Religion Today Summaries, January 8, 2004

Compiled & Edited by Crosswalk News Staff

Religion Today Summaries, January 8, 2004

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

  • 'Under God' Does Not Establish Religion, Attorney Says
  • Turkmenistan Authorities Pass Law Targeting Christians
  • Laotian Authorities Give OK to Shoot at Christians
  • Employee's Firing Over Anti-Gay Bible Verses Upheld

'Under God' Does Not Establish Religion, Attorney Says
Allie Martin, Agape Press

The president of a Christian legal group says a decision this year by the Supreme Court regarding the constitutionality of the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance will have far-reaching ramifications on religious freedom in the United States. Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow went to the U.S. Supreme Court after the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that two words in the Pledge of Allegiance -- "under God" -- establish a religion, in violation of the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.  The high court is expected to rule later this year in the case. Liberty Counsel president Mat Staver says the case involves more than just the Pledge of Allegiance -- that it is really about "the essence of America."  "It's about the liberty upon which our founders based this country.  It's about the acknowledgment of God as being integral to the foundation of our morality and our liberty," the attorney says.  "And indeed, if that [phrase] is ultimately displaced in the Pledge, many of these other references and acknowledgments will fall like dominos." According to the Liberty Counsel president, liberal activists are intent on removing the mention of God from the nation's history. However, there is "overwhelming testimony" from the Founding Fathers to President George W. Bush in favor of acknowledging God.

Turkmenistan Authorities Pass Law Targeting Christians
Charisma News Service 

In Turkmenistan, authorities recently passed a new religion law that makes unregistered Christian activities illegal. Breaking the law -- which targets Baptists and Pentecostals, among other groups -- would be considered criminal, not administrative. The statute also reportedly requires religious groups to "coordinate" contacts with foreigners with the government. Additionally, the groups must gain permission before receiving foreign support such as funding and religious literature. The law went into effect in November. According to Open Doors, an international ministry that supports the persecuted believers, Turkmenistan is among the world's harshest countries for Christians. "The government has incorporated some aspects of the majority religion, the Islamic tradition, into its effort to redefine a national identity," Open Doors said. "... [President Saparmurat Niyazov] does not accept the fact that Christians give higher authority to God than to him. Ethnic Turkmen who have converted to Christianity are considered to be a threat to the national identity, and have been subjected to official harassment and mistreatment." Human-rights groups say Turkmenistan has the harshest religious policy of all the former Soviet republics. Churches have been demolished and police routinely break up religious meetings, often beating, threatening and fining believers.

Laotian Authorities Give OK to Shoot at Christians
John Lindner, Missions Insider Report

It's OK to shoot at people as long as they are Christians, seems to be the sentiment of Lao officials, according to a report received by Christian Aid on Friday. Six women and children arrived in the city of Pakse in southern Laos Friday after being threatened in their home village because of their Christian faith. The village chiefs reportedly fined the Christians 150,000 kips (about a months' wage) for believing in Christ and demanded they renounce their Christian faith. If they did so, they could still remain in their village. Those who did not renounce their faith would be shot. Two families decided to leave, having endured the fire of persecution for many months. Their flight followed on the heels of raids on Christians in at least four other places in Attapue province in recent days. On December 27 police arrested six believers gathered for worship in Kang village and another Christian in Somsouk village. On December 28 authorities arrested three believers in Donphai village while conducting worship in their homes and another believer in Sanamsai City. Their only "crime" was worshiping Christ. Other Christian leaders and believers are allegedly being sought by authorities and remain in hiding. Some reportedly have walked over 60 miles to avoid arrest.

Employee's Firing Over Anti-Gay Bible Verses Upheld
Charisma News Service

A federal appeals court recently upheld a lower court ruling that Hewlett-Packard (HP) did not violate the rights of a devout Christian employee who was fired for posting biblical verses on his cubicle that condemned homosexuality. In a 3-0 ruling Tuesday, the San Francisco-based court said Richard Peterson, who worked in HP's customer support division in Boise, Idaho, for more than two decades, was not a victim of religious discrimination. Peterson claimed that HP unfairly singled him out for punishment while allowing other employees to display religious symbols and pro-diversity posters. But Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote that Peterson had been fired "because he violated the company's harassment policy by attempting to generate a hostile and intolerant work environment" and disobeyed managers' orders to remove the postings. Reinhardt quoted Peterson as saying his messages were "intended to be hurtful [because] you cannot have correction unless people are faced with the truth." Peterson's attorney, Christ Troupis, said he would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. A federal judge in Idaho previously dismissed Peterson's lawsuit, which sought damages for lost wages. "I think this [appeals court] opinion is saying freedom of ... religious belief is to be silenced in the workplace," said Troupis.