Reuters: Methodist ad can appear on our Times Square billboard
It's rare to see the United Methodist Church and liberal mainliners like the National Council of Churches complaining about having their religious viewpoint excluded from the public square. That's something that's more often left to conservatives—unless it's liberals complaining about the attention paid by the media to the religious right.

But this week, the mainliners have been mobilized against the Reuters news agency after it went back on a $30,000 contract to air ads for the United Methodist Church on its 7,000 square-foot electronic billboard in New York City's Times Square. The news agency explained that it does not allow "pornographic, political, religious, libelous, misleading, or deceptive" ads on its billboard.

Of course, the mainliners cast the debate in different terms than evangelicals would have, had, say, a Southern Baptist Convention ad been rejected. "The public square is becoming increasingly like private property, overtaken by larger and larger corporations who control more and more of our channels of communication, from cable to broadcast networks to newspapers to billboards," the NCC lamented.

If we get to the point where a handful of corporations can buy up the walls of the town square and rule that certain topics, like religious faith, cannot be expressed there—even when those who wish to speak are willing to pay for the opportunity—American democracy will truly be at risk. … Are we afraid that hearing these voices could change the agenda of the conversation from consumption to conscience? … If religious speech is banned from the public marketplace, the remaining dialogue will revolve solely around getting and spending.

This week, the cries of outrage were heard by Reuters CEO Thomas H. Glocer, who had been traveling during the mounting controversy.

"You state on your website that your church should be given the same access and opportunity to speak in the commercial marketplace as corporate advertisers. On reflection, I believe that you are right," Glocer said in a letter to UMC communications head Larry Hollon. "Consumers have become more sophisticated over recent years, and I think there is little likelihood of an advertisement being viewed as the opinion of a news gatherer such as Reuters. Provided it is made clear that the material in question is paid advertising and that there is no possibility of confusion with our news output, I believe you should have the same access to commercial space as any other organization."

Hollon said that the agency's policies are changing, but that not all religious advertising would be accepted. "For example, we would not permit advertising that maligned another religion," he said.

The Methodist ads will now run 10 times daily during Thanksgiving week, one of the busiest shopping times of the year.

Had this happened to an evangelical denomination or church, conservatives probably would have merely decried "liberal media bias." Perhaps this argument about religious speech vs. the message of consumerism is worth exploring and using further. Especially if it works.

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Terri Schiavo:

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  • Schiavo lawyers challenge 'Terri's Law' (USA Today)

  • What would God say? | Many religious leaders say it is within His will to withhold basic needs from someone with no chance of recovery, such as Terri Schiavo (St. Petersburg Times, Fla.)

  • Judicial hearing shifts focus | A judicial-confirmation hearing yesterday turned into the latest battleground over family members who want to remove feeding tubes from their loved ones (The Washington Times)

Partial-birth abortion ban:

More life ethics stories:

  • Energized conservatives seek to widen fetal rights | Their agenda for the next year: pass more bills to protect fetuses, stop human cloning and hinder abortions; confirm pending nominees who are sympathetic to the antiabortion movement to federal trial and appellate courts; and, with an eye to potential future Supreme Court vacancies, reelect Bush and expand the slender Republican Senate majority (Los Angeles Times)

  • Canada's lower house okays cloning ban bill | Bill also sets guidelines on stem cell research (Associated Press)

  • Embryo case woman to appeal | A woman fighting her former boyfriend to save frozen IVF embryos from destruction is taking her legal battle to the Court of Appeal (The Daily Telegraph, London)

  • India steps up effort to halt abortions of female fetuses | J. K. Banthia, the Indian census commissioner, estimates that several million fetuses have been aborted in India in the last two decades because they were female (The New York Times)

  • A birth control controversy | In its zeal to bring down the fertility rate, the Rajasthan government plans to implement methods of contraception that have women and the poor as the main target groups (Frontline, India)

  • Preserving the dignity of life | Philosophers, theologians, ethicists and the inevitable lawyers met for three days in Chicago to talk about how each of the three great religions upholds the sanctity and dignity of human life (Suzanne Fields, The Washington Times)

Adoption and homosexuality:

Gay marriage:

  • Church open to same-sex benefits talk | Bishop says marriage laws cannot change (The Boston Globe)

  • Also: Bridging the gap on gay partners | The Massachusetts Legislature got some good advice last week from Worcester Bishop Daniel P. Reilly on the issue of how to best acknowledge within state law gay relationships (Editorial, Boston Herald)

  • Gay marriage looms as issue | GOP push for amendment is dilemma for Bush (The Washington Post)

  • New Age Arnold, Old Testament GOP | Arnold Schwarzenegger is in Washington today, where his party is busy at work ensuring that the 2004 election turns on the question of banning gay marriage (Harold Meyerson, The Washington Post)

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  • Activists want strict 'gay marriage' rules | Gay campaigners today warned the Scottish Executive not to make it "too easy" for same-sex couples to enter into legally recognised civil partnerships (Evening News, Edinburgh)

Other sexual ethics issues:

  • Chastity finds youthful embrace | Miss America 2003 Erika Harold, who last year fought pageant officials' attempts to stifle her abstinence message, says growing numbers of young people are rejecting sexual promiscuity (The Washington Times)

