Today's top articles:
1. Military chaplain groups debate need for executive order
Two groups that represent military chaplains disagree on whether President Bush should issue an executive order requiring the military to allow Christian chaplains to pray in Jesus' name.
Some chaplains have complained their commanders have ordered them to use only nonsectarian prayers during mandatory military ceremonies. International Conference of Evangelical Chaplain Endorsers executive director Billy Baugham told ct the concerned chaplains may need to issue a class-action lawsuit. These complaints prompted 74 members of Congress to sign a letter to President Bush that was sent October 25, 2005, encouraging him to issue the order.
But the leader of the group that represents most evangelical chaplains says such an order is unnecessary. The Rev. Herman Keizer Jr., chairman of the National Conference on Ministry to the Armed Forces, told The Washington Post the order "would just precipitate more litigation." Keizer's association represents more than 70 percent of the 7,620 chaplains in the military.
Keizer said the military is "now effectively addressing the current religious concerns." As long as a chaplain can decline to participate, the association sees nothing wrong with a commander asking a chaplain to pray nonsectarian prayers at mandatory ceremonies. However, the article does not make clear whether chaplains can indeed beg off these ceremonies. Military spokesman have repeatedly said chaplains can pray however they want in their own non-mandatory services.
2. Gays can't come to Mass. to marry
The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled this week that residents of states in which same-sex marriage is banned cannot come to Massachusetts to marry. The Boston Globe writes, "Opponents of same-sex marriage said they will now focus on prohibiting gay marriage in the six states that lack so-called Defense of Marriage statutes or constitutional amendments against gay marriage."
''What this means is that anyone who travels to Massachusetts and back to their home states and initiates litigation in those states, that litigation has now come to a screeching halt," said Mathew D. Staver, president of Liberty Counsel.
3. Prayer Has No Power to Heal
If you're sick, and people are praying for you, try not to find out about it. That's (kind of) the finding of the largest scientific study on the results of prayer on the recovery of people who have had cardiac bypass surgery. The study found that the prayer of strangers had no effect on patients' recovery, and that patients who knew people were praying for them fared a tad worse.
"There have now been two big studies, with hundreds and hundreds of patients, that show no effect," Dr. Harold G. Koenig, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University, told the Los Angeles Times. "Let's move on now and direct our money somewhere else."
Two Catholic monasteries and a Protestant group prayed for the heart patients. They were given a list with patients' first name and last initial. Prayers were conducted starting the night before surgery and continuing for two weeks. Prayers asked for "a successful surgery and a quick, healthy recovery and no complications."
Researchers didn't ask that patients not pray for themselves, and they didn't ask family members to stop praying. So, there is no way to tell who in the 1,800 person study actually got the most prayer. Obviously, the study didn't measure the effect of prayers offered by people who knew the patients or if prayers were answered in unexpected ways. So what, exactly, did the study find? Weblog just experienced déjà vu.
"The new pro-lifers are different. They aren't freaks or fanatics. They don't evangelize and they certainly don't intimidate. They don't even regard abortion as a 'sin.' This new wave of pro-lifers hate abortion because they hate the waste of an egg. They are among Britain's growing number of infertile couples who, after years trying for a baby, and many cycles of IVF treatment, know just how precious that egg can be." Despite the author's constant comparison between the new sensitive, compassionate pro-lifers and the old, religious, violent kind, it's worth reading Cristina Odone's discovery that these new pro-lifers are only belatedly learning what the old ones already knew. "For the 45,000 British couples who seek fertility treatment annually, the 200,000 terminations that take place each year are a personal insult: How dare anyone discard something that you yearn for so greatly?"
5. Teaching evolution in a hostile environment
Some students are using skills honed on substitutes to disrupt their science teachers' lessons on evolution. And they're getting help from creation ministries. "If a teacher is making a claim that land animals evolved into whales, students should ask: 'What precisely is involved? How does the fur turn into blubber, how do the nostrils move, how does the tiny tail turn into a great big fluke?" John Morris, president of the Institute for Creation Research near San Diego, told the L.A. Times. "Evolution is so unsupportable, if you insist on more information, the teacher will quickly run out of credibility."
In order to avoid these questions, one in five teachers won't say the word evolution during class, according to a survey by the National Science Teachers Association. "They're saying they don't know how to respond . They haven't done the research the kids have done on this," said Linda Froschauer, the group's president-elect.
One Missouri class looked like this when the teacher began discussing evolution:
Toward the end of his second class one recent morning, [Al] Frisby held up an old issue of National Geographic. The cover asked in bold type: "Was Darwin Wrong?"
"Yes!" one student called.
Another backed him up: "Yes!"
Six or eight other voices joined in. Frisby quieted them and opened to the article inside, which began with the one-word answer: "No."
"It's my job to show you the overwhelming evidence for evolution," he said.
"What about the other side?" Jeff Paul called. An approving murmur swept the room.
Frisby now prefaces his lectures by saying, "My job is to explain evolution so you can understand it. Whether you accept it or not, that's your business." It seems plenty of students aren't very accepting.
Mass. S.C. rules out of state gays can't marry:
- Court: Gays can't come to Mass. to marry | On Thursday, the Supreme Judicial Court, which three years ago made Massachusetts the first state to legalize gay marriage, upheld a 1913 state law that forbids nonresidents from marrying there if the marriage would not be recognized in their home state. (Associated Press)
- No Massachusetts marriages for out-of-state gays | Gay couples from American states that ban same-sex marriages cannot legally be wed in Massachusetts, where such unions are legal, the state's highest court ruled on Thursday. (Reuters)
- Ruling shrinks issue to those from states without explicit ban | The Supreme Judicial Court's decision upholding a 1913 marriage law significantly narrows the battleground over same-sex marriage to a handful of states, lawyers on both sides of the issue said yesterday. (The Boston Globe)
- Vermont group says Mass ruling demonstrates need for gay marriage | An Essex Junction lesbian couple was sorely disappointed Thursday that a Massachusetts court would not let their 2004 marriage stand. (Associated Press)
- Non-state gays cannot 'marry' | The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court yesterday upheld a 1913 state law that blocks out-of-state homosexual couples from legally "marrying" there. (Washington Times)
- Massachusetts court limits gay unions | Massachusetts's highest court, which legalized same-sex marriage here two and a half years ago, ruled Thursday that gay couples who live in states where such marriages are prohibited cannot marry in Massachusetts. (The New York Times)
- Pope slams gay marriage before vote | Pope Benedict, speaking just 10 days ahead of Italy's national elections, lashed out against gay marriage and abortion on Thursday and said the Church had the right to speak out on thorny political issues. (Reuters)
- Australia to block gay unions | The Australian government has said it will oppose any new laws legalising gay civil unions. (BBC)
- Law change threat to gay weddings | Australian Prime Minister says marriage is for men and women (Times, London)
Politics & law:
- Evangelicals and environmentalists united | As evangelicals join the fight against climate change, are we at a turning point in bringing religion and environmentalism together (New Scientist, UK)
- Pope seeks to bring back Christian values to core EU | The Pope joined forces with leading European Union conservatives yesterday to call for a restoration of Christian values at the heart of the EU, on a day that cast a further shadow over Turkey's hopes of one day joining the club. (Financial Times, UK)
- Is Christianity under attack? | Tom DeLay says there is a "war on Christianity" in America (MSNBC)
- Senators see immigration reform momentum | Key senators said on Thursday they were optimistic more majority Republicans will back a major overhaul of U.S. immigration law that would give millions of illegal aliens a chance to become citizens as well as tighten border security. (Reuters)
- The Gospel and the immigration debate | When it comes to illegal immigration, suddenly liberal Democrats have only one guide to public policy: "What Would Jesus Do?" The target of their Bible-based ire is a border-enforcement bill that recently passed the House and is allegedly the greatest challenge Christianity has faced since the lions in the Colosseum. (Rich Lowry, Reno Gazette Journal, Nev.)
- U.N. envoy looks at Falun Gong torture allegations | The United Nations torture investigator said on Thursday he was looking into allegations by the Falun Gong group that thousands of its followers were being held at a Chinese "concentration camp" and some had been killed. (Reuters)
- 'Blasphemy laws in Pakistan used to target minorities' | A Pakistani human rights watchdog said the country's blasphemy laws are often used as a pretext for attacks on minorities' places of worship and properties, leaving the accused traumatised and scarred, according to a local media report. (NewKerala.com, India)
- TV anchor's choice: God or Ch. 7 job | Frank Turner files complaint against WXYZ-TV for refusing him permission to host an evangelical radio program. (Detroit News)
- Killings in the name of religion | I lost five relatives to the activities of the bigots in Maiduguri. As I weep, I ask, what is their crime? (Vanguard, Nigeria)
- Afghan convert thanks Pope for intervening | An Afghan who faced the death penalty in his homeland for converting from Islam to Christianity said Thursday he was certain he would have been killed had he stayed there, and he thanked Pope Benedict XVI for intervening on his behalf. (Associated Press)
- 'They would have killed me,' Afghan says | An Afghan man who has taken refuge in Italy after facing the death penalty in his homeland for converting from Islam to Christianity thanked the pope for intervening on his behalf and said he was certain he would have been killed if he had remained in Kabul. (Associated Press)
- Afghan clerics say West meddled in convert case | Afghan clerics blamed meddling foreigners on Friday for the release of a Christian convert who they said should be executed for abandoning Islam. (Reuters)
- Afghan Christian's case endangered country's relations, UN says | Afghanistan's relations with the international community were put at risk by the case of an Afghan citizen who faced a possible death penalty for converting from Islam to Christianity, the United Nations said. (Bloomberg)
- Afghan Christian spirited to safety thanks to the Pope | The Afghan apostate threatened with execution finally found sanctuary yesterday when the Italian Government granted him fast-track asylum on the ground of "religious persecution". (Times, London)
- Hostage freed by British troops relishes everyday tasks | Just walking to the barbershop and other everyday tasks have taken on new lustre, Canadian peace activist Jim Loney said on Thursday, as he celebrated his release from captivity in Iraq and his reunion with his partner. (Reuters)
- Kember was shown film about Jesus | Norman Kember, the peace activist held hostage in Iraq for four months, was given vital medicine and shown a DVD about Jesus by his kidnappers. (The Guardian, UK)
- Kember returns to his church to give thanks | Freed from a room in Baghdad and flown home to his family, Norman Kember was in church yesterday to hear a sermon on the gift of new life. (Times, London)
- Freed hostage welcomed back by his church | At the centre of the prayer circle inside Harrow Baptist Church a candle has been burning since the peace activist Norman Kember was kidnapped four months ago. (Telegraph, UK)
- Schiavo family marks her death anniversary | Family members of the late Terri Schindler Schiavo commemorated the anniversary of her death, which is today, and announced the creation of a foundation in her name to combat euthanasia. (Washington Times)
- 'Designer baby' clinic to charge £6,000 per child | Britain's first IVF "designer baby" clinic is to charge about £6,000 for a made-to-order infant. (Telegraph, UK)
- Early babies dubbed bed blockers | A row has broken out after experts described the costly treatment of very premature babies as "bed blocking". (BBC)
- Premature babies are blocking beds, says royal medical college | Premature babies who need months of expensive care have been accused of "bed blocking" by one of Britain's royal medical colleges, it emerged yesterday. (Telegraph, UK)
- Premature babies are 'blocking beds' | Doctors say that the cost of keeping alive children born under 25 weeks must be addressed (Times, London)
- China bans buying and selling of human organs | China's health ministry banned the sale of human organs yesterday in a move that could put pressure on the growing transplant tourism industry. (The Guardian, UK)
- Fertility treatment 'to be only for the rich' | Access to fertility treatment will increasingly be the preserve of the rich because the laws governing how clinics operate and what treatment is publicly funded are inadequate, a leading economist said yesterday. (Telegraph, UK)
- Desperate couples 'fail to consider huge costs of fertility treatment' | Thousands of couples who seek treatment for infertility pay high prices for low success rates because they do not understand they are operating in a commercial market, a leading American professor has said. (Independent, UK)
- Time to make IVF treatment your business, infertile couples are told | Parents could well be paying too high a price in pursuit of pregnancy (Times, London)
- The new pro-lifers | The rise in infertility has given a huge boost to the anti-abortion movement (The Guardian, UK)
- India sex selection doctor jailed | A doctor in India and his assistant have been sentenced to two years in jail for revealing the sex of a female foetus and then agreeing to abort it. (BBC)
