Supreme Court To Hear Jehovah's Witness Evangelism Case
The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether an Ohio town can require door-to-door solicitors, including religious groups, to identify themselves to authorities before engaging in outreach efforts.
On Oct. 15, the high court announced it would hear Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York v. Village of Stratton, a lawsuit challenging a three-year-old ordinance that requires individuals who wish to engage in door-to-door solicitation or religious proselytizing to register with the city government and fill out a form giving detailed information about their activities.
The challenge to Stratton's law was brought by the Jehovah's Witnesses, a Christian denomination known for its aggressive evangelism. Lower federal courts ruled in support of several provisions of Stratton's ordinance, concluding that it was equally applied to religious and nonreligious groups alike. However, the courts struck down a provision that singled out the Jehovah's Witnesses as one group that town residents could bar from visiting their homes. (Local officials, including the mayor, encouraged the denomination to evangelize elsewhere.)
The Supreme Court, in agreeing to hear an appeal, has said it will only consider the question of whether the Jehovah's Witnesses can be required to display official permits, which include their names. The justices in the past have held that people may not be forced to reveal their identities when engaging in free speech.
In other legal news, the justices overturned an appeals court ruling that supported an Arizona town's right to deny city equipment and other support services to a Christian group for a National Day of Prayer rally. In an unsigned order Oct. 9, the Supreme Court said the city of Tucson was wrong to reject a request to provide free public services made available to other groups for events at a city park. (Gentala v. City of Tucson)
Southern Baptist Leader Chosen For U.S. Religious Panel
President George W. Bush has chosen Richard Land, a Washington lobbyist for the Southern Baptist Convention, to serve on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
The Commission, established by Congress in 1998, monitors religious freedom around the world and prepares annual reports on the state of international religious liberties. Under the mandates outlined in the federal legislation, the most egregious violators of religious freedom, including countries that engage in torture and imprisonment, may be subject to economic sanctions.
Bush's Sept. 17 selection of Land comes after the Southern Baptist official gave the Republican candidate significant support during the last presidential campaign. In the fall of 1999, Land was among a handful of religious leaders assembled by former Christian Coalition executive Ralph Reed to vouch for Bush's conservative credentials within the Religious Right. Land made public appearances during the race touting Bush's position on social issues, while criticizing Democratic candidate Al Gore.
Land will continue to maintain his responsibilities with the Southern Baptist denomination while he serves a two-year term with the government agency.
Creationists Get Airtime On Idaho Public Television
Seeking to mollify conservative critics in the legislature, Idaho Public Television (IPT) has aired two creationist programs designed to undermine the scientific concept of evolution.
In October, IPT viewers had an opportunity to see what virtually everyone in the scientific community agrees is accepted science through the PBS series, "Evolution." According to PBS, the documentary was created to "heighten public understanding of evolution and how it works, to dispel common misunderstandings about the process, and to illuminate why it is relevant to all of us."
The Idaho station, under intense pressure for several years from conservative state legislators, also decided to air two religious programs immediately after the series, including "The Young Age of the Earth," a creationist program produced by Earth Science Associates of Knoxville, Tenn., and "Voices for Creation," another anti-evolution program.
According to the Idaho Statesman, "The Young Age of the Earth," was aired at the behest of State Sen. Stan Hawkins (R-Ucon), who pushed for the program during a 2000 debate over public television's budget from the state government.
The creationist programs are the work of fundamentalist Christians who insist that the planet is only 6,000 years old, in keeping with their interpretation of the Bible.
Most Christian denominations, however, believe evolution and religion are not in contradiction. The National Center for Science Education has prepared a "Congregational Study Guide," published on the group's website, to help people of faith learn more about the compatibility of religion and science. The materials are available at www.ncseweb.org.
'Christian Nation' Resolution Planned In Kansas
When Kansas lawmakers return to work next year, they will likely be asked to consider a resolution that declares Christianity to be "the historical faith of the people and institutions of these United States."
Rep. Jerry Aday (R-Ellsworth) indicated in September that he will introduce a resolution written by Church of Christ minister Kurt Simmons, a Religious Right activist in Lyons, Kan.
