Religion Today Summaries, July 18, 2003

Compiled & Edited by Crosswalk News Staff

Religion Today Summaries, July 18, 2003

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

  • Pennsylvania High School Wrongly Barred Bible Club
  • Maoist Animosity Does Not Stop Missionaries in Nepal
  • Belarus Protestants Rally Against Government Discrimination 
  • Hawaiian City Sued Over 'Christian' Event

Pennsylvania High School Wrongly Barred Bible Club
Religion News Service

A Pennsylvania high school wrongly barred a student Bible club from meeting during an activity period before the start of classes, an appellate court ruled Tuesday. The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals made the decision after Melissa Donovan, a senior at Punxsutawney Area High School, claimed the school district would not permit FISH, her Bible study group, to meet after school started at 8 a.m. School officials were wrong to prevent the club from meeting during an in-school "activity period" from 8:15 to 8:54 a.m., during which other student groups were permitted to gather, the three-judge panel ruled. "FISH is a group that discusses current issues from a biblical perspective, and school officials denied the club equal access to meet on school premises during the activity period solely because of the club's religious nature," Judge Ruggero John Aldisert wrote. The court said Donovan's constitutional rights to free speech and assembly were violated so she may be due attorney fees and damages. The district had argued that permitting the group to meet during the school day would amount to an inappropriate government endorsement of religion. Aldisert disagreed, saying the meetings were voluntary and did not involve teachers.

Maoist Animosity Does Not Stop Missionaries in Nepal
Christian Aid Report

Two Nepali missionaries traveling to bring aid to mountain villages were stopped on their return trip and interrogated by Maoist rebels for two hours before being released. The men were released on the condition that they ask permission from the Maoists before entering the mountain area again. The believers, one from Kathmandu and one from Chitwan, had visited two areas. One locale had been hit by a violent hailstorm that destroyed crops, creating a food deficiency. The leader of the ministry said that the situation was so bad that "when visiting believers, [the missionary] feels embarrassed to eat in their homes because they have nothing to feed the guests." The other area the men visited lacks a worship building. Believers in this community meet in a temporary structure made of plastic sheets and tree leaves. The congregation continues to grow, but with such an inadequate meeting place, the number of those who can come together is limited. So are the missionaries' aid funds. Despite the threat of Maoists, by faith the missionaries still take gifts to local leaders to help them meet the needs of the suffering people.

Belarus Protestants Rally Against Government Discrimination
Frank Brown, Religion News Service

Protestant leaders in the Belarus capital of Minsk are hoping that an unprecedented mass prayer rally will put a stop to what they see as a campaign of harassment across the former Soviet country. The rally on Sunday, attended by about 5,000 mostly charismatic Christians, was sparked by a national television broadcast last month that labeled Pentecostals as members of a sect, and questioned their place in the overwhelmingly Orthodox Christian country where only 5 percent are Protestants. The broadcast on Belarus' main television news show was by a commentator who had earlier accused Pentecostals of being "Satanic vermin" and "enemies of the people" who practice human sacrifice.  The two-hour prayer service included readings from a public appeal to Belarus' hard-line president sometimes described as Europe's last dictator. Demonstrators complained of how the government impedes home prayer meetings, outdoor baptisms and the acquiring of property to build new churches.  Of particular concern to Protestants is a new school textbook used throughout the country. The book's authors warn that many Christian faiths -- except the Orthodox and Catholics -- produce fanatics who can destabilize society. While Protestant groups have earlier taken their complaints to court, Sunday's prayer service was the first large-scale show of strength and solidarity.

Hawaiian City Sued Over 'Christian' Event
Charisma News Service

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit this week against Honolulu, Hawaii officials, accusing them of sponsoring an event for "fundamentalist Christians." For the second time in the last month, the ACLU sued officials Monday, saying the city sponsored what was essentially a Christian service in the form of Family Day Festival (FDF) at a Honolulu park on July 5. The ACLU claims the event violated portions of the First Amendment requiring separation of church and state, and city officials improperly used at least $15,000 of taxpayers' money to organize and help conduct FDF. The lawsuit cited a musical segment of Family Day that included nine separate performances by Christian groups, while children's entertainment had a stated purpose to "save souls." The city's attorney Greg Swartz said the city "believes that it conducted the Family Day Festival in an appropriate manner and that further litigation by the ACLU" would be a waste of taxpayer money and the court's time and resources. The ACLU also sued on June 27, saying the city helped to organize an event called the Kids Parade in conjunction with FDF and that the parade's sponsor, the Hawaii Christian Coalition, would not allow gay and lesbian groups to participate in the parade.