Religious neutrality beats hostility again
Last July, U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler ruled that the federal AmeriCorps program was unconstitutionally establishing religion by funding teachers at Roman Catholic schools along with those in public schools. The line between religious and secular tasks "has become completely blurred," she lamented.

Yesterday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit unanimously reversed Kessler's opinion, drawing heavily on the Supreme Court's 2002 decision allowing school vouchers to be used at religious schools.

"When a government program is neutral toward religion and 'provides assistance directly to a broad class of citizens who, in turn, direct government aid to religious schools wholly as a result of their own genuine and independent private choice,' the Establishment Clause is not violated," Judge A. Raymond Randolph wrote, quoting from the Zelman v. Simmons-Harris voucher decision.

In bringing the suit, the American Jewish Congress (AJC) focused on the program's allowing teachers to teach religion courses outside the program. Where Kessler sees blurriness, Randolph sees clarity.

"Individual participants who elect to teach religion in addition to secular subjects do so only as a result of 'their own genuine and independent private choice,'" he note. "The AmeriCorps program creates no incentives for participants to teach religion; they may count only the time they spend engaged in non-religious activities toward their service hours requirement. And if they do teach religious subjects, they are prohibited from wearing the AmeriCorps logo when they are doing so."

AJC general counsel Marc Stern is still sore. "One minute they are teaching religion and those kids are supposed to believe they are Catholic school employees," he told the Associated Press. "The bell rings and the next minute they are teaching math and now they are representatives of the Corporation for National and Community Service."

And then, if the kid sees the teacher at Mass on Sunday, they'll be even more convinced that Uncle Sam is ordering them to worship the Pope! Best to replace teachers with robots.

Another Jewish group welcomes the ruling.

"This is another hopeful sign that the constitutional law with regard to the relationship of religion and state is on the right track — toward moderation and toleration, rather than the discrimination which some continue to seek," Nathan Diament, director of public policy for the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations, told the New York Sun.

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The Sun, UPI analyst Michael Kirkland, and others agree that yesterday's decision, in Kirkland's words, "is part of a growing judicial trend over the last decade to allow some government support of religious activity, as long as it is not too direct."

H. James Towey, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, noted that fewer than 1 percent of AmeriCorps' 75,000 participants teach in religious schools, but he told The Washington Post that the decision still has broad ramifications.

"What the court today did … was make clear that faith-based mentors were not going to have to sacrifice their religious identity to participate in this program," he said.

Habitat-Fuller imbroglio worsens
The board of directors for Habitat for Humanity International yesterday unanimously reaffirmed its decision to fire founder Millard Fuller as president in January, The Washington Post reports on its front page.

But the battle over Fuller's firing threatens to boil over, the article continues. Fuller is threatening to create a rival organization that will deal directly with friendly international affiliates, funding projects while circumventing Habitat headquarters in Americus, Georgia.

Meanwhile, "several former employees and close associates of Fuller -- including three ordained ministers -- have come forward to say they have inside knowledge of numerous prior allegations of sexual misconduct and workplace harassment by him," the Post's Alan Cooperman reports, with much "she said/he said" details.

Whoever's right, it's a sad, sad story.

More articles

Religion & politics:

  • Republicans seek to stir up a grass-roots drive for Bush's judicial nominees | Family Research Council, for example, will borrow from its campaigns opposing same-sex marriage last year, including using telecasts to churches in pivotal states around the country (Associated Press)
  • Abbott won't speak at conference | Health Minister Tony Abbott would not address an anti-Islamic conference, his office said today (The Daily Telegraph, Australia)
  • Kline correct in seeking abortion clinic records | It is ironic that businesses supposedly interested in "women's health" would so blatantly place women at risk by not cooperating with the authorities to bring sex abusers to justice (Cheryl Sullenger, The Wichita Eagle, Kan.)

Human rights & religious freedom:

  • A modern challenge for International Women's Day | Tuesday is International Women's Day, a century-old tradition born in the labor and women's suffrage movements and that today focuses on women's equality. While any number of issues cry out for attention, from women's illiteracy, to poverty, to joblessness, perhaps no issue is politically more immediate than the situation of women in Iraq. (Barbara Miner, Journal-Sentinel, Milwaukee)
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  • Accord with tomato pickers ends boycott of Taco Bell | A group of tomato pickers from Florida announced an end to a boycott of Taco Bell yesterday after the fast-food chain and its parent company agreed to meet demands to improve wages and working conditions for the farmworkers (The Washington Post)
  • Court links right to asylum to China's sterilization policy | Quili Qu and his wife were denied a permit to have a child because Qu's family was thought to be affiliated with "counter revolutionary elements as a result of its elders' support of the pre-Communist regime and adherence to Christian beliefs" (The Washington Post)

Abortion amendment fails in Senate:

  • Senate rejects bankruptcy bill's pro-life penalty | A major overhaul of the nation's bankruptcy laws cleared its last serious hurdle yesterday when Senate Republicans rebuffed an effort to single out pro-life protesters for additional punishment (The Washington Times)
  • Abortion rights supporters lose a key vote in Senate | The Senate yesterday defeated an effort to stop those who commit abortion-clinic violence from ducking legal judgments through bankruptcy, a setback for abortion rights groups and a display of the increased might of the Republican majority after last year's elections (The Boston Globe)

U.N. backs human cloning ban:

  • U.N. backs human cloning ban | The U.N. General Assembly adopted a declaration Tuesday that calls on governments to ban all forms of human cloning that are "incompatible with human dignity and the protection of human life" (The Washington Post)
  • UN vote urges human cloning ban | The UN has voted to approve a non-binding ban on all human cloning, ending two years of wrangling (BBC)
  • Britain to defy UN vote on cloning | "The UN declaration is non-binding and will make no difference whatsoever to the position of stem cell research in the UK; therapeutic cloning will continue to be allowed," said health secretary John Reid (The Guardian, London)

Life ethics:

  • Creating test-tube babies to save life is illegal, lords told | The creation of so-called "designer babies" to save the life of a seriously ill brother or sister is against the law, the House of Lords was told yesterday. (Daily Telegraph, UK)
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  • Your death should be your choice | If the right to die is consistently denied, what does freedom mean? (Crispin Sartwell, Los Angeles Times)
  • Bishops launch anti-stem cell ad effort | The state's four Roman Catholic bishops yesterday launched what church officials described as an unprecedented advertising campaign to sink proposed legislation encouraging embryonic stem cell research in Massachusetts (The Boston Globe)
  • Terri Schiavo parents seek more tests | An attorney for the parents of a brain-damaged woman at the center of a right-to-die case asked a judge Tuesday to allow new medical tests to determine if she has more mental activity than previously thought (Associated Press)
  • Congress gets bill to protect comatose Florida woman | Two Republican lawmakers introduced a bill seeking to protect a comatose Florida woman whose feeding tube is due to be removed later this month (AFP)

Same-sex marriage:

  • Gay-marriage fight in state high court | The campaign for gay rights trained its hopes for marriage equality on nine men and women inside the Temple of Justice here yesterday (The Seattle Times)
  • Gay marriage ban foes, backers rally | Amendment to Indiana constitution would prohibit same-sex marriage (Associated Press)
  • Many at rally invoke God in opposition to change | About 5,000 people, some taking time off from work in Spokane and Portland, circled the main stage set up on the lawn and steps outside the Temple of Justice (The Olympian, Wa.)
  • Same-sex marriage debate hits state Supreme Court | Well-being of children dominates the arguments (The News Tribune, Tacoma, Wa.)
  • Kids needs a mom and a dad, opponents say | H.R. Huntsman and roughly 35 members of his Tacoma-based church were among an estimated 5,000 people who rallied Tuesday on the state Capitol lawn in Olympia to oppose same-sex marriage (The News Tribune, Tacoma, Wa.)


  • X-ed out | What happened to the anti-porn feminists? (Drake Bennett, The Boston Globe)
  • The cucumber curriculum | Because Justice Anthony Kennedy has ruled our moral, ethical, even legal framework on capital punishment for murderers under 18 is to be determined by "evolving standards," let us move to another application of that flawed philosophy: sex (Cal Thomas)
  • Abstinence obsession | Comprehensive sex education, which explains the risks of unprotected sex and explains various methods of avoiding pregnancy and disease, is a far more realistic approach in high school (Editorial, The Boston Globe)
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  • The epidemic of meaningless teen sex | The sexual freedom and permissiveness in which we baby boomers once reveled has undergone an unexpected transformation, and the result, ironically enough, is an overstimulating sexual culture that now shackles and oppresses our children (Mark O'Connell, The Boston Globe)


  • Are sexy ads the best way to achieve gay acceptance? | The ads in the "Come Together" series have set off a heated debate even within the gay community (Susan Paynter, Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
  • Inside the anti-gay crusade | The unchallenged general of God's First Indiana Regiment held a rally to "defend marriage" Tuesday that rattled the stained-glass windows and shook the marble walls of the Statehouse Rotunda, sending hundreds of followers on to seek "victory" over an enemy who ought to be very, very scared (Dan Carpenter, The Indianapolis Star)
  • Anti-gay minister to join rights forum | An anti-gay minister who picketed the funeral of a murdered gay college student and plans to protest a play about the man's death said he would take part in a forum on gay rights. (Associated Press)
  • Crowd counters anti-gay protesters | Two days after a small group of fundamentalist Christians from Kansas began a strident protest against a proposed gay student support group at a high school in the Georgia mountains, the townspeople said enough is enough. On Monday morning, about 100 people showed up with picket signs in front of White County High School to counter the eight members of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka who had flown in on Saturday and staged loud demonstrations against the gay club as well as seven local churches. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Ten Commandments:

