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c. 2008 Religion News Service

Pope’s approval ratings rise after U.S. visit

(RNS) After Pope Benedict XVI’s first papal visit to the U.S. last month, about 60 percent of Americans now report favorable views of the pontiff, a modest bump from pre-trip opinions, according to new polls.

Before his April 15-20 visit to Washington, D.C. and New York, the German-born pope was largely unknown in the U.S. three years after his election.

In March, more than 80 percent of Americans had said they heard little or nothing about him, according to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center for People & the Press and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

After Benedict met with President Bush, celebrated public Masses before huge crowds and repeatedly spoke of the pain and shame caused by his church’s sexual abuse scandal, his “approval ratings” increased.

Sixty-one percent of Americans now say they hold a favorable or very favorable view of the pope, up from 52 percent before the trip. More than half of Americans now say the pope does an excellent or good job of promoting relations with other faiths, up from 39 percent in March.

Almost 40 percent say Benedict did an excellent or good job of addressing the sex abuse scandal, but there are no pre-visit comparison numbers. Forty-eight percent say the pope did a fair or poor job of addressing the scandal.

Roughly 40 percent of Americans said the most meaningful part of Benedict’s visit for them was his meeting with survivors of clergy sexual abuse, according to a separate poll conducted by Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

Following that, 14 percent picked the pope’s visit to the site of the 9/11 attacks in New York City as most meaningful, according to the poll, which was commissioned by the Knights of Columbus.

The margin of error on the Pew poll was plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. For the Marist poll, the margin of error was 3.1 percentage points.

_ Daniel Burke

School employees win case over time clock dispute

(RNS) Two Louisiana public school employees won’t have to use a biometric time clock that the workers claim violates their religious beliefs.

Arbitrator Bruce Ponder of El Paso, Texas, issued a decision on April 29 that said the St. John the Baptist Parish School Board violated the school employees union’s contract when it violated their religious beliefs by requiring the two workers to use the system, which electronically scans employees’ fingerprints when they clock in and out of work.

Ponder also said the board violated the union contract and federal Fair Labor Standards Act by implementing the system without first bargaining with the union, the St. John Association of Educators, about it.

The school district’s administration implemented the system in October 2006.

Bus driver Sandra McCray and the Rev. Herman Clayton Jr., an electrician in the maintenance department, filed grievances in February 2007, saying the clocks violated their belief in the “End Time” doctrine.

Believers in the doctrine, based on the Bible’s book of Revelation, object to fingerprinting and scanning technology.

Clayton, 57, said his victory was “bittersweet.” He has not been allowed to return to work for 15 months while he refused to use the clock, he said.

“We knew in our hearts and spirit that would be the decision he (Ponder) would make. … The bitter part of it is it took this amount of time,” Clayton said.

Part of the delay was because Ponder was ill, school officials said.

As part of the decision, Ponder ordered the board to pay lost wages and benefits to Clayton and McCray, minus anything they may have earned at other jobs during the time they were suspended. He also directed the board, administration and union to reach a new agreement on the use of the time clock system.

Ponder said it would be too expensive and an unfair burden on the board to require it to replace the $85,000 system. School system personnel executive director Ann LaBorde said Friday the board would comply with the arbitration ruling.

_ Sandra Barbier

Quote of the Day: Cheron Brylski of New Orleans

(RNS) “Since Katrina, our government has failed us, our levees have failed us, and now our bishop is failing us.”

_ Cheron Brylski, a parishioner at Our Lady of Good Counsel Catholic Church in New Orleans, which is scheduled to be closed under a post-Katrina downsizing plan. She was quoted by USA Today.

KRE/CM END RNS

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