Senate guts faith-based initiative bill
Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), sponsor of the Senate's Charity Aid, Recovery, and Empowerment (CARE) Act, says he has abandoned all hope of passing the bill with provisions making it easier for religious groups to get government grants.

But such provisions were the whole point of the original bill. As The Washington Post reports, "The new plan leaves virtually nothing of Bush's original [faith-based initiatives] plan." Santorum now says he's willing to sacrifice the turkey if it means keeping a few tax-incentive trimmings.

Actually, Santorum used a different food analogy—and it's not the "half a loaf is better than none" that J.C. Watts used last year. "I would have liked to have gotten the whole enchilada, but in the United States Senate this year, you're lucky to get anything, and I'll take anything," he told the Associated Press.

House Republicans have also agreed not to vote on expanding government grants to religious groups and will only consider a bill with tax breaks.

But the now rather pointless bill is still under fire from several senators who say it "specifically should bar groups from using federal funds to proselytize" and "should expressly prohibit groups from getting tax dollars from discriminating against beneficiaries or employees of other religions," reports the Associated Press.

In other words, an effort to assist groups that want to help the needy might actually hurt them. With a Republican-controlled Congress, such provisions are unlikely to be added. But if they are, it's not worth a few tax incentives.

Response to Santorum's announcement is informative. Americans United for Separation of Church and State cried victory. "It's a huge break in the battle over this," said spokesman Joe Conn. "Frankly, they blinked."

Jim Towey, head of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, shrugged it off. ""This is really more of a legislative strategy issue—what can you do now versus what can you do later," he said. "The President remains committed to ending discrimination against faith-based groups. … There are going to be debates this year on faith-based (issues). You can set your watch on that."

Woman may die for converting to Christianity—but not being a sacramentalist
This story is not a joke. A Christian Iranian woman is likely to be killed because Canadian immigration officials don't think she's a true believer.

Nancy (not her real name) says she became a Christian in 2000 while living in Tehran. Shortly thereafter, Iranian officials started questioning her husband about her church attendance. Fearing for her safety, she fled to Montreal, where her sister-in-law lives. There she was baptized by a Pentecostal minister. (She has more recently been attending Ascension Lutheran Church.)

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But Canadian authorities have ordered Nancy to be deported back to Iran April 24, saying she's lying about being a Christian.

Judge Helene Panagakos, who is Greek Orthodox, said that Nancy's inability to identify more than one church sacrament and to give the name "Holy Communion" for the receiving of bread and wine revealed a "lack of knowledge of the most basic Christian concepts."

Hmmm. For one thing, she was baptized in a Pentecostal church: they're not sacramentalists! And calling the Eucharist/Lord's Table/Lord's Supper something other than "Holy Communion" hardly makes one a pagan.

"I know her better than all my other sheep. There's no way she's lying about these things," Ascension pastor Harold Ristau told The National Post. "It would be like finding out your sister's a transvestite." Nancy is only one of three Ascension members whose religious refugee claims have been rejected.

"The mentality is, all religions are the same anyway, so why on earth would somebody convert from Islam to Christianity and make their lives troublesome," he said.

"The Reverend may very well be satisfied that the claimant has converted to Christianity, however, given all that precedes, the panel is not," Panagakos responded. She also attacked Nancy for "abusing" Canada's refugee system.

But not only does the government of Canada say that Nancy isn't a real Christian. It also says she won't face any real consequences for converting if she's forced to return to Iran.

Immigration Canada agent Sylvie Duval said Iranian shari'ah law mandates the death of converts only on paper, and not in practice. "There is no serious reason to believe that her life would be endangered or that she might fall victim to torture or other cruel punishments," she wrote.

That's denied by almost every human rights organization in the world, as well as by the U.S. government. The deportation order "totally baffles me," Amnesty International official Gloria Nafziger told UPI. "It seems the attitude in this country is: The boat is full; there's no room for any more people."

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National Day of Prayer passes the House:

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Christian response to war:

End times prophecy:

Military chaplaincy:

Interfaith relations and other religions:

Life ethics:

  • "Safe havens" for unwanted babies could reduce infanticide | An estimated 85 newborn infants are killed or left to die in the United States each year, according to new research. More "safe havens," where unwanted babies could be left, would reduce the rate of infanticide, says the study, in JAMA (British Medical Journal)

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Church and state:

Missions and ministries:

  • Church ends support for homeless mission | "It was no longer helping people get out of the mission," says pastor. "It went from a mission to a boarding house" (The Greenville [S.C.] News)

  • Charities scorn aid cash from government | A declaration by the directors of Oxfam, Save the Children, Christian Aid, ActionAid and Cafod, the Catholic agency, says such aid would be inappropriate while fighting continues (The Guardian, U.K.)

Church life:

  • High Christian count | 96 percent of Papua New Guinea's citizen population are Christians, according to census figures (Papua New Guinea Post-Courier)

  • Supermarket is first to have a prayer box | Prayers will be collected by local churches and incorporated into services (Express & Star, West Midlands, England)

  • Closing the book | Worldwide Church of God reaches settlement over texts (Pasadena Star News)

  • Work on `bulge' in Temple Mount wall begins | About a year ago, the Israel Antiquities Authority warned if the bulge were not repaired, the wall could collapse. (Ha'aretz, Tel Aviv)

  • DIY call by bishop in speech to synod | The Bishop of Norwich challenged Christians to move away from the "temptation to pay people to do the work we should do ourselves" (EDP24)

  • Heart of the city | San Fernando Cathedral is the geographic center of the city, but many—including non-Catholics—consider it the spiritual center, as well (San Antonio Express-News)

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  • Tax spat not over: Church group, Swanzey spar | A year and a half after filing its latest lawsuit, a church group with a conference center on Swanzey Lake is still battling the town over its property taxes (The Keene [N.H.] Sentinel)

  • Archbishop says spirits in church not cool | The Archbishop of Cape Town has blasted a plan to shoot a television commercial for an alcoholic beverage at St George's Cathedral and ordered the Dean of Cape Town to cancel the planned two-day shoot (Cape Argus, South Africa)

  • Also: 'No problem' with advert in church | A commercial for Bicardi Breezer, which was filmed in St George's Cathedral, Cape Town, "was done in good faith," says Dean Rowan Smith (Cape Times, South Africa)




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Books and music:

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Politics and law:

  • Groups debate HUD religious groups plan | An array of church organizations took opposing sides before Congress on Tuesday over a Bush administration proposal to increase access to federal housing money for religious groups who provide social services (Associated Press)

  • Lawmakers seek national day of prayer and fasting | Harking back to the Revolutionary and Civil wars, the House is talking about a national day of humility, prayer and fasting to seek guidance from God during a time of war and terrorism (Associated Press)

  • Advocate mixes tax reform, religion | Christians don't 'abuse the poor,' professor says (The Huntsville [Ala.] Times)

  • His values extend to the bottomline | For more than a decade, Steven Hotze has been the godfather for Harris County Republicans who advocate incorporating Christian values into government (Houston Chronicle)

  • Deporting a woman to torture? | Has Canada indirectly condemned an Iranian woman to be persecuted, tortured or even killed because of her conversion from Islam to Christianity? (Uwe Siemon-Netto, UPI)

  • Human rights at center of pact by clergy coalition | Members of group hope statement will rekindle possibility of city council passing ordinance, but no evangelicals sign on  (The Topeka Capital-Journal)

Science and health:

  • Abortion, cancer link contested | The National Cancer Institute has posted a statement on its Web site saying top experts do not believe abortion raises a woman's risk of breast cancer (Los Angeles Times)

  • Do our genes reveal the hand of God? | The scientists who launched a revolution with the discovery of the structure of DNA in Cambridge 50 years ago have both used the anniversary to mount an attack on religion (The Daily Telegraph)

  • Also: Our DNA makes us want to believe | A hunt for the "God gene" that underpins our ability to believe is under way by scientists (The Daily Telegraph, London)

  • Who is John Marks Templeton? | An investor and philanthropist who endows an annual prize billed as the world's richest, Templeton is fascinated by the intersection between religion and science (Associated Press)

Sexual ethics:

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Spirituality and faith:

Other stories of interest:

  • Gospel according to Salisbury leads to dispute over concert | A dispute about an annual concert held in Salisbury Township is headed to federal court after the couple who host the event accused the township of violating their religious rights (Intelligencer Journal, Lancaster, Penn.)

  • Faith on the Fairways | Evangelical Christianity delivers hope, perspective for a significant number of touring pros (Golf Digest)

  • Religion news in brief | Episcopal Church report urges against gay union policy, Luis Palau's Beachfest, atheist gives invocation, and other stories (Associated Press)

  • Iowa town may make lying a crime | Acting Mayor Jo Hamlet said he's tired of the exaggerating that comes with stories in the town of 40 residents famous for its hunting and fishing (Associated Press)

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