Court: Silence golden in Illinois schools

A dormant 2007 Illinois law mandating "a brief period of silence" at the beginning of every school day was upheld by the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. The court said the law was not religious in nature but aimed instead "to calm school children before the start of their day." Permitting students to pray during that moment, it said, did not violate the First Amendment.

Doctors allowed to opt out of abortions

EUROPE The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) resolved in October that European doctors have a right to conscientious objection when it comes to abortion. PACE adopted the resolution instead of an earlier draft from its Social, Health, and Family Affairs Committee that objected to "unregulated use" of the right to conscientious objection. The finished resolution prohibits anyone from "being coerced, held liable, or discriminated" into involvement with an abortion "for any reason."

Christians acquitted for breaking Muslim fast

ALGERIA A judge in the North African nation's Kabylie region tossed out a case against two recent Muslim converts to Christianity who had been charged with eating during daylight hours in the holy month of Ramadan. The defense argued that the converts had been eating in a discreet place and fell under the protection of international religious freedom law. The judge found that Muslims must fast under Algerian law but that non-Muslims are exempt.

Evangelicals influence presidential election

BRAZIL Evangelical voters took center stage in this year's presidential election after concerns over abortion forced Brazil's two leading candidates into a runoff. In the general election, many evangelicals propelled dark-horse Green Party candidate Marina Silva (above) to 19 percent of the vote, leaving the ruling Worker's Party candidate, Roman Catholic Dilma Rousseff, less than 3 percent short of a win. Both Rousseff and her main challenger, Social Democrat José Serra, courted evangelicals for the runoff, with Rousseff backpedaling on some past statements about abortion. Rousseff clinched the presidency with 56 percent of the vote.

Exodus departs from Day of Truth

Exodus International has pulled out of the upcoming Day of Truth in the wake of several recent suicides by young victims of anti-gay bullying. The annual Day of Truth was designed to compete with April's Day of Silence, founded to draw attention to anti-gay bullying. Exodus, which works for "freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ," says it no longer thinks the event is necessary. The ministry plans instead to focus on promoting compassion within the church.

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Investor sues owners

An investor in the website is suing its board members, claiming that they have failed to capitalize sufficiently on the coveted domain name. The $50 that owner Roy Miller paid for the url in 1996 was a steal compared with the high figures they have been offered since, but Miller won't sell, convinced he is running the site for a purpose. Shareholder James Solakian believes the owners have not sufficiently used the domain name's profit potential. Some estimates place the url's value at over $100 million.

Crystal Cathedral files for bankruptcy

Televangelist Robert H. Schuller's 7,000-member Crystal Cathedral filed for bankruptcy in October. The megachurch had already enacted a round of layoffs and steep budget cuts this year in an attempt to address $7.5 million worth of debt to unsecured creditors. A few days later, Schuller made a pulpit appeal for tithing and double-tithing to keep his ministry going. Current senior pastor Sheila Schuller Coleman promised that the church could climb back into the black by handling its money in a "biblical" fashion.

PC?(USA) apologizes for missions abuse

Leaders of the Presbyterian Church (USA) apologized to 30 victims of sexual or physical abuse in the denomination's overseas mission programs, as revealed in a 546-page report released in October. The denomination has been investigating the matter since 2004. Much of the abuse happened at schools for children of missionaries. "I ask you to pray for truth, justice, and healing, both for those who were abused and for those who abused," said PC?(USA) world mission director Hunter Farrell.

No room for Christians in Malaysian graveyards

MALAYSIARestrictions on where non-Muslims can bury their dead have led to overflowing Christian cemeteries in areas surrounding the capital of Kuala Lumpur. Many churches prohibit burials outside of the deceased person's community of residence, so more Malaysian Christians are turning to cremation. The practice is traditionally regarded as non-Christian, more closely associated with faiths like Buddhism. But Christians unable to afford private cemeteries soon may have no other choice. Some Christians are leaving Kuala Lumpur to bury loved ones in sparser cemeteries in other Malaysian states.

Controversial North Korean university opens

NORTH KOREA Classes started this October at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, the first private university in the socialist state. Funded by a network of South Korean businessmen, many of whom are evangelicals, the university flew in scholars from the United States and Europe. South Koreans hope the school represents a step toward reunification of the divided peninsula; others are skeptical, noting the school boasts a research center for North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's quasi-religious "Juche" personality cult.

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Polish Jesus statue will top Rio's

POLAND The humble town of Swiebodzin, Poland, has built the tallest statue of Christ in the world. At 118 feet, Swiebodzin's Jesus tops Rio de Janeiro's 98-foot "Cristo Redentor" and Bolivia's 112-foot "Cristo de la Concordia." Supporters of the project, which was spearheaded by Sylwester Zawadzki, hope it will bring pilgrims and prominence to the struggling town. Critics say the foundations aren't secure, and a recent construction accident led many to wonder if God really wanted it built. The statue, with a 10-foot crown on Jesus' head, was completed in November.

Much ado about Dead Sea Scrolls

As Google launches a project to bring the Dead Sea Scrolls fully online and searchable, two Christian schools are working to gather fragments from the hands of private collectors. Azusa Pacific University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary have collected 11 fragments: Southwestern has 6 and Azusa Pacific has 5. But Southwestern insists it is not a race; the important thing, a spokesman said, is making sure the scrolls are available to the academy and the public.

Gunmen take congregation hostage

IRAQ More than 50 people were killed and dozens more injured when gunmen attacked a Roman Catholic church in Baghdad on All Hallow's Eve. The gunmen entered the church Sunday night just before Mass and took the congregation hostage, demanding the release of a number of detainees and prisoners. Security forces stormed the church after a four-hour standoff. A group called the Islamic State of Iraq claimed responsibility. The attack came days after a Vatican synod of Middle East bishops, at which the pope called for peace and religious freedom to come to the troubled region.

Baptist editor resigns

The editor of North Carolina's Southern Baptist newspaper resigned in October to protect the publication's funding. Norman Jameson voluntarily left the Biblical Recorder to prevent a threat by the Carolina Baptist Association to strip Cooperative Program funding for the Recorder at the state convention in November. Jameson, who has been criticized for covering the Woman's Missionary Union and Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, told Associated Baptist Press that his resignation was "not required, but necessary."

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