Religion Today Summaries, December 5, 2003

Compiled & Edited by Crosswalk News Staff

Religion Today Summaries, December 5, 2003

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

  • Pro-Faith Firm Sues City for Violating Seniors' Religious Freedom
  • Albany Priests Petition for Discussion on Celibacy
  • Christians Refused Government Assistance as Floods Hit Vietnam
  • Christian Convert Released from Prison

Pro-Faith Firm Sues City for Violating Seniors' Religious Freedom
Allie Martin, Agape Press

A Texas city is the target of a government investigation after senior citizens at a public center were forbidden to exercise their religious freedom. In August, officials of the city of Balch Springs, Texas, told residents who gathered daily at the local senior citizens center that they could not pray over their meals, sing gospel music, or have inspirational messages there because the center is a public building. Liberty Legal Institute, a public-interest legal group that fights to protect religious freedoms for individuals, groups, and churches, sued the city of Balch Springs and contacted the Justice Department on the seniors' behalf. Institute attorney Hiram Sasser says as a result, the Justice Department has opened an investigation into the charges against the city. Sasser feels the Balch Springs incident is "a clear constitutional violation." He contends that "the city here is basically saying that if you're in a public building, you no longer have any free-speech rights or right to free religious expression -- that you just can't express yourself in religious terms in a public building." Sasser says the city had no right to discriminate against the senior citizens, or to forbid them from expressing their faith. Sasser says Balch Springs faces substantial fines if the Justice Department finds that the constitutional rights of the senior citizens were violated.

Albany Priests Petition for Discussion on Celibacy
Kevin Eckstrom, Religion News Service

Eighty-six Catholic priests in Albany, N.Y., have joined calls from priests in a half-dozen other dioceses for a discussion on optional celibacy.  "We urge that from now on celibacy be optional, not mandatory, for candidates for the diocesan Roman Catholic priesthood," said the Albany priests, who represent about one-fifth of the diocese's clergy.  The priests said they wrote the letter out of "pastoral concern" that a priest shortage had denied parishioners' access to the sacraments. "In order for this to happen, the Roman Catholic Church needs to call more candidates for the ministerial priesthood."  The petition was sent to Bishop Wilton Gregory of Belleville, Ill., president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who has received similar letters from priests in Milwaukee, Chicago, New York, Southern Illinois, New Ulm, Minn., Pittsburgh and Boston.  The National Federation of Priests Councils, representing about half of all U.S. priests, has also called for a discussion. Gregory has said Pope John Paul II has made it clear that celibacy is not optional. The Rev. Dominic Ingemie, chair of the diocese's priestly life committee, told the diocesan newspaper The Evangelist that opponents of optional celibacy are "not quite in touch with reality. All we're asking is to discuss this." 

Christians Refused Government Assistance as Floods Hit Vietnam
Michael Ireland, ASSIST News Service

Most of the people affected when Central areas of Vietnam suffered from a devastating series of storms and heavy rains on November 14, 16 and 24 have received financial assistance and immediate relief from the Vietnamese government. However, 425 Christians in the Quang Ngai province and 654 Christians in the Ninh province were refused help solely because of their Christian faith. Approximately 75,000 houses were destroyed, 120,000 hectares of rice crop ruined, and thousands of rural people have been left homeless, as a result of the storms. “These Christians already live in dire poverty, and this tragedy has left many hungry and sick. Without assistance, many are expected to die. The Vietnamese government routinely persecutes Christians in the rural areas of Vietnam, and this is another example of how Christians are denied the most basic elements needed to survive,” says the International Christian Concern report. It adds: “Vietnam has been, and is currently ranked as one of the worst violators of human rights. There are currently an estimated three hundred (300) Christian pastors imprisoned in these areas for simply holding legal church meetings.

Christian Convert Released from Prison
Barnabas News Fund

Yesterday, 3 December, police decided to release the last of the 22 converts and their supporters who were arrested between 21 and 24 October in Alexandria. Up until then it seemed that police were determined to make an example of Christian convert from Islam, Mariam Girgis Makar. They even employed the services of a scholar from the Al-Azhar Islamic University in Cairo to help them bring charges concerning crimes against Islam. Mariam, who was seriously abused whilst in custody, was bailed for 1000 Egyptian pounds. All of those released are now on bail, but charges against them still have not been formalised. They were originally arrested on charges related to falsifying their names on documents. A Christian who converts to Islam in Egypt can receive new ID papers with a new Muslim name within 24 hours. However there is no reciprocal arrangement for a Muslim who converts to Christianity. There are a myriad of factors making it virtually impossible for converts to follow their faith freely and safely whilst they retain an official Muslim name. Thus many converts feel compelled to apply for official papers using an assumed Christian name.