Daily briefs of the top news stories impacting Christians around the world.
In today's edition:
'Ethnic Cleansing of Christians' in Syria, 50,000 Flee
Islamic militants with ties to al Qaeda have launched an "ethnic cleansing of minority Christians" in Syria, forcing tens of thousands of people to flee the city of Homs and other areas, BosNewsLife.com reports. According to local aid workers, at least 90 percent of Christians living in Homs have fled after being forced to leave their homes. "They have fled to villages and in the mountains, sometimes as far as 50 kilometers from their homes," Dutch aid group Church in Need said. "We have reports that Islamists 'cleansed' the Homs areas of Hamidiya and Bustan al-Diwan without giving [Christians] the opportunity to take anything with them." Aid group Barnabas Fund said Christians had also been used as "human shields" by anti-government rebels -- known as the Free Syrian Army -- to prevent government forces from retaking control over the region. Christians have been viewed by critics as supportive of Syrian president Bashar Assad, and minorities fear an Islamic takeover should the rebels manage to overthrow the Assad regime.
Atheists Sue Pennsylvania House for Declaring 2012 'Year of the Bible'
A national atheist and agnostic group is suing Pennsylvania lawmakers for passing a resolution declaring 2012 as "The Year of the Bible," Fox News reports. The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) filed a federal lawsuit this week claiming that the Pennsylvania House's declaration -- authored by State Rep. Rick Saccone and passed unanimously in January -- is unconstitutional. The FFRF argues that the resolution is an endorsement of "state-sponsored religion" and that the Bible contains "violent, sexist and racist models of behavior that FFRF members find personally repugnant. ... [This content] potentially could encourage persons who rely on [it] to act in a manner harmful to them and others." Saccone said the resolution was intended to recognize the impact the Bible has had on the U.S. and Pennsylvania, not to inhibit anyone from believing or not believing in any faith. "Most citizens don't remember that a joint session of Congress passed a similar resolution signed by President Ronald Reagan on Feb. 3, 1983, declaring that year as the Year of the Bible in America," he said.
Court Orders Obama to Release Paperwork Detailing Planned Parenthood Grant
The Obama administration last week released paperwork showing the details of a grant to a branch of Planned Parenthood in New Hampshire -- but it took a lawsuit, WORLD News Service reports. Last year, the New Hampshire Executive Council -- a group of five council members who work with the governor to oversee the state's business affairs -- denied a grant to Planned Parenthood of Northern New England (PPNNE), which runs six clinics in the state. U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen then appealed directly to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to fund PPNNE directly, bypassing the state. Five days after applying, PPNNE had a $1 million grant from the Obama administration. New Hampshire Right to Life filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to find out if HHS followed its own rules requiring a competitive bidding process for federal grants -- and when the Obama administration failed to comply, the group sued with the help of the Alliance Defense Fund. Finally, on Feb. 24, a federal judge ordered the government to release the documents by April 1 -- more than 125 days after receiving the FOIA. HHS said it made the grant because Planned Parenthood's services couldn't be provided without it -- but so far the documents released tell a different story. The Alliance Defense Fund is waiting to review all paperwork before taking any particular action; meanwhile, New Hampshire's legislature continues to work to defund Planned Parenthood.
Vietnamese Pastor Sentenced to 11 Years in Jail for Unregistered House Church
A Vietnamese pastor has been convicted of "disrupting national unity" and "enticing ethnic minorities to commit wrongdoing" and sentenced to 11 years in jail for operating a house church that was not registered with the government, International Christian Concern reports. A Christian woman who knew attendees of Pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh's church said: "Eleven years in jail because he didn't register a church that was not hurting anyone? I am shocked. They always spoke so highly of him and how he was a giving person, so it is wrong that he has to go to jail for his faith." All churches in Vietnam have to be sanctioned by the state, and Chinh's arrest has left many Christians fearful that greater crackdowns -- and even violence -- could become more common. "The overarching atmosphere for religious freedom in Vietnam is hostile," said John Sifton, Asia advocacy director for Human Rights Watch.
Publication date: March 28, 2012