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Notes on church-state affairs.

AUSTRALIA

Speaker of the House Harry Jenkins called for discussion of whether Parliament should continue its practice of opening sessions with the Lord's Prayer, a custom adopted in 1901. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and opposition leader Marcolm Turnbull say they want to keep the practice. Despite increasing secularism, more than 65 percent of Australians still identify themselves as Christians.

AZERBAIJAN

There has been a ban on Muslims praying in yards and on streets near mosques when they fill up. The ban was introduced two weeks after a bomb exploded at the Abu-Bekr Mosque in Baku on 17 August, killing three people.

Hamid Shabanov, an ethnic Georgian who pastors a Baptist congregation in the village of Aliabad, was imprisoned pending trial, on the claim that police found a pistol during a search of his house. Supporters claim the pistol was planted. The police also confiscated Bibles and other Christian books during the search.

CHINA

No Chinese Catholic bishops went to an international gathering of bishops held at the Vatican in October, an indication that there has been no major progress in the Vatican's efforts to improve relations. China objects to the pope's wanting to name his own bishops. The state-approved Chinese Catholic church has appointed three bishops in recent years who had the implicit approval of the Vatican.

ECUADOR

The Catholic Church came out in opposition to a draft of a new constitution because of provisions that allow abortion and same-sex unions. The constitution was nonetheless approved by 64 percent of voters in s special referendum. President Rafael Correa called the vote a "historic win." Economic conservatives, however, said that the constitution gave the president too much power and allowed too much state intervention in the economy.

ERITREA

Officials incarcerated eight high school students for protesting the confiscation of Bibles from students returning to the Sawa Defense Training Center, a military high school.

IRAN

Human rights activists in Iran published a confidential report about three imprisoned Baha'is on 23 October. The report was signed by Vali Rustami, a legal advisor for the Office of the Representative of the Supreme Leader of the province of Fars. The report said that the three who were arrested in 2006 were innocent of accusations that they were teaching their &hal faith. Instead it reported that they had been engaged with promoting literacy and conducting other humanitarian work among underprivileged youth.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon released a twenty-page document on human rights violations in Iran that includes an entire page devoted to the persecution of Baha'is. It noted cases of false imprisonment, loss of property, and denial of benefits. Ban expressed special concern about mistreatment of Baha'i schoolchildren and the arrest of seven Baha'i leaders earlier in 2008. There are about 300,000 Baha'is in Iran.

ITALY

A proposal by the city council of Genoa to turn a medieval palace into an interfaith house of prayer has run into political opposition. Mayor Marta Vincenzi said that the idea was a place where member of three monotheistic faiths could all go to pray-Muslims on Friday, Jews on Saturday, and Catholics on Sunday. Francesco Bruzzone, council member for the Noithern League, a right of center group, said that the proposal showed a lack of respect for history. The palace was used in the Middle Ages as a hospital and hostel for crusaders and pilgrims, who would hear mass there before going the Middle East.

LEBANON

The United Nations Development Program conducted a three-day conference on HIV/AIDS in Beirut for religions leaders. About sixty people attended this meeting, and about seven hundred leaders have been trained altogether. Historically it has been difficult to discuss HIV/AIDS in Arab countries.

RUSSIA

Interfax news agency on 15 October quoted a Justice Ministry spokesman as saying that fifty-six centralized religious organizations will be closed down for failing to submit certain information and documents "over a _prolonged period." Among them were organizations of Old Believer, Armenian Apostolic, Nestorian, Seventh Day Adventist, Muslim and Buddhist groups as well as some Catholic and Protestant groups. There was no indication of when action would be taken. The move may stem from the thinking of Aleksander Konovalav, who was appointed Justice Minister in May 2008. He studied theology at St. Tikhon's Orthodox University in Moscow and is very loyal to the Moscow Patriarchate.

SPAIN

The third International Congress on Islamic Feminism met in Barcelona. Speakers argued that some patriarchal practices originated in Arab tribal-culture historically and are not inherent to Islam. They also argued for reading the Qur'an in its totality rather than selecting individual verses to justify traditional social practices.

