Religion Today Summaries, April 14, 2003

Religion Today Summaries, April 14, 2003

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

  • Update: Paige Clarifies Comments on Religion and Schools
  • Religious Groups Push Bill to Ban `Conflict Diamonds'
  • Eritrea Jails 170 Protestant Christians, Another 74 Still Held in Military Prison
  • Lutherans Cut Budget, Lay-off Nine Employees

Update: Paige Clarifies Comments on Religion and Schools

(RNS) U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige has clarified remarks made to a Baptist publication after it created controversy among liberal church-state separation groups. "I understand completely and respect the separation of church and state," the education secretary said at a hastily called news. Paige was quoted by Baptist Press as saying, "All things equal, I would prefer to have a child in a school that has a strong appreciation for the values of the Christian community, where a child is taught to have a strong faith." At the news conference, he said his statements were about higher education. The original comments prompted criticism from members of Congress as well as civil rights and education groups -- including Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the American Federation of Teachers. The education secretary said he had no reason to do either because his intention was to convey that personally he would rather have a child in a college emphasizing strong Christian values. Todd Starnes, the Baptist Press correspondent who wrote the story, agreed that Paige's comments were responding to a question about universities. But he said Paige's additional remarks about being puzzled about "animosity" toward God in the public schools were made in a broader context.

Religious Groups Push Bill to Ban `Conflict Diamonds'
Kevin Eckstrom

(RNS) Religious and human rights groups are rallying behind a bill to ban so-called "conflict diamonds" that are illegally mined in Sierra Leone, Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and other nations. The Clean Diamonds Trade Act would ensure that diamonds imported into the United States are legally mined. Money from the sale of conflict diamonds has been used to support terrorist groups or dictatorial regimes. The House passed the bill in a 419-2 vote. The Senate is expected to approve the measure soon, and President Bush has signaled that he will sign it. "This will be a day long remembered not just for those in Washington, but more importantly for the victims of African diamond warlords who have suffered physically and emotionally for years," said Richard Stearns, president of the Christian aid group World Vision. The primary supporters of the bill include World Vision, Catholic Relief Services, Amnesty International, Oxfam America and the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism. The legislation would codify a verification system known as the Kimberly Process to ensure that diamonds are legitimately mined and traded. Some 50 countries have signed on to the agreement.

Eritrea Jails 170 Protestant Christians, Another 74 Still Held in Military Prison

(Compass) A total of 170 Protestant Christians have been jailed, beaten and threatened with death by Eritrean security forces in a harsh crackdown during February and March. In five separate incidents, police barged into worship services and a wedding ceremony to jail men, women and children for practicing what government officials called “a new religion.” Although no formal charges were filed against them, the jailed Protestants were held in cramped, suffocating cells for up to two weeks for refusing to return to the historically dominant Orthodox Church faith. One group of detainees endured 15 days in metal containers designed as severe punishment cells. Another congregation witnessed its pastor being tortured and humiliated in the jail yard. When relatives posted bail for their release, they were forced to sign a statement acknowledging that if a bailed prisoner was caught meeting in public or private with more than three others, he would be liable for execution.

Lutherans Cut Budget, Lay-off Nine Employees
Kevin Eckstrom

(RNS) The nation's largest Lutheran church will cut its operations by $1.2 million and eliminate nine staff positions to balance against lower-than-expected income. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America said six full-time employees will lose their jobs, and three vacant positions will be eliminated. In addition, three contracted positions will soon expire. The ELCA's Church Council, which acts as a board of directors, approved the cutbacks Saturday (April 5). The 2003 budget is now $83.6 million after cutbacks totaling $1.7 million. The Rev. Charles Miller, the church's administration executive, blamed the cuts on "the harsh realities of the struggling domestic economy and a projected drop in income." Church departments have been asked to underspend their current budgets by $555,000 through travel cutbacks, decreased office expenses and leaving vacant positions unfilled, according to a church news release. Some of the cuts will come by eliminating ELCA financial support for the venerable Protestant Hour radio program and cutting a church subsidy to The Lutheran magazine. Last week the Presbyterian Church (USA) cut its 2004 budget by $3.1 million by eliminating 19 staff positions and using $1.67 million from its savings accounts.