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NEWS OF RELIGIOUS CONFLICT & INTOLERANCE

2002-JUN

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We also have a list of religious tolerance news for this month. 
Sad to say, these are usually much shorter lists.

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2002-JUN-1: WI: Pastor fined for harassing woman at nude beach: A Fundamentalist Christian group regularly frequents the parking lot of the state-run Mazomanie nude beach. According to a Wisconsin Christians United press release, a regular beach-goer, Nancy J Erikson "who delights in mocking Christians doing ministry in the beach parking lot, got out of her car and began to loudly direct obscene language" toward a man who had given her  a gospel tract. Pastor Ralph Ovadal preached to her and to Department of Natural Resources wardens who were insisting that he not use the word whore in his preaching." Ovadal was later charged with criminal disorderly conduct and fined $1,000 and court costs. During the sentencing hearing, the judge said to Pastor Ovadal: "I think you and I have different thoughts on what is preaching...Yes, I called your conduct cruel, savage, truculent...it wasn't preaching." Afterwards, Pastor Ovadal and his supporters went to the head office of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. They picketed and distributed a flyer titled "Is the Department of Natural Resources a Protector of Perverts and Child Abusers?" 11 His conviction was upheld by the state appeals court.

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JUN-2: Northern Ireland: Three people shot during religious riot: Clashes occurred between Protestants and Roman Catholics in Belfast in the Short Strand District, a Catholic enclave in the East end of the city which is mainly Protestant. Gas bombs were thrown and Protestant homes were set on fire. The violence escalated on JUN-2 to include the shooting of three people. There were more shootings in subsequent days.