TURKEY

In early November, between 50,000 and 100,000 members of the Alevi branch of Islam demonstrated in Ankara, demanding equal religious rights. The Alevis are a mystical group with roots in Shia Islam while most Turks are Sunnis. They called for an end to required religious courses in schools, the recognition of their houses of prayer, and- an end to the government agency that regulates religion. The European Union has called on Turkey to grant religious freedoms as a precondition to entry. The government claims that it is beginning to address the concerns of the Alevis, who only exist in Turkey. The Turkish constitutional court ruled that Prime Minister Recep Tyayip Erdogan's effort to lift the ban on wearing headscarves was anti-secular and threatened to reduce his powers. The court had ruled earlier in June against the effort to lift the ban.

UNITED KINGDOM OF GREAT BRITAIN AND NORTHERN IRELAND

Justice Minister Bridget Prentice said that British courts may consider the rulings of Muslim sharia councils in cases of marital separation. Conservatives criticized this, saying there was no place for parallel legal systems. In a clarification, Prentice said that the English courts still had the final say and would have to decide whether the shana ruling conformed to English legal tenets. Controversy over this issue had erupted earlier when Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said that adoption of some aspects of sharia law in the United Kingdom was unavoidable.

Sikhs are building a new temple in Sheffield to accommodate their growing numbers. The new temple will be five times the size of the current one and will have the capacity to hold eight hundred people. It will cost o 1.2 million.

UNITED NATIONS

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia presided over a special session of the General Assembly whose stated purpose was to promote interfaith dialogue. Advocates of religious liberty, however, saw another agenda at work, a move to laws worldwide against blasphemy. The meeting followed up on a meeting in Spain in June organized by the Muslim World League. That meeting ended with a statement calling for "respect for religions, their places of worship and their symbols ... therefore preventing the derision of what people consider sacred." Saudi Arabia allows only one form of Muslim worship within its own borders, a policy enforced by religious police.

UNITED STATES

Religion and the 2008 Presidential Election: The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life published a report that suggests Barack Obama received more "religion-focused campaign coverage" than the other candidates in the 2008 Presidential Election. According to the report, 53 percent of media coverage in which religion was the primary issue, focused on President-elect Obama, compared with 19.1 percent of religion-based stories that focused on Sarah Palin, 8.5 percent on John McCain, and onlv .7 percent on Joe Biden. The Pew Forum report also states that the biggest media issue of the campaign involving religion concerned the rumor that the President-elect is a Muslim, accounting for approximately 30 percent of all religion story lines. Around 11 percent of religion-based media reports from the campaign involved the candidates associations with controversial religious figures," being spread among stories involving Jeremiah Wright, John Hagee, and Michael Pfleger.

An exit poll conducted by Beliefnet reported that of voters who said they "attend worship services weekly," 55 percent voted for John McCain compared to 43 percent who voted for Barack Obama. The same poll stated that 31.7 percent of voters believed that Obama "used to be Muslim and still has too many connections to Islam."

In response to the election of Barack Obama, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has determined that it will speak out against the new administrations stance on abortion rights, stating that they will also confront Catholic politicians who go against the Church's anti-abortion rights position. An Associated Press report quoted the Archbishop of the Diocese of Kansas City, Joseph Nauman, that politicians and policy-makers "can't check your principles at the door of the legislature. In the past, Nauman has called on Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius to cease taking communion because of her position on abortion. Sebelius is Catholic and a pro-choice Democrat. The president of the U.S. Bishops, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, will put together a statement from the bishops concerning abortion that will be directed to the president-elect.

Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, announced that his organization was lodging a complaint against the General Baptist State Convention of North Carolina for hosting an event featuring Michelle Obama. AU contends that through this event the Convention engaged in partisan politics and, therefore, should be subject to an IRS investigation.

Religion and Law: The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a case involving a Texas inmate on death row who appealed his conviction by claiming that he was denied a fair trial because the jury foreman read from Romans 13 in the New Testament. In 2005, the initial jury vote in the penalty phase of the trial was 10 to 2 in favor of sentencing the man to death. After this vote, the foreman read to fellow jurors from the Bible, including the following passage from Romans: Everyone must submit to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.... For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer." Several hours later the jury returned a 12-0 decision sentencing the man to death.

Inclusion of Bible readings in jury deliberations has been controversial in the past. Some appeals courts have ruled that such practices violate the Sixth Amendment-right of those being prosecuted to a fair trial by an impartial jury. However, both the Fourth and Ninth Circuit Courts have ruled that Bible reading in such cases does not violate the Sixth Amendment. The failure of the U. S. Supreme Court to take the case suggests that the practice of Bible reading in juries will remain controversial and continue to be played out in lower courts of appeal.

