In Today's Edition:
- Double Life Sentence For Christian 'Blasphemer' In Pakistan
- ELCA Congregations Spend Millions On Social Ministry
- Robertson Selling Horse Interests
- Episcopalians Urge Congress to Pass Hate Crimes Bill
- Other Headlines at a Glance
Double Life Sentence For Christian 'Blasphemer' In Pakistan ... Aslam Masih, a Pakistani Christian, was given a double life sentence and a fine on May 7 after first being charged and imprisoned under Pakistan's blasphemy laws in 1998. According to the Barnabas Fund News Service, Aslam and his lawyers will be filing an appeal against his sentence with the High Court within the next five days.
Under Section 295B of Pakistan's penal code, anyone defiling a copy of the Qur'an is subject to life imprisonment. Under Section 295C, anyone criticizing or insulting the Islamic prophet Muhammad is subject to a death sentence. Because virtually no evidence above the word of a Muslim accuser is needed to bring a guilty verdict against a non-Muslim defendant, the blasphemy laws have been exploited by some Muslims who have used them to advance themselves or settle personal grudges against innocent Christians or other religious minorities by making false accusations.
Although no Christian has yet been executed under the law, several cases are now pending. According to Barnabas Fund, once an accusation has been made, the Christian victim is guilty forever in the eyes of Islamic extremists, even if he is acquitted by the courts. Several Christians have been murdered after the cases against them have been overturned; others have been forced into hiding with their families.
ELCA Congregations Spend Millions On Social Ministry ... A three-year study of 400 congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) revealed that up to one third devote a significant amount of their time and budget to local social ministry activities, but are restrained from doing more by limited budgets and volunteer staff.
ELCA congregations spend an estimated $30 million annually in local social ministry activity, according to the study. The vast majority of these congregations are engaged in collecting and distributing food and clothing, according to ECLA News. The study found evidence that a growing number of families are coming to ELCA congregations for food assistance.
Other key findings: ELCA congregations with various hunger ministry programs fed 4.3 million people in 1998 and probably in each year since the survey year. Eleven percent of ELCA congregations make beds and shelter available for homeless people and 40 percent financially support community organizations that help the homeless. Twenty two percent of congregations participate in a preschool program.
Robertson Selling Horse Interests ... According to AP, Pat Robertson plans to sell his horse racing interests to quiet the objections of some of his followers. The New York Times reported on Robertson's involvement in horse racing last month, causing a furor among those who object to gambling. In response, said AP, Roberston issued the following statement: "I am sorry that my fondness for the performance of equine athletes has caused you an offense." In the letter, Robertson wrote that competition among horses has been part of every society that owned them. As a child, he used to race his horses against others "over country roads or rolling pastures."
"He wants to be above reproach, so he'll do whatever he has to do," a spokeswoman for the Christian Broadcasting Network in Virginia Beach, Va., told AP.
Episcopalians Urge Congress to Pass Hate Crimes Bill ... With comprehensive hate crimes bills just a few days away from appearing on the Senate's agenda, more than 130 Episcopal clergy have signed a letter calling on Congress to pass legislation to fight hate crimes in the United States, reports ENS. The letter in support of the Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act of 2001 (S.625/H.R.1343) is part of an effort organized by the Episcopal Church's Office of Government Relations in coalition with the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and the Interfaith Alliance. The bills are cosponsored by 51 senators and 206 representatives.
The U.S. Senate is expected to consider hate crimes legislation prior to the Memorial Day recess at the end of May. Hate crimes legislation would expand federal jurisdiction to serious, violent hate crimes based on the perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender or disability of the victims.
A press conference with sponsors of the legislation and religious leaders is scheduled for the week of May 13 to raise support for Congress to pass the bills, according to ENS. "The strong support from the clergy and Episcopalians from across the country will no doubt send the clear message that the church expects this important legislation to be taken up and considered soon," said John B. Johnson of the Office of Government Relations.
Other Headlines at a Glance: