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c. 2007 Religion News Service

Senator cuts $100,000 from religious group

WASHINGTON (RNS) Bowing to pressure, Sen. David Vitter, R-La., has backed off an attempt to steer $100,000 to a Christian group that supports teaching religious and alternative theories of creation alongside evolution in science classrooms.

Vitter has taken heat from educational, religious and civil rights groups for earmarking money in a fiscal 2008 spending bill for the Louisiana Family Forum, “to develop a plan to promote better science education.”

The group has long challenged Darwinian theories explaining the origins of life, and the earmark was seen by some as an attempt to inject Christian religious doctrine into the classroom.

Vitter went to the Senate floor Wednesday (Oct. 17) and announced that “to avoid more hysterics,” he wanted to shift the money to science and computer labs in schools in Ouachita Parish. He said the earmark had been misconstrued.

“The project, which would develop a plan to promote better science-based education in Ouachita Parish by Louisiana Family Forum, has raised concerns among some that its intention was to mandate and push creationism within the public schools,” Vitter said.

“That is clearly not and never was the intent of the project, nor would it have been its effect.”

Sens. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Arlen Specter, R-Pa., the two managers of the $605 billion bill, accepted Vitter’s proposal and said the money would be reallocated in House-Senate negotiations.

“This is great news for the children of Louisiana,” the Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said in a prepared statement. “The federal courts have repeatedly held that teaching creationism in public schools is unconstitutional.”

Americans United was among more than 30 groups that banded together to call for the earmark to be stripped. The coalition also included the Anti-Defamation League, the American Association of School Administrators and the National Center for Science Education.

The Louisiana Family Forum was launched in Baton Rouge nine years ago by then-state Rep. Tony Perkins, who now serves as president of the Family Research Council, a national Christian advocacy group. The Family Forum’s stated mission is “to persuasively present biblical principles in the centers of influence on issues affecting the family through research, communication and networking.”

Gene Mills, the group’s executive director, said it is not the Family Forum’s intention to displace the teaching of evolution in science classrooms, only supplement it with other views.

_ Bill Walsh

Seventh-day Adventists see increase in worldwide membership

(RNS) Worldwide membership in the Seventh-day Adventist Church has increased to 15.4 million, according to statistics announced at a recent international gathering in Silver Spring, Md.

Membership totaled 15,435,470, a net increase of 681,448, or 4.62 percent, as of June 2007, said John Torres, media relations manger for the international church.

During the meeting on Oct. 14, Matthew A. Bediako, secretary of the international church, also provided figures that show how many members have departed, Adventist News Network (ANN) reported. For every 100 members who joined the church between July 2006 and this past June, 24 left. He called this year’s retention rate of 76 percent “healthy.”

Although statisticians found that more than 1 million people joined the church, when departures are factored in, the net growth is 681,448.

In the fiscal year ending June 2006, the church lost 45 people for every 100 new members.

Since 2000, church officials have sought membership audits to determine more accurate figures for membership. The 4.62 percent growth in membership this year and the greater retention rates should be viewed with caution, said Bediako.

“We cannot sing the doxology until we eliminate from our (membership) charts the `loss and missing’ column,” he said, according to ANN.

_ Adelle M. Banks

Quote of the Day: Dr. Janet Levitan of Brookline, Mass.

(RNS) “I tell them if you don’t want to vaccinate for philosophical reasons and the state doesn’t allow that, then say it’s for religious reasons. It says you have to state that vaccination conflicts with your religious belief. It doesn’t say you have to actually have that religious belief. So just state it.”

_ Dr. Janet Levitan, pediatrician in Brookline, Mass., quoted by The Associated Press, speaking about how she counsels parents who are worried that vaccines might harm their children.


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