Sudan Splits, Congress Rejects 'Civility,' and More News from Our March Issue
Secession puts northern Christians on alert
SUDAN Southern Sudan's nearly unanimous vote for secession may benefit the mostly Christian South but could create difficulties for Christians left in the mostly Muslim North. President Omar Hassan al-Bashir said Shari'ah law will be strictly enforced in the North if Sudan splits into two countries. Coptic Christians are not concerned because as fellow Arabs they have been treated better than the South's Africans. But one Anglican congregation in Khartoum dwindled to one-quarter its usual size during the January week southern Sudanese voted on independence.
Governor killed for defending Christian
PAKISTAN An influential governor and human rights advocate who stood up for a Christian condemned for blasphemy was shot more than 25 times by one of his security guards. Punjab governor Salman Taseer had declared support for Aasia Bibi, the first Christian woman sentenced to be executed under a Pakistani law that mandates the death penalty for blaspheming Islam. Human rights observers had hoped Bibi's plight would prompt long-sought revision of the law. Instead, popular support for Taseer's assassination (tens of thousands demonstrated to demand the killer's freedom) makes revision unlikely.
Courts fell more memorial crosses
After a legal battle lasting more than two decades, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a war memorial cross in California is unconstitutional. The 43-foot cross, erected in 1913 on Mount Soledad, "sends a strong message of endorsement and exclusion," said Judge M. Margaret McKeown. Meanwhile, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Utah Highway Patrol Association cannot place crosses along the highway to memorialize fallen troopers. The crosses imply state endorsement of a faith, according to the court's unanimous opinion.
Wave of Christian converts arrested
IRAN About 75 Christians were arrested in Tehran in a series of raids on Christmas Day and in following weeks. Tehran's governor, Morteza Tamaddon, promised more arrests and called the Christians a corrupt foreign influence. Those arrested are primarily converts from Islam and evangelicals seeking to convert Muslims, rather than the Armenian Christians and Catholics more common in the Islamic republic. According to religious freedom observers, more than 200 Iranian Christians have been arrested since September, when an appeals court upheld the death sentence of evangelical pastor and Muslim convert Youcef Nadarkhani, the first death penalty for apostasy in decades.
Lutheran pastors lose pensions
Four pastors retired from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) are suing the denomination after receiving notice that their retirement benefit payments were reduced by 9 percent for 2010. The pastors are seeking class-action status; more than 10,000 other church employees who have taken retirement benefits as annuity payments are affected by the change. The ELCA says its pension plan is exempt from federal laws because it's a church plan, and that the church implemented a three-year reduction to save the annuity. The pastors claim the church breached its contract in reducing payments. The ELCA's publishing arm, Augsburg Fortress, already faces a lawsuit over the termination of its pension plan last spring.
Churches may gain same rights as mosques
EGYPT A potential law under discussion in Egypt, first proposed in 2005, would give churches the same legal rights as mosques. Churches currently need presidential approval and security clearance to construct buildings, and permission from local authorities to make repairs—a complicated process that means many churches go unrepaired. Muslims do not need permits to build or repair mosques. There are 2,000 churches and 93,000 mosques in Egypt.