According to the Lyons Daily News, Simmons says his project stems from his frustration with what he describes as "sustained, overt hostility to Christianity" from the federal judicial system. He hopes the legislature will endorse the resolution, and then it can be used in public buildings to send a pro-Christian message.
"If passed, the resolution promises to be a mighty weapon in the hands of Christians, and may be displayed in schools, libraries and city halls throughout Kansas and the U.S.," Simmons said.
The resolution has already received the endorsement of Howard Phillips, an advocate of the radical Christian Reconstructionist movement who has twice run for president on the U.S. Taxpayers Party ticket.
Tampa University Settles Religious Discrimination Lawsuit
A state university in Tampa has settled religious discrimination lawsuits brought by two faculty members who were pressured to follow the religious exercises of a supervisor.
Eye surgeon James Rowsey, who served as chairman of the ophthalmology department at the University of South Florida (USF), drew the ire of subordinates by encouraging them to pray for departmental needs, including medical equipment. Rowsey, an evangelical Christian, also delayed making decisions until he could pray with his wife, whom he considered to be a prophet.
Steven Gross and Robert Urban, USF doctors who worked with Rowsey, filed suit against the university, alleging religious discrimination, harassment and retaliation. They also insisted that Rowsey favored those who "shared, adopted or mimicked" his religious practices.
Urban, for example, said necessary equipment was withheld when he refused to follow Rowsey's religious directives. Similarly, Gross alleged Rowsey punished him by assigning him to examination rooms that lacked running water. In September, USF settled out of court with the doctors. Each will receive $269,000.
Rowsey, meanwhile, is no longer with the university. In 1999, he was forced out when an investigation exposed the fact that he was accused of experimenting on patients without their consent.
'Faith-Based' Amendment To Georgia Constitution Proposed
A group of Georgia lawmakers is trying to repeal strong church-state separation provisions in the state constitution.
A bipartisan group of state representatives has organized the "Georgia Faith-Based Initiative Task Force," which will have the primary goal of allowing voters to consider changing the constitution in a 2002 ballot referendum.
Currently, Section II, Paragraph VII of the Georgia Constitution says, "No money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect, cult, or religious denomination or of any of sectarian institution."
The task force hopes to change this unambiguous language. Led by State Reps. Clint Smith (R-Dawsonville) and Donzella James (D-College Park), several lawmakers are pushing Resolution 131, which would permit churches and other religious groups to apply for state grants to provide a variety of social services.
Critics are concerned the effort is slanted to favor Christians over religious minorities. They point to a recent strategy session of the task force at the state Capitol at which speakers encouraged participants to accept Jesus, blamed humanists for ruining the country and argued that sin was the reason behind the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C.
The Atlanta Journal Constitution, the state's largest newspaper, has urged caution.
"Do we want bureaucrats judging which religious groups are entitled to state money and which are not?" the paper editorialized. "Do taxpayers want to send dollars to fund religious groups whose basic tenets they passionately oppose? These are the tough questions that Georgians ought to consider when their ministers urge them to bombard Gov. Roy Barnes with calls to underwrite faith-based charitable initiatives."
Spain Debates Tax System That Favors Catholic Church
The relationship between religion and government is the subject of renewed debate in Spain, a country where the Roman Catholic Church enjoys special privileges.
Several political parties, including the Spanish Socialist Labor Party and the United Left Communist Party, are pressuring Spanish officials to change the existing tax structure that benefits the church. Currently, citizens can voluntarily allocate a percentage of their tax dollars to go directly to the Catholic church. If the income generated through this method does not cover the fixed expenses of the religious group, the Spanish government covers the difference.
Also, public schools maintain a pro-Catholic bent. Under current law, public school religion teachers are appointed by the church but paid by the state. In addition, these teachers are legally required to follow Catholic doctrine, inside and outside the classroom.
This arrangement, however, drew controversy recently when two public school teachers did not have their contracts renewed when they married partners who had been divorced, though it was the first marriage for the teachers.
To help shore up the church-state relationship, Pope John Paul II met Sept. 20 with Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Pique I Camps.
A press statement from the Vatican explained that the meeting between the religious leader and the government official confirmed "the validity of the framework of cooperation ensured by the agreements between the Holy See and the Spanish State in 1979."