Category : Church-State Issues

The Bishop of Clogher's Sermon at a Service of Thanksgiving to celebrate the Queen's 90th birthday

..There is a character in Thomas Hardy’s novel Far from the Madding Crowd who says, ‘There is this to be said for the Church [of England], a man can belong to the Church and bide in his cheerful old inn, and never trouble or worry his mind about doctrine at all’. Now, that is something of a caricature but there is a good deal of truth in it to make it work. True that a life of Christian devotion and duty – of rendering unto God the things that are his, that is, our whole selves – has room in it for the odd gin and Dubonnet and pale ale and smiles when a horse wins at Ascot or (and I find this hard to say) when England win at cricket, just as it has for sitting with Secretaries day after relentless day poring over correspondence, or with almost superhuman tact and wisdom steering her way through the weary maze of political life or attending to those many duties that fill the Court Circular of the Daily Telegraph.

It seems to me at any rate, that Her Majesty the Queen has understood what many people (including many religious people) fail to grasp, that all life is God’s, and that it is the manner that we do the ordinary things of life, which is a true discipleship. It is not everything that has to be said about the Christian Faith, and it presupposes a trust in Him, but it is a great deal.

In finishing if I may use those quaint old words from 1662 The Litany of the Book of Common Prayer; today we give thanks to God that it has pleased Him to guard and bless His servant Elizabeth our most gracious Queen and Governor these 90 years and to have ruled her heart in His faith, fear and love; and we pray that she may evermore have affiance in Him, and ever seek His honour and glory as long as she shall live. Vivat Regina. Long live the Queen.

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Posted in * Religion News & Commentary, Church-State Issues

[CH] Cardinal Pell says David Cameron has adopted a ”˜poisonous form of radical moral liberalism’

From the Catholic Herald
Vatican Cardinal George Pell has accused British Prime Minister David Cameron of adopting a “poisonous form of radical moral liberalism”.
Writing in a foreword to The Nation that Forgot God, a collection of essays edited by Sir Edward Leigh MP and Alex Haydon, the cardinal criticises Cameron’s push to legalise same-sex marriage in 2014.

“Cameron has been formed by, or at least adopted, that poisonous form of radical moral liberalism which has sapped the religious vitality of many Christian communities as it endorsed the weaknesses and mistakes damaging, and even destroying, the family,” he writes.

“His confusion is typical of many Christians. It does not speak well of those Christian leaders who never lifted a finger to resist these siren voices.”

The cardinal, who is prefect of the Vatican Secretariat for the Economy, emphasises that he does not think that the Prime Minister is intentionally setting out to undermine Christianity. He writes: “In the words of Pope Francis, commenting on the move to introduce same-sex marriage in his own native country, ”˜Let’s not be naive: this isn’t a simple political fight, it’s an attempt to destroy God’s plan’….

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Posted in * Religion News & Commentary, Church-State Issues

(WSJ) Cross Removals Begin Again in 'China's Jerusalem'

In May, authorities in eastern China’s Zhejiang province unveiled rules severely limiting the size and placement of crosses on churches ”” the codification of a sometimes-violent 2014 campaign that saw crosses torn from more than 300 churches in and around the city of Wenzhou, home to a large Christian community.

The local government now appears to be enforcing the new regulations.

As shown in the Associated Press..authorities last week dispatched demolition crews to shear off the cross that sat atop Lower Dafei Catholic Church outside Wenzhou as parishioners sang hymns in protest.

“They say we have religious freedom. Is this freedom?” one congregation member, surnamed Chen, told the AP. “Have we violated any national laws? We are also good Chinese citizens.”

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Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, Asia, China, Church-State Issues, Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Law & Legal Issues, Liturgy, Music, Worship, Parish Ministry, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Spirituality/Prayer, Theology

(USA Today) Stephen Prothero–How 9/11 changed religion in America

In short, things are not looking good for Americans like myself who see religious liberty as one of the great achievements of the American experiment. Today, not only Muslims but also Hindus and Sikhs, Buddhists and humanists are on the outside of American public culture looking in. But as Jesus once said, “Take heart.”

The United States has survived a series of culture wars in which Catholics, Mormons and members of other religious minorities were anathematized as un-American. In each case, Americans as a group have eventually decided to live not by fear but by first principles, not least the constitutional protection of liberty afforded in the First Amendment to Americans of all creeds.

Sept. 11, 2001, was, of course, a national trauma. Americans responded to that trauma, however, with a show of unity that crossed lines of race, region and religion. Such unity is easier to find in wartime, of course, or when one of our cities is strewn by hate with cremated remains. But it is always there in our cultural DNA ”” in Jefferson’s insistence in his first inaugural address that “we are all Republicans, we are all Federalists,” and in the words of Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural: “We are not enemies, but friends.”

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * Religion News & Commentary, Church-State Issues, History, Islam, Judaism, Other Churches, Other Faiths, Religion & Culture, Terrorism

Dinesh D'Souza: A Christian foundation

We seem to be witnessing an aggressive attempt by leading atheists to portray religion in general, and Christianity in particular, as the bane of civilization. Finding the idea of God incompatible with science and reason, these atheists also fault Christianity with fostering a breed of fanaticism comparable to Islamic radicalism. The proposed solution: a completely secular society, liberated from Christian symbols and beliefs.

This critique, which comes from best-selling atheist books, academic tracts and a sophisticated network of atheist organizations and media, can be disputed on its own terms. What it misses, however, is the larger story of how Christianity has shaped the core institutions and values of the USA and the West. Christianity is responsible even for secular institutions such as democracy and science. It has fostered in our civilization values such as respect for human dignity, human rights and human equality that even secular people cherish.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Religion News & Commentary, Church-State Issues, Religion & Culture

Supreme Court Turns Down Cases on Religious Separation

One contentious topic missing from the Supreme Court’s docket as the new term opened on Monday was religion. The justices evidently plan to keep it that way, at least for now.

Among the hundreds of appeals the court turned down on Monday, in a list that printed out at 83 pages, were two cases on the relationship between church and state that might have brought even more visibility to the term.

One was a case from New York on whether church-affiliated employers who object to birth control on religious grounds must nonetheless provide contraceptive coverage to their female employees as part of their medical insurance coverage, as required by laws in New York and some two dozen other states.

The other case challenged the refusal of a public library in California to make a community meeting room available for worship services.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * Religion News & Commentary, Church-State Issues, Law & Legal Issues, Religion & Culture, Supreme Court

Rowan Williams: Faith Communities in a Civil Society ”“ Christian Perspectives

But the point of this first contribution, as it affects civil society, is this: the presence of the Church, not as a clamorous interest group but as a community confident of its rootedness in something beyond the merely political, expresses a vision of human dignity and mutual human obligation which, because of its indifference to popular success or official legitimation, poses to every other community a special sort of challenge. ”˜Civil society’ is the recognized shorthand description for all those varieties of human association that rest on willing co-operation for the sake of social goods that belong to the whole group, not just to any individual or faction, and which are not created or wholly controlled by state authority. As such, their very existence presupposes persons who are able to take responsibility for themselves and to trust one another in this enterprise. The presence of the Christian community puts to civil society the question of where we look for the foundation of such confidence about responsibility and trustworthiness: does this set of assumptions about humanity rest on a fragile human agreement, on the decision of human beings to behave as if they were responsible, or on something deeper and less contingent, something to which any and every human society is finally answerable? Is the social creativity which civil society takes for granted part of a human ”˜birthright’?

The second major contribution made by the presence of the Church is what we might in shorthand call universalism ”“ not in the technical theological sense, but simply meaning the conviction that every human agent is involved in either creating or frustrating a common good that relates to the whole human race. In plainer terms, we cannot as Christians settle down with the conclusion that what is lastingly and truly good for any one individual or group is completely different from what is lastingly and truly good for any other. Justice is not local in an exclusive sense or limited by circumstances; there are no classes or subgroups of humanity who are entitled to less of God’s love; and so there are no classes entitled to lower levels of human respect or compassion or service. And since an important aspect of civil society is the assumption that human welfare is not achieved by utilitarian generalities imposed from above but requires active and particularized labour, the fact of the Christian community’ presence once again puts the question of how human society holds together the need for action appropriate to specific and local conditions with the lively awareness of what is due to all people everywhere. This is not only about a vision of universal human justice as we normally think of it, but also applies to how we act justly towards those who are not yet born ”“ how we create a just understanding of our relation to the environment.

