Religion Today Summaries, June 2, 2003

Compiled & Edited by Crosswalk News Staff

Religion Today Summaries, June 2, 2003

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

  • Graduation Season Provides First Real Test of Fed Prayer Guidelines
  • Church Leaders Urge G-8 to Spend More on Fighting AIDS
  • Police Raid Congregations in Turkmenistan
  • Belarus Christian Leader Seeks Political Asylum in the United States

Graduation Season Provides First Real Test of Fed Prayer Guidelines
Michael Foust, Baptist Press News

New federal guidelines on prayer at public school graduations haven't stopped complaints from popping up nationwide, including a "bizarre" one in Wisconsin.  Rachel Honer was asked to speak at her high school graduation but chose instead to sing contemporary Christian song “He's Always Been Faithful.” The school administration told her to insert personal pronouns for the word "God." Honer refused and sued. The school backed down May 29, making way for Honer to sing the unedited version of the song at the June 8 commencement. Honer’s representatives stated that the request of the administration violated her constitutionally protected right to free speech, free expression of religion and equal protection under the law. This graduation season is noteworthy because it's the first subject to the Department of Education guidelines that set forth what types of religious speech are allowed and prohibited in schools.  Schools with policies in violation of the guidelines risk losing their federal funding. Neutrality is the key to these guidelines. Although schools cannot mandate or organize school prayer, when a speaker is chose, the content of the speech “is not attributable” to the school and cannot be restricted because of its “religious (or anti-religious) content,” the guidelines say.  The Wisconsin case is one of many complaints to arise as a result of ambiguity within the guidelines.

Church Leaders Urge G-8 to Spend More on Fighting AIDS
David E. Anderson, Religion News Service

Church leaders gathered in Germany are calling on the leaders of the world's richest nations to spend more money to combat AIDS.  "At this critical moment, we can arrest the hourly funerals across Africa, slow the steep climb of infection rates in Eastern Europe, save the lives of millions of children," said 63 leaders in a statement released by the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, a Geneva-based international network that concentrates on AIDS and global trade issues.  The leaders want the Group of Eight, or G-8, as the major industrialized countries are known, to pledge an additional $1.4 billion to the United Nations' Global Fund to Fight AIDS, the Geneva-based Ecumenical News International reported Friday (May 30). Leaders from the G-8, including President Bush, are scheduled to meet beginning Sunday in Evian, France. The Protestant, Orthodox and Roman Catholic religious advocates gathered in Berlin said AIDS could be treated and in some cases prevented at minimal cost.  The Rev. Cornelia Fulkrug-Weitzel, director of Bread for the World in Germany, warned of the negative consequences of the AIDS pandemic to world economic development, ENI reported. "Still growing rapidly, the epidemic is reversing development gains, robbing millions of their lives, widening the gap between rich and poor, and undermining social and economic security," she said.

Police Raid Congregations in Turkmenistan
Charisma News Service

Police recently raided Baptist congregations and detained those present in an ongoing crackdown against non-registered churches in the former Soviet Republic. "What's the point in talking to them, they should be put in a bus and shot," one police officer reportedly told Baptists in the western town of Balkanabad during the May 11 incident, Forum 18 News Service reported. The Baptists claimed the police began to apply "physical force, even on children" to turn everyone out of the building, "paying no attention to the cries and screams of the children." During the Sunday raid in Balkanabad, police forced everyone present in the church to go to the police station, while other law enforcement officials also shut down a Baptist service in the Caspian port city of Turkmenbashi, Forum 18 reported. Officials have repeatedly denied that a campaign is underway to end Christian activities in the mainly Muslim nation.

Belarus Christian Leader Seeks Political Asylum in the United States
Frank Brown, Religion News Service

One of Belarus' most persecuted Christian leaders is seeking political asylum in the United States, saying the degree of religious repression in the former Soviet republic has become unbearable and dangerous.  "We have had to practically go underground. There are large fines for praying at home. You can even end up in prison," said Father Yan Spasyuk, administrator of the Belarussian Autocephalous Orthodox Church. Spasyuk said the situation grew especially acute after a draconian new religion law was signed in October by Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko, sometimes described as Europe's last dictator. The law strongly favors the dominant Russian Orthodox Church and lays the legal groundwork for a clampdown on minority faiths. An Immigration and Naturalization Service consultant said the priest has a strong chance. The plight of Spasyuk's Belarussian Autocephalous Orthodox Church figured prominently in the U.S. State Department's International Religious Freedom Report released in October. The report documents Spasyuk's attempts to erect a church building on his property and his subsequent arrest. In August, security forces sealed off Spasyuk's village of Pohranichny, near the Polish border, and used bulldozers to demolish the brick church constructed by parishioners. Spasyuk, who left behind in Belarus a wife and three school-age children, is petitioning the I.N.S. to grant his family political asylum, too. If Spasyuk is granted political asylum he plans on working as the rector of Highland Park's Zhirovetskaya Mother of God Church.