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c. 2007 Religion News Service Humanist Loses Case Over Voting in Churches (RNS) A judge ruled Tuesday (July 31) against a Humanist who said his constitutional rights were violated when he had to vote in a Catholic church adorned with religious icons and anti-abortion posters. Jerry Rabinowitz claimed he felt uncomfortable when he entered a […]

c. 2007 Religion News Service

Humanist Loses Case Over Voting in Churches

(RNS) A judge ruled Tuesday (July 31) against a Humanist who said his constitutional rights were violated when he had to vote in a Catholic church adorned with religious icons and anti-abortion posters.

Jerry Rabinowitz claimed he felt uncomfortable when he entered a polling place decorated with various crucifixes, a sign that read “Each of us matters to God” and a pro-life banner.

In the November 2006 suit, filed against the county supervisor of elections in Palm Beach County, Florida, he testified that the religious displays amounted to the government’s unconstitutional endorsement of religion.

A district court judge disagreed, citing the plaintiff’s own claim that he “did not equate the religious icons and messages at his polling place with the defendant’s endorsement of the Catholic faith.”

In the court decision, the judge noted that the elections supervisor did not personally place the banners or crucifixes and thus was not guilty of excessive government entanglement with religion.

Because the judge ruled before the case ever went to trial, the decision marks the end of the case.

Had the suit succeeded, it would have challenged the use of any churches as polling places. Currently, churches are the most common polling sites in the country, .MDRV .MDNMthe AHA maintained.

The American Humanist Association (AHA) said it was “saddened” by Tuesday’s decision, saying it contradicted “overwhelming evidence” in a recent Stanford University study that suggests “environmental cues” in a polling place have a measurable effect on the voting decision.

“Such a religiously-charged environment can serve to intimidate or unduly influence a person’s vote,” said AHA President Mel Lipman.

Humanists, who believe that humans have the ability and responsibility to live ethical lives without believing in the supernatural, said the fight is not over.

“We the people value our religious and voting freedoms and will remain vigilant so these freedoms are respected,” Lipman said.

Michelle C. Rindels

Toilet Company Turns the Other Cheek After Church Complains

(RNS) The toilet company that burned the backside of a New York City megachurch with plans to post a billboard with naked buttocks on a building where the church rents space has replaced the ad with a less cheeky version.

The non-denominational Times Square Church in Manhattan had obtained a restraining order from a New York judge in July, preventing plumbing-products maker Toto from displaying the offending ad at 1657 Broadway.

Times Square Church rents the first four floors of the building where the advertisement was to be placed on the fifth and sixth floors, according to Lane Paulsen, the church’s lawyer.

“I’m authorized to say that the advertiser voluntarily withdrew the original (ad) and that’s all,” Paulsen said.

In the court affidavit, Pastor Neil Rhodes said the original ad was “indecent for public display” and “antithetical to the values of our congregation and church.”

He also reportedly told journalists, “You walk into a church building, you have naked pictures before your eyes how are you going to close your eyes and seek God?”

The church claims a Sunday weekly worship attendance of 8,000 Christians.

Paulsen said the church has no comment on the new ad, in which the buttocks are covered by a white band that says, “Our bottom line. Clean is happy. No ifs, ands or …”

Toto spokeswoman Lenora Campos said, “Our thought-provoking `Clean is Happy’ billboard is not intended to offend.”

Daniel Burke

Beliefs in the Afterlife Grow With Age, Survey Shows

(RNS) As Americans get older, their confidence in an afterlife increases, according to a recent survey of people over 50 conducted by the AARP, the advocacy group for seniors.

Seventy-three percent of older people believe in life after death, and two-thirds of those believers say that confidence has grown with age, according to the survey.

But while 86 percent of respondents say there is a heaven (70 percent believe in hell), they were split on what it looks like and if humans go there. Forty percent of those who believe say heaven is a place, while 47 percent think heaven is a “state of being.”