  • Rescue Mission rejects help from gay church | Leader says letting group serve hungry would be endorsement (The Charlotte Observer)

  • Charlotte Rescue Mission refuses aid (Associated Press)

  • Group prepares legal challenge to 'born gay' theory | Coalition members want to see an end to what they consider reverse discrimination by institutions. Since homosexuality is no longer considered a disorder, neither should recovery from homosexuality be considered a disorder, they said. (CNSNews.com)

  • Gay at birth? | Some people say we should settle gay rights disputes on the basis of the Old Testament. I say we should rely on blinking patterns.(Nicholas D. Kristof, The New York Times)

  • When religious beliefs are the enemy | The Mormon Church. The Vatican. Islamic fundamentalists. They all use their "deeply held religious beliefs" to bash gay people. Yet few dare call them bigots. Having helped lead the charge against the homophobic Dr. Laura, Frasier creator and activist David Lee is ready for his next battle (The Advocate)

  • Supreme mocking | Scalia on the Court's gay sex ruling (Peter Augustine Lawler, National Review Online)

  • Anti-gay preacher loses | Casper City Council votes against 6-foot monument deriding Matthew Shepard (Rocky Mountain News, Denver)

  • Kilgore criticized for tie to gay-rights pledge | Two conservative Christian groups are criticizing Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore for his promise not to discriminate against gay people in hiring decisions (The Virginian-Pilot)

  • Also: Fair hiring defies labels of liberal, conservative (Kerry Dougherty, The Virginian-Pilot)

Politics and law (U.S.):

  • Churches ask court to void state gun law | A state law, in effect for five months, that prohibits churches and other property owners from barring guns in their parking lots and rental facilities is an unconstitutional infringement on religious freedom, the lawyer for 45 church groups argued Tuesday before the Minnesota Court of Appeals (Minneapolis Star-Tribune)

  • Filibusters passe, way needed to end judge logjam, Frist says | Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist yesterday declared the days of round-the-clock filibustering over and said that the historical maneuver would be useless in preventing President Bush's judicial nominees from getting confirmed (The Washington Times)

  • Yuba may hire anti-porn lawyer | A Tennessee lawyer with a national reputation as the "Orkin exterminator" of sexually oriented businesses may help Yuba County fashion its own law restricting such businesses (Appeal-Democrat, Yuba City, Calif.)

  • Prayers of 'faith, trust' for mayor | Local religious leaders offer interfaith service for the city (Rocky Mountain News, Denver)

  • Handicapping religion in political wars | If success in the political arena occasioned by religiously motivated lobbying is taboo, then believers would be handcuffed in exercising their First Amendment right to petition government for redress of grievances (Bruce Fein, The Washington Times)

Church and state

  • No room for 'Jesus Christ' at council meetings | As part of a long-standing tradition, every Turlock city council meeting begins with an invocation lead by a local pastor. But a California appellate court ruling earlier this year has placed some limitations on how the invocation can be conducted (Turlock Journal, Calif.)

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Bush and faith-based initiatives:

Politics (non-U.S.):

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Christianity and Islam:

Pledge of Allegiance:

  • The pledge's creator | What would the minister who wrote the Pledge of Allegiance make of the legal challenge to it? (Jeffrey Owen Jones, Smithsonian)

  • 'Under God' foe vows more challenges ahead | Michael Newdow says the legal challenge will be followed by others in his attempt to expunge all mention of a deity from government, its symbols and officials performing government duties (UPI)

  • The meaning of 'Under God' | If you approve of the developments usually associated with the 1960's — the civil rights movement, antiwar struggles, resurgence of feminism, sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll — then you should approve of "under God" (Peter Steinfels, The New York Times)

  • The pledge of allegiance | The atheists have gone bananas in the extent to which they misinterpret the First Amendment (Alistair Cooke, BBC | listen)

10 Commandments:

Christian group sues U. Minn over gay rule:

Education:

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Survey says:

  • Everyone else can go to hell, Americans say | A new survey of Americans' views of the afterlife suggests that hell is for other people (The Guardian, London)

  • Is the devil real? Readers write about it | Polls show that, increasingly, people are doubting the existence of the devil as a real being (The Tennessean, Nashville)

  • Stats show decline of Christianity | JUST 68 per cent of Australians classed themselves as Christians in 2001, down from 96 per cent at Federation, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (AAP, Australia)

  • A shaky life for young without belief | A society that fails to connect its young to solid personal and moral foundations is failing to provide them with much needed direction in life. But, according to a new study, such a society is also acting in ways harmful to their essential biology (Chris McGillion, The Sydney Morning Herald)

Theology

Books:

Church of Scotland's first female moderator:

  • Church of Scotland's first woman moderator signals she will be open to reform | Alison Elliot, the first female moderator-designate, will not don the traditional knickerbocker outfit favoured by the men who have preceded her (The Herald, Glasgow, Scotland)

  • Female Moderator makes history (The Scotsman)

  • Piercing the stained glass ceiling | The only extraordinary aspect about the moderator of the General Assemby of the Church of Scotland being a woman—at last—is that her gender is considered significant a full 35 years after the assembly agreed that women could be ministers "on the same terms and conditions as are at present applicable to men." (Jennifer Cunningham, The Herald, Glasgow, Scotland)

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