In short, the significance of the Church for civil society is in keeping alive a concern both to honour and to justify the absolute and non-negotiable character of the human vision of responsibility and justice that is at work in all human association for the common good. It is about connecting the life of civil society with its deepest roots, acknowledged or not. The conviction of being answerable to God for how we serve and respect God’s human and non-human creation at the very least serves to ensure that the human search for shared welfare and responsible liberty will not be reduced to a matter of human consensus alone. And if the Church ”“ or any other community of faith ”“ asks of society the respect that will allow it to be itself, it does so not because it is anxious about its survival (which is in God’s hands), but because it asks the freedom to remind the society or societies in which it lives of their own vulnerability and their need to stay close to some fundamental questions about the nature of the humanity they seek to nourish. Such a request from Church to society will be heard and responded to, of course, only if the Church genuinely looks as though it were speaking for more than a self-protecting set of ”˜religious’ concerns; if it appears as concerned for something more than self-defence. To return to what was said earlier, it needs to establish its credentials as ”˜non-violent’ ”“ that is, as not contending against other kinds of human group for a share in ordinary political power. To put it in severely condensed form, the Church is most credible when least preoccupied with its security and most engaged with the human health of its environment; and to say ”˜credible’ here is not to say ”˜popular’, since engagement with this human health may run sharply against a prevailing consensus. Recent debates on euthanasia offer a case in point; and even here, it is surprisingly often claimed that the churches are concerned here only to sustain their control of human lives ”“ which sadly illustrates what all too many in our society have come to expect of the Church.

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Religion News & Commentary, Archbishop of Canterbury, Church-State Issues, Ethics / Moral Theology, Inter-Faith Relations, Theology

State can't restrict seminaries, Texas high court rules

The Texas Supreme Court ruled Friday that state higher education officials have no authority over seminaries in Texas, ending several years of litigation over state efforts to restrict the operations of three seminaries in Dallas, Fort Worth and San Antonio.

The high court said the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board violated the constitutional rights of the institutions by preventing them from issuing degrees in theology and calling themselves seminaries.

Writing for the court, Justice Nathan Hecht said state education requirements affecting the institutions “impermissibly intrude” upon religious freedom protected by the U.S. and Texas constitutions.

“Since the government cannot determine what a church should be, it cannot determine the qualifications a cleric should have or whether a particular person has them. Likewise the government cannot set standards for religious education or training,” the court said, citing the establishment clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits government from establishing an official religion.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Religion News & Commentary, Church-State Issues, Law & Legal Issues, Religion & Culture

Court Upholds Ban on Bible Distribution to Fifth-Graders

A federal appeals court Tuesday upheld a lower court ruling that prohibited the distribution of Bibles to grade school students in a southern Missouri school district.

At issue was a long-held practice at South Iron Elementary School in Annapolis, 120 miles southwest of St. Louis, in which Gideons International representatives came to fifth-grade classrooms and gave away Bibles. A U.S. district judge issued a temporary injunction, and a three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis agreed the classroom distribution should be prohibited.

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Posted in * Religion News & Commentary, Church-State Issues

Church-State Group Complains After Baptist Endorses Mike Huckabee

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * Religion News & Commentary, Church-State Issues, Religion & Culture, US Presidential Election 2008

Humanist Loses Case Over Voting in Churches

A judge ruled Tuesday against a Humanist who said his constitutional rights were violated when he had to vote in a Catholic church adorned with religious icons and anti-abortion posters.

Jerry Rabinowitz claimed he felt uncomfortable when he entered a polling place decorated with various crucifixes, a sign that read “Each of us matters to God” and a pro-life banner.