“Americans see life after death as a very dynamic thing,” said Alan F. Segal, a professor of religion at Barnard College, in the AARP article. “You don’t really hear about angels and wings, sitting on clouds playing melodies. … They talk about humor in the afterlife, continuing education, unifying families like a retirement without financial needs.”

While most people believe that heaven exists, and about nine in 10 of them say they’ll end up there, they are less sure about others. People who believe in heaven say an average of 64 percent of others will get there, too.

Other findings in the survey:

Women are more likely to believe in an afterlife (80 percent) than men (64 percent).

Income matters: Of those who believe in an afterlife, 90 percent of those earning $25,000 or less believe in heaven, compared to just 78 percent of people with an income of $75,000 and above.

29 percent of those who believe in a heaven think one must “believe in Jesus Christ” to enter. Twenty-five percent believe “good people” go to heaven, and 10 percent think everyone is admitted.

The survey was conducted by telephone between June 29 and July 10. The margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Michelle C. Rindels

Gay N.H. Bishop Endorses Obama

(RNS) The openly gay Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire has endorsed Sen. Barack Obama for president, saying the Illinois Democrat can “bridge the old divides.”

Bishop V. Gene Robinson emphasized that he was endorsing Obama as a private citizen and said he will not be speaking about the campaign from the pulpit or at church functions.

Robinson also told reporters that “here in New Hampshire, it’s important that we get involved early,” alluding to his state’s first-in-the-nation primary on Jan. 22.

“As a private citizen I will be at campaign events and help in any way I can,” Robinson said. “Frankly, I don’t think there’s any major candidate that is where we in the gay community would hope they would be on our issues. That being said, I would say the senator has been enormously supportive of our issues. We appreciate his support for civil unions.”

Daniel Burke

Spanish Bishops, Government Clash Over Curriculum

VATICAN CITY (RNS) A senior Vatican official has entered the debate between Spain’s Socialist government and the country’s Roman Catholic bishops over a new school curriculum that touches on ethics, religious belief and sexuality.

On a visit to Spain last week (July 26), Archbishop Angelo Amato, the No. 2 official of the Vatican’s highest doctrinal body, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said that “it is not the state that should impose religious and ethical convictions but one’s own conscience.”

The statement was an apparent endorsement of the Spanish bishops’ campaign against “Education for Citizenship and Human Rights,” which Spanish elementary and high school students will begin studying this fall.

The controversial course includes knowledge of the country’s laws and civic institutions but also considers wider social topics such as globalization, multiculturalism and gender roles.

Introduced by the Socialist government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, the course has encountered fierce opposition from Spanish bishops, who fear that it will undermine Catholic teaching on marriage, sexuality and the place of religion in public life.

Cardinal Antonio Canizares, archbishop of Toledo and primate of the Spanish church, said in April that the course represented a “slippery slope on the way to a totalitarian regime.”

Education for Citizenship, as it is usually called, will be obligatory in all Spanish schools including Catholic institutions, which in Spain receive state funding.

In response, bishops have called upon Catholic parents and teachers to claim exemption from the requirement as “conscientious objectors.”

But on the same day that Amato seemed to encourage such resistance, Justice Minister Mariano Fernandez Bermejo warned that “whoever does not obey the law will have to face the consequences.”

Not all elements of the Spanish church support the campaign for conscientious objection. The Spanish Federation of Religious in Education has said its members will comply with the law, while making sure to teach the course in a way compatible with church doctrine.

Francis X. Rocca

Former Paris Cardinal, a Jewish Convert, Dies at 80

(RNS) Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, a Jewish convert whose mother died in the Auschwitz concentration camp before he rose to become the Roman Catholic archbishop of Paris, died Sunday (August 6) at the age of 80.

The cause of death was an undisclosed illness for which he had been hospitalized since April. According to the French newspaper Le Figaro, Lustiger suffered from cancer.

