Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals dismisses parsonage tax case three months after settlement
Shortly before the Pledge of Allegiance case, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals was drawing fire from religious leaders for suggesting that pastors' tax deductions for housing might be an unconstitutional state endorsement of religion.

The court's action was particularly galling because the IRS and Saddleback Community Church pastor Rick Warren had largely settled their differences and both agreed that the exemption was constitutional. Nevertheless, the court asked University of Southern California law professor Erwin Chemerinsky to write a brief on the deduction's constitutionality.

Congress didn't care much about Chemerinsky's interpretation, and instead passed a law quickly and unanimously clarifying the tax code on the issue.

With the new law in place, the IRS and Warren asked the court to dismiss the case. But having been drawn into the case, Chemerinsky didn't want to let go. He filed an opposition to the dismissal, then filed a motion to intervene as a private taxpayer.

On Monday the court denied Chemerinsky's motion and dismissed the case.

But there's an ominous line in the dismissal: "Neither the voluntary dismissal here nor the passage of the Clergy Housing Allowance Clarification Act resolves the constitutionality of [clergy housing allowances]. Because Prof. Chemerinsky may raise this issue through a separate lawsuit, our denial of intervention will not impair his ability to protect his interest as a taxpayer."

In other words, it sounds like Warren may be heading back to court.

Temple wall may fall, say Israelis
A 35-foot bulge in a wall at the Temple Mount is about to collapse, say Israeli archaeologists and leaders. "There are serious grounds for the apprehension that it could collapse," Jerusalem mayor Ehud Olmert told Israel Radio yesterday. "We have reached the moment of truth."

The bulge has been there for a while, but the Israelis say it's getting worse with Muslims' construction work.

Muslims say the wall is stable and that Israel is just trying to gain control of the area.

Some press reports are saying the Western Wall (or Wailing Wall) is bulging, but it's actually the wall above it. The Western Wall, then, may still be in danger of collapse if the bulging wall falls. Weblog wonders what Bible prophecy enthusiasts think of all this. Would the collapse of the Western Wall be a fulfillment of Jesus' prophecy in Matthew 24:2 that "not one stone will be left on another"? Do some dispensational premillennialists believe this would be a sign of the end times?

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Church and state:

  • ACLU loses two religion rulings | After losing two Ten Commandments rulings in Kentucky this week, the organization is trying to force them out of a Frederick, Md., cemetery (The Washington Times)

  • Also: ACLU seeks removal of stone | Ten Commandments replica in park is target; Constitutional violation claimed; Frederick renamed site to skirt conflict (The Baltimore Sun)

  • Court hears appeal of Burbank prayer ruling | Two years ago, a Los Angeles County judge ruled that Burbank City Council meetings cannot begin with sectarian prayers (Los Angeles Times)

  • Crosses become part of Nativity lawsuit | A wooden cross is the latest piece of evidence to be gathered for an upcoming federal trial on whether Tuscola County's Nativity scene violates the constitutionally mandated separation of church and state (The Bay City [Mich.] Times)



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Nigeria stoning sentence:

  • The savagery of Islamic law | Nigeria should intervene, by force if necessary, to stop an "Islamic court" from proceeding with a travesty of a trial that could result in a woman being stoned to death (Editorial, The Rocky Mountain News, Denver)

  • Nigerian state washes its hands of stoning sentence | No intervention expected in appeal of woman who bore child out of wedlock (Sapa/AFP)

  • Casting stones | The Qur'an says nothing about stoning. Why is this mother facing death? (Time)

Life ethics:

  • Fertility laws branded 'ambiguous' | British law says both parties must consent to the storage and use of embryos created by IVF—but what happens when your former partner disagrees? (BBC)

  • Taxpayer-funded lies | Antiabortion groups use "crisis-pregnancy centers" to scare women out of having abortions. Some lawmakers have cracked down on them. President Bush increased their federal funding (Michelle Goldberg,

  • Hidden healer? | Abortion drug may be beneficial for reproductive health (Newsweek)

Sex and marriage:

  • Gay student sues for discrimination | A gay former student of a Melbourne Christian school is taking legal action under equal opportunity legislation, claiming the school discriminated against him because of his sexuality (The Australian)

  • Gay Episcopalian priests battle N.J. for right to be married | Newark Diocese has lent public support, the New York Diocese has refused to comment, and other bishops have called on them to resign from the ministry (New York Post)

  • Church's growing flock changes heart of Texas | As the largest predominantly gay church in the United States, and possibly the world, the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas is thriving. In doing so, it is challenging old stereotypes about conservatism and intolerance in the nation's ninth-largest city (The Washington Post)

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  • Marriage redefined? | As the legal fight over gay marriage heats up in New Jersey, the most adamant opponents decry the unions as unnatural and immoral -and most of all, a threat to the very foundation of society (The Bergen [N.J.] Record)

  • Poor old marriage needs all the help it can get | Homosexuals wanting to tie the knot are the least of wedlock's worries (Ruth Pollard, The Sydney Morning Herald)

Prayer and spirituality:

Church life:

  • A shift in their focus for black churches | Neo-Pentecostals: Traditional congregations bristle at stress on the individual over social activism. (The Baltimore Sun)

  • Mother church of a secular city? | The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels could become the spiritual center of this disconnected city. Then again, it could become a $200-million reminder of just how little we have in common (Los Angeles Times)

  • Atop church, another, less deadly holy war | The Church of the Holy Sepulcher has evolved into a warren of shrines with exhaustive rules and claims, and every attempted alteration becomes embroiled in disputes (The New York Times)

  • Conservative Anglican churches opening in North Carolina | Ex-Episcopal priests and former Episcopalians have gone around Episcopal bishops in the United States and started 40 new churches under the banner of the Anglican Mission in America (Associated Press)

  • Conservative pastor at odds with liberal Episcopal Church | Because he disagrees with the Episcopal Church about women's ordination, homosexual priests and same-sex blessings, Gene Geromel has separated his church from the Episcopal Diocese of Eastern Michigan (The Flint [Mich.] Journal)

  • The Lord's air in church | Couples could soon be tying the knot in this inflatable church (The Sun, U.K.)
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  • Report: Senior priest spied on Pope | A high-ranking Polish priest spied for communist authorities on church officials including Pope John Paul II, who was the bishop of Krakow at the time, a government institute said Friday (Associated Press)

  • Pope cancels Philippines trip (BBC)

  • Becoming a priest in a time of turmoil | The demands of celibacy, heavy workloads, and a sexual abuse crisis that has shattered trust in the church: The tasks facing Catholic priests-in-training, always demanding, are even more daunting now (The Boston Globe)

  • Wanted: a new patron saint | There is a strong Christian argument for the United Kingdom as an embodiment of the principle of unity through diversity, and a model of the Trinitarian doctrine of perichoresis, the inter-penetration of the constituent parts of a body so that they retain their identity but also contribute to a bigger whole (Ian Bradley, The Guardian)

Sex abuse scandals:

  • Accused priests charge slander | Some priests have used the civil courts in recent weeks to strike back against those who have accused them of sexual misconduct (The New York Times)

  • Abuse crisis tests church doctrine on scandal | Catholic teaching couldn't be more clear: It is wrong to scandalize the faithful (The Boston Globe)

  • Priest protests parishioners' tax | The Rev. Henry C. Frascadore of St. Dominic Church in Southington said Friday he wants to know the source of the money used by the archdiocese to pay for settlements, legal fees and administrative leave for priests accused of wrongdoing (Associated Press)

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