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Religion Today Summaries, May 1, 2003

Religion Today Summaries, May 1, 2003

In Today's Edition:

  • Iran: Christian Life Worth Only a Twelfth that of a Muslim’s
  • Canada: Bill on Sexual Orientation Could Pass Soon
  • More Eritrean Protestants Attacked
  • Virginia Military Institute's Prayers Ruled Unconstitutional

Iran: Christian Life Worth Only a Twelfth that of a Muslim’s
Barnabas Fund

The Guardian Council of Iran once again rejected a parliamentary bill on equal diyeh, or blood-price, for non-Muslim Iranian nationals.  This effectively affirms that the life of a Muslim is worth more than that of a Christian or other non-Muslim in accordance with Islamic law (Shari’ah).  In September 2002 an Iranian court set a new precedent when it granted the family of a murdered Christian the same compensation as that of a Muslim.  In January 2003 the reformist Iranian Parliament submitted a bill that makes the diyeh value on the lives of Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians equal to that of Muslim men, according to the BBC.  The draft law therefore clearly contradicts traditional Shari’ah and this is why the Guardian Council rejected the bill.  Iran’s official news agency reports that the final decision as to whether the bill will be scrapped will be determined by the country’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei.  In most Muslim nations today, especially in countries like Iran that have reimposed Shari’ah, Christians are thought of as second-class citizens and face social discrimination.  Examples include discrimination in employment, under-representation in politics, and difficulty in obtaining permission to build churches. 

Canada: Bill on Sexual Orientation Could Pass Soon

(RNS) Faith groups have circled May 15 on their calendars as the day the House of Commons is scheduled to vote on a contentious bill they fear could label the Bible as hate literature.  Bill C-250, introduced by British Columbia New Democratic Party MP Svend Robinson, seeks to add sexual orientation to the list of identifiable groups subject to protection from hate propaganda under the Criminal Code. This has raised fears, mainly among Christians, that if passed, the law could leave the Bible, and possibly the Catechism of the Catholic Church, open to being interpreted as hate literature because of their condemnations of homosexuality.  Robinson has assured faith groups his bill will not limit or threaten religious expression.  Meanwhile, Ontario Liberal MP Dan McTeague, who last summer said the bill would be shot down, now says the bill's wording will have to be worked out so that it does not trample on religious perspectives.

More Eritrean Protestants Attacked

(Compass) – Two new attacks against Protestant Christians have been confirmed in Eritrea.  In Kushte, a small town six miles from the capital Asmara, a Bible study group of 11 men and four women meeting in a private home was forcibly interrupted on April 17. About 10 individuals pushed their way into the room where the group was gathered and began beating them with sticks.  The 15 Christians were admitted to Hahaze Hospital for medication and treatment.  All but one remain under medical care.  In a separate incident the following day, 11 members of the Mesereto Christos Church in Asmara were detained for a day by security police while meeting at their church building.  The detained Protestants were all released that evening, after a strict warning from the police that they should not try to meet again.  During February and March, Eritrean security police arrested, jailed and threatened 170 other Protestant Christians.  Despite constitutional guarantees of religious freedom for all citizens, Eritrea has refused to grant government registration to any “new religions.” Only four groups with official status are recognized: Orthodox Christians, Muslims, Catholics and Evangelical Lutherans. 

Virginia Military Institute's Prayers Ruled Unconstitutional

(RNS) An appellate court has ruled that the Virginia Military Institute's tradition of prayer before evening meals is unconstitutional.  "In establishing its supper prayer, VMI has done precisely what the First Amendment forbids," a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Monday (April 28).  The decision upheld a lower court ruling, the Associated Press reported.  The panel rejected arguments that the prayer is voluntary because the cadets are adults. It emphasized that the high level of obedience expected from VMI cadets doesn't give them the freedom to choose whether to take part in what has been called a voluntary, nondenominational dinner prayer.  "Put simply, VMI's supper prayer exacts an unconstitutional toll on the consciences of religious objectors," Judge Robert B. King wrote in the opinion.  Virginia Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore said Monday the prayers are "part of the fabric of our country" and he plans to appeal the decision to the entire appeals court.  In light of the ruling, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland said Tuesday that the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., should review its practice of leading students in lunchtime prayer, the AP reported.