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NEA, Saudi Arabia, Ecumenical Crisis & Turkmenistan

NEA, Saudi Arabia, Ecumenical Crisis & Turkmenistan

In Today's Edition:
  • NEA Ordered to Stop Violating Religious Rights of Teachers
  • Two Men Deported from Saudi Arabia for Owning Bible, Christian CDs
  • Cardinal says Ecumenical Movement is in 'Crisis'
  • Christians Forced To Renounce Their Faith In Turkmenistan
  • Other Headlines at a Glance

NEA Ordered to Stop Violating Religious Rights of Teachers ... According to a report in The Washington Times, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has told the nation's largest teachers union to "stop violating the religious rights" of members who don't support the group's political causes. In a ruling that was made public yesterday, the EEOC said it would sue the National Education Association (NEA) if it did not stop "forcing teachers who call themselves religious objectors to undergo annual written procedures so their dues would not fund the union's political agenda."

The Times article explained that because of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, union officials can't force any employee to support a union financially "if doing so violates the employee's sincerely held religious beliefs." Instead, the teacher may donate their fees to charities of their choice.

But when Dennis Robey did just that in 1995, the Ohio Education Association "rebuffed" his objection. Robey, a member of the Church of God, had requested that his $400 in union dues go to Habitat for Humanity. According to the Washington Times, union officials began demanding that Robey fill out paperwork each year in which he was required to describe his religious views in detail. They also required him to have a religious official sign a form verifying his beliefs.

The high school teacher then filed a complaint against the OEA. The EEOC said its investigation found an "unnecessary delay" in the Ohio Education Association's response to teachers who had asked that they be categorized as religious objectors early last year. The EEOC has given the NEA and its affiliates time to eliminate the annual procedure, but if the NEA does not, the EEOC will seek to resolve the issue in court. (Source: The Washington Times)

Two Men Deported from Saudi Arabia for Owning Bible, Christian CDs ... According to a press release from Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), two Filipino men who were caught in possession of a Bible and some Christian CDs when police raided their room in March 2001 in Saudi Arabia have been deported to the Philippines. A local court had sentenced Filipino Christians, Danilo de Guzman, 38, and Benjamin Diaz, 40, to a month's imprisonment in April 2001 and a higher court increased their sentence to include 150 lashes in January 2002. CSW reports that de Guzman was not given a lawyer and that only his company liaison officer was present during the hearings. In addition, de Guzman paid fines for the pocket Bible and each CD. The men were spared the lashes, but were deported last week instead.

The public expression of religious belief other than Islam is forbidden in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, reports CSW, but senior Saudi officials have repeatedly stated that non-Muslims are free to practice their faith in the privacy of their own homes. Over the summer months of 2001, 14 expatriate Christians were detained in connection with their Christian faith in a spate of arrests. The last of these detainees was finally deported at the end of March this year. According to CSW, three men suffered 80 lashes each, even though none appeared before a court and they were not formally charged with any crime. (Source: Christian Solidarity Worldwide)

Cardinal Says Ecumenical Movement is in 'Crisis' ... In his address to the National Workshop on Christian Unity meeting in Cleveland, Ohio, Cardinal Walter Kasper of the Vatican's Pontifical Council on Christian Unity opened his talk May 21 by stating that the ecumenical movement is in "crisis." According to the Episcopal News Service (ENS), Kasper said this crisis has both positive and negative possibilities. Among the "positive signs," according to Kasper, are the signing of the Joint Declaration on Justification between the Roman Catholics and Lutherans and ecumenical events of the Jubilee Year.

Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox has "shown signs of promise," he said, yet today there are "disagreements and even accusations of proselytism that hamper results." He also said that conversations between Roman Catholics and evangelicals have revealed that "while these two groups of Christians are far apart ecclesiologically, they often share much in their understandings of the authority of Scripture and certain ethical issues."

Developments that "impede" the ecumenical movement, according to Kasper, include the fact that 35 years have passed since Vatican II and 65 years have passed since the development of the World Council of Churches. Also, there is a new emphasis on "identity," he explained. A great question for many today is, "who am I?" This finds its expression in certain German Lutheran opposition to the Joint Declaration on Justification, as an example. (Source: ENS)

Christians Forced To Renounce Their Faith In Turkmenistan ... A report from Keston News Service says that a group of Christians in the village of Deinau, in the east of Turkmenistan, have been forced to publicly renounce their faith. They were summoned by the local political police and forced to swear an oath renouncing the Bible and their faith in Jesus. Three Christians who refused to comply were expelled from the village and are now subject to a manhunt ordered by the political police in the capital, Ashgabad.

According to Keston, the summons came after a package addressed to one of the Christians in the village was opened at the post office and found to contain a Christian magazine. This was reported to the local political police (KNB), who then summoned all the known Christians in the village and demanded that they renounce their faith. The three Christians who refused to do so had the gas and electricity to their homes cut off and were then expelled from the village, even though all three were registered as residents there. On receipt of a report on their expulsion the KNB headquarters in the capital issued instructions that the three Christians should be seized and that the local KNB should "take measures" against them. The three Christians are reported to be in hiding at unknown locations.

Turkmenistan has the most repressive religious policy of all the former Soviet republics. Only communities of the state-sanctioned Muslim Board and the Russian Orthodox Church have been recognized by the state. All other religious groups are treated as being illegal. This has resulted in the past in non-Russian Orthodox Christians being fined, imprisoned, beaten and deported. Places of worship have been destroyed, while private homes used for worship have been confiscated. (Source: Keston News Service)

Other Headlines at a Glance: