying 17-year-olds convicted of murder may deserve the death penalty. The Supreme Court banned executions for criminals under age 16 in 1988.

Some religious groups opposed the ruling, which overturns the practice of juvenile executions in 19 U.S. states.

A conservative religious rights organization, the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Alliance Defense Fund, objected to the consideration given by members of the Supreme Court to international opinion opposing capital punishment for juveniles.

“There’s a difference between studying foreign law and incorporating it into our jurisprudence on a seek-and-destroy mission against our values,” said Benjamin Bull, chief counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund.

_ Celeste Kennel-Shank

Soul Singer Aretha Franklin, Others To Be Honored For Gospel Ties

(RNS) Longtime soul singer Aretha Franklin is among the latest artists to be inducted into the International Gospel Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

The Detroit-based Hall of Fame announced its 2005 inductees on Feb. 22 (Tuesday). They will be formally honored at a ceremony on Oct. 22 in Detroit.

Franklin was just a teenager when she first recorded as a gospel artist, the Hall of Fame said. In 1972, she produced an album titled “Amazing Grace” with James Cleveland and recorded another gospel album, “One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism,” in 1987.

Others to be inducted this year include:

_ The Rev. F.C. Barnes, known for his recording of the hit, “Rough Side of the Mountain” with the Rev. Janice Brown in 1983.

_ Luther Barnes & The Sunset Jubilaires, a traditional gospel group that has performed together for almost 35 years.

_ John P. Kee, a writer and producer of gospel music, known for his work with the New Life Community Choir.

_ Bishop Paul S. Morton, who has recorded several albums with the choir of his Greater St. Stephen Full Gospel Baptist Church in New Orleans.

_ Myles Munroe, who toured the Bahamas with the Gospel Visionaries in the 1960s and ’70s.

_ The Rev. Lawrence Roberts, gospel record company producer and writer of dozens of songs, including “I Had a Talk With God Last Night.”

_ The Rev. Timothy Wright, who founded the Timothy Wright Concert Choir in 1976 and is known for such hits as “Troubles Don’t Last Always.”

In a statement, David Gough, founder of the Hall of Fame, said the inductees were nominated from around the globe and chosen by the organization’s board.

“We had our largest-ever online voter turnout this year,” he said. “The reach of gospel music is truly global, and it is gratifying to see its influence grow.”

Nominees for the Hall of Fame must have been involved in gospel music for at least 25 years. Previous inductees include Donnie McClurkin, CeCe Winans, Della Reese and Milton Brunson’s Thompson Community Choir.

_ Adelle M. Banks

Adventists Develop Bible Study for Native Americans

WASHINGTON (RNS) The Seventh-day Adventist Church says it will launch a first-of-its-kind Bible study course geared toward Native Americans.

The purpose of the course, to be launched March 1, is to introduce Native Americans to Christ and the Adventist Church, according to Richard Dower, editor of the North Pacific Union Gleaner, a church publication based in Vancouver, Wash.

The Voice of Prophecy, an Adventist media ministry based in California, will handle the logistics of the program. Native Americans can request a free course packet, and the Voice of Prophecy will mail them the materials, including lessons and quizzes.

“This is the first time that there’s ever been anything out there that is specifically slanted to native people, and written for native people,” Monte Church, director of native ministries, said.

There is a large potential for church growth among the Native American population, according to Church.

“Spiritually, I tell you, native people are really interested in what’s happening,” Church said. “The younger generation is changing, they’re becoming more educated. School is becoming more important. When this change comes about, then they are more receptive to learning or correspondence courses.”

The course took 11 years to research and write, cost $182,000 and incorporates American Indian traditions into the lessons.

“Native people love stories. Native people talk in stories, they illustrate in stories, they teach in stories,” Church said. “We’re just giving a very basic understanding of what the Bible teaches.”

The Seventh-day Adventist Church has about 13 million adult members worldwide and has its headquarters in Silver Spring, Md.

_ Andrea James

Harvard Educator to Receive Christopher Award

WASHINGTON (RNS) Harvard educator and Pulitzer Prize winner Dr. Robert Coles will receive the 2005 Christopher Life Achievement Award for his work in bringing attention to the spiritual lives of children living in harsh conditions.

Coles has written 75 books and is a psychiatry and medical humanities professor at Harvard Medical School.

The Christophers, founded in 1945 by priest James Keller, is a New York-based nonprofit organization with the mission of encouraging “people of all ages, and from all walks of life, to use their God-given talents to make a positive difference in the world.” The word “Christopher” means “Christ-bearer,” according to the organization.

The 56th annual awards program is scheduled for March 10 at the Time Life Building in New York.

