Although German law makes no provision for a national ban on religious garb or symbols in public schools, individual German states are allowed to do so. Legislation enacted in the southern German state of Baden-Wuerttemberg last year specifically banned headscarves by Muslim teachers while they were in their public school classrooms. Now a German court has ruled that, for the law to be fair, it must also apply to habits and habit headcoverings (coifs and veils).
Nuns, who often work in public schools in the predominantly Roman Catholic Black Forest region, must now wear street clothes in the classroom. The federal court ruling said, "Exceptions for certain forms of religiously motivated clothing in certain regions are out of the question."
When a resident of the UK is more than 22 weeks pregnant and wants an abortion, she can't get one in the UK. But she can go to the largest abortion provider in the UK, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), which receives partial government funding, and be directed to clinics in Spain which will kill the preborn babies, who would have a 99% survival rate if they were born at that stage in their gestation. Pro-life advocates are clamoring for the government to withdraw funding from BPAS and tighten the loophole. Abortion rights advocates are pointing to the practice as justification for liberalizing abortion laws in the UK so women don't have to go to Spain.
Undercover reporters from the Sunday Telegraph approached BPAS about obtaining an abortion for a 26 week pregnancy, and reported that BPAS staff explained the Spanish connection to them and agreed to arrange documents justifying the procedure under Spanish law.
Current political debate in the UK is toward tightening the law regarding abortion, especially since there have been medical advances enabling far younger preborn babies to survive outside the womb even with very low birth weights and partially completed gestation. More than 100 members of Parliament (MPS) have signed a parliamentary motion calling for stricter curbs on abortion where there is no medical necessity. Tony Blair, Prime Minister, has said he will examine the proposal.
Nevertheless, Abortion Rights (AR), the UK's biggest abortion rights advocacy group, thinks the practice proves UK abortion law is too strict. Director Anne Quesney said, "It means women are not getting the services they need in Britain, which is regrettable. There should be a provision made in the law for women who need the services at a later stage."
BPAC carries out around 35,000 abortions a year and receives around £12 million in government support. In 1968, the first year abortion was legal in Scotland, there were 1,544 abortions. In 2003 there were 12,217. Abortions in England and Wales in 2003 totaled 181,600.
With less than a month until victory or defeat in the presidential election, the Democratic National Committee has created a new website aimed particularly at religious voters, urging them to vote for Kerry and Edwards as men of faith.
The website, Kerry Shares Our Values, opens with the statement, "John Kerry and John Edwards are inspired by their own religious traditions and share our strong values of faith, family, and community." It continues, "John Kerry and John Edwards have a plan for American that puts these core values into action: valuing families, jobs with dignity, stewardship, concern for the poor, caring for the sick, feeding the hungry, respect for the environment and just war."
The site does not make obvious the DNC ticket platform supporting abortion rights, legal unions for same sex couples, or other issues usually perceived as important for religious voters, who are usually seen as more conservative than liberal.
The 3rd US Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia ruled today that a display of the 10 Commandments hung 86 years ago outside the Allegheny County courthouse can remain in place since it doesn't advocate any particular religion and because it has historic significance.
This ruling upheld a July 2003 district judge's ruling made for similar reasons.
This is the second such ruling by the court, which affirmed the right of the Chester, PA county commissioners to keep their 83 year old plaque for its historic significance last June 2003.
US District Judge Robert S. Lasnik heard arguments this week concerning the suitability of retaining a 10 Commandments monument outside the Everett, Washington police department that was erected in 1959 as a gift from the local Fraternal Order of Eagles.
A local resident, Jesse Card (21), as self-described agnostic, filed suit in July 2003 against the city, arguing that its presence on public property was offensive to him and violated the First Amendment ban on government establishment of religion. He is being represented by counsel Benjamin Block of Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU).
Representing the city of Everett, attorney Stephen A. Smith argued that the monument is part of the town's history: "The city's articulated purpose today is historical preservation. This is a valid secular purpose."
Although Block argued that the monument was erected by the Eagles to promote particular beliefs and conduct among young people in Everettt in 1959, and therefore violated the law, Smith argued that whatever motivated the Eagles 45 years ago, the purpose of keeping the monument is historical. Regarding plaintiff Card's objection, Smith said, "His view is of someone who doesn't believe in any kind of religious displays," including references to God that have been solidly supported by the US Supreme Court and other courts, such as "In God We Trust" on currency and the mention of God and use of Bible's in oaths of office.
Judge Lasnik has said he will issue his ruling within 3 weeks. He has not indicated how he will rule, making statements acknowledging the complexity of the case, the conflicting court actions in other jurisdictions, and the distinctions between this case and some others. He noted that there are 10 Commandments monuments at the US Supreme Court, but added that court decisions make it clear that no government entity my erect such a monument today.
While the head of the Philadelphia school district intended to benefit schools with community mentoring by establishing closer ties with faith-based community groups, critics say the coooperation is at best unwise and at worst an unconstitutional breach of church/state separation. Paul Vallas, the district's chief executive officer, created a task force to facilitate volunteers from faith-based organizations and churches to help with tutoring, mentoring, counseling and organizing faith-based clubs. He noted, "As long as our children are falling victim to violence in our streets, as long as we have problems of student behavior in schools, as long as we have disrespect and bullying in our schools, we'll continue to promote partnerships and close working relationships with faith-based organizations."
