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Ten Commandments, School Prayer, PC(USA) Loss & Clergy Break

Ten Commandments, School Prayer, PC(USA) Loss & Clergy Break

In Today's Edition:
  • States Debate Moment of Silence for Public Schools
  • Judge Orders Ten Commandments Removed
  • Senate Approves Bill to Protect Clergy
  • Presbyterian Church (USA) Scales Back
  • Other Headlines at a Glance

States Debate Moment of Silence for Public Schools ... In the wake of Sept. 11, some 12 states have debated whether to require a daily moment of silence in public schools, according to an Associated Press (AP) report. The debate gained steam following a Supreme Court decision last fall not to hear a challenge to Virginia's law, which makes the moment mandatory and lists prayer as "an option."

Ohio is the latest state to come on board, joining South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Indiana, New Mexico, California, Illinois, Louisiana, Virginia and Missouri. Ohio Gov. Bob Taft signed a bill May 2 that allows one minute daily for students to "reflect, meditate or pray." According to AP, local school districts will now decide whether to make the moment mandatory.

The Supreme Court has actually outlawed mandatory school prayer, explained AP, but courts have said states may require "silent periods" as long as students are not "forced or encouraged to pray. Of course, critics charge that such laws still threaten the Constitution's separation of church and state.

Judge Orders Ten Commandments Removed ... Also from the AP wire, another "separation of church and state" violation: a Ten Commandments display at two municipal buildings in Tennessee. On Friday, U.S. District Judge Allan Edgar ordered the removal of the Ten Commandments at the Hamilton County Courthouse and City Courts Building in Chattanooga. The ACLU and several Hamilton County residents had sued, claiming the displays "violate religious freedom and are divisive to religious diversity."

The Ten Commandments were posted in December after a September vote by Hamilton County commissioners, according to AP. Commission Chairman Bill Hullander testified that "the idea of posting them occurred to him a few days after the Sept. 11 attacks." More than half of Tennessee's 95 counties reportedly have approved similar Ten Commandments displays, and more than 30 have posted them. So, we will likely be hearing more from Tennessee in the future.

Senate Approves Bill to Protect Clergy ... On Thursday, according to the Washington Times and other news reports, the U.S. Senate approved a bill designed to protect a tax break for clergy that has existed since 1921. The exemption prevents clergy from being taxed on the part of their church income that is used to provide housing. "Supporters estimate that without the tax exemption, the nation's clergy would face a $2.3 billion tax increase," reported the Times.

The House of Representatives passed the bill 408-0 on April 16. Now the measure goes to the White House and, according to a White House spokeswoman, President Bush supports the bill and plans to sign it.

Congress actually "pre-empted" a strike from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which is questioning the constitutionality of this tax break, says the Washington Times. The case first went to court when a Baptist minister in California challenged the IRS rule. The U.S. Tax Court sided with the minister, and the IRS appealed the case to the 9th Circuit Court.

Presbyterian Church (USA) Scales Back ... The Presbyterian Church (USA) has laid off 43 national staff members in an effort to cope with "lower investment earnings and changing priorities," according to the Associated Press. The denomination's Executive Committee voted last week to approve the cuts as part of its $130 million 2003 budget. The budget, which is $2 million less than 2002's, must be approved by the General Assembly in June.

"The church blames the cuts on lower donations due to the struggling U.S. economy, as well as lower income from wills, bequests and investments," says AP. Although church officials reportedly feared that "many conservative churches would withhold donations to protest perceived liberal trends in the church, that hasn't been the case," the report continues.

According to AP, "debate has cooled in recent months after the denomination's regional governing bodies voted to uphold the church's ban on ordaining gays."


Other Headlines at a Glance: