Daily briefs of the top news stories impacting Christians around the world.
In today's edition:
- Muslim Group Threatens Christian Foundation in Indonesia
- Does Church Attendance Increase Life Expectancy?
- Supreme Court Won't Rule on Kindergartener's Religious Discrimination Case
- European-wide Outcry at Religious Arrests in Belarus
Muslim Group Threatens Christian Foundation in Indonesia
A Muslim community group called Majlis Taklim on April 9 entered the premises of a Christian social institution in West Java, Indonesia, demanding its closure for the fifth time this year. The Apostolic Nation Building Foundation (ABB) operates from a residential building in the Griya Bintara Indah housing complex in Bintara sub-district, West Bekasi district, West Java. Around 70 Majlis Taklim members came to the ABB headquarters on April 9 and told the foundation to cease all activities, accusing them of running an illegal church and trying to “Christianize” the community. Staff immediately called the police, who arrived and monitored the situation; there was no violence. Majlis Taklim coordinator Radesman Saragih said the group had observed people entering the building for worship services on Sunday mornings. “The foundation is only a façade to cover up the real activities of the church,” Saragih said. Saragih also said the foundation lacked a proper permit. “We ask the foundation to restore the house’s proper function – that is, as a place to live, not as a church,” he continued. Saragih said church members should take the warning seriously or be prepared to face unspecified negative consequences. Sarah Fifi, director of ABB, denied claims that the foundation – which operates from her home – was functioning as a church. “We are a Christian social institution, non-profit and independent,” she said. “We have a vision to strengthen our nation through education, free medication and environmental programs – any activities that help the community.” Fifi said local authorities had given permission to use her home as a base for the foundation. She added that some 20 staff members gathered at her home every Sunday morning from 7 to 9 a.m. for a prayer meeting, followed by a briefing and evaluation session.
Does Church Attendance Increase Life Expectancy?
According to a study recently published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, regular church attendance is an effective way to increase life expectancy. Specifically, people who attend a religious service on a weekly basis tend to prolong their life 1.8 to 3.1 years. In comparison, regular physical exercise prolongs life 3.0 to 5.1 years, while proven therapeutic regimens add 2.1 to 3.7 years to a person's life. Since the study is a review of existing research, it does not explain the link between faith and health. But Daniel Hall, leader of the study and a resident in general surgery at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, speculates that the social aspect of religion may have something to do with the results. "There is something about being knit into the type of community that religious communities embody that has a way of mediating a positive health effect," Hall said. Therefore, being religiously active may decrease your stress level or increase your ability to cope with stress. "Being in a religious community helps you make meaning out of your life," he added. In addition to health data, Hall also examined the annual cost of these typical life-gaining activities. He found that people spend about $4,000 a year on physical exercise, $10,000 a year on therapy and $7,000 a year per household on contributions to religious institutions. "[Yet] there is no evidence that changing religious attendance causes a change in health outcomes," Hall warned.
Supreme Court Won't Rule on Kindergartener's Religious Discrimination Case
The Supreme Court Monday refused to hear the case of a New York kindergartner who sued his school after the Jesus poster he submitted for a class assignment on saving the environment was allegedly censored. In Baldwinsville School District v. Peck, the high court let stand a ruling by the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals that prohibited public schools from censoring the religious viewpoints of students in class assignments. Antonio Peck and his parents filed the lawsuit, saying his free speech rights were violated when school officials folded his poster in half to block any view of Jesus. The poster depicted Jesus kneeling on one knee with his hands open to the sky. "Today's ruling is a victory for religious freedom and students who have been singled out for discrimination by overzealous school officials," said Tony Perkins, president of Family Research Council, in a statement. "In a nation founded on religious freedom, it is appalling that a kindergarten student would be subjected to censorship and humiliation simply for expressing his religious viewpoint," said Perkins.
European-wide Outcry at Religious Arrests in Belarus
A network of Christians in Europe has issued a statement expressing grave concern at the recent arrest and imprisonment of two Christian leaders in Belarus in separate cases during March 2006. The European Religious Liberty Forum, made up of lawyers, journalists and human rights activists from across Europe, recently met together to discuss the situation in Belarus. Top of the agenda in the forum, which includes Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), was the arrests and sentencing to 10 days imprisonment of Pastor Georgi Vladimirovich Vyazovsky and of Sergey Shavtsov, a human rights lawyer, in separate cases in Minsk, Belarus in March 2006. CSW says, in a media advisory obtained by ANS, that the Forum acknowledged the arrests occurred as a result of existing legislation in Belarus, particularly specific clauses in the law On Freedom of Conscience and the Religious Organizations passed in 2002. The statement from the Forum notes, "This legislation restricts the right to free expression of religious convictions and the holding of religious ceremonies and is in breach of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which Belarus became a party in 1992." CSW adds: "The constitution of Belarus clearly enshrines religious freedom and, in addition, acknowledges the precedence of international law. Yet Article 25 of the 2002 legislation clearly violates basic tenets of religious freedom in restricting the right to meet privately for worship."