Other awardees include Pat LaFontaine, who will receive a 2005 James Keller Award for founding the Companions in Courage Foundation, which helps children with life-threatening illnesses.

The 2005 Christopher Leadership Award recipient is Peace Corps founder Sargent Shriver, who served in the Kennedy administration.

The CBS News program “Face the Nation” will receive the 2005 Special Christopher Award for “its no-nonsense format and consistent nonpartisan approach to breaking news and newsmakers.”

_ Andrea James

Traditional Values Coalition Targets Sexuality Messages in `Shrek 2′

WASHINGTON (RNS) The 2004 hit film “Shrek 2” promotes sex-change operations and homosexuality, a conservative Christian group says, and normalizes what it calls a “serious mental illness.”

The charge by the Traditional Values Coalition is the latest indignation voiced by the evangelical community at characters created to entertain children.

“If you want to do a porno film, that’s all right. I don’t have to buy it,” said the Rev. Louis Sheldon, founder of the Washington-based coalition. “But if you’re doing something for children, that’s not appropriate. Children are not ready for sexual arrangements, be it heterosexual, homosexual, whatever.”

In “Shrek 2,” the manly looking Ugly Stepsister, voiced by CNN’s Larry King, wears a dress and dances with Prince Charming, voiced by openly gay actor Rupert Everett. Also, Pinocchio reveals that he is wearing women’s underwear.

“When you take Pinocchio and show him with women’s underwear on, or you have a transvestite bisexual person, what is that trying to accomplish in the mind of a child?” Sheldon asked. “You’re bringing in a social disorder, gender identity conflict, and you’re throwing it to little children. This is like pumping and positively showing alcoholism and brutality.”

Richard Lindsay, a spokesman for the National Religious Leadership Roundtable run by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, called that comparison absurd.

“In the case of Shrek, this is a story about what happens after the happily-ever-after, when you have to meet the parents, you have to work through the issues that a couple faces,” Lindsay said. “They are completely missing that because they are still hung up on whether Pinocchio is wearing a thong.”

Earlier this month, Brent Bozell, founder of the Parents Television Council, criticized Fox’s “The Simpsons” after Marge Simpson’s sister revealed she is a lesbian, the Simpsons’ town legalized same-sex marriage to boost tourism, and Homer became an ordained minister to marry gay couples. The episode also featured a man disguised as a lesbian woman.

In January, James Dobson of Focus on the Family created a buzz over whether SpongeBob SquarePants promotes homosexuality because the cartoon character is part of a video that promotes tolerance.

_ Andrea James

Focus on the Family Announces Changes in Leadership

(RNS) Focus on the Family, the Colorado ministry founded by author and psychologist James Dobson, has announced a change in leadership.

Don Hodel, who has served as president and chief executive officer since May 2003, has retired and will be succeeded by James D. Daly, the organization’s chief operating officer, the ministry announced Friday (Feb. 25).

Hodel will continue to serve on the organization’s board, which he joined in 1995.

During his tenure as president and CEO, Hodel worked to reorganize the staff and operations of the ministry, with Dobson saying he “literally revolutionized Focus on the Family.”

“He realized that the Lord had enabled him to accomplish what he had set out to do (and, indeed, what he felt called to do) here at Focus, and that it would be counterproductive for him to try to carry on beyond that point,” Dobson told supporters of his Colorado Springs, Colo.-based ministry in a newsletter.

Daly has worked for Focus on the Family since 1989 in various roles, including vice president of its international division.

Dobson said in the newsletter that he will continue to be the “chief ministry architect,” spending his time on writing, speaking and recording his “Focus on the Family” radio program.

_ Adelle M. Banks

Methodist Giving Increases 4 Percent Despite Membership Loss

(RNS) Giving to the United Methodist Church in United States was up nearly 4 percent in 2004 despite a membership decline of more than 69,000, church officials said.

Methodists contributed $116.8 million to the church’s seven main budgets, up $4.4 million from 2003. Combined with other funds, the church’s members gave $159.3 million to various church programs.

The church counted just less than 8.2 million members in the United States, a drop of 69,141 from 2003. The church has an additional 1.9 million members in Europe, Africa and Asia, with the highest-reported growth in Africa.

Of the $159.3 million in total giving, about $1.6 million went to relief efforts for the South Asia tsunami. Because the disaster occurred late in the year, church officials said much of the relief efforts will be reported in 2005 figures.

“We are thankful for all those who yearly make it possible for their church to meet needs that they will never personally see,” treasurer Sandra Lackore said, according to United Methodist News Service. “That’s what keeps our connectional covenant strong.”

_ Kevin Eckstrom

Recall of American Baptist Missionaries Averted by Spurt in Giving

(RNS) An international missions official for the American Baptist Churches USA has announced that a feared recall of missionaries will not happen in 2005.

Last summer, American Baptist leaders said they needed to close a $1.5 million budget gap to prevent the recall.

“A dramatic increase in giving combined with extraordinary cost reductions due to the actions of missionaries and staff have allowed us to avoid a mandatory recall of missionaries this year,” said the Rev. Charles H. Jones, acting executive director of American Baptist International Ministries, in a Feb. 24 announcement from the denomination.

He said giving through the World Mission Offering and other denominational channels provided more than $1 million in support to his division. In addition, more than a dozen missionaries chose to take part in a “voluntary recall” to reduce costs and have pursued other ministries.

“We praise and thank God for the amazing movement of the Spirit and the generous response of our brothers and sisters in the churches,” said Jones, whose office is in Valley Forge, Pa.

“There is an enormous amount of work to be done, but the testimony of these last few months strengthens our faith and enables us to address the challenges ahead with renewed energy and hope.”

_ Adelle M. Banks

Cardinal Warns Same-Sex Marriage in Canada Will Erode Religious Freedom

TORONTO (RNS) A Canadian cardinal is warning that the future of religious freedom in Canada is threatened by a bill that would permit same-sex marriage because it would punish preachers who speak out against homosexuality.

Proponents of the bill being debated in Parliament say it would merely permit civil gay marriages, and would not regulate speech. But if it’s passed into law, “there (will) be further pressure to get religious recognition of the same thing,” Cardinal Marc Ouellet said in a session with reporters on Friday (Feb. 25) during a stop in Toronto. Ouellet is the Roman Catholic archbishop of Quebec and one of three Canadian cardinals.

If the federal government passes the bill, it will make Canada the third country in the world to legalize homosexual marriage. The bill protects religions from being forced to recognize or sanctify gay marriages, “but even if we received guarantees that we will be protected, who knows if tomorrow, with further pressure, there will be further change?” said Ouellet. “On what can we base (assurances) that there will be no change afterwards?”

Like other religious leaders in Canada, Ouellet worries that faith groups could face prosecution if they continue teaching that homosexuality is a sin.

“If I cannot teach the doctrines of the church, where is religious freedom? If they bring me to the court because I teach against homosexuality as part of the doctrine of the Catholic Church, I will be accused of homophobia,” he said. “Those things are very serious, and it’s on the way. We are very concerned, very concerned with the future.”

Ouellet warned that the state is advocating a lifestyle that goes against natural order.

“Religious rights are grounded in natural law. Natural law is understood by all cultures and religions that marriage means a union between a man and a woman. This is the common, basic understand of marriage since the beginning of humanity. Both church and state should agree on that.”

_ Ron Csillag

Conservative Groups Pressure Cable Company to Stop Marketing Porn

WASHINGTON (RNS) Conservative religious groups are claiming victory after public pressure forced a major cable television company to stop marketing hard-core pornography to California cable subscribers.

In a partnership with Playboy Enterprises Inc., Adelphia Communications Corp. had planned to offer triple-X video-on-demand in Southern California. But after religious and conservative groups mounted a campaign against it, the company changed its mind.

“This stuff is illegal. Obscenity is not protected under the First Amendment,” said Robert Knight, director of the Washington-based Concerned Women for America’s Culture & Family Institute. “We’d give Adelphia a pat on the back, except that they should not have planned to break the law in the first place. Nobody who peddles porn cares a whit about women and children, or the men who get addicted and destroy their marriages and families.”

Adelphia launched the programming Feb. 4 and withdrew it one week later, according to the company. The American Family Association of Tupelo, Miss., and the National Coalition for the Protection of Children & Families in Cincinnati were among other groups urging people to send e-mail messages to President Bush and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales asking for an obscenity prosecution from the Department of Justice.

“This programming is widely distributed through satellite and other cable providers and there is readily available technology to block it,” Adelphia Vice President Paul Jacobson said in a statement. “Some concern has been expressed over this type of adult programming. Adelphia will remove it from all of its systems.”

_ Andrea James

Quotes of the Week: TV Celebrities Bill Maher and Kathie Lee Gifford

(RNS) “We are a nation that is unenlightened because of religion. I do believe that. I think that religion stops people from thinking. I think it justifies crazies. … I think religion is a neurological disorder.”

_ Comedian Bill Maher, speaking on MSNBC

“Then I better see a doctor.”

_ Guest host Kathie Lee Gifford, speaking on “Fox and Friends” on the Fox News Channel.

Maher and Gifford were quoted by The Washington Post.

MO RNS END

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