In the November 2006 suit, filed against the county supervisor of elections in Palm Beach County, Florida, he testified that the religious displays amounted to the government’s unconstitutional endorsement of religion.

A district court judge disagreed, citing the plaintiff’s own claim that he “did not equate the religious icons and messages at his polling place with the defendant’s endorsement of the Catholic faith.”

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Posted in * Religion News & Commentary, Church-State Issues

Students must remember 'God' in Texas pledge

Texas students will have four more words to remember when they head back to class this month and begin reciting the state’s pledge of allegiance.

This year’s Legislature added the phrase “one state under God” to the pledge, which is part of a required morning ritual in Texas public schools along with the pledge to the U.S. flag and a moment of silence.

State Rep. Debbie Riddle, who sponsored the bill, said it had always bothered her that God was omitted in the state’s pledge.

“Personally, I felt like the Texas pledge had a big old hole in it, and it occurred to me, ‘You know what? We need to fix that,’ ” said Riddle, R-Tomball. “Our Texas pledge is perfectly OK like it is with the exception of acknowledging that just as we are one nation under God, we are one state under God as well.”

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * Religion News & Commentary, Church-State Issues, Education, Religion & Culture

Peter Irons: Does the religious majority rule?

Every town and city has “insiders” and “outsiders.” Insiders tend to have deep family roots in the community, belong to its dominant religious group and political party, and play active roles in civic affairs. Particularly in small towns, insiders get upset when outsiders challenge the symbols that reflect the majority’s beliefs and values.

On the surface, Jimmie Greene and Louanne Walker both qualify as insiders in rural McCreary County, Ky., a stronghold of hard-shell Baptists and rock-ribbed Republicans. They are, in fact, cousins whose ancestors settled in the Cumberland Mountains back in Daniel Boone’s days. Jimmie and Louanne grew up together, attended the same elementary school and worshipped in the same Baptist church. Jimmie served four terms as the county’s “judge executive,” and Louanne has worked for 20 years in the welfare office.

But Louanne quickly became an outsider when she challenged her cousin’s decision to hang a copy of the Ten Commandments in the lobby of the McCreary County courthouse in Whitley City, a town of just over 1,000 residents. Talking with me recently over coffee in her kitchen, Louanne traced her decision to her mother, Nellie, an “outsider” from neighboring Pulaski County who married into the huge Walker clan.

“She was a Democrat, a liberal, a strong-minded person,” Louanne said. “She was a big supporter of the church, but she was also a supporter of separation of church and state, and she brought me up that way.”

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Religion News & Commentary, Church-State Issues, Religion & Culture

Church Times Editorial: The Crown’s right to choose priests

The subject of patronage is so complex that it is hard to discover who is responsible for what. The bishops and archbishops control 49 per cent of livings, and the Crown about eight per cent. About one third of patrons are private individuals, ecclesiastical societies, or bodies such as Oxford or Cambridge colleges. The reorganisation of benefices in recent years means that, in about one third of parishes, the patronage rotates by turns between two or three patrons.

The office of Lord Chancellor was threatened with abolition in 2003, but, in the end, merely diminished. In the consultation, Lord Falconer asked for views about the disposal of the 450 livings: whether the patronage should be exercised by (a) another government minister, such as the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs; (b) the Prime Minister’s office, with the other Crown livings; (c) the Church. There were 239 responses, of which only seven per cent favoured the transfer of control to another minister. The majority of the respondents were split evenly between those who wanted all the Crown livings to be dealt with by Downing Street (44 per cent) and those who favoured a transfer to the Church (43 per cent).

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, Anglican Provinces, Church of England (CoE), Church-State Issues, England / UK

Stephen Mansfield: On Religion, The Founders got it right

From USA Today:

Two days after he wrote the famous words “separation between church and state” in an 1802 letter to Baptists in Connecticut, Thomas Jefferson began attending church ”” on the floor of the House of Representatives. He would attend the makeshift church in the national Capitol nearly every Sunday morning for the rest of his presidency. Clearly, his understanding of the connection between religion and government is not the one we endure today.

