When the Church of Scientology opened its new headquarters in Madrid, Spain, Hollywood celebrity Tom Cruise was on hand to add a few words of Spanish to the opening ceremonies. The dedication and opening of the headquarters on Saturday, September 18, concluded with Cruise mingling with the crowd, shaking hands and greeting fans.
The Church of Scientology, founded by the late science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, has had a tumultuous past in relationships with other churches, claiming to be Christian and yet denying the core or cardinal doctrines of historical, biblical Christianity and instead teaching a theology of extra terrestrials, spiritually directed evolution, and personal transformation through effort. Tom Cruise, along with John Travolta and other Hollywood stars, is a long-time faithful Church of Scientology member and promoter.
When AB205, California's new Domestic Partners Law, signed by then Gov. Gray Davis, becomes law on January 2005, many same sex couples will take advantage of the law's strong legal protections for gay couples. But many other same sex couples, including many who have already registered with the state as domestic partners, will not sign up or will dissolve their existing registrations.
Although the new law gives many rights to domestic partners, such as parental rights for non-biological parents in a same sex family, it also imposes new legal responsibilities and restrictions many people are not prepared to assume. Some fear that counting their domestic partner's income will exclude them from state and federal assistance programs and payments. Some fear that, should their partnership fail, their partner will successfully obtain half of their net worth through the community property provisions of the law. And others fear that bringing the law into it will make partnerships dependent on expensive legal representation,
In anticipation of the new law, during the months of July and August of this year, more state registered domestic partnerships were dissolved (313) than at any time since the registry began in January 2000. Linda Scaparotti, an attorney who specializes in family law and estate planning for same sex couples, observed, "One has to ask if [the coming law] prompted the higher number of domestic partner terminations."
The state has admitted that the new law might compromise certain state benefits. For example, it may be that Medi-Cal benefits will be determined on the basis of the income of both partners under the new law instead of the income only of the person applying for the care. Medi-Cal spokeswoman Norma Arceo says that Medi-Cal has not yet figured out how to treat domestic partners under the new law.
Nevertheless, those who fail to register as domestic partners may find their time in court rougher anyway. Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, warned, "This is a very predictable but unfortunate byproduct of gaining the huge protections of AB205. If one chooses to forgo those protections for all sorts of what might be good reasons, the legal system loses all sympathy. The essential position is, 'Youd didn't take the proper steps to protect yourself, so you lose.'"
Saturday's election in Louisiana garnered 27% of the state's voters, about average for a special election, and unexpectedly high for an election in the midst of evacuations and clean up from a major hurricane. And of those voters, 78% approved the proposed state constitutional amendment that restricts legal marriage to that between a man and a woman and also bans civil unions and domestic parternships as legally protected unions.
Although many legal challenges are expected, pro-family groups are enouraged that Louisiana is representative of most Americans concerning issues of legal protection for same sex unions.
Deborah Young, Concerned Women for America (CWA) state director for Louisiana commented, "Our state's citizens saw that leaving marriage unprotected would bring a cultural and social disaster as serious in its own way as [hurricane] Ivan's devastating winds." She continued, "Louisiana voters sent a strong message to 'gay' activists seeking to contest the definition of marriage in court."
When rumors of a gay sexual encounter involving the Rev. Paul Crouch, founder of the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), reached the ears of some Christians in 1998, most disbelieved the rumours, even those who had strong disagreements with Crouch's theology and TBN's leadership in the Word Faith Movement. The accuser's dubious background, lack of specificity, and lack of evidence argued against the story's truthfulness, and the accuser's willingness to be quiet for the right price tipped the scales for most. The story never became public and was soon forgotten.
But now the story has resurrected 7 years later as details have been disclosed regarding a second attempt during the last year by accuser Enoch Lonnie Ford to get money or mileage out of his story. Los Angeles Times staff writer William Lobdell has written 2 articles this week on the story, although he has not revealed how the Times obtained copies of sealed court records, confidential arbitration reports, and other information. Ford has not been willing to speak on the record and all statements from TBN have vehemently denied the allegations.
Ford, a long-time drug user and petty criminal, began working for TBN in 1992 after time in a TBN associated drug treatment program in Texas. He repeatedly violated his probation, went back to drugs, and had other trouble with the law (including a conviction for having sex with a 17 year old boy) over the next 5 years or so. Nevertheless, TBN kept taking him back into employment, even sometimes arguing in his favor to judges and paying off at least one of Ford's bad debts of $12,000. At the end of 1996 Ford once more tested positive for drugs and despite TBN's support was sentenced to a state prison system drug treatment facility in Norco, California. Although TBN promised the judge Ford would have a job when he completed his sentence, when he got out in February of 1998, TBN would not rehire him.
Shortly thereafter Ford approached TBN staff with a threat to disclose publicly that Paul Crouch and he had shared a sexual encounter in late 1996. After a flurry of negotiations, a few months after Ford's first approach to TBN in 1998, TBN and Ford signed a confidential legal agreement in which Ford promised to keep silent and TBN gave him $425,000.
Fast forward to April 2003, when Ford showed up at the set of TBN's Costa Mesa broadcast studio and handed Crouch a copy of a manuscript he had written with the help of one friend and the support of another. The manuscript included the alleged sexual incident with Crouch. The next day Ford's attorney, Eugene Zech, offered to sell all rights to the manuscript to TBN for $10 million. TBN and Ford then entered into a series of legal manoeuvers, with TBN arguing that Ford could never divulge the allegations because of his 1998 agreement, and Ford arguing that his constitutional right to free speech trumped his previous agreement. A court ordered arbitration proceeding was completed in June of this year and Arbitrator Robert J. Neill ruled that Ford had no right to disclose anything, including the existence of the 1998 agreement, because he had sold that right to Crouch for $425,000 and "bargained away his right to speak on certain matters" and that his "right to discuss these matters was bought and paid for. He relinquished that right." Throughout the proceedings TBN sought and obtained court protection to keep the information and proceedings secret, arguing that disclosure would cause irreparable harm to the reputation of Crouch and the ministry of TBN even if the allegations were untrue.
When TBN discovered that information and documents had been leaked to the Times last weekend, it issued a 650 word statement that called the allegations "salacious" and called Ford an ex-convict and longtime drug abuser. The statement said that Crouch had agreed to the earlier settlement while still protesting that the allegation was false only in order to avoid costly litigation and scandal. The statement remarked, "The importance of the settlement does not rest on the money paid, but rather on Dr. Crouch's vehement denial of the allegations made against him as well as the agreement of the accuser to keep confidential and refrain from repeating his false claims and accusations." TBN also says that no ministry money was used to pay Ford, although they did not identify the source of the $425,000.
For Ford's part, he is not speaking on the record, and the Times was unable to produce any first hand confirmation of the truthfulness of the allegation. Two people were said to have second hand knowledge of the charges, but their accounts are disputed by others present at the same time the discussions allegedly took place. Two friends of Ford from the time period of the allegation have said that he told them at the time about the encounter, but they had no other evidence to back up his story. The Times was unable to discover what happened to Ford's 1998 settlement amount of $425,000, but reported that today he lives modestly in one room of an Orange County home and works as a mortgage salesman.
Paul Crouch's son, Matt, who is also a TBN executive, told the Times, "In hindsight, we should have fought Lonnie [Ford] tooth and nail" (in 1998). "We should have drawn the battle lines right then."
Most Christian ministries who are aware of the Times articles empathize with Crouch's predicament, don't seem to believe Ford, and are most concerned that the notoriety, even if the allegations are false, damages Christianity in the eyes of non-Christians.
A Minnesota state worker got more exercise than his colleagues for a while when he was barred from parking in the nearby employee parking lot because he had stuck some religious bumper stickers on his car. In a lawsuit filed on his behalf by the conservative first amendment advocacy organization, the American Center for Law and Justice, Alan Blackburn claimed he was forced to park 1/4 mile farther than the employee parking lot at the Brainerd office of the state Revenue Department because of his bumper stickers.
The lawsuit, which claimed other state employees were allowed to have bumper stickers and other signs on their cars or in their office cubicles that expressed their personal opinions, was settled last week for an undisclosed sum of money and agreement with Blackburn's bosses that he could express his personal religious opinions just like other employees did on his car and in his cubicle. Under the settlement, the Revenue Department did not admit it was liable but Blackburn agreed to drop his suit after he won the same rights as his co-workers.
Some of the messages on Blackburn's car included, "God is a loving and caring God," "God gave us the 10 Commandments," and "'In God We Trust' is our national motto. Why can't the 10 Commandments be displayed on government property?"
Although funds raised by the kettle and bell Salvation Army (SA) representatives outside Minneapolis Target stores last Christmas accounted for fully 1/3 of the Christmas season funds raised, Target this year is banning the popular Christmas tradition outside all of its Minneapolis/St. Paul stores.
The general Target policy is to ban solicitors for funds outside all of its stores, but traditionally they have made a single exception for the Salvation Army, a cause that provides visible and substantial social services help in the community and that is popular with most people.
Now, says, Target Corporation spokeswoman Carolyn Brookter, rather than continue making the SA the lone exception to the solicitation ban, "It's becoming increasingly difficult to have an exception to our policy, so we decided we would have no exceptions." She says the SA was told last January of the decision, although some local organizations were not informed by SA headquarters until recently. Local SA officials are still hoping that Target may reconsider.
In the Minneapolis/St. Paul region, bell ringers at 43 Target stores raised more than $750,000 last year out of a total of $2 million in bell ringing support throughout Minnesota.
Thursday, September 02 2004 @ 10:28 AM EDT Contributed by: AIA
The staunchly secular government of France earlier this year passed legislation banning all conspicuous religious signs or apparel in public school, but the first implementation of that law is taking place this week as schools begin a new term. Although the law also bans such items as Jewish skull caps and large Christian crucifixes, it is the general purpose of the law to outlaw the distinctive dress -- including headscarves for girls and women -- of Islamic fundamentalism.
