RNS Daily Digest

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c. 2008 Religion News Service

Most Americans think churches should avoid politics

(RNS) A slim majority of Americans, including rising numbers of conservatives, say churches should stay out of politics, according to a survey released Thursday (Aug. 21) by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.

Fifty-two percent of Americans say they think houses of worship should not express their opinions about political and social matters, while 45 percent say they approve of such expression.

The center said this marks the first time since it started asking the question in 1996 that respondents who want churches to stay out of politics outnumber those with the opposite view.

Conservatives, especially, have reconsidered the issue, with 50 percent saying congregations should stay out of politics. Only 30 voiced that opinion in 2004.

The survey also showed a slight increase in the percentage of Americans who say they are bothered by politicians’ discussing their religion. Forty-six percent now say they are uncomfortable with that kind of religious talk, compared to 40 percent in 2004.

Researchers found a sharper increase in the number of respondents who view the Democratic Party as friendly toward religion, from 26 percent in 2006 to 38 percent two years later. More than half _ 52 percent _ view the Republican Party as religion friendly, compared to 47 percent in 2006.

The study, conducted by the Pew Research Center and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, was based on telephone interviews from July 31-Aug. 10 with a national sample of 2,905 adults. The margin of error for the total sample is plus or minus 2 percentage points.

_ Adelle M. Banks

Publisher defends decision to pull Muhammad novel

(RNS) Random House is defending its decision to pull a new novel that explores the personal life of the prophet Muhammad, citing concerns about offending Muslims and inciting violence.

The New York-based publishing giant consulted with security experts and Islamic scholars before halting publication of “The Jewel of Medina,” which was scheduled to hit stores Aug. 12.

Sherry Jones, the book’s author, has said her goal was to expose the feminist underpinnings of Islam’s founder by offering details of his relationships with women. The novel traces the life of A’isha, one of Muhammad’s wives.

Jones and Random House agreed to the termination in May. Controversy flared over that agreement after it was criticized in an Aug. 6 Wall Street Journal column. Under the agreement, Jones will be allowed to shop her book to other publishers.

“In this instance we decided, after much deliberation, to postpone publication for the safety of the author, employees of Random House, booksellers and anyone else who would be involved in distribution and sale of the novel,” said Thomas Perry, deputy publisher.

The controversy has fanned out overseas, as well. A Serbian publisher pulled 1,000 copies of the book from shelves last week after an Islamic organization denounced it.

Literature about the prophet’s life has been the subject of high profile condemnation in recent years. In 2005, a series of Danish cartoons critically depicting Muhammad incited riots and death threats, and in 1988, Salman Rushdie became the subject of a worldwide fatwah after publishing “The Satanic Verses,” which some Muslims considered blasphemous.

Rushdie recently told The Associated Press the publisher’s decision to pull “The Jewel of Medina” was “censorship by fear.”

_ Tim Murphy

N.J. court says conversations with pastors not always privileged

(RNS) A conversation with a religious leader is not protected from being revealed in court unless it occurred in private and the leader was acting as a spiritual adviser, a New Jersey appeals court ruled Wednesday (Aug. 20).

A unanimous three-judge panel of the New Jersey Appellate Division ruled that a pastor’s testimony should be allowed at a trial in which a father is facing charges of sexually molesting his two daughters.

While the conversation occurred in private, the pastor did not offer to keep it confidential. Nor did he purport to be acting in the role of a spiritual adviser, and he explicitly refused to counsel the man.

“The conversations between defendant and (the pastor) are not protected by the privilege,” wrote Judge Lorraine Parker.

Prosecutors, who had sought to have the pastor’s testimony included at an upcoming trial, said they were happy with the decision.

“This was a conversation between a defendant and his wife’s pastor. There was no spiritual component to the conversation, it was designed to protect the two children,” said Nancy Hulett, assistant Middlesex County prosecutor.

In order for a conversation to be shielded by the cleric-penitent protection “the communication has to be made in confidence to the clerics in the cleric’s role as a spiritual adviser,” she said.

The case out of Middlesex County, centers on a man, identified in court papers by the initials J.G., who allegedly sexually assaulted his daughters from 1996 to 2000.

The girls told her mother about the abuse and the mother then told her pastor, Glenford Brown. Brown reached out to the man and told him he shouldn’t return home. The two men talked and without directly admitting it, the man “acknowledged what he did,” according to the decision.

The man asked Brown to counsel him, but the pastor declined and told him to get psychological help. He also declined to baptize him because he felt the man just “wanted cover for his actions.” The pastor urged him to go to police.

At a pre-trial hearing the judge said details about the conversations with the pastor could not be included because they were privileged.

The appeals panel disagreed and ordered the case back for further proceedings.

_ Kate Coscarelli

Quote of the Day: Cameron Strang, editor of Relevant magazine

(RNS) “There’s no absolutely right candidate for an evangelical, and there’s no absolutely wrong candidate. They’re both right, and they’re both wrong.”

_ Cameron Strang, editor of Relevant magazine, quoted by The Washington Post, speaking of presidential candidates Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama.


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