Daily briefs of the top news stories impacting Christians around the world. In today's edition:
Christian Magazines Confiscated and Burned in Uzbekistan
Charisma News Service
Authorities have confiscated and burned hundreds of Russian Baptist magazines. Two hundred eleven copies of "Vestnik Istiny," or "Herald of Truth," were confiscated from local Baptist Aleksei Yermolayev recently. The magazines were later burned after a court ordered them destroyed. Judge Marat Alimukhamedov defended his decision, saying the magazines were brought into the former Soviet republic illegally. The Tashkent court also found Yermolayev guilty of breaking a customs law, and was given a fine the equivalent of $23, which is five times the minimum monthly wage, Baptist officials said. Local Baptists have protested against the court-ordered destruction of the magazine and Yermolayev's fine because he was not informed that a hearing was taking place. Human-rights activists say there has been growing pressure on churches and Christian groups to end their activities in the mainly Islamic nation of about 24 million people.
Pennsylvania Residents Challenge City Ordinance Usurping State Authority
Alliance Defense Fund
Allentown taxpayers, employers, and landlords last week filed a lawsuit charging that the city usurped state powers when it passed an ordinance to grant special rights and privileges based on sexual orientation and "gender identity." The lawsuit asserts that the "Pennsylvania Human Relations Act does not provide for protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity," and therefore Allentown has no authority to pass the ordinance. The lawyers filed the action, Hartman v. City of Allentown allied with the Alliance Defense Fund, a national legal organization that defends people of faith. The suit filed last week alleges that although state law allows for local Human Relations Commissions, the authority of the commissions is limited by the state Human Relations Act. Allentown's ordinance is an attempt to exercise powers beyond those granted in the Human Relations Act. Besides the usurpation of authority, the lawyers feel that Allentown's ordinance tramples freedom of conscience. "Taxpayers, employers, and landlords in the City of Allentown should not be forced by the city to honor lifestyles they find morally offensive." The ordinance applies to all employers, including religious employers. Philadelphia has petitioned the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania to hear the case but the appeal is still pending. ADF serves people of faith by providing strategy, training, and funding in the legal battle for religious liberty, sanctity of life, and traditional family values.
Psalms Plaques Removed from Grand Canyon
Charisma News Service
Succumbing to complaints from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the National Park Service (NPS) removed plaques with biblical psalms at popular viewing areas of the Grand Canyon, citing concerns that it may violate the separation between church and state. Grand Canyon National Park spokeswoman Maureen Oltrogge said three bronze, religious-oriented plaques were removed from the frequently visited areas of the Grand Canyon's South Rim. The Interior Department determined that the plaques, which had been on display for more than 30 years and quoted psalms, were not appropriate for federal public facilities, Oltrogge said. NPS said the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary in Phoenix placed signs on the buildings in the late 1960s. Letters of concern and a recent inquiry by the ACLU prompted park officials to review the situation. In a prepared statement, members of the sisterhood said they were shocked. "We were stunned when we heard the news that our three Scripture plaques at the Grand Canyon were suddenly removed," they said. "These plaques have inspired many of the awe-struck beholders to admire and acknowledge the creator of this majestic landscape spread before their eyes."
Catholic Leaders Attend Private Meeting on Future of Church
Religion News Service
Leaders of the U.S. Catholic hierarchy participated in a closed-door meeting with prominent lawyers, academics and media representatives that is now being criticized for its off-the-record format and several of the attendees. The July 7 meeting at the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington brought together nearly 40 leading Catholics to discuss the future of the American church as it attempts to move beyond the sex abuse scandal. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops did not officially sanction the daylong meeting, although six leading bishops attended. Most participants refused to comment on the meeting, but several attendees said they addressed the "management failure" of church bishops in the scandal, the "dysfunctional" nature of church operations and issues such as the celibate priesthood, the role of the laity and women, and holding leaders accountable. Deal Hudson, the conservative editor of Crisis magazine, did not attend the meeting and criticized several members' political agendas. "Why on earth would high-ranking bishops -- including the president of the (bishops' conference) ... -- entertain a meeting with such known liberals and dissenters, and do it in private?" Hudson said in an e-mail message.