'Student-initiated, student-led' prayers at graduation ceremonies upheld

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled a Florida school system allowing prayers at graduation ceremonies is constitutional because the state isn't involved in most of the decision-making process. "The total absence of state involvement in deciding whether there will be a graduation message, who will speak, or what the speaker may say combined with the student speaker's complete autonomy over the content of the message convinces us that the message delivered, be it secular or sectarian or both, is not state-sponsored," the court ruled in a 10-2 decision. "To conclude otherwise would come perilously close to announcing an absolute rule that would excise all private religious expression from a public graduation ceremony, no matter how neutral the process of selecting the speaker may be, nor how autonomous the speaker may be in crafting her message." (See also the UPI's story, listen to National Public Radio's " Morning Edition" report, and read the official court decision.)

No problem with Bible-quoting judge, rules Ohio Supreme Court

In November 1997, James Arnett pled guilty to ten charges of raping a young girl. In his sentencing, Hamilton County Judge Melba Marsh noted that he had struggled over how long Arnett should serve. His remarks concluded with these comments:

"And in looking at the final part of my struggle with you, I finally answered my question late at night when I turned to one additional source to help me. And basically, looking at Rachel on one hand, looking at the photographs of you happily as a child, and looking at the photographs of downloading that came from your computer, I agree they're very sad photographs, they're pure filth, it just tells me how ill you are. And that passage where I had the opportunity to look is Matthew 18:5-6. 'And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name, [sic] receiveth me. But, [sic] whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that [sic] he were drowned in the depth of the sea.' Pandering obscenity count, one year. Ten counts of rape, five years on each, running consecutive. Sentence, 51 years. Mr. Arnett, I hope God has mercy on you and the hell that you have created. Thank you."

An Ohio appeals court ruled Judge Marsh stepped outside state guidelines and overturned the sentence. On March 15, the Ohio Supreme Court reinstated the sentence. "Turning to the Bible during her deliberations merely assisted the judge in weighing a seriousness factor required for the court's consideration, and the Code does not prohibit the trial judge from describing the nature of her deliberations on record," wrote Justice Deborah L. Cook for the court's unanimous decision. (Read the decision here.) The case comes one week after Georgia's Supreme Court threw out a death sentence because a prosecuting attorney quoted the Bible during the trial's sentencing phase.

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Where 1+1=a religious issue

The Toronto Star, like every other major newspaper in the world, has several articles on the Pope's visit to Israel and Christian-Jewish relations in the country. But what sets the Star's reporting apart is its framing of the story in a mathematical problem: grade-school children in Israel are told not to use the plus sign. As one fourth-grade student remembers his teacher's chastising, "She said the plus sign is not Jewish, it's Christian and they don't like Christians in Israel." Apparently, the plus sign looks too much like a cross.

Hi. My name's Art, and I'm coming back to church after a long absence.

"We have lost transcendence," says Christianity and the Arts magazine's Marci Whitney-Schenck in a Chicago Tribune Magazine article about religious art. "When you go to the cathedrals of Europe, you're awestruck. You don't get that with contemporary churches. A lot of people have created art for their churches, but when we walk in we realize it's not very good art." But in both churches and synagogues, the magazine reports, art is making a comeback.

Why aren't prolifers upset about Cider House Rules?

"Whatever the reason, The Cider House Rules has largely managed to remain below abortion opponents' radar scope, despite featuring characters who clearly favor a woman's right to choose," reports The Associated Press. A common answer is that the story isn't that popular—but honestly, that hasn't stopped protests before. In fact, sometimes it seems protesters deliberately target offensive but likely-to-be-unpopular shows so that they can declare an easy victory (see TV's "Nothing Sacred," "God, the Devil, and Bob," and films like Stigmata.)

Who was Saint Patrick? Depends on who you ask.

"The scarcity of facts about St. Patrick's life has made him a dress-up doll: Anyone can create his own St. Patrick. Ireland's Catholics and Protestants, who have long feuded over him, each have built a St. Patrick in their own image," writes Slate's David Plotz. "Outside Ireland, too, Patrick has been freely reinterpreted. Evangelical Protestants claim him as one of their own." Mormons, New Agers, gays, and even tax-hating Americans have reinterpreted the life of Patrick. While Plotz's assertions about "the scarcity of facts" is a stretch (there's a lot more reliable information about Patrick than most other fourth-century figures, including his detailed autobiographical Confession), he makes a fine point. The point was also made on National Public Radio's "Morning Edition," as Patrick Rucker looks at Belfast's custody battle over Patrick's legacy.

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David Broder applauds "holy intern"

The Washington Post columnist interviews M. Thomas Shaw, the Episcopal bishop of Massachusetts who's currently interning for U.S. Rep. Amo Houghton (R-N.Y.). Shaw, he says, serves as a reminder that "public service is an honorable calling."

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