Bill guaranteeing religious freedom in Israel narrowly passes Knesset
A bill guaranteeing religious freedom and separating Israel's religion and state narrowly passed a preliminary reading in the Knesset yesterday by a vote of 37 to 34. "The freedom of religion, belief and conscience of every person is guaranteed," says the proposed bill. "No person can be forced to belong to a religion, a religious community or a religious [group] of any kind. Freedom of religious practice and the preservation of individual or public religious beliefs are protected." The bill proposes a "Basic Law," which are similar to U.S. constitutional law (it's the closest thing to an Israeli "Bill of Rights"). Religious and Likud members of the Knesset opposed the bill. Apparently it's a long road ahead: The Jerusalem Post barely took notice. A similar bill was apparently introduced in 1998.

Israeli government may close down Bethlehem on Christmas Eve
First Bethlehem officials said Christmas celebrations were cancelled. Then they backtracked. Now Bethlehem officials may not have much of a say at all. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak may declare the city of Jesus' birth a closed military area on Christmas Eve—effectively barring any pilgrims and other worshipers from entering. It's said to be a reprisal for Palestinian attacks on Gilo, an outer Jerusalem suburb built on land annexed by Israel after the 1967 war.

AT&T's Christian investors say "not so fast" to porn deal
A group of eight religious institutional investors, led by Mennonite Mutual Aid, have filed a proxy resolution with AT&T asking the company "to provide a report on a variety of factors related to AT&T's growing involvement in the pornography industry that have a serious and material bearing on the Company's financial success and corporate reputation." The investors found particularly "discouraging and concerning" AT&T's recent deal with a hardcore pornographic cable channel called the Hot Network, though AT&T also owns a company that sells sex videos to hotel rooms. Together, the investors—which include Mennonite Mutual Aid (MMA) Praxis Mutual Funds, the General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits of the United Methodist Church, Christian Brothers Investment Services, Sisters of Saint Joseph (of Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia), the Benedictine Sisters of San Antonio, Church of the Brethren Benefit Trust, Catholic Health East, and the Reformed Church in America—own more than 1.6 million shares. That should make AT&T stand up and take notice. (See the group's letter to AT&T, press release, and a bit of U.K. coverage.)

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