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Religion Today Summaries, May 6, 2003

Religion Today Summaries, May 6, 2003

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

In Today's Edition:

  • Faith Groups Line Up Behind Workplace Freedom Bill
  • Religious Groups Urge House to Pass Charity Bill
  • Christian Artist Velasquez Declares She's Still Faithful After Movie
  • Update: Dead Farmer Linked to Church Poisonings

Faith Groups Line Up Behind Workplace Freedom Bill
Kevin Eckstrom

(RNS) An unusually broad coalition of religious groups is pushing a bill that would protect religious expression in the workplace, but civil liberties groups are concerned the bill could be used to advance on-the-job proselytizing. The Workplace Religious Freedom Act, introduced recently by Sens. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., and John Kerry, D-Mass., would force employers to "reasonably accommodate" employees who want to wear religious articles or take off time for worship services. Current law mandates that employers allow such expression as long as it does not impose an "undue hardship" on the company. Supporters, however, say a 1977 Supreme Court ruling gutted the law and has not protected employees' rights. "America is distinguished internationally as a land of religious freedom," Santorum said in introducing the bill. "It should be a place where people should not be forced to choose between keeping their faith and keeping their job." The American Jewish Committee, one of the bill's primary backers, point to cases like Amric Singh Rathour, who was fired as a New York City traffic cop when he refused to shave his religiously mandated beard or remove his turban. Rathour's suit against the city, filed in March, is pending.

Religious Groups Urge House to Pass Charity Bill
Kevin Eckstrom

(RNS) Religious groups that do not agree on whether the government should give money to churches for social services say they are united behind a bill that would boost donations to charitable groups. Nearly 50 people signed a recent letter to members of the House, urging them to pass the Charity, Aid, Recovery and Empowerment Act, which would provide $10.6 billion in tax incentives for charitable giving and a $1.3 billion increase in money for social services. "We acknowledge that people of goodwill -- including the signers of this letter -- have honest disagreements over the rules for government funding of non-governmental organizations, including faith-based groups," the April 28 letter said. "The increase in resources promised by the CARE Act is urgently needed." At least four of the signers -- Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; Ron Sider of Evangelicals for Social Action; the Rev. Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State; and Richard Land of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention -- are members of a committee that is searching for ways that religious groups can help combat poverty and other social problems.

Christian Artist Velasquez Declares She's Still Faithful After Movie
Adelle M. Banks

(RNS) Contemporary Christian musician Jaci Velasquez has issued an online explanation of her role in the movie "Chasing Papi" after receiving criticism for playing one of three women who discover they are all dating the same man. "To put your minds at rest, no I haven't left my personal faith in God, and I don't ever intend to," Velasquez wrote recently on her website. The 20th Century Fox movie, which features a scene in which Velasquez and the two other women wear lingerie, has received criticism in some Christian circles. "Don't let Jaci's starring role mislead your family," advised "Plugged In," a media review Web site of Focus on the Family, a Colorado-based ministry. "Chase teens and tweens away from `Papi.'" Velasquez wrote that the decision to make her Hollywood debut was "a very thoughtful, prayerful one" and she consulted with her family and pastor before making the step. "I feel like I was able by the grace and power of God to be a witness to co-workers during the filming of the movie," she wrote. "I am grateful for the production company, because they allowed me to change and edit several scenes that I was uncomfortable doing because of my beliefs."

Update: Dead Farmer Linked to Church Poisonings

(RNS) Police are focusing on a potato farmer who died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound as a possible suspect in the arsenic poisoning case at a Lutheran church in New Sweden, Maine. Police say longtime church member Daniel Bondeson was found dead Friday (May 2) after a self-inflicted gunshot wound. They have not ruled the death a suicide, and an autopsy was scheduled for Monday. According to the Associated Press, police have some evidence linking Bondeson to the poisonings, but have not elaborated on what it may be. Bondeson, 53, was a former member of the church council but was not at the church last Sunday when the coffee was poisoned. Police were combing Bondeson's rural farmhouse and focusing their attention on a backyard shed, according to the Boston Globe. "I just can't grasp the thought that in his right mind he would have harmed any of these people," church member Wendell Spooner told the Associated Press. Eight patients remain in stable condition at Cary Medical Center, and three victims are in serious condition, three in critical condition and one in unknown condition at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor.