Religion Today Summaries, March 31, 2003

Religion Today Summaries, March 31, 2003

Religion Today Summaries: Daily summaries of the top national and international religious news stories impacting Christians
In Today's Edition:

  • House Approves Call for National Day of Prayer and Fasting
  • Humanists, Atheists Ask Bush to Declare `National Day of Reason'
  • Bush's Faith-Based Plan Scaled Back by Senate Sponsor
  • Pope Tells Confessors to Stick to Church Teaching

House Approves Call for National Day of Prayer and Fasting
Kevin Eckstrom

(RNS) The House passed a resolution Thursday (March 27) urging a national day of prayer and fasting as the nation battles Iraq and the threat of terrorism. The resolution, which passed 346 to 49, urges President Bush to proclaim a "day for humility, prayer and fasting" for all Americans. A similar bill was passed March 17 by the Senate. The bill recognized "the public need for fasting and prayer in order to secure the blessings and protection of Providence for the people of the United States and our armed forces." Prayer and fasting will help produce "unity and solidarity among all the diverse people of this nation as well as procuring the enduring grace and benevolence of God," the bill said, adding that it will help the nation "better recognize our faults and shortcomings and submit to the wisdom and love of God." White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan told the Associated Press that the president has not considered the resolution but "believes that faith and prayer are important and frequently references the importance of praying for American troops and for freedom around the world." The Freedom From Religion Foundation, meanwhile, found the bill laughable. "The resolution is full of references to `God' as if belief in one is unanimous," said president Anne Gaylor. "It is insufferable ego to imagine that, if there were a god, it would respond to these demeaning supplications."

Humanists, Atheists Ask Bush to Declare `National Day of Reason'
Adelle M. Banks

    (RNS) Leaders of national and local secular, humanist and atheist groups have called on President Bush to declare a "National Day of Reason" on the same day that he proclaims a "National Day of Prayer." Such an additional proclamation on May 1 "would go a long way toward encouraging the application of reason and tolerance in public discourse and affirming the value of maintaining the separation of church and state," they said in a letter sent to Bush on March 21. The leaders proposed language for the proclamation that would highlight the country as "a world leader in fields of endeavor that rely on reason," such as human rights, scientific research and social reform. A statement from organizers announcing the initiative said the National Day of Prayer, observed annually since 1952, excludes nonbelievers. Congress established the annual observance and it has been observed on the first Thursday in May since 1988. "A national day of prayer excludes millions on a deeply emotional level, whereas recognizing reason as well as prayer is an inclusive, respectful gesture," the statement reads. "While prayer is a source of comfort for many Americans, reason should guide government policy."

Bush's Faith-Based Plan Scaled Back by Senate Sponsor
Kevin Eckstrom

(RNS) The chief Senate sponsor of President Bush's faith-based initiative has removed its most controversial elements in hopes of gaining wider support. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., agreed Thursday (March 27) to remove language from the CARE Act that would have allowed "equal treatment" for religious charities that receive government funding and permitted them to use religious criteria in personnel decisions. The scaled-back bill now contains only tax incentives for charitable giving and increased federal aid for social service groups.  "I would have liked to have gotten the whole enchilada, but in the United States Senate this year, you're lucky to get anything, and I'll take anything," Santorum said, according to the Associated Press. The new bill is a dramatic step back from the plan originally presented by President Bush two years ago. That bill, which would have allowed religious groups to sidestep anti-discrimination laws and preserve their religious identity, passed the House but remained stalled in the Senate. The Rev. Barry Lynn, director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State and chief foe of the Bush plan, praised the move by Santorum. "This is a huge step in the right direction," he said. "This shows that members of Congress can increase aid to religious and secular charities without violating the Constitution."

Pope Tells Confessors to Stick to Church Teaching
Peggy Polk

(RNS) Pope John Paul II said Friday (March 28) that priests hearing confession must stick to church teaching and not venture personal opinions when questions involving bioethics and matrimony arise. The Roman Catholic pontiff spoke in a stern tone to 500 members of religious orders attending a course on confession organized by the Apostolic Penitentiary, the church tribunal with authority over the Sacrament of Penance. "I desire to recall your attention to the proper adhesion to the Magisterum (teaching) of the church about the complex problems that come up in the field of bioethics and about moral and canonical instruction in the sphere of matrimony," he said. John Paul said that Catholics sometimes "leave confession with rather confused ideas" because the priests to whom they have confessed do not follow "the same line of judgment" on ethical problems in these areas as the church does. "In reality," he said, "whoever carries out this most delicate ministry in the name of God and of the church has the precise duty of not cultivating and still more not manifesting in the sacramental site personal valuations that do not respond to those that the church teaches and proclaims."