bulletJUN-4: Israel: Orthodox Jews vow to block first Gay Pride March: Hagai Elad, is the director of the Jerusalem Open House, an group that provides support for gays and lesbians in Jerusalem and in the West Bank. He announced that the Jerusalem march "...will take place on Friday [June 7] in coordination with the municipality and under heavy police protection. We are expecting thousands to participate in this unprecedented march, including groups from Italy, Sweden and Canada." It will be called "Love without Borders". In late May, Orthodox Jewish members of the city government held an emergency meeting to find ways of blocking the march. According to a Jerusalem weekly, the officials promised "riots never seen before in this city" and vowed not to "let this parade take place." Ultra-Orthodox Shas deputy Nissim Ze'ev said on Israel radio that it "would constitute an injury to the holy character of Jerusalem ... and to the morals and the sacred values of the people of Israel, which was based around the [heterosexual] family". 12
bulletJUN-6: PA: Amish members fined for lack of reflectors on buggies: Twenty members of the Amish Swartzentruber sect were fined $95.00 each for refusing to install bright orange reflectors on their horse-drawn buggies. They dress very plainly and feel that the reflectors are garish symbols that violate their beliefs. The judge ruled that public safety overrules their religious objections.
bulletJUN-8: USA: Lou Dobbs focuses war on "Islamists:" On his Wednesday evening program on CNN, Lou Dobbs said that "We are fighting a war against extreme, radical Muslims, who are trying to destroy us, our society, our economy, our way of life. They're called Islamists -- not Muslims or Islamics -- Islamists. They are the enemy." The following night, he explained that he was struggling to "remove what has become to me more of an obfuscatory phrase — that is, the war on terror — which is really about a condition and not about the source of that terror, which are these Islamists." Reactions were mixed:
bulletCNN issued a statement saying that Dobbs' statements "do not represent the opinion of the network...Lou Dobbs, like every journalist at CNN, understands the sensitivity and nuances of this subject. His comments on yesterday's broadcast were made in an effort to shed light on the issues and the importance of rhetoric. Because Lou serves as a commentator and analyst, as well as anchor of his show, he may express his opinion on this subject and use the phrase 'war against Islamists.'" CNN added that their programming "will continue to refer to the Bush administration's policies and activities as the 'war on terror' and will identify those targeted in operations as 'terrorists.' "
bulletIbrahim Hooper, a Muslim and spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said yesterday that Mr. Dobbs "has taken the definition of Islamist from bigots and is trying to apply it to the war on terror. The bigots of the world say if you are an Islamist, you want to kill all who are non-Islamist. They define almost every Muslim activist as an Islamist."
bulletFawaz Gerges, an Arab-American professor and author disagreed. He said the conflict should be called a "war against radical or militant Islamists." He said that Islamists are Muslim fundamentalists, whose goal is to replace a secular political regime with a religious one. But he said "mainstream" Islamists want to do that peacefully. In contrast, he said, radical or militant Islamists "use violence as their main means" of effecting change. He said he believes September 11 "represented the end of militant Islamicism." He said he believes it's being replaced by a more moderate Islamicism.
bulletJUN-11: USA: Islamic group asks Southern Baptists to repudiate statements: Jerry Vines, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, FL, and former president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) told attendees at the SBC's annual meeting that the Prophet Muhammad was a "demon-possessed pedophile....Allah is not Jehovah either. Jehovah's not going to turn you into a terrorist that'll try to bomb people and take the lives of thousands and thousands of people." According to The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) reporters asked the outgoing and incoming SBC presidents  to condemn those bigoted remarks, both said they supported Vines and his statements. CAIR Board Chairman Omar Ahmad stated in a news release: "This type of deeply offensive, bigoted and inaccurate rhetoric hands a victory to those who wish to drive a wedge between Muslims, Christians and Jews. Reckless Islamophobic statements from individuals regarded as leaders in their faith community will harm America's image and interests worldwide and will serve to divide Americans at this time of national crisis. Muslims revere the Prophets Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad as the ultimate moral and ethical role models who would never commit any act contrary to God's eternal message." CAIR called on "President Bush, other elected officials and leaders of national Christian and Jewish organizations to help defend America's image and interests in the Muslim world by repudiating [the] 'hate-filled' Islamophobic remarks made at the annual gathering of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in St. Louis," MO. President Bush addressed the SBC meeting during the morning of JUN-11, many hours before Vine's speech. 13
bulletJUN-12: Iran: Religious group vetoes anti-torture bill: A moderate political party is in control of the Iranian Parliament, having been elected in an overwhelming vote of the public. They passed a bill during May which would have banned torture used to obtain confessions of prisoners. This would have brought Iran into line with most developed countries. However an extreme Fundamentalist religious group of twelve clerics, the Guardian Council, has veto power over parliament legislation. They vetoed the bill because it was contrary to Islamic sharia law.
bulletJUN-17: USA: Supreme Court upholds First Amendment: The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Watchtower Society (Jehovah's Witnesses). They found that a municipal bylaw in Stratton OH was unconstitutional. It covered "canvassers, solicitors, peddlers (or) hawkers" who go door-to-door for the purpose of "advertising, promoting, selling and/or explaining any product, service, organization or cause." It required members of Jehovah's Witnesses and other religious advocates who preach door-to-door to register with the city, providing their name and address, the name of the group that they represent, the reasons for their canvassing, which homes they intended to visit, and how long they planned to solicit. The vote was eight to one. Chief Justice William Rehnquist was the lone dissenter.
bulletJUN-18: USA: Nickelodeon program to have episode on same-sex couples: The Nickelodeon channel is a U.S.-based children's TV channel broadcasting on a number of satellites worldwide. It is owned by Viacom who also own Paramount and MTV. In addition to regular programming, they also have "Nick News Specials" such as "Terrorism and the American Spirit" and "Faces of hope: The kids of Afghanistan." They plan to air another special that deals with prejudice, discrimination and hatred experienced by children whose families are headed by same-sex parents. According to the Traditional Values Coalition (TVC) Nickelodeon received over 100,000 complaint petitions from the TVC web site. Nickelodeon claims that they received a fraction of this number. Most originators seem to be concerned that by exposing the hatred and discrimination children of same-sex parents experience, the program will promote homosexuality. CNN covered the story during the morning of JUN-18. Their E-mails were running ten to one in favor of the program. It may be worth noting that none of the complaint or supportive letters were by people who have actually viewed the program. 15
bullet2002-JUN-20: USA: U.S. Supreme Court bars execution of mentally retarded murderers: The Court decided that such executions are unconstitutionally cruel. Justice John Paul Stevens wrote the majority report. He stated that mentally retarded individuals should still be tried and punished when they "meet the law's requirements for criminal responsibility. Because of their disabilities in the areas of reasoning, judgment, and control of their impulses, however, they do not act with the level of moral culpability that characterizes the most serious adult criminal conduct." The court voted 6 to 3 in the case of Daryl Atkins who was found guilty of shooting an Air Force enlisted man for beer money in 1996. According to his lawyers, he has an IQ of 59 and has never lived on his own or held a job.

Dianna rust-Tierney, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's capital punishment project said: "The decision is consistent with increased concern about application of the death penalty. It reflects a true consensus that the death penalty should be reserved for the most culpable and a recognition that people with mental retardation do not fit that category." According to one news report: "The high court's most conservative members, all confirmed supporters of capital punishment, filed two overlapping and unusually bitter dissents. They accused the majority of substituting personal views for the law and of relying too heavily on public opinion." 16 Chief Justice William Rehnquist, Justice Antonin Scalia, and Justice Clarence Thomas voted against the ruling.

bullet2002-JUN-26: AK, AZ, CA, Hi, ID, MT, NV, OR and WA: Pledge of Allegiance declared unconstitutional: Michael A. Newdow, an Atheist from Sacramento, CA, was distressed because his daughter in second grade was required to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, thus acknowledging the existence of God. He said: "I'm an American citizen. I don't like my rights infringed upon by my government." He called the Pledge a "religious idea that certain people don't agree with." He initiated a lawsuit, arguing this own case, because he is a lawyer and a physician. It was dismissed by a federal judge. But, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals voted 2 to 1 in his favor. They declared the Pledge to be unconstitutional because of the words "under God" which were added to the Pledge in 1954. They ruled that the phrase implies a government endorsement of religion, in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Judge Alfred T. Goodwin wrote: "A profession that we are a nation 'under God' is identical, for Establishment Clause purposes, to a profession that we are a nation 'under Jesus,' a nation 'under Vishnu,' a nation 'under Zeus,' or a nation 'under no god,' because none of these professions can be neutral with respect to religion." He also wrote that an atheist or a believer of certain non-Judeo-Christian beliefs could view the Pledge as an attempt to "enforce a 'religious orthodoxy' of monotheism." The ruling does not take effect for several months, to allow further appeals. Judge Goodwin wrote that any student who objects is confronted with an "unacceptable choice between participating and protesting...Although students cannot be forced to participate in recitation of the pledge, the school district is nonetheless conveying a message of state endorsement of a religious belief when it requires public school teachers to recite, and lead the recitation of, the current form of the pledge."

Reaction from Fundamentalist Christian groups was swift:
bulletJay Sekulow, of the American Center for Law and Justice said: "This is one of the most absurd legal rulings of our time. To suggest that school children who want to recite the Pledge of Allegiance can no longer do so because it violates the Constitution represents faulty and flawed legal reasoning on the part of the appeals court...This is just another attempt to remove any mention of God from the public arena."
bulletJan LaRue, of Concerned Women for America said: "This is the same court that held that virtual child pornography — which is indistinguishable from real child pornography — is protected by the First Amendment; and now it strikes down the Pledge of Allegiance and calls it unconstitutional. This is a joke!"

Within hours of the release of the ruling, the Senate unanimously passed a resolution in support for the phrase "under God." They asked the appeals court to reverse its ruling. The government has the option of asking the full court to review the decision of the three-judge panel, or of appealing it to the U.S. Supreme Court. 17,18