- Italian poll stirs up abortion row | For the first time in 25 years abortion has become an election issue in Italy as politicians put religious and moral issues at the centre of their campaigns. (BBC)
The BBC on Europe's falling birthrates:
- The EU's baby blues | Birth rates in the European Union are falling fast. In the first of a series about motherhood and the role of the state in encouraging couples to have more children, the BBC News website's Clare Murphy asks why governments are so concerned about the size of their populations. (BBC)
- The rise of the 'childfree' | The BBC News website's Kathryn Westcott talks to those among a growing group who have chosen not to have children, and are fed up with the emphasis given to family life. (BBC)
- French government eyes 'le baby boom' | In the latest in our series about motherhood and the role of the state in encouraging couples to have more children, Hugh Schofield in Paris reflects on efforts made by successive French governments to ensure women give birth to more and more children. (BBC)
- Social change slows Polish birth rates | In the latest in our series about motherhood and the role of the state in encouraging couples to have more children, the BBC's Adam Easton in Poland assesses why fertility rates are tumbling in this apparently family-oriented nation. (BBC)
- Dwindling Germans review policies | In the latest in our series about motherhood and the role of the state in encouraging couples to have more children, the BBC's Tristana Moore in Berlin has been meeting women to find out why Germany has one of the lowest birth rates in Europe. (BBC)
- Italian women shun 'mamma' role | In the second of a series about motherhood and the role of the state in encouraging couples to have more children, the BBC's Rome correspondent Christian Fraser asks why Italy - a predominantly Roman Catholic country that has always loved children - has stopped having them. (BBC)
- Norway's welfare model 'helps birth rate' | In the third of a series about motherhood and the role of the state in encouraging couples to have more children, the BBC's Lars Bevanger in Oslo examines whether generous family policies explain why Norwegian women give birth to more babies than most of their European sisters. (BBC)
- Testing Darwin's teachers | Sometimes disruptive but often sophisticated questioning of evolution by students has educators increasingly on the defensive. (Los Angeles Times)
- Judson lands windfall | Anonymous donor pledges $4 million for new facility (The Courier News, Ill.)
- A rare new president for Bible college | Weedman just sixth in school's 113-year history (Knoxville News Sentinel)
- Parents fight for mixed-faith school | An integrated secondary in Northern Ireland is to go ahead without official funding and despite unionist objections (The Observer, UK)
Study: Prayer doesn't affect heart patients:
- Study: Praying won't affect heart patients | Does praying for a sick person's recovery do any good? In the largest scientific test of its kind, heart surgery patients showed no benefit when strangers prayed for their recovery. (Associated Press)
- Study fails to show healing power of prayer | A study of more than 1,800 patients who underwent heart bypass surgery has failed to show that prayers specially organized for their recovery had any impact, researchers said Thursday. (Reuters)
- Prayer doesn't aid recovery, study finds | Effect on healing of strangers at distance after heart-bypass surgery examined (Washington Post)
- Long-awaited medical study questions the power of prayer | Prayers offered by strangers had no effect on the recovery of people who were undergoing heart surgery, a large and long-awaited study has found. (The New York Times)
- Largest study of prayer to date finds it has no power to heal | The largest study yet on the therapeutic power of prayer by strangers has found that it provided no benefit to the recovery of patients who had undergone cardiac bypass surgery. (Los Angeles Times)
Missions & ministry:
- Promoting Christian gospel to ballplayers | Evangelical group spreads through all levels of pro baseball (Sun-Sentinel, Fla. )
- Christian evangelists causing stir here | International group trying to convert Jews will convene in Pittsburgh next month (Pittsburgh Post Gazette)
- Repent, repent, Anglicans urged | Sydney's version of Anglicanism is bad for people's spiritual health and all "Sydney Anglicans" should repent, according to one of Australia's leading theologians. (The Age, Australia)
- Church tradition set for revival after 60-year gap | Churches in Melksham are reviving a tradition not seen in the town for over 60 years. The Christian community will come together to host the Melksham Convention for the first time since 1940. (Swindon Evening Advertiser, UK)
- Church's home may be demolished | The congregation of a Lewes church will have to find a new home if the Tesco store in Malling Brooks is successful in its bid to expand. (Sussex Express, UK)
- Area church grapples with gay unions | A decision by the national United Church of Christ to recognize same-sex marriage has prompted a local congregation to consider leaving the church's governing body, which many believe is becoming too liberal. (Pottstown Mercury, Pa.)
