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c. 2008 Religion News Service

Iowa bishops say immigrants deserve better after raid, floods

(RNS) Iowa bishops from three denominations are demanding an overhaul of U.S. immigration policy in the wake of an immigration raid on a large kosher slaughterhouse and allegations of worker mistreatment during relief efforts after last month’s floods.

“We are concerned that we would substitute any level of fearmongering … for the hard work of getting a humane and just immigrant immigration policy,” United Methodist Bishop Gregory Palmer said Thursday (July 10).

Organized by the group Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, the bishops condemned the government’s handling of a recent raid at a kosher slaughterhouse in Postville, Iowa, which resulted in the arrest of nearly 400 undocumented workers.

The Episcopal, Methodist and Lutheran bishops also voiced concerns that many undocumented workers faced “inhumane” conditions while cleaning up flood-affected areas in eastern Iowa. According to the group, workers were paid below the minimum wage and forced to work 12- to 14-hour shifts in “toxic” environments.

“They were from Miami, Houston, Honduras _ all over,” said Iowa Episcopal Bishop Alan Scarfe. “We discovered that one man thought he was actually in Chicago. That’s how taken-off-the-streets these people are.”

Illegal immigration has been a hot-button issue in the state in recent months. Federal agents arrested 389 workers during a May 2 raid at the Agriprocessors meat packing plant. Advocates for immigration reform argue that the raid had a wide-reaching negative impact on the community and on young children, whose parents were either imprisoned or forced to stay home with no source of income.

“(Government) policies have increased the level of fear, and have literally terrorized the lives of people and torn apart families,” Palmer said.

The Postville plant has recently come under fire from Jewish leaders as well, who called the conditions for workers “contrary to Jewish values.” The plant is the nation’s largest supplier of kosher meats.

_ Tim Murphy

ACLU sues to get eagle feathers of Native American inmate

WASHINGTON (RNS) A Native American prisoner who was denied the eagle feathers he needed to practice his religious rites will be represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in a suit against the Wyoming State Penitentiary in Rawlins.

Penitentiary officials confiscated the single feather held by North Arapaho tribesman Andrew John Yellowbear in June 2006, and told Yellowbear to apply to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for permission to reclaim it.

“They said that he needed a federal permit, so he applied and was granted a permit to obtain up to 10 feathers,” said Stephen Pevar, the ACLU lawyer representing Yellowbear.

But Yellowbear, who is serving a life sentence for murder, was not allowed to get his hands on the additional feathers, and the original confiscated feather remains with prison officials.

Representatives from the penitentiary declined to comment.

The possession of bald eagle feathers is barred by federal law, with an exception made for American Indian tribes that use them for religious practices.

“It’s the means of communicating with the creator,” said Alonzo Moss Sr., an Arapaho elder in Ethete, Wyo. “It’s hard to explain in English. The only thing I can tell you is that it’s no different from the white man using his cross or his rosary.”

Under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, states can bar a prisoner’s religious exercise only in the event of a compelling government interest and by using the most benign approach possible.

In the past, at least one inmate at the Wyoming penitentiary has been allowed the use of a full eagle wing, according to an ACLU press release.

The only reasonable defense for the prison’s actions would be if the feathers posed some sort of danger to the institution, said Pevar.

“But that’s not the case here,” he said. “These eagle feathers are the most sacred item for these prisoners. There’s no way they’re a threat to anyone or anything.”

_ Mallika Rao

Prominent New Orleans church faces another uncertain future

NEW ORLEANS (RNS) One of the city’s largest churches, whose congregation was scattered by Hurricane Katrina, is facing another uncertain future after a weekend fire destroyed its 2,000-seat sanctuary.

Greater St. Stephen Full Gospel Church was gutted by a predawn fire on Monday (July 7). Parishioners who stopped by to see the damage compared the scene to a wake.

“We’re like family here,” said Lisa Smith, a social worker and member of more than 20 years.

As investigators search for the cause of the fire, Bishop Paul S. Morton, who built what was once a small Baptist church into a major congregation, said officials suspected the fire started in the choir area behind the pulpit.

Morton said the congregation was insured. His wife, Debra, was recently named the church’s pastor after her husband wanted to devote more time to nurturing a satellite church in Atlanta that was started after Katrina.

“We’ll be back, bigger and better,” she said.

The Mortons said they were summoned to the church well before dawn and watched a three-alarm blaze ruin the sanctuary. A nearby education building sustained heavy smoke damage, said church administrator Brandon Boutin.

The building’s loss presents the congregation with a major challenge.

Before Hurricane Katrina, Greater St. Stephen was by far the largest church in the city, perhaps the largest in the state. It claimed about 20,000 members worshipping at three campuses, and Morton was a prominent figure in the city’s political scene.

Katrina scattered the congregation, knocking its number down to about 5,000. The church’s location in eastern New Orleans is still closed, and a suburban branch is probably too distant to be of much use to the downtown congregation, the Mortons said.

For now, church members plan to worship at Temple Sinai, which itself is nearing the end of a multimillion-dollar renovation. “We say all the time we’re a house of prayer. Anyone who comes in a spirit of brotherhood is welcome,” said Rabbi Ed Cohn. “We’re walking the walk.”

_ Bruce Nolan and Mary Elise DeCoursey

Quote of the Day: Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr.

(RNS) “Rev. Jackson is my dad and I’ll always love him. … He should keep hope alive and any personal attacks and insults to himself.”

_ Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr., D-Ill., responding to crude comments made on Sunday (July 6) by his father, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, about Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., that were caught by a microphone he didn’t realize was on.


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