Persecution worsening in much of world, says U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom
Last year's annual report of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom focused its policy recommendations on only three countries: China, Russia, and Sudan (Egypt, India, Iran, and Vietnam were also briefly discussed). This year, the commission broadened its scope to also include India, Indonesia, Iran, North Korea, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Vietnam. Its findings: religious persecution is on the rise in most of them. "The situation in China has grown worse over the past year," India has seen "a disturbing increase in violence against minority Christians and Muslims," violence in Indonesia "reached new and more-deadly levels," and Sudan was named "the world's most violent abuser of the right to freedom of religion and belief."

It's rather difficult to summarize the broad scope and recommendations of the report in a few sentences—they include such disparate proposals as "ensure that Beijing is not selected as a site for the Olympic Games" and "[use] U.S. foreign-assistance funds … to support civic groups that teach and foster religious tolerance." But it's worth noting that this year's commission report has several potentially controversial additions from last year. In one, the commission examined the right to evangelize and change religion. "These are important, complex, and sensitive issues, and thus can present difficult challenges for U.S. policymakers," the report said. Also, the commission recommended that the U.S. government use its capital markets to pressure foreign companies that do business in persecuting countries. (Some argue that allowing companies like Talisman Energy to do business in places like Sudan can lead to improving the situation there.) Finally, there's a brief paragraph in the report complaining that "The [State] Department has … constructed a cumbersome and lengthy process whereby Commission staff are able to review cables after they have been redacted." Expect more on this later.

Meanwhile, see China's response to the report, as well as related articles from CNN and the Los Angeles Times.

Is Washington's anti-bullying bill meant to bully those who think homosexuality is wrong?
In this post-Columbine era (haven't had a chance to use that phrase in a while), you'd think an anti-bulling bill would be a good thing. Christian author Frank Peretti called for such public policy actions in his latest book, The Wounded Spirit. But in Peretti's home state of Washington, Christians are actually lining up against such a bill, saying it limits free speech. "It looked like it could be (used against) people who might speak out against behavior," Rick Forcier, director of the state's Christian Coalition, told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. More specifically, he's concerned that the bill, which would have required school districts to create anti-harassment policies and train workers to prevent intimidation, would also mean that Christian students wouldn't be allowed to speak out against homosexual behavior. To Republican opponents of the bill, it looks and sounds like a hate-crime law. "We don't want to see kids beat up on," says Forcier. "But I think this one went well beyond what we think is necessary." As a result of such opposition, the bill didn't make it out of the House Education Committee before the legislative session ended April 22.

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Other stories on homosexuality and public life:

Homosexuality and the church:

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God speed: Americans' hectic lives are reflected in way they pray | Many Americans pray just like they eat: on the run, between their kids' soccer games and trips to the supermarket. Some pray more in their cars than in their homes. (The Dallas Morning News)

Americans mark National Day of Prayer (UPI)

Denominational battles:

Church life:

  • Bishop bemoans bureaucracy | The mission of the Church of England is "grinding to a halt" under a burden of meetings, consultations and paperwork, says the Bishop of Liverpool. (The Daily Telegraph, London)
  • Report sings praises of hymn books | Overhead projectors are undermining the work of the Protestant Reformers, says a Church of Scotland report. (The Times, London)
  • Ringing a mobile phone to attract young people | On Thursday, the world's first mobile phone church service will take place in an Evangelical (Lutheran) church in Hanover, with highlights of the service relayed to the mobile phones of registered users. (The Irish Times)
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  • Also: German gspel according 2 txt msg | Reverend Stefan Heinze said he wants to combine technology with tradition to attract those who have not been to church since their confirmation. (The Guardian, London)
  • Search for the right church ends at home | A growing number of Christians across the country are choosing a do- it-yourself worship experience in what they call a "house church." While numbers for such an intentionally decentralized religious phenomenon are hard to pin down, as many as 1,600 groups in all 50 states are listed on house church Web sites. (The New York Times)
  • In the shadow of the giants | With the success of the megachurch, some small congregations feel pressure to measure success by the numbers. But others emphasize participation and intimacy as marks of a healthy community. (Los Angeles Times)
  • Many churches shun spires for warehouse look | New architecture emphasizes large, adaptable spaces (Religion News Service/Chicago Tribune)
  • Church marketing stirs controversy | Episcopal pastor's mail pitch a puzzle to some (Chicago Tribune)
  • Bishop speaks of healing, giving | AME Zion's Vashti McKenzie urges community to care about those in need. (The Sun, Baltimore)
  • German church to pray in English | The difficulty the increasingly diverse congregation was having with "Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name" is one reason the language will no longer be used in the service. (Chicago Tribune)
  • Russia no longer losing its religion | Number of congregations has grown from 5,000 in 1990 to more than 20,000 today (AsiaTimes)
  • Good faith appears missing in offer of parish aid | It was the kind of chance encounter that inevitably prompts talk of divine intervention and, in the end, is too good to be true. (The New York Times)
  • Red Rocks Easter service off in '02 | Denver-area institution will be canceled for the first time since World War II—and no one's more surprised than its organizer. (The Rocky Mountain News)

Missions and ministry:

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Life ethics:


  • Bible club debate heats up on Internet | Chat rooms and Web sites have lit up with messages posted by people both for and against religious groups meeting on middle-school campuses. (The Arizona Republic)
  • Legal threat to church schools | Suits by disgruntled parents would prevent selection of children on religious grounds. (The Sunday Times, London)
  • Why not try vouchers? | Religious social-service programs cam find a reasonable path between the dual errors of promoting sectarianism and harming religion (James Q. Wilson, The New York Times)
  • Court gives governor lift on vouchers | Florida Supreme Court has refused to review a ruling upholding the state's school voucher law, but order only kills part of constitutional challenge (Associated Press/The Miami Herald)

Knicks controversy, continued (and, one hopes, concluded):

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