House church maintains Easter showdown

CHINA Beijing's largest unregistered church held outdoor Sunday services throughout May even as police arrested worshipers who showed up and kept hundreds others—including pastors and elders—under house arrest. The 1,000-member Shouwang Church launched the campaign weeks before Easter, after its landlord gave in to government pressure and terminated the church's lease. State authorities have denied Shouwang's registration attempts since 2005, insisting that the church join the state-approved Three-Self Patriotic Movement. Shouwang's refusal, and subsequent meeting troubles—the church made international news in 2009 for worshiping outside during a snowstorm after one of many evictions—have become emblematic of the growing strength of Chinese house churches as well as their Achilles' heel: state pressure on landlords.

Ambassador resigns over faith focus

MALTA The American ambassador to Malta resigned after an internal government audit rebuked him for spending too much time writing about abortion and his religious beliefs. Douglas Kmiec, a Catholic and former professor of law at Pepperdine University, said in his resignation letter that "the only true and lasting peace will be one that incorporates sensitivity to the world's faith traditions in diplomacy." A report from the State Department's inspector general said Kmiec spent "considerable time" writing articles rather than on meetings and other events typical for ambassadors; Kmiec argues that his faith-based writings were relevant to diplomacy in the Catholic archipelago.

RLUIPA loses its bite

Prisoners can no longer sue states for compensation when their religious rights are violated, according to the Supreme Court. The Court ruled 7-2 that the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) does not allow for prisoners to sue for monetary damages because states have "sovereign immunity," even when running prisons with federal funds. Dissenters said the ruling removes the best remedy prisoners have—the threat of financial penalty—to force changes in prison rules that restrict their religious practice.

Court to hear seminary tenure dispute

A lawsuit against Lexington Theological Seminary will test the boundaries of court involvement in religious employment decisions. Jimmy Kirby, a black, tenured professor, sued the Kentucky school for racial discrimination after losing his job in 2009. A Fayette Circuit Court judge dismissed the suit last fall, arguing that "the First Amendment simply does not permit the court to second-guess the seminary's spiritual decisions," but the state appeals court agreed to hear the case. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear a similar employment dispute involving a teacher at a Lutheran school in Michigan later this year.

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Holy Land churches unite in protest

ISRAEL Leaders of Christian denominations in Jerusalem have jointly asked that the government reverse its decision to deny a residency permit for an Anglican bishop, as well as jointly opposed new property taxes on church buildings. Bishop Suheil Dawani, born in Nablus in the West Bank, must have permission from the Israeli Ministry of the Interior to live in East Jerusalem. Church leaders, representing an array of historic denominations, are concerned the permit denial sets a dangerous precedent. They also say the attempted property tax is an "aggressive action" not imposed by any previous governing body in the geographical area.

Confusion over Mars Hill name ends

Mars Hill Graduate School, a 14-year-old seminary in Seattle, Washington, changed its name to the Seattle School of Theology and Psychology to avoid further confusion with pastor Mark Driscoll's megachurch of the same name. The 300-student school was founded as a branch of Western Seminary in Portland, and has since become independent. The school's website says it is an "evangelical and progressive institution" that emphasizes the worldview of the interpreter as well as interpretation of Scripture. The school chose the name to convey openness to theological viewpoints.

More arrests in Malatya martyrdoms

TURKEY Twenty people suspected of running a terrorist group that murdered Christians and plotted to overthrow the Turkish government have been arrested. Those arrested include a theology professor, a police chief, and soldiers; they are believed to belong to Ergenekon, a group linked to the torture and murder of three Christians in Malatya in 2007. The Malatya trial languished in the courts until it was merged with the Ergenekon case after documents uncovered last year outlined Ergenekon's plans to target Christians in order to destabilize the government.

Bill protects student religious groups

An Arizona bill allows groups on college and university campuses to choose "only persons committed to [the] mission" as leaders and members. Senator Steve Smith (R-Maricopa) said that the bill could allow Catholic and other Christian student groups to exclude Jews or actively gay students, and that the excluded should start their own groups. The bill also prohibits government-run schools from discriminating against or penalizing students for their religious views. University policy at some state schools in Arizona prevents Christians from freely choosing their group members.

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Parental responsibility law takes it away

TAJIKISTAN A proposed law on parental responsibility bans children under the age of 18 from participating in religious activities besides funerals. The law, still in draft form, also restricts parental choices for their children's schooling and mandates that parents name their children according to undefined "national values." Muslims and Christians alike in the majority-Muslim country object to the restrictions, and an independent legal review panel said the law violates articles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Tajikistan holds to. Public discussion on the law closed March 15.

Amish bankruptcy must stay in court

A bankruptcy case filed in an Ohio court by a member of an Amish church must be settled in court, the judge ruled. Monroe Beachy owes $33.3 million to 2,700 people through a securities firm he operated. Beachy is a member of a New Order Amish church, and most of his creditors are Amish or Mennonite. Plain Community members "view biblical scripture as forbidding the use of courts to resolve financial disputes," the court ruling noted, and Beachy and most of his creditors wanted to resolve the dispute in a special Amish committee. The court ruled that delegating the bankruptcy case to the committee would violate the Constitution's Establishment Clause.

Push for U.N. religious defamation ban ends

SWITZERLAND Islamic nations halted their 12-year drive for a religious defamation ban, instead approving a plan promoting religious tolerance at the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva. The 57-state Organization of the Islamic Conference had been fighting for resolutions protecting against the defamation of religion, which critics said would open the way for blasphemy laws like the one in Pakistan. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom welcomed the tolerance resolution, saying the defamation concept "undermines individual rights to freedom of religion and expression."

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