  • American Wahabbis and the Ten Commandments | An alternative lens for viewing the Decalogue cases (William Thatcher Dowell,
  • A silly debate over Commandments | I know symbols are important and that the Ten Commandments symbolize the foundation of law and morality for many Americans, but this "Ten Commandments debate" is a joke (Sean Gonsalves, Cape Cod Times, Ma.)
  • Coveting the Ten Commandments: Which version do you like? | One cannot read the Ten Commandments without understanding them in one context or another. They beg interpretation (Anson Laytner, The Seattle Times)

Church & state:

  • Council rejects transfer of monument, property | The Mount Soledad cross must go, the San Diego City Council said yesterday (San Diego Union-Tribune, Ca.)
  • Let private schools pray in playoffs | It's bad enough that in today's society, the courts have all but barred Americans from expressing their religious beliefs in public places. But when a state athletic association tries to ban a private, religious school from praying before interscholastic competition, that's where the General Assembly has to draw the line. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
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  • Foreign preachers face tests to qualify for stay in Britain | All overseas religious workers seeking leave to stay in Britain would be tested after a year to show their knowledge of Britain and asked to prove that they had integrated with other faith groups (The Telegraph, London)
  • Bill would broaden officials' freedom to pray | Senator from Carroll Co. at center of debate 2 years ago introduces measure (Associated Press)
  • Also: Bill would give elected officials more freedom to pray (WBAL, Baltimore)


  • Financial scams prey on faithful | Affinity scams typically involve fraudulent pyramid operations in which criminals exploit and prey on the faith and fellowship ties that exist in churches, neighborhoods and other close-knit groups (The Miami Herald)
  • Priest is charged with embezzlement | Bernard Kelly, who is separately being sued by the Diocese of Fall River for allegedly misappropriating $1.2 million, is now charged with embezzling more than $500,000 from St. Joseph's Church in Falmouth and filed false tax returns, prosecutors said (The Boston Globe)


  • Priest's alleged killer seeks to have case dismissed | The convicted murderer accused of killing pedophile priest John Geoghan asked a judge Tuesday to dismiss the charges, accusing prison officials of retaliating against him because he didn't plead guilty (Associated Press)
  • Four charged in slaying of nun in Brazil | Prosecutors formally charged four men in the death of a 73-year-old American nun who worked to defend poor rainforest communities, court officials said Tuesday (Associated Press)
  • Fired ELCA director facing 2 new charges | Clay County prosecutors have filed two additional theft charges against the former Lutheran synod finance director accused of making nearly $24,000 in unauthorized purchases (The Forum, Fargo, N.D.)
  • Diocese to allow review of files from '02 search | Bates says new charges unlikely (The Toledo Blade, Oh.)
  • Lawsuit alleges abuse at Catholic facility | Carpenter, 51, claims childhood molestation (The Times-Picayune, New Orleans)


  • Long Island nuns selling convent estate for £13m | An order of Catholic nuns has put its convent in the ultra-fashionable Long Island enclave of the Hamptons on the market for a minimum asking price of $25 million (The Telegraph, London)
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  • Cardinal asks state to help parochials | Blames teachers unions for blocking tax breaks (The Buffalo News, N.Y.)

Pope John Paul II:

  • Heaven, help us | Can Pope John Paul II save Europe again? (John O'Sullivan, National Review Online)
  • Pope's role as uniter eclipses day-to-day tasks of the job | Nearly every day now, a Vatican official announces that Pope John Paul II is still on the job, performing the essential tasks of the papacy from his hospital room, even as his schedule appears radically curtailed (USA Today)
  • Cheering throng weeps for pope | Pope John Paul II looked frail but alert as he silently waved from his hospital window in Rome and made the sign of the cross to a cheering and weeping throng, marking his second such Sunday appearance since being rushed back to the clinic for throat surgery to ease a breathing problem. (Associated Press)
  • The man who should be Pope | Piers Paul Read looks over the candidates to replace John Paul II, and says that Cardinal Ratzinger has got what it takes (The Spectator, UK)
  • Pope makes third window appearance | The 84-year-old pontiff's brief appearance came shortly before noon on a day when he traditionally holds his weekly public audience at the Vatican — an event that often draws thousands of pilgrims (Associated Press)
  • Ailing Pope getting thousands of e-mail | The Vatican won't say how much — if any — e-mail the 84-year-old pontiff actually reads or responds to, but John Paul seems comfortable with the medium (Associated Press)

Religion & spirituality:

  • Things have changed | While many Roman Catholics and other Christians continue to practice Lenten traditions such as abstaining from eating meat every Friday, others have taken these values and placed a more modern spin in their practices. (Ventura County Star, Ca.)
  • Small sacrifices | Christians are observing Lent in traditional and not-so-traditional way(Ventura County Star, Ca.)
  • Delivered from divine dilemma! | Borg believes that Christianity is undergoing a radical paradigm shift no less profound than the Protestant Reformation of 400 years ago. He compares two broad ways of understanding the faith, which he calls (trying to be as value-neutral as possible) the "earlier paradigm" and the "emerging paradigm." (David Horsley, Amarillo Globe-News, Texas)

Missions & ministry:

  • Lookin' good to do good | Move over, Ty Pennington. The 'Divine Restoration' TV show helps with makeovers for historically black churches so they can better serve their communities. (Atlanta Journal Constitution)
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  • Protestants in Morocco | In an article published Tuesday March 8 on the Moroccan daily "Le Matin du Sahara et du Maghreb," Jean-Luc Blanc, a minister within the Evangelical Church of Morocco, criticised the media's handling of the issue of conversions to Protestantism (Morocco Times)
  • New 'crusade' backed | Tasmanian church leaders have joined to promote the controversial American evangelical preacher Franklin Graham because his method is popular (The Mercury, Tasmania)
  • Christians converge for music, ministry | One of the biggest gatherings of Christians in decades will converge on Hobart's Derwent Entertainment Centre as thousands come to hear American evangelical speaker Franklin Graham this weekend (The Mercury, Tasmania)
  • Evangelical Fellowship of Botswana explains its position on Joshua's crusade | EFB will not be a part of the crusade because it cannot answer for whatever transpires at the event (Mmegi, Botswana)
  • Fishers of men | Freed missionaries sought only to preach the Gospel (Editorial, The Sun News, Myrtle Beach, S.C.)
  • Persecution of Christians real, not here | It strikes me as odd that the majority group, when challenged or questioned, finds it necessary to resort to victim posture, when all along it's been among America's most protected classes (Issac J. Bailey, The Sun News, Myrtle Beach, S.C..)
  • Tsunami aid about relief, not religion | In South Asia and around the world, a non-evangelical work ethic is called for, to promote peace in a diverse society (Diane Urbani de la Paz, Seattle Post-Intelligencer)

Evangelicals in the Philippines:

  • With so many churches, why are the Philippines still corrupt? | The head of the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches yesterday posed this question as he challenged the 20,000 churches under the group's wing to go through a process of self-examination (The Inquirer, Philippines)
  • Evangelical churches back population policy bill | While the Catholic Church is determined to bring to bear all the moral pressure it could to bar passage of a population policy bill, lawmakers in favor of the proposed measure got backing from the country's 20,000 evangelical churches and those of the born-again movement (ABS-CBN, Philippines)
  • Jars of Clay shows some love from above | The American band Jars of Clay recently served up two unforgettable performances in Cebu and Manila (The Inquirer, Philippines)
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  • Ex-rocker finds healing waters | Former Korn guitarist Brian 'Head' Welch baptized in Israel (The Bakersfield Californian)
  • Faith healer's heir visits county | Wigglesworth follower to minister locally through March 21 (The York Dispatch, Pa.)
  • Michael Heath, off the rails | Almost a year after he came within a mea culpa of losing his job for soliciting "tips" about the sexual orientation of state legislators, the executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine has come down with what looks to be a full-blown case of paranoia (Bill Nemitz, Portland Press Herald, Me.)

Money & business:

  • How CEOs are being held to higher ethics | Boeing's ouster of its CEO because of an extramarital relationship may signal a new corporate approach (The Christian Science Monitor)
  • Ethics pedestal assures some hard falls | What's most dangerous is the implicit acknowledgment by Boeing's board that it is too risky for a company doing business with the government to be run by someone whose personal life might offend the ayatollahs of the religious right (Steven Pearlstein, The Washington Post)
  • Analysts split on Salem's near-term prospects | There's a wide difference in the target price analysts have for Salem's stock, ranging from a low of $20 to as high as $30 (Billboard Radio Monitor)

Britain's 'cursing stone':

  • 'Cursing Stone' saved by council | Carlisle City Council rejected a proposal to destroy the stone, commissioned to mark the millennium (BBC)
  • They're doomed! | Has an art installation cursed Carlisle? A number of locals are blaming a stone sculpture for a series of local calamities (The Guardian, London)

More articles of interest:

  • Pray, parade, party | South Side native charged with keeping the saint in St. Patrick's celebration (Daily Southtown, Chicago)
  • 'Da Vinci Code' keeps selling | Twenty-five million books, in 44 languages, are in print worldwide and no end is in sight (Associated Press)
  • Christian friends, Christian enemies | Our friends of yesterday may not be our friends today, and our friends of today might not be our friends tomorrow (Haim Shapiro, The Jerusalem Post)

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