We should not be surprised. It was Jefferson, after all, who insisted upon the Bible as part of the curriculum at the University of Virginia, Jefferson who approved federal funding for a Catholic priest to serve the Kaskaski Indians, and Jefferson who once said, “I am a Christian in the only sense in which he (Jesus) wished anyone to be.” True, he was far from theologically orthodox, he expected most of the young men in his day to end their lives as Unitarians and he angrily despised the clergy of his day. Yet, contrary to the secular dreams of an influential few today, Jefferson envisioned a government that would encourage religion while neither submitting to nor erecting a religious tyranny.

Even if Jefferson had envisioned a secular state, it would have made little difference in the early history of our nation. It was not his words that carried the force of law ”” written as they were 14 years after the Constitution was ratified ”” but rather the 10 words that are undoubtedly the most tortured in our history: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” These words, the first 10 of our Bill of Rights, make the intentions of the Founding Fathers clear. Having just fought a war of independence against England and her state church, they had no intention of allowing the U.S. Congress the authority to erect a new religious tyranny to dominate their young nation. Instead, they denied Congress the power to create a national church. The states and the individual citizens, of course, were free to be as religious as they wanted to be.

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Posted in * Religion News & Commentary, Church-State Issues

Andrew Carey: Elephant in the Chamber

It was one of those moments on Monday afternoon where I really couldn’t believe what I was hearing at General Synod. It was like there was an elephant sitting in the chamber and everyone was pretending to ignore it, because they weren’t sure that others could see it.

The odd bishop popped up and said smoothly and reassuringly that there wasn’t anything to worry about, and that the non-existent elephant wasn’t in danger of trampling anyone to death. The elephant of course was called ”˜disestablishment’, and the debate was on a report on senior church appointments, many of the recommendations of which had already been derailed by Gordon Brown’s announcement last week that he will relinquish the Prime Minister’s role in the appointment of diocesan bishops and other posts.

The Archbishop of York’s first reaction to Gordon Brown’s statement last week was to welcome its fulfillment of a 1974 General Synod motion which called for the Church to have the decisive role in Church appointments. In 1976, a compromise was reached between the Church and the then Prime Minister, James Callaghan, in the creation of the modern system for Crown Appointments. The Church from thenceforth would submit two names to the Prime Minister in priority order, and the Prime Minister had the freedom to choose one of those names, or ask the Church for more. There was no call by General Synod back then in 1974 for an absolute end to a Prime Ministerial role in Crown Appointments.

With the Archbishop of Canterbury on holiday, Archbishop Sentamu’s unseemly haste to welcome the Green Paper may come to be seen as a defining moment in Church/State relations. Any development in relations between Church and State should be the subject of much greater consultation than a presidential edict by a new Prime Minister who is simply trying to make his mark. And it must be said that although the Prime Minister’s announcement was made in a statement on a Green Paper, the period for consultation concerns the details rather than the principle itself. Synod members were told in no uncertain terms, that given the nature of the announcement and the welcome of the Archbishop of York the matter was a fait

However once Gordon Brown made his bid the Church of England should have done more than to simply welcome it. It should have reminded the Prime Minister that in his hands lies one aspect of the Royal Prerogative which has worked as a system of Crown Appointments serving both Church and State well. To give up this ”˜patronage’ over Crown Appointments in such a cavalier way is not to reduce the power of the executive but to increase it, because it suggests that the power to remake the relationship between Church and State lies in the hands
of the Prime Minister alone.

Furthermore, the only reason Callaghan decided to retain a ”˜veto’ in 1976 was because of the specific role of the Lords Spiritual in the Second Chamber. As Lords reform proceeds
it will no longer be possible to point to a link between Church and State as a reason for retaining the Lords Spiritual. The best we can expect now is for a vastly reduced bench
of bishops in the House of Lords. So it was ghastly to see Synod representatives totally wrong-footed by the Green Paper, and disconcerted in the face of government determination to re-write the Church/State relationship on its own. Worst of all was to see Bishops and church leaders co-opted by the government to announce and reassure Synod members that government policy in no way intended disestablishment.

