Federal appeals court: Cleveland vouchers are unconstitutional
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a 2-1 decision that Cleveland's school vouchers program "constitutes an impermissible infringement under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment." Of the 56 private schools that receive voucher money from the city, 46 have some religious affiliation. "This scheme involves the grant of state aid directly and predominantly to the coffers of the private, religious schools, and it is unquestioned that these institutions incorporate religious concepts, motives, and themes into all facets of their educational planning," wrote Judge Eric L. Clay. "There is no neutral aid when that aid principally flows to religious institutions; nor is there truly 'private choice' when the available choices resulting from the program design are predominantly religious. ... The Ohio scholarship program is designed in a manner calculated to attract religious institutions." Judge James L. Ryan wrote vehement dissent, saying reasoning in the majority opinion "is rooted in nativist bigotry and ... has been explicitly rejected by the Supreme Court as a legitimate determinant of whether a government is engaging in religious indoctrination." The majority responded by calling Ryan's dissent "hyperbole" and "gratuitous insults." It is expected that Cleveland's 3,886 children whose families receive tuition vouchers of up to $2,500 will be able to finish the school year. The case seems likely to be kicked upstairs. "So far, the U.S. Supreme Court has stayed out of the fray—declining to review a Milwaukee program or a voucher fight from Maine," reports the Associated Press. "But both sides of the debate believe the Cleveland case is ripe enough for justices who have nibbled on the issue of state support for church schools." (See more coverage by The Washington Post, USA Today, and The Cincinnati Post.)

AD2000 & Beyond report angers Christian relief agencies
"Many Christian Relief and Development organizations give or partner with others to provide medical care, physical relief, food, shelter, and good drinking water, but the majority neglect giving Living Water, the one and only gift that gives eternal life!" says a report by the AD2000 and Beyond movement's Crisis Relief Task Force. "Victims will experience the greatest disaster in the universe: going to hell; because we lack the courage to share the Gospel message." As readers can imagine, Christian Relief and Development organizations are upset by the report. Clive Calver, president of World Relief, tells Charisma News Service that he was "shattered" by it. "While I applaud the work of this agency, I'm really concerned that they should have failed to research other agencies whose motivation is to work through the local church," he said. " You can't preach to dead people." Similarly, Bruce Wilkinson, senior vice president for international programs at World Vision, says the report was far too limited in scope and language. Limiting evangelism to proclamation, he said, is "a fairly narrow definition. We see it as life, work, deed and sign. We see Christian compassion as an evangelistic act." It's not a new tension. In March, World Evangelical Fellowship sponsored a meeting of more than 70 church and mission agency leaders from 33 countries at which an overemphasis on evangelism and church planting at the expense of holistic ministry was lamented. (See also AD2000's page on the authors of the report, Mark & Betsy Neuenschwander, and a 1982 statement by the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization and World Evangelical Fellowship, "Evangelism and Social Responsibility: An Evangelical Commitment.")

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"Senior diplomat" criticizes China's crackdown on churches
A senior U.S. diplomat, who spoke to reporters in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing on the condition he not be identified, said he was (in the words of The Washington Post) "disturbed and disappointed" by reports of a recent crackdown on Christian churches: 239 unregistered religious facilities have been shut down and another 210 churches and temples have been destroyed with hammers and explosives since mid-November in the Ouhai district of Wenzhou city. "Razing churches before Christmas? I'm incredulous," the diplomat said.

Former bassist for Christian music groups Newsboys, Whiteheart, dies in accident
Kevin Mills, bassist for Christian music bands Whiteheart and the Newsboys in the early- to mid-'90s, died in a motorcycle accident December 3. He was 32.

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