Shouwang Church Members Keep Meeting, Court to Hear Seminary Tenure Dispute, and More News
House church maintains Easter showdown
CHINA Beijing's largest unregistered church held outdoor Sunday services throughout May even as police arrested worshipers who showed up and kept hundreds others—including pastors and elders—under house arrest. The 1,000-member Shouwang Church launched the campaign weeks before Easter, after its landlord gave in to government pressure and terminated the church's lease. State authorities have denied Shouwang's registration attempts since 2005, insisting that the church join the state-approved Three-Self Patriotic Movement. Shouwang's refusal, and subsequent meeting troubles—the church made international news in 2009 for worshiping outside during a snowstorm after one of many evictions—have become emblematic of the growing strength of Chinese house churches as well as their Achilles' heel: state pressure on landlords.
Ambassador resigns over faith focus
MALTA The American ambassador to Malta resigned after an internal government audit rebuked him for spending too much time writing about abortion and his religious beliefs. Douglas Kmiec, a Catholic and former professor of law at Pepperdine University, said in his resignation letter that "the only true and lasting peace will be one that incorporates sensitivity to the world's faith traditions in diplomacy." A report from the State Department's inspector general said Kmiec spent "considerable time" writing articles rather than on meetings and other events typical for ambassadors; Kmiec argues that his faith-based writings were relevant to diplomacy in the Catholic archipelago.
RLUIPA loses its bite
Prisoners can no longer sue states for compensation when their religious rights are violated, according to the Supreme Court. The Court ruled 7-2 that the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) does not allow for prisoners to sue for monetary damages because states have "sovereign immunity," even when running prisons with federal funds. Dissenters said the ruling removes the best remedy prisoners have—the threat of financial penalty—to force changes in prison rules that restrict their religious practice.
Court to hear seminary tenure dispute
A lawsuit against Lexington Theological Seminary will test the boundaries of court involvement in religious employment decisions. Jimmy Kirby, a black, tenured professor, sued the Kentucky school for racial discrimination after losing his job in 2009. A Fayette Circuit Court judge dismissed the suit last fall, arguing that "the First Amendment simply does not permit the court to second-guess the seminary's spiritual decisions," but the state appeals court agreed to hear the case. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear a similar employment dispute involving a teacher at a Lutheran school in Michigan later this year.
Holy Land churches unite in protest
ISRAEL Leaders of Christian denominations in Jerusalem have jointly asked that the government reverse its decision to deny a residency permit for an Anglican bishop, as well as jointly opposed new property taxes on church buildings. Bishop Suheil Dawani, born in Nablus in the West Bank, must have permission from the Israeli Ministry of the Interior to live in East Jerusalem. Church leaders, representing an array of historic denominations, are concerned the permit denial sets a dangerous precedent. They also say the attempted property tax is an "aggressive action" not imposed by any previous governing body in the geographical area.