Religion Today Summaries - Dec. 24, 2007

Compiled & Edited by Crosswalk Editorial Staff

Religion Today Summaries - Dec. 24, 2007

Daily briefs of the top news stories impacting Christians around the world.
In today's edition:

  • University Denies Christmas Ban Policy
  • Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair converts to Roman Catholicism
  • 60,000 Christian pilgrims to visit Holy Land this Christmas
  • Study on Acteal, Mexico Massacre: Many Prisoners Innocent

University Denies Christmas Ban Policy

The president of Southwestern Oklahoma State University denied Friday that the school has a ban on the word "Christmas" or Christmas decorations. This comes after the Liberty Counsel, a religious liberties law firm, sent a letter to the university after receiving a complaint from an affiliate. reports that, David Misak, the director of human resources, informed university employees that any decorations featuring the words "Christ" or "Christmas" in any work or public area of the school must be removed. The Liberty Counsel also claimed Misak told employees to discontinue use of the word "Christmas" in their speech and voicemail while on the job, a direct violation of the First Amendment and other federal law. In a statement on the school's Web site, university President John Hays said school policy does not ban Christmas in any way. "However, some supervisors or department leaders within the university who meant well may have suggested to employees that caution should be taken with respect to Christmas decorations," he said. "One thing led to another and the result was that some mistakenly assumed that Christmas decorations were being prohibited," said Hays, who added that he met with staff members "to get to the bottom of the matter" as well as meeting with Liberty Counsel founder Mathew Staver. Staver applauded Hays' "prompt actions" to resolve the controversy.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair converts to Roman Catholicism

Assist News Service reported Saturday (12/22/07)  that Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who often kept his religious views private while serving as Britain's political leader, has converted to Catholicism. Blair, who had long been a member of the Church of England, converted to the Catholic faith during a Mass held on Friday night at a chapel in London, the Catholic Church said. "It can be confirmed that Tony Blair has been received into full communion with the Catholic Church by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor," the head of the church in England and Wales, the church said in a statement, according to Associated Press reporter Thomas Wagner. "I'm very glad to welcome Tony Blair into the Catholic Church," the statement quoted Murphy-O'Connor as saying. "For a long time he's been a regular worshipper at Mass with his family and in recent months he's been following a program of formation for his reception into full communion. Our prayers are with him, his family and his wife at this joyful moment in their journey of faith together," Murphy-O'Connor said.

60,000 Christian pilgrims to visit Holy Land this Christmas

Around 60,000 Christian pilgrims from around the world are expected to visit Israel this Christmas, reports Assist News Service. The Israeli Tourism Ministry has said that the number of pilgrims is around 50 per cent higher than in 2006. “This year, a total of around one million Christian tourists, half of them pilgrims, are expected to visit Israel,” reports Daniel Blake for “The number represents a 30 per cent increase on the number of Christian tourists visiting last year.”At present both the Israeli and the Palestinian Tourism Ministries and the Israeli police are making efforts to make travel for pilgrims from Jerusalem to Bethlehem and Nazareth as smooth as possible, reports Blake continued by saying, “The Israeli Tourism Ministry is also working with the Israel Airports Authority to make entry into Israel easier due to the large number of expected tourists arriving at Ben Gurion Airport and at the Taba and Allenby crossings.” Earlier this year, Raji Khoury of the Jerusalem-based Shepherds Tours, who organizes Christian pilgrimages, told Christian Today, “[Business] was so good until the Lebanese war. It went down as if we started [at zero] in 2000 again. Now it’s picked up; now it’s really good in 2007.”

Study on Acteal, Mexico Massacre: Many Prisoners Innocent

On the 10th anniversary of the massacre of 45 civilians in Mexico’s Chiapas state, a new study on the December 22, 1997 killings in Acteal village points toward the innocence of 32 evangelicals and other peasants serving prison terms. The detailed study by historian Héctor Aguilar Camín, published in the last three monthly issues of Mexico’s Nexos magazine, concludes that “there are tens of innocent people in prison who had nothing directly to do with the fact” of the massacre in the hamlet north of San Cristóbal de las Casas. According to Compass Direct News, for the past decade, the debate about how 21 women (four pregnant), 18 children and six elderly men were killed has revolved around whether the tragedy was a “massacre” by numerous “paramilitary” villagers or resulted from a “confrontation” between a handful of neighboring peasants and Zapatista National Liberation Army rebels. In this month’s Nexos, Aguilar Camín argues that there was both a confrontation and a massacre. New evidence, he suggests, shows there was some overlap between the confrontation and the massacre, but that they were largely separate incidents. “Time has added testimony and evidence that requires adding pieces to the portrait,” Aguilar Camín writes.