In direct opposition to the educator's plan, Barry Morrison, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League said, "For the school CEO to ask religious leaders to take an active role in sponsoring religious activities runs against the spirit of the Constitution and court rulings, if not the letter of the law itself."
The Philadelphia school district and cooperating faith organizations don't seem worried that they're bending the law: "I am happy to say that the members of this task force are very, very clear about it being crucial that everything we do is legal and secular," explained Rabbi George Stern. "We are not preaching anything."
Wednesday, October 06 2004 @ 05:00 AM EDT Contributed by: AIA
Since 1999, pro-lifer Mark Gabriel has been fighting for the right to peacefully demonstrate on public right-of-ways, holding signs protesting his local abortion provider's activities in Grand Chute, Wisconsin. After numerous complaints by the Planned Parenthood Clinic, Gabriel was fined by the local police, for violating a no tolerance for signs policy in his town, even though he had demonstrated peaceably, not interfered with clinic business or traffic, and believed he was exercising his Constitutional free speech rights. Gabriel refused to pay the fines and was finally arrested by the police.
For 5 years Gabriel has fought the city rule, and with the help of the Liberty Counsel organization, he finally won this week, settling with the city, which agreed to dismiss all charges against him and revoke the policy prohibiting sign picketing.
Liberty Counsel is a non-profit litigation, education, and policy organization that specializes in promoting religious freedom. Liberty Counsel's Mat Staver commented, "This case is basically a fundamental free-speech case that affects not just Grand Chute but should send a message to every other government around the country. The First Amendment at its core allows individuals to be on public rights-of-way to give their opinions, especially in the display of signs."
Wednesday, October 06 2004 @ 04:00 AM EDT Contributed by: AIA
Although an overwhelming majority of Louiusiana voters, 78%, voted last month to approve a state constitutional amendment limiting legal marriage to that between a man and a woman, today Judge William Morvant in Baton Rouge declared the new amendment unconstitutional and therefore unenactable and unenforceble because it was flawed, being so broad that it covered civil unions as well as marriages.
Although the amendment cannot go into effect as long as the judge's ruling stands, observers on both sides of the issue said that there will be many appeals and various legal skirmishes before the issue is fully settled. Meanwhile, one Louisiana resident's opinion has successfully overturned the wishes of 78% of Louisiana's residents.
Wednesday, October 06 2004 @ 12:01 AM EDT Contributed by: AIA
Citing the president's outspoken Christian faith, his support for faith-based charities, and his support of reserving marriage for a man and a woman, Pastor Walter Humphrey, a black pastor of a mostly black church in Oakland, California, says that's why he's voting for Bush's re-election in November, and why, as an independent, he's volunteering for Bush's campaign in Florida. And Humphrey is not alone.
Humphrey and 20 other black pastors announced at a news conference in Oakland in August that there was a significant segment of the black community that was supportive of the Bush presidency, and later this month Humphrey expects more than 150 like-minded black pastors will meet in Toledo, Ohio in support of Bush.
Humphrey says he "sees the hand of God on President Bush," and far from thinking Bush was given the 2000 election unfairly, like many in the black American community, Humphrey says, "I don't view that as an election that was stolen. I see that as the providence of God."
Bush has spoken frequently at predominantly black churches over the last 4 years, from Philadelphia to Dallas. The White House liaison to conservatives and Christians, Timothy Goeglein, meets frequently with conservative black congregations and religious groups. Bush enjoys a majority support from the largest and most theologically conservative black denomination, the 25,000 member Church of God in Christ.
Pastor Ken Hutcherson, African-American pastor of a church in Redmond, Washington, says the support Bush is gaining from black pastors is important, because "the African-American pastor has a tremendous moral authority." He said he and other black pastors are able to make strong statements about issues, like gay rights, that "most other people are afraid to speak out because they will be called bigots."
The National Faith-Based Initiative Coalition, headed by African-American leaders including Oliver Kellman, John Pierce, Bishop Clarence McClendon (Full Harvest International), James Washington, and former US Congressman J. C. Watts, held a press conference in August rallying black pastors to support Bush's re-election.
In the most recent US State Department report on the status of religious freedom worldwide, China and 7 other nations were listed as the most serious violators. US Secretary of State Colin Powell says Burma, China, Iran, North Korea, and Sudan are repeat place holders on the list, and Eritrea, Saudi Arabia, and Vietnam are newly listed.
US Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom John Hanford explained that the Chinese government "continues to repress Tibetan Buddhists, Uighur Muslims, Catholics faithful to the Vatican, underground Protestants, and Falun Gong" practitioners. Hanford continued, "Many religious believers are in prison for their faith and others continue to face detention, beatings, torture, and the destruction of places of worship. Many observers believe that in recent months, China has engaged in a crackdown against some independent religious groups."
Secretary Powell concluded, "Defending the sacred ground of human conscience is a natural commandment to all mankind."
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