Bishop John Gladwin, from his privileged position as an adviser to Jack Straw on Lords reform, stated that Her Majesty’s government had no wish to see either its Green Paper announcement or House of Lords reform ”˜enmeshed in disestablishment’. “This is evolutionary reform,” he suggested, “We should welcome the transparency that this move by government represents.”

However I remember Bishop Gladwin and others uttering similar reassurances that Civil Partnerships did not make gay marriage. Even then they were wrong-footed by a government which was announcing in press releases that wedding bells were due to ring out for same-sex couples when civil partnerships came into force. It may well be that this move to hand over
Crown Appointments to the Church of England is the right thing, however this was not the widespread view only a few weeks ago. In the Pilling report, ”˜Talent and Calling’ which the Synod debated on Monday, the Prime Minister’s active role was being praised.

“The removal of this patronage [in Crown Appointments] and the downgrading of the Downing Streets Appointments Office which would inevitably follow, would mark a further stage in the disengagement of Church and State in England and it is quite possible that it might in turn prompt further changes and accelerate a process of disestablishment.” It is the ultimate capitulation by the Church to state that point of view one week in an important internal report, and then to meekly roll over the next after a Prime Ministerial announcement. It is inconceivable that so many leaders in the Church of England have so enthusiastically changed their minds, as to now welcome the disengagement of the state from the church.

The coded dismay among Synod members was over the loss of the valuable skills of the Downing Street Appointments Secretary. Yet such civil servants, however gifted, come and go, it is the principle that remains. Any steps to alter the Church and State relationship should be a matter of negotiation between Parliament, the Crown and the Church of England. Gordon Brown and leaders of the Church of England have betrayed this principle.

–This appears in the Church of England Newspaper July, 13, 2007, edition, page 16

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Religion News & Commentary, - Anglican: Commentary, Anglican Provinces, Church of England (CoE), Church-State Issues

From the London Times: Church and/or State

Gordon Brown’s announcement that the Government will no longer have the final word in the appointment of diosesan bishops in the Church of England has fascinated the General Synod that is meeting in York. The announcement ends two centuries of intrigue over episcopal patronage, and many in the Church ? with memories of recent prime ministerial interference ? will be grateful that appointments are not being sanctified by a prime minister, who, in theory, could be a Catholic. But it also reawakens the vexed issue of disestablishment, bringing nearer a break between Church and State for which many, within the Church and beyond, have been campaigning.

Despite a general feeling that the Church of England should not enjoy unique favour by a secular State, not all the bishops are unreservedly pleased at the prospect of a change. One issue that troubles some is money. Would disestablishment also mean disendowment?….

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Religion News & Commentary, Anglican Provinces, Church of England (CoE), Church-State Issues, CoE Bishops

Can Public Schools Ban Churches from Renting Space?

That was the question that headlined a recent (July 3) Christianity Today weblog roundup. We’ve since seen the news story in question referred to on several other blogs, so it seemed like it would be good to post on T19. Here’s how Ted Olsen of Christianity Today summarizes the story in his weblog entry:

A messy decision, ripe for the Supreme Court

Bronx Household of Faith wanted to rent space for Sunday morning worship at Public School 15 in New York City. The city refused, saying allowing church services would suggest endorsement of that church. Like many cases of this kind, it’s had a long, messy history in the court system. Monday, it got messier. The three judges on the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals each reached very different conclusions.

“Our disparate views of this case leave us without a rationale to which a majority of the court agrees. While two judges who disagree on the merits believe the dispute is ripe for adjudication, the court cannot decide the merits of the case without the vote of the third judge, who disagrees as to ripeness,” the court ruled.

The fractured judgment “could provide the U.S. Supreme Court with its next big establishment clause case,” The New York Sun concluded. “The case likely prompted such division because of the question, more theological than legal, at its center: What is worship?”

In its 2001 case Good News Club v. Milford Central School, the court said a school district couldn’t discriminate against an extracurricular Christian club if it allowed other extracurricular clubs. But “the federal high court appeared to draw a distinction between religiously oriented lessons and outright worship,” the Sun notes, so Bronx Household of Faith v. Board of Education of the City of New York would allow the Supreme Court to go into more detail on what’s acceptable.

