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c. 2008 Religion News Service

Atheists come up short in British bus battle

LONDON (RNS) A band of atheists warring with Christians over advertising space on London’s traditional red buses have lost their fight _ although more through a lack of financial pledges rather than via any divine intervention.

A monthlong campaign led by British political activist and self-proclaimed atheist Jon Worth was triggered by fury over religious ads posted on the buses by a Christian-oriented group known as Proclaiming Truth in London.

Particularly irksome to the atheists was one of the Christians’ ads that read: “When the son of man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

Worth’s campaigners already had their own slogan ready for plastering on the buses _ “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and get on with your life” _ but they needed to raise nearly $50,000 to buy a two-week slot on just one vehicle.

They figured on raising the sum online through $10 pledges from sympathetic atheists, but to little avail, as it turned out. With the campaign now over, the nonbelievers have amassed less than $9,000, and their signs were down before they were ever put up.

According to London’s Daily Telegraph newspaper, “It is not yet clear whether Mr. Worth plans to use the money pledged … to fund a smaller, cheaper advert.”

_ Al Webb

Man who stormed popemobile sentenced to probation

VATICAN CITY (RNS) A German court has ordered four years’ probation, psychotherapy and medication for a 28-year-old man who last year jumped a barricade and briefly touched a vehicle carrying Pope Benedict XVI.

The German man, whose identity was not released, was also ordered “categorically” to abstain from alcohol and drug consumption _ monitored and verified by urine tests, The Associated Press reported.

In June 2007, the man was one of an estimated 40,000 people gathered for a papal audience in St. Peter’s Square.

As Benedict rode past him in the open-topped white vehicle known as the “popemobile,” the man jumped a wooden barrier holding back spectators and tried to mount the car. He managed to touch the popemobile briefly before bodyguards wrestled him to the ground.

At the time, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office, referred to the man’s “clear signs of mental imbalance” and said that the case was “to be considered closed.”

Yet the incident revived concerns about security measures taken to protect the pope in the years since Mehmet Ali Agca shot and gravely wounded John Paul II in St. Peter’s Square on May 13, 1981.

The open-topped SUV used for such papal appearances is one of three vehicles interchangeably known as the “popemobile.”

Outside Vatican territory, the pope normally rides in one of two Mercedes-Benz ML430 off-road vehicles, which are fitted with raised tops made of bullet-proof plastic.

_ Francis X. Rocca

Report: Religion rivaled race, gender coverage during primaries

WASHINGTON (RNS) Religion rivaled race and gender combined during media coverage of this year’s primary campaign season, according to a recent study by the Pew Research Center.

Excluding “horse-race” coverage of campaign tactics and strategy, religion accounted for 10 percent of nonpolitical-process coverage, barely trailing race and gender at a combined 11 percent, the report concludes.

The spring campaigns featured extraordinary coverage of Sen. Barack Obama’s controversial former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, Sen. John McCain’s struggle to win over evangelical voters and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith.

The study, by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life and the Project for Excellence in Journalism, examined more than 13,000 news stories from nearly 50 mainstream news outlets including print, online, network TV, cable and radio covering a 16-month period from January 2007 through April 2008.

Religion trailed foreign policy issues (14 percent) and domestic policy issues (26 percent) in non-horse race campaign topics, yet it outpaced race and gender in a year when the Democratic contest was led by a woman, Hillary Clinton, and Obama, a black man.

“Indeed, religion could be at least as important in the 2008 presidential campaign as it was in 2000 and 2004,” the study states.

Dominating more than half of all religion/politics coverage was Obama’s severing ties with Wright. McCain’s own problems over endorsements from outspoken evangelicals like John Hagee and Rod Parsley also garnered press but “drew little attention compared to the Wright controversy,” the report said.

News coverage often focused on “discrete events _ such as a speech, video or TV appearance _ rather than the underlying connections,” the Pew study said.

“These findings suggest a continuing discomfort among news organizations in tackling deep questions of how candidates’ personal faith may influence their public leadership.”

_ Ashly McGlone

Quote of the Day: An editorial in The Washington Times

(RNS) “ … (M)uch of the white evangelical opposition to Mr. Romney is not based on principle. It is simply old-fashioned bigotry _ a discomfort with Mr. Romney’s Mormon faith. White evangelicals need to be reminded that this is America _ a republic where neither religious convictions nor the lack thereof disqualifies a politician from office.”

_ An Aug. 3 editorial in The Washington Times, published days after the newspaper reported on white evangelicals’ preference for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee as a running mate for Sen. John McCain rather than former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

KRE END RNS

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