Buddhist monks have filed suit against the city of Virginia Beach, Virginia claiming that the city is denying their religious rights and violating the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act by prohibiting them from conducting Sunday worship services at a residence on West Neck Road. The Virginia Beach City Council, in an 8-2 vote, denied the monks' request for a permit extension based on complaints from local residents that the services create excessive traffic and are not appropriate for a residential community.

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on 12 November in the case of Pleasant Grove City, Utah a Summum. The case involves the Summum Church and its request to erect a monument in a Pleasant Grove park similar to the Ten Commandments monument donated years ago by the Fraternal Order of Eagles. The monument would contain a list of the Seven Aphorisms, which Summum adherents believe to have been a set of principles of creation that were inscribed in stone and given to Moses before he received the Commandments. Moses is believed to have destroyed the tablets containing the aphorisms upon the realization that the Israelites could not comprehend and follow these principles, but he conveyed the Seven Aphorisms to select followers. A major legal principle involved in this case is whether the message inscribed on monuments that are placed on government property becomes "government speech."

Prayer in Public Schools: A decision involving an East Brunswick High School football coach and his school district's policy of not allowing district officials to participate in student-initiated prayer is being appealed to the Supreme Court. The Ruther Institute has committed legal resources to the case of Marcus Borden, a coach who was prohibited from bowing his head and joining the pre-game prayer of his players. U. S. District Court Judge Dennis Cavanaugh ruled in 2006 that the coach's free speech and association rights, as well as his academic freedom, were violated by the district policy. The Third Circuit Court overturned the decision upon appeal when the district challenged Judge Cavanaugh's ruling. The district was provided legal assistance from Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

The Denver Post reported that the valedictorian of the 2006 graduating class at Lewis-Palmer High School will appeal the decision of a district court judge who dismissed her lawsuit involving the school's denial of the student's diploma because she spoke about Jesus Christ in her valedictory address. School officials had previewed all student presentations for the graduation ceremony but the valedictorian, Erica Corder, changed her speech after the preview to offer an approximately 30-second-message on her personal faith and belief in Christ. Corder is appealing the decision to the Tenth Circuit Court with the aid of attorneys from Liberty Counsel. Lewis-Palmer School District officials threatened to withhold Corder's diploma unless she apologized, but they insist that the apology requested was for Corder's changing her speech after it was previewed by district representatives. The district claims that it can restrict the content of speeches at its graduation ceremonies. Corder's original suit sought unspecified damages and an injunction that would prevent the district from threatening to withhold student diplomas for such acts in the future.

Gay Rights and the LDS Church: Claims that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints may have spent as much as $15 million to help push through California s recent ban on same-sex marriage resulted in mass protests in the San Francisco Bay Area and petitions calling for the revocation of the LDS Church's tax-exempt status. The Christian Science Monitor reported that tens of thousands took to the streets in California to protest the LDS Church's involvement in the passage of Proposition 8, which limits the definition of marriage to the union of a man and a woman in the state's constitution. Mormons are reported to have been a major influence in the campaign for Proposition 8 despite the fact that they make up only around 2 percent of the state's population. The importance of marriage in LDS theology has been suggested as the major reason for the Church's involvement in the campaign. Don Eaton, an LDS public affairs director in California, stated that the Church does support legal recognition of domestic partnerships for same-sex couples but does not believe that such recognition should extend to marriage.

UZBEKISTAN

The trial of Aimuirat Khayburahmanov resumed. He is charged with teaching religion without official approval and of being part of a "religious extremist group. He is a Protestant. Alisher Abudullaev, a Baptist, was fined for distributing Christian literature.

VATICAN

Pope Benedict XVI called on India and Iraq to act against recent attacks on Christians in those countries. At least thirty-eight people were killed and as many as 30,000 rendered homeless in India. Sunni Muslim attacks drove 13,000 Christians out of the Iraqi town of Mosul.

A year after the controversy over a speech by the pope at the University of Regensburg, Catholic and Muslim leaders met at the Vatican to discuss interfaith relations. They issued a fifteen-point declaration that included renunciation of oppression, aggressive violence, and terrorism, especially in the name of religion. The statement did not address the touchy issue of conversion, and there were no representatives from Saudi Arabia, where non-Muslim worship is not allowed.
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Author:Hendon, David W.; McDaniel, Charles
Publication:Journal of Church and State
Date:Sep 22, 2008
Words:2682
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