Here’s the opening of the New York Sun article:

Appeals Panel Splits Three Ways on Church-State Suit

Staff Reporter of the Sun
July 3, 2007

The city’s policy of barring churches from holding Sunday services in public schools could provide the U.S. Supreme Court with its next big “establishment clause” case, given the fractured judgment rendered by a federal appellate court in Manhattan yesterday.

The three judges on the United States Second Circuit Court of Appeals panel who heard a Bronx congregation’s challenge to the policy each issued a separate opinion. One judge of Bronx House hold of Faith v. Board of Education ruled in favor of the church; another decided in favor of the Board of Education’s anti-church policy; a third found the case was not yet ready for review. As a result, the church may continue to use the school building pending further appeal.

The case likely prompted such division because of the question, more theological than legal, at its center: What is worship? The legal significance of the question hangs on a 2001 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, in which the court held that schools allowing use of their campus after hours by secular groups could not then exclude religious groups from conducting religious instruction or discussion on school grounds.

The full article is here.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Religion News & Commentary, Church-State Issues, Law & Legal Issues, Religion & Culture

Failed State List 2007 and Religious Freedom

A provocative little blurb on Evangelical Outpost blog caught my attention:

The Failed States List 2007: The most failed state in the world according to the Index is Sudan. The second worse: Iraq.

The piece notes a relationship between stability and freedom of religion:

Freedom of worship may be a cornerstone of democracy, but it may also be a key indicator of stability. Vulnerable states display a greater degree of religious intolerance, according to scores calculated by the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom. Persecution of religious minorities in Bangladesh, Burma, Iran, and Uzbekistan has deprived millions of faithful of the freedom to follow their beliefs. But religious repression is often nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to muzzle the country’s civil society.

(HT: PoliBlog)

Here’s the Failed States 2007 report (available in full only to Foreign Policy subscribers)

Posted in * Economics, Politics, * Religion News & Commentary, Church-State Issues, Religious Freedom / Persecution

Michael Medved: A war on memory

What shocking visual image inspires so much fear, disgust and outrage that even in this era of unfettered free expression, federal courts feel compelled to take drastic steps to cover it up?

(Judges will rarely use their power to hide public sculptures depicting sadistic brutality, or to obscure billboards peddling sex and nudity, but in the California desert they’ve ordered the concealment of a simple white cross that has honored the nation’s war dead for more than 70 years.

In 1934, the Veterans of Foreign Wars erected a monument on a barren hilltop known as “Sunrise Rock” in the Mojave National Preserve to commemorate “the dead of all wars.” More than a half-century later, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California challenged the memorial, claiming that it violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment because the cross (recognized by the government as a war memorial) stood on public land. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the dismantling of the monument, but Congress took action in 2004 to authorize the transfer of the ground surrounding the cross to private parties.

A federal district judge invalidated that transaction, even as officials responsible for the desert refuge took steps to hide the cross while the legal wrangling continued. Government agents covered the offending crossbeam with boards, making it look like a crude screen, or a shallow box, perched incongruously on a stick in the middle of the California desert.

The absurd status of this ongoing struggle shouldn’t obscure its serious and alarming undercurrents including a common attitude among militant “separationists” that treats Christian symbols with more hostility and less tolerance than those of any other religious tradition.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Religion News & Commentary, Church-State Issues, Law & Legal Issues, Religion & Culture

Gordon Brown to give up power to pick Church of England leaders

Gordon Brown is preparing to give up the prime minister’s historic right to choose the Archbishop of Canterbury – and other Church of England bishops.

The move to grant “operational independence” to the Church will represent one of the biggest changes to its relationship with the state for centuries. It is just one of a swathe of “royal prerogative” powers, held by the prime minister, which Mr Brown is planning to do away with once he takes over at Number 10 later this month.

In a move he has already announced, he will also give up his prerogative power to declare war without the consent of parliament. Military action, such as the invasion of Iraq, will in future have to be approved in advance by MPs.