France has the largest proportion of Muslims of any other European country with a Muslim population estimated at 5 million. A significant but small number of those Muslims are radically against the French government, support terrorist views and causes, and are seen by the government as threats to national security and stability. For this reason the French government has undertaken a number of steps to curb the high profiles of such Muslims and to restrict their ability to propogate their views and recruit followers who may become or support terrorists.
On the first day of school, some Muslim girls decided to go scarfless, others wore smaller scarves or bandanas, and some came traditionally garbed. No one was banned from school, but those who violated the law were engaged in official dialog that could culminate in their being banned from school if they continue to refuse to drop the conspicuous religious garb.
In a related development, Islamic terrorists in Iraq who are holding 2 French journalists threatened to execute the 2 unless France recinded the law. Although their deadline has passed, the fate of the journalists is unknown.
In the first 4 hours of retail sale on Tuesday, the DVD version of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ sold 2.4 million copies. Steve Feldstein, spokesman for Fox Home Entertainment, distributors of the DVD, said, "Just like there's no comparison for the film, there's no comparison for this performance." He said that The Passion is on track to sell as well as other Hollywood best-sellers like "Spider-Man" and "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, which both have sold to date over 15 million copies.
The movie was one of the year's biggest movies after advance speculation that it would bomb, ruin Mel Gibson's career, and lose millions of dollars. Instead it earned a place among the 10 top highest-grossing movies of all time with more than $370 million at the North American box office. Only "Shrek 2" beat it with $436.7 million.
The DVD retails for $24.99 and distributors expect that many people will buy multiple copies to give as gifts or as evangelism tools.
Her parents named her "Madeline," meaning "tower of strength," and what she lacked in size, she made up for in determination and stamina. She was born June 27, 1989 and weighed only 9.9 ounces, slightly over 1/2 pound, more than 2 ounces short of the weight of a can of soda and fitting into the palm of an adult hand. Today she's still small -- 4'7'' and 60 pounds -- but in all other ways she's a normal 15 year old with braces, a passion for clothes, the violin, writing, and friends.
This week Madeline Mann celebrated her 15th birthday a little late at Chicago area's Loyola University Medical Center (LUMC) with the doctors and nurses whose efforts gave her life and brought her through the crisis of being the tiniest baby to survive. To this date, she is still the smallest baby ever to survive. Although babies earlier in gestation have survived, she was extremely small for the 26 weeks of gestation she had grown through and at the time few babies of even much larger size but at only 26 weeks of gestation survived.
According to Dr. Jonathan Muraskas of LUMC, what is at least as remarkable about her survival is that she suffered none of the physical or neurological problems that most commonly afflict such children as they mature. Other than her slight build, there is nothing about her physically or mentally that would identify her as the world's smallest preemie. His tiny patient's story was reviewed and updated briefly in the current issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
Madeline's mother recalled that at the time of her daughter's precipitous birth, "Doctors warned us about not looking too far ahead." She remembered that it was 4 months before she was able to bring her infant daughter home from the hospital.
Dr. Muraskas noted that the majority of infants born under 14 ounces who survive (80%) are female, saying that Madeline's sex was in her favor as well. Girls seem to be more resilient and make better progress, or, as Dr. Muraskas says, "Boys are wimps."
Today 90% of newborns survive if they are born after 27 weeks of gestation, although 30,000 are born each year with significant physical, medical, and/or neurological problems.
Wednesday, September 01 2004 @ 11:24 AM EDT Contributed by: AIA
A new survey from the British Office for National Statistics shows that divorce rates in Great Britain are climbing for the 3rd consecutive year, with peak divorces among women in their late 20s and men in their early to mid 30s. Among women, divorce between the ages of 25 and 29 is 29 per 1,000 marriages. Among men between 30 and 34 the divorce rate is 28 per 1,000 marriages. Observers say the actual rate of couple splits is certainly much higher since many couples live together without the legal formality of marriage, and their breakup rate is much higher than if they had married.
British academics like Dr. Andrew Parker of the department of sociology at the University of Warwick say a 1990s British phenomenon of "new ladism" may be partly to blame. New ladism, seen as a backlash to radical feminism, is, according to Dr. Parker, a male attitude involving, "a pub and porn narcissism, which centers around football, lager, and hedonism." He observes, "Some of these new lads may habe become husbands and fathers and it is not unreasonable to assume that they have carried new lad attitudes, including a total disregard for others, into marriage."
Others blame the ease of connecting with new or old flames via the Internet, increasing the ease of starting or resuming affairs while still married. Relate, a marriage guidance group in the UK, said it was seeing an increase in such Internet facilitated relationships. Senior Relate counselor, Christine Northam, said, "It is easy to surf around and see what happened to old so-and-so. If you are feeling wobbly in your relationship, you may look back to a rose-tinted past.
The study, Divorces, also showed that 1 in 10 divorces occur between couples who have both been divorced before, 50% of the divorcing couples had at least 1 child under 16 and 20% had at least 1 child under 5.
The Lord's Servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will give them a change of heart leading to a knowledge of the truth
II Timothy 2:24-26