Note: This is the second Weblog posted on Thursday, August 24. The first highlighted religious freedom in Malaysia, a church attack in India, a horrible story of a church member's expulsion in Mississippi, and many other stories.

Today's Top Five

1. Plan B goes over the counter
After today's FDA ruling, the morning-after pill Plan B will be available without a prescription, but only with proof that the buyer is 18 or older. While the pill may prevent a fertilized ovum from implanting in the uterus, the pill is not (though it is often confused with) an abortion pill like RU-486. Notably, the pill has no effect on an implanted embryo. Religious conservatives say the age restriction isn't good enough.

"The FDA has sacrificed women's health in the name of politics," says Family Research Council president Tony Perkins. The press release does not say how women's health will be endangered by the pill, but the organization does have a backgrounder on the subject, and last month it said the drug can encourage sexual abuse and says long-term effects have not been studied.

Focus on the Family has not yet issued a press release on the FDA's approval, but on Tuesday criticized Bush's support for over-the-counter (OTC) status. "Selling this drug over the counter to any adult who wants to buy it virtually guarantees that it will end up in the hands of teenage girls without their parents' knowledge or their doctor's supervision," Focus's Carrie Gordon Earll said in a press release. "Over-the-counter status for Plan B—regardless of the age requirement—is an invitation for adult men to pressure underage girls to have sex with the promise of an easily accessible magic pill to prevent or abort a pregnancy."

"The FDA has overstepped its authority in this decision," Concerned Women for America says in a press release that draws parallels between the FDA's handling of Plan B and its handling of RU-486. "This decision allows anyone over 18 to purchase the drug without a prescription, thereby making the drug accessible to minors who can easily obtain the drug from those meeting the age requirement."

I'm not taking a position on OTC status for Plan B. But I do find it interesting that so many press releases (Focus and the Christian Medical Association being exceptions, as of course is the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops) aren't talking about the implantation issue. Most of the arguments are based on how OTC status would make the drug available to minors, which could encourage sexual activity. That may be true, but the argument would be just as true for other forms of contraception. You don't need a prescription for condoms, for example, and you don't have to be 18, either. And while you do need a prescription to get the Pill, you don't have to be 18, and you generally don't need parental consent.

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Even the implantation issue doesn't differ much between Plan B and the Pill—which isn't a surprise, given that they're just different doses of the same drug. There's argument over how much the Pill affects implantation, but both Plan B and the Pill are designed primarily to stop fertilization, with preventing implantation as a secondary effect. And far more women are currently on the Pill than are likely to use Plan B.

So why do these pro-life groups have so much to say about Plan B but so little to say about the Pill?

2. Embryonic stem-cell research without destroying the embryo
Given that it's on almost every front page this morning, one might think that the news about coaxing stem cells from embryos without destroying the embryos would be a bigger story than OTC Plan B. Two reasons why not: Very few pro-lifers are talking about it (no comments yet from the organizations named above), and those that are aren't happy.  "I have three preliminary words in response: Ba Low Nee," says Wesley J. Smith on his blog. C. Ben Mitchell over at The Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity calls it "ethical smoke and mirrors." A CBHD press release explains, "The method of extracting cells from the embryo is similar to the procedure used for preimplantation genetic diagnosis, which has ethical problems of its own. The long-term effects of removing a cell or cells from an early embryo are unknown; it is likely some embryos will not even survive the procedure. In addition, it is widely believed that a single cell of a very early embryo may be capable of becoming a new embryo itself." White House spokesman Emily Lawrimore tells The New York Times, "Any use of human embryos for research purposes raises serious ethical questions. This technique does not resolve those concerns." Leon Kass says, "I do not think that this is the sought-for, morally unproblematic and practically useful approach we need." Richard Doerflinger of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said the process may still harm the embryo and "raises more ethical questions than it answers." The embryos, he said, are "still being treated as a means to an end, even if you're not destroying them." Over at National Review Online, Kathryn Jean Lopez notes that the embryos in the experiment actually were destroyed, but that the paper argues for a "proof of concept" that, in theory, destruction may not be the result in the future. Still, Lopez says, "that leading stem-cell scientists are looking to solve the embryo-destruction problem is terrific and should be praised."