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Religion News & Commentary, Anglican Provinces, Church of England (CoE), Church-State Issues

Bill seeks to define boundaries for religion in schools

Will morning announcements over the loudspeakers at Texas public schools include a student’s prayer next school year? Will some deity be invoked by a student at the start of every football game? Or during a student’s speech at graduation?


A bill passed last week by the Texas Legislature and now on Gov. Rick Perry’s desk would define all of those events ”“ and other public-school assemblies at which a student speaks ”“ as venues explicitly open to the expression of a student’s religious viewpoints.

Supporters say the bill protects the rights of all students who choose to talk about their faith. Opponents say it may unfairly privilege the religion held by the majority of students or permit hate speech in the name of religion.

Supporters and opponents of the bill assume that Mr. Perry will sign it into law. Representatives for several North Texas school districts said that this would be one of many new laws that apply to public schools and that they haven’t figured out how to implement it.

If the bill becomes law, local school districts would have until Sept. 1 to approve a policy that meets the guidelines.

Supporters say the bill merely codifies case law from several Supreme Court rulings.

“This bill protects every religious viewpoint,” said Kelly Coghlan, a Houston lawyer who crafted the bill and whose professional Web site is www.christianattorney .com. “I was just trying to take my cues from the Supreme Court justices.”

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Religion News & Commentary, Church-State Issues, Education, Religion & Culture

Does Jesus Have a Place at High School Graduation?

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Religion News & Commentary, Church-State Issues, Education, Religion & Culture

Under Fire from Church-State Groups, Air Force Retreats from Evangelical Festival

The Air Force denied it was a sponsor of a Memorial Day weekend festival at Stone Mountain, Ga., honoring the military and featuring introduction of a new paperback Bible designed for military personnel published by the Southern Baptist Convention.

Holman Bible Outreach International, a division of LifeWay Christian Resources, announced plans to give away 3,000 copies of its new Holman CSB Military Bible, “designed to meet the specific needs of military personnel and was created a format that is easy to carry,” at the May 26-28 event honoring active duty and veteran U.S. troops and their families.

Featured speakers at the three-day event, expected to draw 100,000 people, included former SBC President Bobby Welch, a decorated Vietnam War veteran and author of You, The Warrior Leader.

LifeWay said it was sponsoring the event with the United States Air Force, Task Force Patriot USA, General Motors and others. The advance press release described the Task Force Patriot Salute to the Troops as “an official U.S. Air Force 60th anniversary event.” At least one military publication, from Robins Air Force Base in Georgia, called it an official Air Force event.

Americans United for Separation on Church and State wrote a letter May 23 saying military involvement in the three-day event violated the Constitution and the military should not endorse or promote a festival arranged by evangelical Christians.

The Air Force responded with a statement saying it was “not a sponsor” of the event and was “not aware until recently of the religious connotations surrounding Task Force Patriot’s participation.”

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Religion News & Commentary, Church-State Issues, Military / Armed Forces, Religion & Culture

Choir Told Not to Sing 'The Lord's Prayer' at Graduation

The Comstock Park High School choir performed “The Lord’s Prayer” six months ago at a benefit for the family of Nick Szymanski, a choir member and deeply religious student who was killed in an accident last October.

In honor of their classmate, the choir decided to sing it again during the school’s May 31 graduation.

But that plan changed Wednesday when choir director Keith VanGoor said school administrators would not allow them to sing the religious song during the graduation at Sunshine Community Church.

“We’re dealing with legal advice. Legal counsel said, `Don’t go there,”‘ explained Dwight Anderson, the superintendent of Comstock Park Public Schools. “I feel bad for the kids because they do a great job with it.”

The choir is feeling pretty bad, too, said member Hilary Shively, a junior. They want to sing the song once again in remembrance of Szymanski.

“It wasn’t meant to be preached religiously towards others, although some may have taken it that way,” Shively said.

“The Supreme Court has ruled that prayer at a graduation ceremony isn’t appropriate,” Anderson said. “I say the Lord’s Prayer every day. I have a strong faith and teach a Bible class at my church. But we are going to abide by the law.”

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Posted in * Religion News & Commentary, Church-State Issues