Appeals court sides with Worldwide Church of God over book the church wants to forget

Four years ago, the Worldwide Church of God (WCG) underwent a major upheaval and examination of its doctrine. It decided that the beliefs of its founder, Herbert W. Armstrong, were wrong. (The beliefs included rejecting the Trinity as a pagan doctrine, and enforced tithing and seventh-day Sabbath observance as conditions for salvation.) Since its rejection of those beliefs and its embrace of orthodoxy (it is now a member of the National Association of Evangelicals), the WCG leadership has been fighting splinter groups over Armstrong's last book, Mystery of the Ages. The church owns the copyright and (since the book is full of doctrine the church now considers heresy) doesn't want the book disseminated. But the Philadelphia Church of God, which still adheres to Armstrong's teachings, says it can copy and distribute Mystery of the Ages under fair use copyright law, the First Amendment, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. A federal district court agreed with the splinter group. But last week a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit ruled 2-1 to overturn that decision and forbade the Philadelphia Church of God from copying the book. "Religious, educational and other public interest institutions would suffer if their publications invested with an institution's reputation and goodwill could be freely appropriated by anyone," the majority wrote. ""Having to ask for permission and presumably to pay for the right to use an owner's copyrighted work may be an inconvenience, and perhaps costly, but it cannot be assumed to be as a matter of law a substantial burden on the exercise of religion." The decision is available in both Adobe Acrobat and regular HTML format. The Worldwide Church of God site has a brief article about the decision. The Journal, which sides with the dissident Churches of God, will have a major article here in a few days. AOL users can still read Christianity Today's July 15, 1996, article, " From the Fringe to the Fold | How the Worldwide Church of God discovered the plain truth of the gospel."

Serbian Orthodox Church sides against Milosevic

The Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church is recognizing Vojislav Kostunica as the winner in the Yugoslav presidential elections. Patriarch Pavle, head of the church, originally supported Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, but began criticizing the leader in 1997. By 1999 the church was calling for outright opposition. Kostunica, Patriarch Pavle said, should take charge "in a peaceful and dignified way." (See the BBC's video coverage here if you have RealPlayer. The Associated Press also reported the story.)

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Senior Vatican official criticizes Dominus Iesus

Cardinal Edward Cassidy, head of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, says a recent declaration reiterating Catholic teachings on the uniqueness of the church is mistaken in "tone and timing." The document, he said, was "written by professors for other professors" rather than by and for ecumenists who "have a better ear for language which might offend." Such public criticism of peers in the Vatican is rare, but illustrates longstanding tensions between the Council for Christian Unity and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which authored Dominus Iesus. (See more coverage in The Irish Times.)

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