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3. Malaysia developments
Today's earlier blog noted Malaysia's ban on discussing religion. Now, in what appears to be another setback to religious freedom in the country, the top court has decided to drag its feet in the Lina Joy case. The court had earlier indicated that it would hurry in its decision on whether Lina must get permission from Islamic courts to convert to Christianity. Perhaps sensing that it's now no use to hold its reporting on the case until the verdict, The New York Times summarizes the situation today.

4. Football coach prayer case goes into overtime
The East Brunswick school district has announced that it will appeal a ruling allowing football coach Marcus Borden to participate in team prayers. The district had earlier said it was pleased with U.S. District Judge Dennis Cavanaugh's decision in the case, and said it clarified the lines of acceptable religious behavior for coaches.

5. Another Christian Coalition defects
Alabama's Christian Coalition has joined chapters in Iowa and Ohio in dropping its ties to the weakened national body and changing its name. In some ways, the surprise is that the break didn't come earlier—the state and national coalitions publicly campaigned against each other in 2003 over a proposed overhaul of the state's tax system.

Quote of the day
"They choose the Christians because we are seen as weak and because we would like to live in peace."

— Basam Hannah, one of thousands of Christians who have fled Baghdad and other Iraqi cities amid concerns that they are being targeted for attacks. Among the latest incidents is the kidnapping of Chaldean priest Saad Sirop Hanna of Baghdad. The kidnappers have demanded a $1 million ransom.

More articles

Embryonic stem-cell research | Life ethics | Sexual ethics | Abuse in the Ozarks | Crime | Cleveland Catholic kickback case | Religious liberty | Malaysia | Church and state | Education | Politics | Church disputes | Missions & ministry | Pope | Other stories of interest

Embryonic stem-cell research:

  1. In new method for stem cells, viable embryos | The new technique would seem to remove the principal objection to stem cell research, the destruction of the human embryo (The New York Times)

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  1. The stem-cell breakthrough that could lift ethical taboo (The Times, London)

  2. Early embryos can yield stem cells … and survive | Could extraction technique resolve ethical problems? (Nature)

  3. New method makes embryo-safe stem cells | Some opponents of the research said the method still doesn't satisfy their objections and many stem cell scientists and their supporters called it inefficient and politically wrong-headed (Associated Press)

  4. Abstract Human embryonic stem cell lines derived from single blastomeres (Nature)

  5. New method makes embryo-safe stem cells | Scientists have for the first time grown colonies of prized human embryonic stem cells using a technique that does not require the destruction of embryos, an advance that could significantly reshape the ethical and political debates that have long entangled the research (The Washington Post)

  6. Stem-cell method preserves embryo | Mass. lab hopes to end standoff (The Boston Globe)

  7. Never enough on stem cells | Scientists should stop trying to appease religious conservatives about research those critics will never support (Editorial, Los Angeles Times)

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Life ethics:

  1. Economists feud on abortion, crime | A high-profile economist is challenging the conclusion in the best-selling book Freakonomics by University of Chicago professor Steven D. Levitt that the legalization of abortion in the early 1970s led to a major drop in murder and other violent crimes a generation later (Chicago Sun-Times)

  2. Chinese sentences advocate for peasants to 4 years in prison | Chen Guangcheng sought to organize a class-action lawsuit against forced abortions and sterilizations (The New York Times)

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Sexual ethics:

  1. FDA eases limits on Plan B sales | Women may buy the morning-after pill without a prescription — but only with proof they're 18 or older, federal health officials ruled Thursday, capping a contentious 3-year effort to ease access to the emergency contraceptive (Associated Press)

  2. Conservatives try to curtail hotel porn | Pornographic movies now seem nearly as pervasive in America's hotel rooms as tiny shampoo bottles, and the lodging industry shows little concern as conservative activists rev up a protest campaign aimed at triggering a federal crackdown (Associated Press)

  3. Nation's first civil union ends | A lesbian couple who entered into the nation's first same-sex civil union officially split up Wednesday (Associated Press)

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  1. Labor to alter bill for gay couples | Labor in South Australia is drafting a "more conservative bill" to address the "thorny" issue of granting legal rights to gay and lesbian couples, to make it clear the Rann Government is not supporting homosexual marriage (The Australian)

