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c. 2008 Religion News Service

State Department blasts China on religious freedom

WASHINGTON (RNS) The U.S. State Department, in its annual report on international religious freedom issued Friday (Sept. 19), admonished several Asian nations, including China, for severely repressing religion.

Listing “countries of particular concern” that engage in or tolerate “particularly severe violations of religious freedom,” the report highlights everything from government persecution to patriotic education campaigns designed to extirpate religion.

The eight countries of particular concern are: Myanmar (formerly Burma), China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan.

Compiled by diplomats and human rights activists every year since 1999, the 800-page report covers 198 countries and territories and is mandated by federal law.

“In exposing injustice, this report lights a candle _ and 800-page candle _ that we trust will encourage justice and greater respect for the rights of religious believers across the globe,” said John V. Hanford, U.S. ambassador at large for religious freedom.

Despite sanctions and diplomacy, China’s repression of religious freedom intensified in the last year, especially in the run up to the Olympic Games, the report says.

Churches were closed, foreigners detained, Falon Gong practitioners arrested and possibly killed, Muslims prohibited from taking the hajj to Saudi Arabia, and Buddhist monks were forced to undergo “patriotic education” campaigns, according to the report.

Hanford said the harsh treatment of Buddhist monks in Tibet were a “major factor” in the March riots in the Himalayan region, during which dozens were killed.

The “patriotic education” campaigns, which force monks and nuns to study communist texts and denounce the Dalai Lama “need to cease,” Hanford said. And the government must not interfere in naming Buddhist lamas, or leading teachers, the ambassador said.

“This should be the prerogative of religious leaders, not of a government,” Hanford said.

_ Daniel Burke

Jews ask how Canadian P.M. knew they were Jewish

TORONTO (RNS) Canada’s governing Conservative Party is facing questions about religious profiling and privacy after Jewish Canadians received Rosh Hashanah greeting cards from Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

This is the second consecutive year the cards were mailed out, and critics say they raise serious concerns over voter privacy. Some of the recipients have demanded to know how the government knows they are Jewish.

Some Jews who do not affiliate at all with synagogues or Jewish communal groups have been surprised and upset that they somehow got on Harper’s list. In addition, people with Jewish-sounding surnames, but who are not Jewish, also received the cards.

Conservative spokesman Ryan Sparrow told the Globe and Mail newspaper that the party doesn’t use any prepared lists and hasn’t purchased any. He said he wasn’t sure how many cards were sent out this year.

Canada’s Privacy Commissioner received complaints from people who received Rosh Hashanah greeting cards last year, but determined that the issue fell outside her jurisdiction.

Montreal resident Lev Berner told The Gazette newspaper he found it ironic that Harper is “conscientious enough to reach out to possible Jewish voters, yet ignorant enough to schedule the election on (the Jewish holiday of) Sukkot.”

Canada’s federal election is slated for Oct. 14.

The right-leaning B’nai Brith Canada said the cards were “a gesture of respect” toward the Jewish community, and extended its “appreciation” to the prime minister.

Canadian Jewish Congress spokesperson Jordan Kerbel said the cards were “just a gesture, the same as a Chinese New Year card.”

_ Ron Csillag

Boston Globe’s Michael Paulson wins top religion reporting awards

WASHINGTON (RNS) Michael Paulson of The Boston Globe won the two top prizes for journalists covering religion from the Religion Newswriters Association.

The awards were presented Saturday (Sept. 20) at a ceremony during the group’s annual meeting.

Paulson garnered first place in the Templeton Award for religion reporting and first place in the Supple Award for religion writing, both for his work on a series about the challenges of an inner-city church.

John Dart, news editor of Christian Century magazine and a former longtime religion writer at the Los Angeles Times, was honored with a lifetime achievement award.

Second- and third-place winners for the Templeton Award were Robert Sibley of the Ottawa Citizen and Mark Pinsky, for work done at the Orlando Sentinel.

Julian Guthrie of the San Francisco Chronicle won second place in the Supple Award contest, followed by Lee Lawrence for work done for The Christian Science Monitor, in third place.

Winners in other categories included:

_ The Cornell Award, for religion writers of mid-sized newspapers: Jennifer Green of the Ottawa Citizen, first place; David Yonke of The Blade in Toledo, Ohio, second place; Peggy Fletcher Stack, The Salt Lake Tribune, third place.

_ The Cassells Award, for writers at small newspapers: Sara Schilling of the Tri-City Herald in Kennewick, Wash., first place; Melissa Nann Burke, York (Pa.) Daily Record/Sunday News, second place; Sarah Bruyn Jones, for work done at The Tuscaloosa (Ala.) News.

_ The Schachern Award for religion pages and sections: The Salt Lake Tribune, first place; The Houston Chronicle, second place; The Birmingham (Ala.) News, third place.

_ The PBS show Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly swept all three television reporting awards.

_ Jason DeRose won first and third prize in the radio awards for work done at Chicago Public Radio. Simone Orendain of WFAE in Charlotte, N.C., won second place.

_ The Chandler Award for student journalists: Heather Surls, The Master’s College, first place, for work done at Religion News Service; Allison Ross, University of Missouri-Columbia, second place; Matthew Streib, Northwestern University, third place.

_ Adelle M. Banks

U.S. evangelicals urge focus on global poverty

(RNS) Responding to a call from their Third World counterparts, U.S. evangelical leaders are urging church members to pay greater attention to global poverty, saying increased advocacy is necessary in light of the current U.S. financial crisis.

Last month, 21 leaders of churches in Africa, Asia and South America wrote that the U.S. church has preached the gospel in their lands but “has not also raised its voice in protest against the injustices that powerful governments and institutions are inflicting on the global South.”

In response, several evangelical leaders, organized by the group Micah Challenges USA, spoke Monday (Sept. 22) about the need for action by U.S. churches.

“Those of us in evangelical churches are kind of late to the table on some of these issues because we’ve been focusing on more personal morality … and we’ve forgotten to address the issues of public morality,” said megachurch pastor Joel Hunter of Longwood, Fla., a member of the board of the World Evangelical Alliance.

“Even though there are a great number of people who are facing financial instability, this is just the right time to find out what your priorities really are and whether or not you’re going to love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

Brian Swarts, national coordinator of Micah Challenge USA, said the letter to U.S. church leaders was timed to the upcoming U.S. presidential elections and a Sept. 25 summit on the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, which aim to cut global poverty in half by 2015. He said U.S. evangelical leaders that have partnered with his organization will be circulating a letter to be sent in October to presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama seeking their attention to global poverty.

_ Adelle M. Banks

Quote of the Day: Atheist leader Annie Laurie Gaylor

(RNS) “If people couldn’t pretend ‘God told me to do this’ or insist ‘God is on my side,’ most wars could have been avoided.”

_ Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, explaining her group’s new “Imagine No Religion” billboard campaign. She was quoted by The Patriot-News of Harrisburg, Pa.

KRE/RB END RNS

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