Born to Polish Jews in Paris in 1926, Lustiger converted to Roman Catholicism in 1940, while living with a Catholic family in the city of Orleans, where his parents had sent him after the German invasion of France. His mother died in Auschwitz in 1943.

After studying literature at the Sorbonne, Lustiger entered the seminary and became a priest in 1954. For 15 years, he was dedicated to the spiritual needs of university students, first at the Sorbonne and then as head of a training school for university chaplains.

In 1969, Lustiger became pastor of a church in a wealthy Paris neighborhood, the 16th Arrondissment. Pope John Paul II made him bishop of Orleans in 1979, and promoted him to archbishop of Paris in 1981, where he served until 2005. Lustiger was made a cardinal in 1983.

As archbishop, Lustiger was a prominent advocate for Christian-Jewish relations, accompanying John Paul on a visit to Jerusalem in 2000, and helping settle a dispute over a convent of Carmelite nuns at Auschwitz. Jewish leaders protested the presence of the convent there until, at the cardinal’s suggestion, John Paul ordered it moved in 1993.

Lustiger always said that he considered himself to have remained a Jew despite his conversion, though some Jewish leaders pointedly disagreed.

The cardinal was also active in other areas of interfaith relations, and accompanied John Paul on a 2001 trip to Damascus, Syria, which included the first papal visit to a mosque.

Often mentioned as a possible successor to John Paul, Lustiger was a luminary of French culture, elected in 1995 to the august Academie Francaise.

In a telegram of condolence to the current archbishop of Paris, Pope Benedict XVI commemorated a “pastor zealous in the search for God and the proclamation of the Gospel to the world,” particularly noting Lustiger’s work with students and his efforts to “promote ever more fraternal relations between Christians and Jews.”

A funeral mass will take place Friday (August 10) at Paris’ Cathedral of Notre Dame.

Francis X. Rocca

Thou Shalt Leave Thy Blackberry at Home

WASHINGTON (RNS) Denizens of Washington, D.C. are the most addicted, but more Atlantans do it in church. Fewer folks do it in Minneapolis, and when they do, they keep it out of the sanctuary.

According to a new 20-city survey on “e-mail addiction” released by AOL, the nation’s capitol is the most afflicted overall no surprise to anyone who’s witnessed this city’s “crackberry” epidemic.

But Atlanta led the way in checking e-mail in church, with 22 percent confessing to peeking at their portable device during services, according to the survey.

AOL says the survey, which was conducted online, included 4,025 respondents 13 and older from 20 cities around the country. They measured a city’s number of e-mail addicts by the percentage of residents who have more than one e-mail account; how many times they check their e-mail each day; how often people check personal e-mails while at work; the percentage of people who e-mail more than once a day while on vacation; the time spent writing or reading e-mail; and the percentage who admit to an e-mail addiction.

The survey was conducted June 7-19. Its margin of error for the overall sample is plus or minus 2 percentage points; for individual cities, the margin of error is plus or minus 7 percentage points.

Houston and Denver tied for second in the checking-e-mail-in-church category, with 19 percent in both cities confessing to the deed. Washington placed third with 18 percent, followed closely by Los Angeles (17 percent), Sacramento and Phoenix (15 percent) and Tampa (13 percent).

No one in Minneapolis reported checking e-mail messages in church.

Daniel Burke

Committee Chooses Haggard’s Successor at Colorado Megachurch

(RNS) New Life Church, the Colorado megachurch that lost its senior pastor Ted Haggard to a sex and drug scandal last fall, expects to have a new leader soon.

Pastor Brady Boyd, an associate senior pastor at Gateway Church in Southlake, Texas, has been chosen by the pastoral selection committee as their nominee to lead the Colorado Springs church. Boyd, 40, previously was senior pastor of Trinity Fellowship Church in Hereford, Texas.

“After cumulative weeks of discussion and dozens of hours of interviews, we have selected Pastor Brady Boyd, whom we believe is qualified, gifted and anointed to fill that role,” wrote Lance Coles, committee chairman, in a July 31 letter posted on New Life’s Web site.

