Religion Today Summaries - May 18, 2005

Compiled & Edited by Crosswalk News Staff

Religion Today Summaries - May 18, 2005

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

  • ‘Free Speech’ For Churches’ Partisan Political Activity Sought
  • Iranian Christian Transferred from Tehran Prison 
  • California Teacher Suing School District Over Religious Discrimination 
  • Saudi Arabia Denies Access to Jailed Christians

‘Free Speech’ For Churches’ Partisan Political Activity Sought
Charisma News Service

As a Baptist pastor resigned last week amid a firestorm over the role of politics in his North Carolina church, a U.S. congressman continues his efforts to make it easier for religious leaders and their congregations to engage in partisan political activity. A week ago, Chan Chandler stepped down as pastor of the Waynesville Baptist Church in Waynesville after nine members accused him of leading other members to push them out because they didn't agree with his pro-Republican, the Associated Press reported. Current law dictating tax-exempt organizations, including churches, says religious leaders and members of a church may not engage in partisan activity, including direct endorsements or opposition to particular candidates. But a Republican lawmaker said proposed changes to that law are gaining momentum. "Each year we get more and more sponsors and I think there is more interest in this issue than has ever been," said Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina, who for the fourth time has introduced a bill relaxing restrictions on political speech in churches. Jones' bill, the Houses of Worship Free Speech Restoration Act of 2005, introduced in January, is now before the House Ways and Means Committee. It would amend the Internal Revenue Code to allow religious organizations and houses of worship to engage in "religious free exercise and free speech activities" without violating their tax-exempt status as nonprofit groups. (

Iranian Christian Transferred from Tehran Prison
Barbara G. Baker, Compass Direct

Iranian Christian Hamid Pourmand left Tehran's Evin Prison by armored car yesterday, en route to his home city of Bandar-i Bushehr to stand trial for his life before a sharia (Islamic) court. Some of Pourmand's relatives were allowed to see him briefly before his departure from Tehran, but the prisoner was not permitted to speak with them. Gazing at them silently, he mouthed the words, "Please pray for me." A colonel in the Iranian army who converted from Islam to Christianity 25 years ago, Pourmand faces execution by hanging under Iranian law for apostasy and proselytizing. According to his defense lawyer, Pourmand's trial before a sharia court is not expected to begin before next Saturday, May 21, at the earliest. Sources were unable to confirm which of several prisons Pourmand would be placed in when he arrived in Bandar-i Bushehr. The European Union registered a formal protest with Iranian authorities last November over Pourmand's arrest, describing his incarceration and trial as an "infringement of the freedom of religion or belief."

California Teacher Suing School District Over Religious Discrimination
Jim Brown, Agape Press

A California school district will be put on trial after allegedly targeting an elementary school teacher for discrimination because of his Christian beliefs. Judge James Ware has refused to dismiss a lawsuit filed by elementary school teacher Stephen Williams against the Cupertino School District. Williams, a fifth-grade teacher at Stevens Creek Elementary School, claims his rights were violated when the district recently barred him from handing out documents relating to American history because they contained references to God and religion. The instructor had wanted to provide students with supplemental readings such as William Penn's Frame of Government and excerpts from the Declaration of Independence. The court's order in the case, Stephen J. Williams v. Patricia Vidmar, et al., by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California granted the Cupertino School District's motion to dismiss in part, but also denied it in part. In his ruling, Judge Ware noted that the teacher had "sufficiently alleged the deprivation of a constitutional right to Equal Protection of the law." Representing Williams is the Alliance Defense Fund's Josh Carden, who contends that his client is the victim of religious discrimination. According to the ADF attorney, barring the school teacher from handing out the history-related materials was an egregious abridgement of the Christian teacher's equal protection rights. Judge Ware, who ruled in April that the Christian teacher can move forward with his discrimination suit against the district, has set an October trial date for that proceeding.

Saudi Arabia Denies Access to Jailed Christians
Barbara G. Baker, Compass Direct

Five East African Christians arrested at a private Christian worship service three weeks ago are being refused access to visitors. Officers of the Mabahith internal security force told an expatriate friend who attempted to visit the three Ethiopians and two Eritreans last week at the Riyadh prison facility where they are jailed that the Christian prisoners would only be allowed visitors after one month. The muttawa (Islamic religious police) who raided the April 29 worship service and arrested the men have authority to detain suspects for only 24 hours. "However in practice, persons [are] held weeks or months and sometimes longer," the U.S. State Department's 2004 human rights report on Saudi Arabia notes.