  2. S.Africa's cabinet gives nod to gay marriage | South Africa's cabinet has given the green light for a bill allowing gay marriage, which would make it the first country in Africa to accord homosexual couples the same rights as their straight counterparts (Reuters)

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Abuse in the Ozarks:

  1. Mo. pastor accused of molesting girls | The minister of a rural Ozarks church, his wife and her two brothers have been accused of molesting young girls from their congregation for years, sometimes as part of a religious ritual, officials said (Associated Press)

  2. Authorities searching for Newton County pastor charged with felony sodomy (The Neosho Daily News, Mo.)

  3. Pastor, deacons charged | Sexual abuse charges spanning four decades were filed Tuesday against a McDonald County pastor, his wife, and two church deacons (The Neosho Daily News, Mo.)

  4. Pastor, deacons to surrender (The Neosho Daily News, Mo.)

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  1. Stolen painting returns to Mexico | The 1728 work, taken from a church, was sold to a San Diego museum. Such thefts have soared in Latin America (Los Angeles Times)

  2. Also: Calif. museum gives up stolen painting | The San Diego Museum of Art relinquished an 18th-century painting to the Mexican government Wednesday after it was found to have been stolen from a rural Mexican church (Associated Press)

  3. Crosses of Bedford Park are still waging war on drugs | Only in Bedford Park did people publicly invoke God and raise crosses against drug dealers (The New York Times)

  4. Congregants urged to rally for pastor | Prosecutors spent most of Wednesday trying to persuade a jury to send the Rev. Terry Hornbuckle away to prison. But at night, congregants at Agape Christian Fellowship heard that this is not the time to abandon their church (Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, Tex.)

  5. Update: Jurors begin deliberating Hornbuckle sentence | Jurors in the Rev. Terry Hornbuckle's sexual assault trial began deciding whether he will go to prison shortly before 10 a.m., after prosecutors told them he couldn't handle probation because he "failed miserably" at following the rules while on bond after his arrest. (Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, Tex.)

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Cleveland Catholic kickback case:

  1. Former Bishop Pilla implicated in alleged kickback scheme | There is a new development in an alleged kickback scheme within the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland. New allegations implicate that former Bishop Anthony Pilla gave the green light for a secret church bank account (WEWS, Cleveland)

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  1. Lawyer says priest duped by associates | The priest who supervised the men at the center of the Catholic Diocese's financial scandal was duped by them, the priest's lawyer said (The Plain Dealer, Cleveland)

  2. Saturday: Priest linked to kickback suspect | He okayed payments, court papers say (The Plain Dealer, Cleveland)

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Religious liberty:

  1. Indonesia says execution of death row Christians to go ahead | Indonesia will go ahead with the execution of three Indonesian Christians on death row even though their lawyers are seeking presidential clemency for them, police said (AFP)

  2. Also: Court wrong to reject plea: Lawyers for death row convicts | Lawyers for three Christians on death row said Wednesday the Supreme Court had exceeded its authority by refusing to process their second request for clemency (The Jakarta Post, Indonesia)

  3. Iraqi Christians on edge after priest's kidnapping | Archbishop of Kirkuk says $1 million ransom demanded (, Catholic site)

  4. Also: Iraqi Christians caught in the crossfire | The news media often focus on the conflict between Shi'ites and Sunni Muslims in Iraq. But there are other ethnic and religious groups under attack.  The small Christian community in Iraq is now finding itself caught in the crossfire of sectarian violence. (Voice of America)

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  1. Lina Joy case: Court will not rush on ruling | Chief Justice Tun Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim said the court had to be careful as it was also a sensitive issue (New Straits Times, Malaysia)

  2. Court has yet to decide on Lina Joy's appeal | There will be no decision yet on Lina Joy's appeal to the Federal Court against the Court of Appeal's majority decision on Sept 19 last year which ruled that the National Registration Department director-general was right in not allowing her application to delete the word "Islam" from her identity card. (The Star, Malaysia)

  3. Once Muslim, now Christian and caught in the courts | Malaysia's Islamic Shariah courts have prevented a convert to Christianity from marrying a Christian man, creating a firestorm in a country that considers itself moderate and modern (The New York Times)

  4. Church that baptised Lina Joy, convert from Islam, is reported | The report claims that the Muslim's baptism was "illegal". The Federal Court that should pass sentence on the woman's conversion is taking its time: "This is very sensitive issue." Meanwhile, Islamic blogs are calling on people to pray for a "victory of Islam" in the country (, Catholic site)

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Church and state:

  1. No Trinity Cross winner | With one week to go before Independence Day next Thursday, August 31, there is no word with respect to the promised replacement for the country's highest award, the Trinity Cross (Trinidad & Tobago Newsday)

  2. Strip converts of quota benefits, demand tribals | Jharkhand tribal leaders and priests want immediate stripping of reservation facilities of past members of their community who are now converted Christians (India eNews)

  3. Allow faith groups to work, offer hope in prisons | The gavel of judicial activism has fallen once again in an attempt to drive faith from the public square (Tony Perkins, Des Moines Register, Ia.)

  4. A clash between two cases involving equality and religious speech | How the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit's decisions are inconsistent (Marci Hamilton,

  5. Freedom isn't free if attorney needed | Public Expression of Religion Act would trample line between church and state (Ramona Ripston, Los Angeles Daily News)

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  1. Team prayer appealed | Contradicting the initial satisfaction it expressed with a federal court order allowing varsity football coach Marcus Borden to participate in team prayer, the East Brunswick school district filed a notice of appeal yesterday, asking for a reversal of the ruling (The Home News Tribune, East Brunswick, N.J.)

  2. Also: District appeals ruling in coach prayer case | E. Brunswick changes stance on federal court's decision (Asbury Park Press, N.J.)

  3. Plan is to let PTAs send fliers home, curb others | The Montgomery County Board of Education is slated to consider a new policy today that would allow parent-teacher associations to send fliers home with students whenever they wanted but limit other community and business groups to distributions four times a year (The Washington Post)

  4. Alternative settlement offered in IR prayer lawsuit | A day after a federal judge unsealed a lawsuit detailing reasons the Indian River School District rejected a settlement in a school prayer case, the district's attorney said it has drawn up an alternative settlement (The News Journal, Del.)

  5. Dorm with a spiritual dimension | Church starts national trend by building housing for Cal students (San Francisco Chronicle)

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  1. Evolution major vanishes from approved federal list | Evolutionary biology has vanished from the list of acceptable fields of study for recipients of a federal education grant for low-income college students (The New York Times)

  2. Laws of change | Liberty University's School of Law hopes its students will change society (The Roanoke Times, Va.)

  3. School religion rules unworkable—principals | Laws restricting religion in primary schools are impractical and unworkable, New Zealand Principals Federation president Pat Newman says (NZPA, New Zealand)

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  1. Christian Coalition splits up | The Christian Coalition of Alabama announced Wednesday it is severing ties with the national organization, citing concerns over "left-leaning issues" promoted by its parent group and core issues on which the two groups disagree (Montgomery Advertiser, Ala.)

  2. Also: Christian Coalition losing chapters | Alabama joins Iowa and Ohio (Associated Press)

  3. Foreign policy evangelists | Today's American evangelicals, numbering at least 40 million, are expanding their traditionally domestic focus and starting to wield some clout beyond U.S. borders (Council on Foreign Relations)

  4. Also: Backgrounder: Christian evangelicals and U.S. foreign policy (Council on Foreign Relations)

  5. Firing of evangelical rankles conservatives | The abrupt decision of the state Republican Party to cut ties with an evangelical advocate hired to reach out to voters on behalf of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's re-election has disappointed conservatives and fueled their concern about the governor's principles (San Francisco Chronicle)

  6. Praying for victory | Kyle Fisk's campaign might be praying that a letter, written by Ted Haggard on behalf of Fisk, doesn't backfire on the candidate (Colorado Springs Independent)

  7. Liberals criticize 'Patriot Pastors' movement | A "new generation of Religious Right" pastors is turning churches into Republican political machines, three left-leaning interest groups charged on Tuesday (Religion News Service)

  8. Raese touts abortion issue in W.Va. race | Freshly endorsed by West Virginia's leading anti-abortion group, Republican John Raese hopes the issue becomes a major part of his race with Sen. Robert C. Byrd (Associated Press)

  9. Fall books probe religion in politics | Religion in politics, a key topic of the 2004 presidential campaign and possibly again in 2008, is the subject of numerous books coming out this fall (Associated Press)

  10. Democrats unlikely to win evangelicals | The idea that voting behavior will change because younger evangelical leaders are softer-spoken and less tied to the Republican infrastructure than their predecessors, or because evangelicals are worried about the environment, sure looks like wishful thinking (Peter A. Brown, The Wichita Eagle, Kan.)

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Church disputes:

  1. Anglican archbishop takes up refugee case | Iranian man living at Vancouver church since 2004 welcomes words of support (The Globe and Mail, Toronto)

  2. Brandon woman rebuked by her church for criticizing city | A Brandon, Man., resident has been asked by her church to keep her criticism of city officials to herself, or worship somewhere else (CBC, Canada)

  3. Cell tower plan battled | Neighbors protest Cingular proposal (Whittier Daily News, Ca.)

  4. I'm listening, says archbishop to Anglicans | Melbourne Anglicans have a chance to shake off their reputation for infighting and disunity by co-operating with a new leader who comes with no political baggage (The Australian)

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Missions & ministry:

  1. To raise New Orleans, lift churches, pastors urge | African-American churches historically have been the heart and soul of black communities, and the Rev. C.T. Vivian - a Martin Luther King Jr. confidant from Atlanta - believes they hold the key to restoring New Orleans' neighborhoods (The Christian Science Monitor)

  2. Also: Plan urges adopting New Orleans churches | Two civil rights activists announced plans Wednesday to involve churches nationwide in helping their New Orleans congregations recover from Hurricane Katrina (Associated Press)

  3. Hillsong thinks again on welfare | Hillsong Emerge, the only church charity in NSW to participate in a controversial welfare-to-work program, yesterday signalled its reservations about the Federal Government initiative (The Sydney Morning Herald)

  4. Mission of mercy | Marcella Ruch and an army of volunteers throw a rope to the uninsured (Colorado Springs Independent)

  5. Surfers catch waves of spirit | Group taking the message of Christ to the beaches (San Mateo County Times, Ca.)

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  1. Body requires rest to nourish soul | The Pope recently suggested that people should try not to work too much. In a speech last Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI invoked the wisdom a 12th-century saint, saying too much work is bad for the soul (Morning Edition, NPR)

  2. Pope Benedict brings new style to Vatican | A much more reserved man than his predecessor, Benedict has installed a new, quieter style in the Vatican's "Sacred Palaces" (Reuters)

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Other stories of interest:

  1. Ancient Indian port with links to Roman Empire faces extinction | Christianity may have been introduced to the sub-continent through Muziris, historians say. But Muziris mysteriously dropped off the map - maybe to war, plague, or disaster (AFP)

  2. Tribe says defendants avoiding being served | A Texas Indian tribe who filed a federal lawsuit against ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his associates says former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed and another defendant have been avoiding being served with a copy of the suit (Lufkin Daily News, Tex.)

  3. Spiritual forces behind rampant road accidents—pastor | The Reverend Lovelace Tetteh, Pastor of Word of Life Christian Centre in Ho has called on Churches to join forces in prayer to reduce the rampant road accidents in the country (Accra Mail, Ghana)

  4. Aborigines hurt by policy, says bishop | Aborigines are too often blamed for problems in their communities that are the fault of public policy, says Melbourne's Anglican archbishop-elect, Northern Territory Bishop Philip Freier (The Age, Melbourne, Australia)

  5. Religion news in brief | Missionary to North Koreans returns home; Progressive National Baptist Convention gets new president; and other stories (Associated Press)

  6. God and science: You just can't please everyone | Denying the real conflict between religion and science is a sure formula for confusion (Steve Fuller, New Scientist)

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Launched in 1999, Christianity Today’s Weblog was not just one of the first religion-oriented weblogs, but one of the first published by a media organization. (Hence its rather bland title.) Mostly compiled by then-online editor Ted Olsen, Weblog rounded up religion news and opinion pieces from publications around the world. As Christianity Today’s website grew, it launched other blogs. Olsen took on management responsibilities, and the Weblog feature as such was mothballed. But CT’s efforts to round up important news and opinion from around the web continues, especially on our Gleanings feature.
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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