“He is a man of character, proven experience and good reputation.”

Haggard was dismissed from his church for “sexually immoral conduct” in November. It was alleged that he bought methamphetamine and paid a Denver man for sex. Haggard, who also resigned as president of the National Association of Evangelicals, acknowledged sexual immorality but denied that he used the drug.

Coles said in his letter that a board of overseers has approved Boyd’s selection and he will spend three Sundays, starting Aug. 12, with the congregation, during which time they will have opportunities to learn about him “in a relaxed question-and-answer setting.” Church members will vote on Aug. 27 on whether they will accept Boyd as pastor.

Adelle M. Banks

Let’s Get Together and Sing Some Bob Marley Hymns

(RNS) The Anglican Church in Jamaica is adding some head-bopping new tunes by reggae stars Bob Marley and Peter Tosh to its church hymnals, according to international reports.

Marley’s hit “One Love,” and Tosh’s “Psalm 27” will be the first reggae songs to be included in the new hymnbooks, which are usually filled with more traditional chants, chorales and evensongs.

Though both men were Rastafarians and at times expressed frustration with traditional Christianity, the Anglican Church of Jamaica is excited about adding songs produced by native musicians.

“They may have been anti-church, but they were not anti-God or anti-religion,” church spokesman the Rev. Ernle Gordon told The Associated Press.

Anglicanism’s U.S. branch, the Episcopal Church, has lately enlivened its Sundays with U2charist services, which feature the music of Irish supergroup U2.

Tosh and Marley both died in the 1980s after years as top international musicians. Rastafarianism, which they both practiced, is a mix of Old Testament prophecy, Afrocentric social advocacy and the sacramental smoking of marijuana.

Daniel Burke

Defunct Charity Sues Over Terrorist Labeling

PORTLAND, Ore. (RNS) The traces of Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation Inc., the Islamic charity shut nearly three years for ties to terrorism, are disappearing.

The camel, once a feature in local parades, died. The prayer house on the outskirts of town was auctioned. The stockpile of religious books now sitting in a storage locker dwindles as a lawyer gives them away. Two of the group’s founders are overseas, fugitives from federal tax and currency charges.

But the fight hasn’t gone out of the defunct charity’s supporters and lawyers, who Monday (Aug. 6) sued to erase the government’s designation of Al-Haramain as terrorist group. The case, filed in U.S. District Court in Portland, also seeks an order to turn over the charity’s cash and real estate, frozen in place since early 2004.

Reversing the government’s action would “remove the stain,” said Tom Nelson, one of four lawyers in Portland and Washington, D.C., launching the fight. He said the lawsuit is being financed by donations from Saudi Arabia, where he said there is keen interest in the fate of the Oregon charity.

The foundation, the U.S. branch of a similarly named Saudi Arabian charity, formed in 1999 to distribute religious literature and operate an Islamic prayer house. Treasury Department officials in September 2004 declared the charity was a terrorist organization with direct ties to al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

The lawsuit maintains the government never produced evidence to back up the terrorist designation. The government has given the charity only its public record in the matter, including newspaper clippings, and has withheld classified information that led to the terrorist designation.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, the Bush administration used the designation to stop what it suspected was the flow of cash, supplies and people from American-based Islamic charities to terrorist groups around the world. Some of the country’s largest charities were put out of business with little revealed about their alleged terrorist ties.

The Ashland charity claims what others have before that it’s unconstitutional for the government to shut down an organization based on secret evidence and no hearing. So far, no Islamic charity has succeeded in winning a court order clearing them of the terrorist designation; four have tried using the same arguments.

Les Zaitz

Quote of the Week: Former White House speechwriter Michael Gerson

(RNS) “There may be other reasons to oppose (Mitt Romney) for president, but his belief about the destiny of the soul is not one of them.”

Washington Post Columnist Michael Gerson, a former speechwriter for President Bush, about Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons).


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