Nativity out but other "secular" religious symbols okay, says judge
The rule on religious expression and government property generally works like this: acknowledge one religion, and you have to be open to acknowledging them all.

This is the philosophy the New York City Department of Education used when it set up its holiday display with every possible symbol: a Christmas tree, menorahs, dreidels, a crescent and star, a Kwanzaa candelabra, Christmas wreaths and bells, Santa Claus, and a snowman.

Andrea Skoros, a mother from Queens, noted something missing: a crèche. "I just think that if you're going to put up religious symbols, then you have to respect all religions," she explained. "If you have Jewish and Muslim symbols, then it's not enough for Catholics to have a Christmas tree. We should be able to display the Nativity scene, too."

Ah, but not so fast, said a federal judge ruled yesterday. None of the current displays are religious. The menorah and crescent and star may have a religious history to them, but they "have developed significant secular connotations," Judge Charles Sifton said. Not so with the Nativity, which is "purely religious." (No word on which category the cross would fall into.)

"I don't understand how [Sifton] can say a menorah is not a religious symbol," said Skoros, who had also complained that her sons were taught the story of Chanukah, but not Christmas. "That blows my mind." Not that she expected to win. "I didn't think that a judge in New York state would rule in favor of Christians," she told the New York Post. "It's too liberal. They're worried about hurting everybody's feelings."

Skoros is backed by the Thomas More Law Center, and plans to appeal.

Is Christian television irresponsible?
Daystar Television Network, a Christian satellite network based in Dallas, is challenging the high-profile sale of KOCE-TV, a public television station in Orange County, California. According to legal experts consulted by the Los Angeles Times, it looks like it might have a case: it offered more money—in cash—than the foundation that bought the station. Trustees say they followed the law, which required a sale to the "highest responsible bidder."

Eh? There's the matter of whether cash is better than a promissory note (which would you rather have?), but that may not be enough. "The only way they could justify it is to say the other one is not responsible," Stanford Law School professor Michael Klausner told the paper.

And that's the case made by Costa Mesa resident Lynn Merles in a letter to the Times. For her, a sale to a religious station would have been irresponsible. "KOCE-TV, should remain a public service TV channel, not the spokesman for religion," she wrote. "It's bad enough that several theaters in the area have been bought by churches. We don't need religion forced down our throats — we should choose it. I resent having a Mormon poem on my food tray when I fly Alaska Airlines. [Uh, aren't those cards on Alaska Airlines just Bible verses?] Next time I'd like a Jewish poem, not that I'm religious, but I would like that or agnostic poem or something else."

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James ossuary:

  • Fake ossuary leads Israel to look into sellers of antiquities | An Israeli documentary Wednesday claimed the James ossuary, the ancient burial box bearing a discredited inscription mentioning Jesus, is just the tip of a long-running forgery ring that has duped antiquities collectors worldwide for the last 15 years (USA Today)

  • Television report says 'Jesus ossuary' owner ran fraud ring | Oded Golan, who is suspected of forging the inscription "James the brother of Jesus," on a first century ossuary, worked with a ring of counterfeiters who sold dozens of forged articles to antiquities dealers and collectors, Channel 2's "Fact" program reports (Ha'aretz, Tel Aviv)

  • Earlier: Debate continues over authenticity | UT professor says Israeli study flawed (The Toledo Blade, Oh.)

Christians and Muslims:

  • Christian seminar did not vilify Muslims: lawyer | David Perkins said the seminar was exempt under Victoria's Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001, and the case should be dismissed (The Age, Melbourne, Australia)

  • Islam illegal under law, court told | Islam was an illegal religion because the Koran preached violence against Christians and Jews, a Christian group told a judge yesterday (The Age, Melbourne, Australia)

  • Revival of Christianity, Islam in Ivory Coast becomes sensitive issue | The lingering state of civil war in Ivory Coast is pushing many Christians and Muslims in the country to strengthen their faith (Voice of America)

John Kelley, pastor killed in Iraq:

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  • Missionary killed | mission to help an Iraqi Christian pastor establish a church in Baghdad ended in tragedy for four Baptist pastors from the Northeast when they were attacked by gunmen Saturday (The Sun Chronicle, Attleboro, Mass.)


  • Not a chance | In a classic David-and-Goliath matchup, grass-roots groups push back against the gambling industry. (The Christian Science Monitor)

  • Slots offer can't sway black preachers | Black religious leaders remain opposed to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s plan to bring slot machines to Maryland, despite his promise that black entrepreneurs would be at least part owners of gambling emporiums (The Washington Times)


Ten Commandments:

Benny Hinn in India:

Paying for prayer:

  • Return cash? Not me, says defiant bishop | Cash-for-prayers Anglican bishop Peter Njoka yesterday said he would not return Sh1.7 million he received from the Nairobi city council (Daily Nation, Nairobi, Kenya)

  • Bishop must pay back Sh1.7m, says Maitha | Cabinet minister Karisa Maitha yesterday insisted that the cash-for-prayers bishop Peter Njoka must repay the Sh1.7 million he received from the city council (The Nation, Nairobi)

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  • Njoka skips service at his church | Embattled Anglican Bishop Peter Njoka did not minister in his church yesterday even after returning from a US trip last week (The East African Standard, Nairobi)

  • Earlier: Besieged bishop to meet all diocese priests | Cash-for-prayers bishop Peter Njoka yesterday failed to attend a service at St Stephen's church in Nairobi where he usually goes (The Nation, Nairobi)

  • Njoka cash a moral issue | The controversial Sh1.7 million payout to Anglican Bishop Peter Njoka for prayer services offered to Nairobi City Council is a major blot on the Christian ministry (Editorial, The Nation, Nairobi)


  • Stokes gun case voided | He was convicted in 2002 of weapons count, cleared in wounding of priest; Prosecutors weigh retrial; Letting alternate jurors join deliberations was error, appeals court says (The Baltimore Sun)

  • Also: Court overturns gun convictions of man who shot priest in Md. | The Maryland Court of Appeals ordered a new trial for Dontee Stokes, a ruling that erases the convictions from his record but has little practical effect on his liberty (The Washington Post)

  • Also: Md. priest shooter's conviction reversed (Associated Press)

  • Pastor saves PDP chieftain from assassination | Former Peoples Democratic Party gubernatorial aspirant in Ekiti State, Mr. Sikiru Babalola, who escaped being lynched by political thugs during a church service in Ado-Ekiti, last Sunday, has narrated his ordeal, saying he would have been killed by his assailants, but for the presiding priest in the church, Pastor Tayo Oseromi (Vanguard, Lagos, Nigeria)

  • Priest attacked, robbed | A 64-year-old Italian Catholic priest escaped death by a whisker after armed thugs shot at him but missed (The East African Standard, Nairobi, Kenya)

  • Okogie tackles miracle-working pastors | The Archbishop of Lagos Catholic Diocese, Cardinal Anthony Olubunmi Okogie has descended on "miracle working" pastors, describing them as a bunch of liars and fake clerics who feigned healing for filthy lucres they stand to gain (Daily Champion, Lagos, Nigeria)


  • Clergy abuse payouts top $500 million | An upcoming national report on the scope of sexual abuse of children by Roman Catholic clergy will reveal that the church in the United States has spent more than $500 million to settle such cases between 1950 and 2002 (Chicago Sun-Times)

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John Tietjen:

Denis Hurley:

Mel Gibson:

The Passion:

  • Jewish leader wants Vatican stand on Gibson film | Abraham Foxman, who met several Vatican officials, urged them to instruct bishops around the world to issue statements locally telling their faithful that the film is an artistic work and not a pure portrayal of gospel accounts (Reuters)

  • The Gospel truth? | For both sides in conflict of Mel Gibson's `Passion,' the devil is in the details (Boston Herald)

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San Francisco gay marriage:

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  • Local Christians denounce same-sex marriage | While President Bush said Wednesday he's "troubled" by the hundreds of same-sex weddings taking place in San Francisco, local conservatives find the unions far more disturbing (Santa Cruz Sentinel, Ca.)

  • Gays are seeking social approval | Nowadays it seems that many people, not just homosexuals, want the cachet of marriage without accepting its implicit non-contractual obligations (Paddy McGuinness, The Sydney Morning Herald)

  • Desecration? Dedication! | Gay couples are being held to a standard the denizens of Vegas chapels and divorce courts never had to meet to legally come together (Anna Quindlen, Newsweek)

  • Jackson wary of same-sex rift | The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson yesterday said he supports "equal protection under the law" for gay couples, but stopped short of supporting same-sex marriage, a distinction that has been roiling the black leadership in Massachusetts (The Boston Globe)

  • Georgia considers amendment to ban gay marriage | Scores of Christian conservatives rallied in Georgia on Tuesday to support a constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage in the Bible Belt state (Reuters)

  • PM urged to ban gay adoption | A Christian lobby group today urged the Federal Government to overturn an ACT law which allows homosexual couples to adopt children (The Australian)

  • Gay Christians hit out at calls for calm language | But the church's acceptance of gays really is a matter of life or death, says Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement head Richard Kirker (

  • Same-sex marriage leaping into election | Issue has hazards for all candidates (Chicago Tribune)

  • Marriage amendment cause | In our blessed land of the free, you can define a piccolo as a baked potato and then slather the thing with sour cream prior to chomping down. But mere assertion doesn't turn a piccolo into a baked potato. Only a judge, it seems, enjoys that prerogative (William Murchison, The Washington Times)

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Ted Olsen
Ted Olsen is Christianity Today's executive editor. He wrote the magazine's Weblog—a collection of news and opinion articles from mainstream news sources around the world—from 1999 to 2006. In 2004, the magazine launched Weblog in Print, which looks for unexpected connections and trends in articles appearing in the mainstream press. The column was later renamed "Tidings" and ran until 2007.
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