bullet2002-JUN-27: USA: President Bush signs benefits bill: The President signed a bill into law that would allow death benefits to be paid to the survivors of firefighters, police officers and police chaplains who die in the line of duty. This includes heterosexual and bisexual workers who are married; heterosexual, homosexual and bisexual workers who live together in common-law living arrangements; and gay and lesbian workers who have have civil union status from the state of Vermont. Gay-rights organizations praised the fairness of the bill. Some homosexual partners of workers killed in the terrorist 9-11 attack were denied benefits after their companions died in the bombing, for the sole reason that they were of the wrong gender. Several complaints were voiced by Fundamentalist Christian groups to Bush's action. They oppose this recognition of gay and lesbian relationships as legitimate. Rev. Lou Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition, said that Homosexual groups: "see it as a foot in the door. They see it as an opportunity to take advantage of it and use it further in courts of law where they can say, 'You see, we were treated as if we were married.' " Gary Bauer, president of American Values, said "There's a collapse of the effort to defend traditional values here in Washington. This bill should have never gotten through Congress." 19

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References:

  1. DayWatch is a daily service of Maranatha Christian Journal. It provides "a daily summary of news headlines with a Christian perspective..." The newsletter is free on request. Their web site is at: http://www.mcjonline.com 
  2. ReligionToday™ provides free newsletters to which you can subscribe at: http://www.ReligionToday.com. These summaries are part of GOSHEN.net, which also includes LiveIt.net, Devotionals.net, ChristianShareware.net, ChristianClassifieds.net, ChristianMessageBoards.net, BibleStudyTools.net, MediaManagement.net, WorldNewsToday.net, WebCastGuide.net, and ChristianCollegeGuide.net
  3. Reuters is "the world's leading financial information and news group. Their web page is at: http://www.reuters.com/ 
  4. Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR): E-mail: cair1@ix.netcom.com
    URL: http://www.cair-net.org To join CAIR-NET, CAIR's read-only mailing list: Send subscribe cair-net in the body of a message to majordomo@cair-net.org
  5. EWTN News carries Roman Catholic news from Catholic World News, Vatican Information Service, ZENIT, CWNews.com. See: http://www.ewtn.com/news/ 
  6. Ecumenical News International (ENI) in Geneva Switzerland distributes news free religious news highlights to subscribers. They can be contacted at PO Box 2100, CH - 1211, Geneva 2, Switzerland. Telephone: (41-22) 791 6087/6515. Fax: (41-22) 788 7244 Email: eni@eni.ch. Their web site is at http://www.eni.ch 
  7. ZENIT.org is "an International News Agency based in Rome. Our mission is to provide objective and professional coverage of events, documents and issues emanating from or concerning the Catholic Church for a worldwide audience, especially the media." Their web site is at: http://www.zenit.org/english/ 
  8. Anglican Communion News Service provides information from an Anglican perspective. See: http://www.anglicancommunion.org/acns/index.html A companion Episcopal News Service is at: http://www.ecusa.anglican.org/ens/ 
  9. AANEWS is distributed by American Atheists.
  10. CNSNews.com -- Cybercast News Service -- is a conservative news source. Their home page is at: http://www.cnsnews.com
  11. "Pastor fined $1,000 for preaching the priceless gospel of Jesus Christ. Sentence to be appealed," Wisconsin Christians United Press Release, at: http://www.wcuweb.com/Documents/2002,5-30.htm
  12.  "Jerusalem To Hold Its First Gay Pride March," Agence France-Presse, 2002-JUN-4, at: http://www.arabia.com/afp/.
  13. Islam-Infonet news release, 2002-JUN-11.
  14. James Vicini, "Religious Group May Solicit, Supreme Court Rules," Reuters, at: http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?
  15. Lisa de Moraes, "Conservatives to Nickelodeon: Not in front of the children!," Washington Post, 2002-JUN-7, at: http://www.washingtonpost.com
  16. Anne Gearan, "Executing retarded is barred," Associated Press, 2002-JUN-21.
  17. "Court rules Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional," Associated Press, 2002-JUN-26.
  18. Pete Winn, "Court Declares Pledge Unconstitutional," Focus on the Family, 2002-JUN-26, at: http://www.family.org/cforum/
  19. David Brody, "Bush signs questionable benefits bill," Focus on the Family, 2002-JUN-27, at: http://www.family.org/cforum/

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Copyright © 2002 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2002-JUN-3
Latest update: 2002-JUN-29
Author: B.A. Robinson

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