Lent & Easter:
- Lenten sacrifices deepen faith, teach truths | For almost a month, many Christian kids and teens have abstained from sweets, snacks and caffeine. They've given up television, video games and their computers. They're refusing pay for chores, steering clear of the mall and passing up meat. (Columbus Dispatch, Ohio)
- Ecology-friendly fronds catch on for Palm Sunday | Combining ecology and theology, hundreds of churches are choosing "eco-palms" for their Palm Sunday services this year. (Religion News Service)
- Thank God Lent's almost over | My father (who art in heaven) would have a hard time understanding what passes for a Lenten supper these days. (Asbury Park Press, NJ)
- Easter exhibit focuses on birth and rebirth | Birth and re-birth are themes at the heart of Christianity. The Knights of Columbus Museum has opened a new exhibit built around these themes, featuring nearly 500 exquisitely decorated eggs. (Danbury NewsTimes, Conn.)
- Call to prayer for mobile Catholics | The Roman Catholic Church is offering mobile phone users the chance to "pray, protest and ponder" by text message. (Times, London)
- Pray as you go to spread the Catholic Word via mobiles | Give us this day our daily text. The Roman Catholic Church in Scotland is about to score a UK first by urging followers to pray, protest and ponder via their mobile phones. (The Scotsman)
- British cleric's mission to Islam | As Pope Benedict honoured his new cardinals, one familiar Vatican face was not in the line to receive the coveted red hat. (BBC)
- Pope's home town attracts visitors | Marktl's transformation has been emblematic of the prestige that comes from even the most fleeting association with the head of the Catholic church: boys named Benedict walk a little taller, and the pope's German compatriots notice greater courtesy when abroad. (Independent Online, South Africa)
- Pastor discovers change can be good for the soul | In coming months, thousands of Catholics will be learning a trio of unfamiliar rituals: packing up, throwing away and moving on. (David Crumm,
- Detroit Free Press)
- A saint is human, too | "Santo subito!" shouted the crowds in St. Peter's Square at the funeral of Pope John Paul II, who died a year ago. (The New York Times)
- Vatican, Beijing discussing forging ties | Hong Kong's new cardinal said Thursday the Vatican and Beijing are discussing forging fresh ties, which could allow Pope Benedict XVI to make a historic visit to China. (Associated Press)
- Huge challenges for a ship of faith | Despite his quiet skill, the problems the Pope must deal with seem insurmountable. (The Age, Australia)
- Is the Pope a new man? | John Paul died a year ago tomorrow. His successor was called God's Rottweiler, but James Button and Desmond O'Grady discover Pope Benedict seems to be blessed with an improved image. (The Age, Australia)
- Catholic watchdog calls for more oversight | The head of a lay watchdog panel created by Roman Catholic bishops says a key reform the prelates adopted to protect children from clergy sex abuse is insufficient. (Associated Press)
- Catholic Church gets 783 new abuse claims | The nation's Roman Catholic leaders received 783 new claims of sex abuse by clergy in 2005, with most of the allegations involving cases that are decades old. (Associated Press)
- Church sex abuse costs rise despite drop in new allegations | The financial costs of the sex abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church rose dramatically in 2005, even as the number of new allegations fell, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said yesterday. (Washington Post)
- Abuse cost churches nearly $467m in '05 | Settlements spiked sharply (The Boston Globe)
- Catholic sex-abuse payouts still rising | Sex-abuse accusations against the nation's priests were down last year, but the flood of millions of dollars in payouts more than tripled and shows no signs of stopping, the United States' Roman Catholic bishops said yesterday. (Washington Times)
- Delegate's shift baffles victims of church abuse | Sex abuse victims in Maryland thought they had Delegate Anthony Brown on their side in a push for a law allowing retroactive civil suits against the Catholic Church. (Washington Times)
- Bishops report decline in abuse accusations | A total of 783 new accusations of priests' sexual abuse were received by the nation's Roman Catholic bishops last year, with about 13 percent of the cases dating from 1990 or later, the bishops reported Thursday. (The New York Times)
- N.H. audit: Church didn't ensure checks | Efforts by the state's Roman Catholic diocese to protect minors from sexual abuse have failed to make sure all workers, volunteers and clergy have passed criminal background checks, according to a newly released state audit. (Associated Press)
- Also: Timeline of church abuse investigation and audit in N.H. | Key dates in the state's investigation of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester. (Associated Press)
- Tenn. minister's wife held without bail | A minister's wife charged with shooting her husband to death in the church parsonage waived her right Thursday to a hearing that would have aired evidence against her. (Associated Press)
- FBI: International scam targeting Islamic mosques broken | An international wire fraud scheme targeting Islamic institutions with a phony stranded-traveler plea, netting only small sums but hitting multiple victims over many years, has been disrupted by the arrest of its mastermind, the FBI says. (Associated Press)
- Pastor pleads guilty to selling food for poor | A church pastor pleaded guilty Thursday to selling food donated for the poor at a swap meet and pocketing the money. (Los Angeles Times)
- Methodist Minister Harold A. Milstead | Harold A. Milstead, 92, a United Methodist minister at 10 churches in the Baltimore-Washington area for 58 years, died of a stroke March 23 at his home in Shepherdstown, W.Va. (Washington Post)
- A tenuous claim as a Jew for Jesus | Here is an interesting tidbit: The world's top "Jew for Jesus" is, by ancestry, a non-Jew. Fancy that. (David Klinghoffer, The Jewish Journal of greater L.A)
- Inquisitorial study of da Vinci's secrets | You have to feel a tinge of pity for the Catholic Church. Since Paul saw the light on his way to Damascus, the church in general and the papal hierarchy in particular have been bedevilled by conspiracy theories, schisms, heresy and dissent. (The Australian)
- Europe and the legend of secularization | Among the many stories Europeans tell about themselves, none is more tenacious than the legend of Europe's secularization. (The New York Times)
- Book sets right wing aflutter | Conservatives get trip back to future (Associated Press)
More articles of interest:
- Looking for God in the footsteps of Moses | We arrived at the foot of the mountain at midnight: as has become customary, we were to ascend to the summit, at 2,285m, in time to watch the sun rise over the surrounding peaks. At some unknown elevation we would pass the putative point at which Moses received the 10 commandments from God. (Financial Times, U.K.)
- Springer show sparks outcry | Oxford's New Theatre is bracing itself for a storm of protest as the 'blasphemous' show, Jerry Springer: The Opera, rolls into town next week. (Oxford News, UK)
- Survey links happiness to marriage, children, church | The keys to happiness are simple grow up, get married, have children, go to church and try to forget about the wilder days of youth. (Scripps Howard News Service)
- 'Kosher' phone merges technology, faith | It sounds like the setup for a punch line: What do you get when you cross an ultra-Orthodox rabbi with a mobile phone? But the "kosher phone" is real and its developers are serious about looking beyond the religious enclaves of Israel. (Washington Post)
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