Religion Today Summaries, February 19, 2003

Religion Today Summaries, February 19, 2003

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

In Today's Edition:

  • Church-State Separationists Sue Prison Fellowship Program
  • Mennonites Mull New Statement on Abortion
  • School Board Drops Bible Club Ban
  • Robertson Recovering from Prostate Cancer Surgery

Church-State Separationists Sue Prison Fellowship Program
Adelle M. Banks

(RNS) Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed two suits Wednesday (Feb. 12) against Iowa correctional officials, Prison Fellowship and its ministry, InnerChange Freedom Initiative.  The program, the suits charge, offers significant incentives to inmates who subscribe to the "pervasively religious" pre-release program.  Participants live in an "honor unit," have keys to their cells and can use private bathrooms while non-participants live in a "lock-up unit" with public toilets.  Americans United also charges that religious aspects of the program are financed through government money, specifically profits from inmate telephone accounts.  Plaintiffs in the cases include an inmate who is a client of Americans United and whose telephone account included deposits from the watchdog organization so they could communicate with him.  Other plaintiffs include relatives of inmates who make similar deposits.  In response to the suits, Prison Fellowship President Mark Earley issued a statement saying the programs have reduced prisoner recidivism and have advantages over secular programs.  "Contrary to the representation by the suits' plaintiffs, the InnerChange Freedom Initiative in operation in Iowa in no way violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment," said Earley.  "In fact, federal law allows a state to include religious organizations as social service providers."

Mennonites Mull New Statement on Abortion
Kevin Eckstrom

    (RNS) The Mennonite Church USA will update its position on abortion for the first time in 23 years, calling the procedure "counter to biblical principles" but urging compassion for women who face difficult decisions.  The draft statement will likely undergo revisions before it faces a vote by delegates at a church-wide convention in Atlanta in July.  George Stoltzfus, a staff member at the Anabaptist Center for Health Care Ethics, said the statement hopes to strike a middle ground.  "This statement speaks against abortion but at the same time doesn't vilify the person who has had an abortion performed," said Stoltzfus.  The document would combine statements made by the Mennonite Church in 1975 and the General Conference Mennonite Church in 1980.  The two churches merged in 2001 to form the Mennonite Church USA.  In the preliminary draft, the church says that "the fetus in its earliest stages (and even if imperfect by human standards) shares humanity with those who created it," according to the Mennonite Church USA News Service.  The church says that "abortion should not be used to interrupt unwanted pregnancies" and concedes that "we do not presume society will conform to biblical standards" on the morality of abortion. 

School Board Drops Bible Club Ban

(Charisma News) Pressured by a religious discrimination lawsuit, school officials in a Colorado community decided last night to allow Bible clubs and other student-led groups to meet on school property.  The Boulder Valley School Board voted 6-0 to revise a 19-year-old policy that banned from Boulder district schools student-formed religious and other clubs that weren't directly linked to curriculum, "The Denver Post" reported.  Two students who wanted to start a Bible club at Monarch High School filed suit last month targeting the old policy, saying it violated their First Amendment right to practice religion.  Lawyers representing the two girls who sued will review the policy change before deciding whether to go ahead with the lawsuit, said American Center for Law and Justice spokesman Gene Kapp, the "Post" reported.  The suit had noted that numerous other clubs, including a pro-gay group, had been approved that bore little relationship to the curriculum.

Robertson Recovering from Prostate Cancer Surgery
Adelle M. Banks

(RNS) Religious broadcaster Pat Robertson was recovering from prostate cancer surgery Monday (Feb. 17) after what his physician called a successful operation.  "We are all very pleased with the success of the procedure," said Michael Little, president and chief operating officer of the Christian Broadcasting Network, in a statement issued Monday.  "We thank God for answering prayer and continue to pray for Pat's full recovery."  The statement from the network said Robertson's physician said "the surgery went extremely well and he is alert, stable and in extremely good spirits."  The religious broadcaster announced Thursday to his audience for "The 700 Club" that he was due for the surgery.  It was believed that the cancer was isolated in the prostate gland, which was removed during laparoscopic surgery.  Robertson is expected to return to work in a few weeks.  In addition to serving as host of "The 700 Club" television program, he is chairman and CEO of the network and chancellor of Regent University.  Both the network and the university are located in Virginia Beach, Va.