Columbia, S.C., Jul 8, 2008 (CNA) - The state of South Carolina faces a federal lawsuit seeking to block its plans to issue license plates which feature a bright-yellow Christian cross on a multicolored stained glass window and the words “I Believe.”
The bill permitting the license plates passed the state legislature unanimously, while South Carolina governor Mark Sanford allowed the bill to become law without his signature, CNN reports.
A similar design had been considered in Florida but was rejected because of First Amendment concerns.
"I think it allows people of faith to profess that they believe in a higher calling, they believe in God," said South Carolina Lt. Governor Andre Bauer, who has offered to personally pay a $4,000 deposit required for the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles to begin production of the plates.
The Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, is leading the opposition to the law. He claims Bauer’s involvement “more deeply confirms this is a government-sponsored program.”
"I don't believe that these license plates will ever be on any car in South Carolina, because I think our constitutional claim is so strong," Lynn said, according to CNN.
Individuals can ask the DMV to print plates for other faiths, for a $4,000 fee, but the request is allegedly subject to significant limits and rules not imposed for the Christian plate. Other tags could feature a religious symbol, but no words would be allowed.
"The state has made believers of non-Christian faiths feel that they are second-class citizens," Lynn continued. "Under our Constitution, that's impermissible."
Andre Bauer responded by arguing that the provision of Christian plates was an issue of freedom of speech.
“We're not going to back down," Bauer said, according to CNN. "We're going to fight for a change. I'm tired of seeing Christians back down in fear of a lawsuit."
Los Angeles, Calif., Jul 8, 2008 (CNA) - A police sergeant who has served as an officer for nearly sixteen years has filed suit against the Los Angeles Police Department, alleging he was illegally demoted and repeatedly denied promotions for his off-duty remarks citing Scripture verses critical of homosexual acts.
The lawsuit alleges that the LAPD has “historically discriminated against LAPD officers that engage in protected activity and continues to discriminate against officers that cite from the Holy Bible.”
Sgt. Eric Holyfield, who when off-duty is also a senior pastor at the Gospel Word of Life Apostolic Church, made the remarks on September 29, 2006 during his delivery of a eulogy at the funeral of Officer Nathaniel Warthon Jr. at a private chapel in Whittier, the California Catholic Daily reports. As he eulogized his fellow officer, Holyfield identified himself as a sergeant and Wharton’s supervisor, according to the suit, but was clad in black clergy attire rather than his uniform.
The officer’s family had requested Holyfield, who was on vacation and off-duty at the time, deliver the eulogy.
In the eulogy Holyfield quoted various Scripture passages, including First Corinthians Chapter 6 which reads in the King James Version, “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived, neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminates, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the Kingdom of God.”
Holyfield’s lawsuit, which was filed on June 19 in Los Angeles Superior Court, described the incident, saying “Holyfield quoted those chapters and verses, as well as others as he explained the following general statements, i.e., men should not lie with men; women should not lie with women; to do so was an abomination or sinful; one must repent or be condemned to hell…”
The funeral was not sponsored by the LAPD, but several high-ranking officers attended, including Deputy Chief Charles Beck. The lawsuit alleges that Beck said Holyfield “made disparaging remarks about gays, lesbians and adulterers during his sermon,” which is against LAPD policy. The suit claims Deputy Chief Beck “acted on his religious biases and initiated a formal complaint against Holyfield.”
In early October, 2006, Holyfield received a phone call from his immediate supervisor, Capt. James Craig, while at home on vacation. Craig told Holyfield he had received “a number of complaints concerning you in regard to the funeral. Police officers, community members, clergy people, and as a result, I’m going to have to move you.”
Holyfield was removed from his duties as Officer in Charge of Community Relations, which the lawsuit describes as a “coveted assignment.”
According to Holyfield, he tried to argue that departmental policy did not apply because the statements were in a church outside the city, he was wearing civilian clothes and he was on vacation. He argued that the funeral was not “an extension of the workplace.”
Craig told Holyfield he would be returned to the detective division, allegedly saying, “you need to revert back to detectives or I’ll have to put you in patrol.”
Holyfield claims he has been denied promotions at least nine times because of his religious beliefs.
According to the California Catholic Daily, the suit seeks compensatory and punitive damages, lost wages, attorney’s fees, and a permanent injunction against the LAPD prohibiting similar actions against its officers in the future.
Castelgandolfo, Italy, Jul 8, 2008 (CNA) - On Saturday morning at Castel Gandolfo, the Holy Father received a group of pilgrims from Regensburg, Germany and spoke to them of how singing to God gave him an experience of God as joy.
In brief remarks to group of faithful, the Pope recalled the "marvelous day" in September 2006 when he blessed the new organ - the "Benedikt-Orgel" - in the "Alte Kapelle" of Regensburg, of which his brother, Msgr. Georg Ratzinger, was once director.
"I have an indelible memory", said the Holy Father, "of how - in the harmony of that wonderful organ, of the choir conducted by Mr. Kohlhaufel, and the luminous beauty of the church - we experienced the joy that comes from God. Not just the 'spark of the Gods' of which Schiller speaks, but truly the flame of the Holy Spirit which brought us to feel in our innermost being what we also know from the Gospel of St. John: that He Himself is joy. And this joy was communicated to us."
Benedict XVI spoke of his contentment "that this organ continues to play and so helps people to perceive something of the splendor of our faith; a splendor ignited by the Holy Spirit Himself. Thus the organ has an evangelizing role, in its own way it announces the Gospel."
Vatican City, Jul 8, 2008 (CNA) - Coinciding with Pope Benedict’s upcoming visit to Sydney, the Central Statistical Office of the Church has released statistics on the presence of the Catholic Church in Australia.
The information released shows that 27.56 % (5,704,000) of Australians are Catholic, making Catholicism the largest religion in the country.
The Census also shows that while the Catholic population grew by 125,260 between the 2001 and 2006, it declined slightly as a proportion of the country’s total population.
Serving Catholics are 1,390 parishes, 63 bishops, 3,125 priests, 7,950 religious, 40 lay members of secular institutes and 8,192 catechists. Minor seminarians number 83, and major seminarians 244.
Catholic education also has a presence in the country. A total of 736,288 children and young people participate in 2,252 Catholic schools, from kindergartens to universities.
Other Catholic institutions are also active in Australia including: 58 hospitals, 5 clinics, 407 homes for the elderly or disabled, 164 orphanages and nurseries, 210 family counseling centers and other pro-life centers, 480 centers for education and social rehabilitation, and 24 institutions of other kinds.
Vatican City, Jul 8, 2008 (CNA) - The Church of England voted on Monday evening to move ahead with the ordination of women as bishops. The outcome of the vote prompted the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity to say that the decision is a “break with apostolic tradition” and a “further obstacle” to any efforts at dialogue between the two churches.
Following six hours of heated debate by the General Synod at the University of York, the majority of the bishops, clergy and laity voting blocks cast their ballots in favor of allowing women to be ordained to the episcopate. Bishops voted to approve ordaining women bishops by 28 to 12, clergy assented by 124 to 44 and lay people by 111 to 68.
The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity reacted to the decision, saying, "We have regretfully learned the news of the Church of England vote that paves the way for the introduction of legislation which will lead to the ordaining of women to the episcopacy.”
Listing its objections to the admittance of women, the council said, "The Catholic position on the issue has been clearly expressed by Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II. Such a decision signifies a break with the apostolic tradition maintained by all of the Churches since the first millennium and is, therefore, a further obstacle to reconciliation between the Catholic Church and the Church of England.”
Although the Vatican has maintained an ongoing dialogue with the Church of England, it said that, "This decision will have consequences on the future of dialogue, which had up until now borne fruit, as Cardinal Kasper clearly explained when on June 5, 2006 he spoke to all of the bishops of the Church of England at the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury.”
Other signs of discord were also seen within the Anglican Communion as 1,300 clergy threatened to quit if the church decided to ordain women bishops and several British newspapers reported that some Anglican bishops were in talks with Rome to discuss joining the Catholic Church.
Some aspects of the Anglican’s General Synod vote also irked more traditional members who were calling for the creation of new dioceses for parishes and clergy opposed to women bishops.
Instead of erecting new dioceses, the Synod voted to approve the crafting of a statutory national code of practice to accommodate parishes and clergy who object to women bishops on grounds of conscience.
Guatemala City, Guatemala, Jul 8, 2008 (CNA) - The Archbishop of Guatemala, Cardinal Rodolfo Quezada Toruño, said this week that the Catholic Church is concerned about the outbreak of racism in Europe towards Latin Americans. He also expressed doubts about the new European Union Immigration Directive.
At the conclusion of Mass on Sunday, the cardinal called for reciprocity in the treatment of immigrants to the EU, considering the openness that Europeans who have come to Latin America have found.
The EU’s Immigration Directive was approved on June 18 and would punish illegal immigrants with 18 months imprisonment and would forbid deported illegal immigrants from returning to Europe for five years.
Vatican City, Jul 8, 2008 (CNA) - The president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, said this week that the marathon reading of the Bible in which Pope Benedict XVI will participate in October aims “to reach the hearts and minds of the men and women of today.”
In an article entitled, “To recover the treasure of culture and faith,” the archbishop noted that the “reading of the entire Bible on Italian television is without a doubt a spiritual and cultural event of great importance that will certainly have a notable impact worldwide. It will take place next October 5 and the first reader will be Pope Benedict XVI, who will read the first chapter of Genesis live.”
Archbishop Ravasi pointed to recent polls in various countries that show that there is little knowledge of the Scriptures and that people are not even physically familiar with the book itself. He called this a “spiritual and cultural poverty for which everyone, believers and non-believers, should be responsible.”
The program will begin airing in October to coincide with the opening of the Synodal assembly on the Word of God, he continued, adding that the initiative aims to return focus to the Scriptures as a “sign of hope for today’s world.”
The archbishop said the reading of the Bible will take place at the Basilica of the Holy Cross of Jerusalem and will be broadcast by the RAI network. The more than 1,162 readings will be spread out over 46 episodes lasting three hours each, in fifteen minute segments. A giant screen will be placed outside the Basilica allowing passersby to follow the readings.
Madrid, Spain, Jul 8, 2008 (CNA) - Leopoldo Vives, the director of the Subcommittee on the Family and Life for the Spanish Bishops’ Conference, said this week that country’s government “is playing with the dictionary” by talking about the right to abortion and death with dignity.
“They do not want to say the words ‘economic crisis,’ but at that the same time they insist on saying abortion is a right, when it is a very grave attack against human life,” Vives told Europa Press.
He said that the laws that facilitate abortion or “fast-track” divorce are not the solution. “Society must teach the responsible use of sexuality and provide alternatives to pregnant women, who often do not want to go through the traumatic experience of abortion. For this reason, each abortion is a failure of society,” Vives said.
Likewise, he continued, to talk about death with dignity is to try to “deceive” society. “We all agree that medicine is supposed to cure illnesses and that advances in the relief of pain should be welcomed. This is about putting medicine at the service of life,” he said.
Therefore, “despite the nice talk,” the government “is sending Spanish society on a macabre journey towards the culture of death” by championing abortion and euthanasia, Vives said.
“I would even say that the next thing they will propose is infanticide for children with serious illnesses,” Vives asserted.
Vatican City, Jul 8, 2008 (CNA) - Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the Holy See’s permanent observer to the United Nations in New York, spoke on the current food crisis last week at a meeting of the 2008 Economic and Social Council. The archbishop said that the council must do more than talk about what caused the crisis, and instead take “immediate and effective” action to help those who are starving.
In his English-language talk, the prelate recalled how a recent resolution adopted by the Human Rights Council on the "Right to Food" highlights "the obligation of States, with the assistance of the international community, to make every effort to meet the food needs of their populations through measures which respect human rights and the rule of law."
Archbishop Migliore said that he sees the current food crisis as the result of a series of interlocking problems. “Short-sighted economic, agriculture and energy policies which caused a clash between the increasing demand for food items and the insufficient production of food on the one hand, and the increase in financial speculations on commodities, uncontrollable increase of oil prices and adverse climate conditions on the other."
He further added that, "While today's debate will rightly focus on the structural defects of the world economy and on the causes of the emergency, we must work to ensure that this discussion is accompanied by immediate and effective action. Failure to take action will result in this meeting being merely an exercise in rhetoric and procrastination of our responsibilities."
"At the outset, immediate action must be taken to assist those in immediate danger and suffering from malnutrition and starvation. It is difficult to think that in a world which spends over 1.3 trillion dollars (851 billion euro) per year in armaments, the necessary life-saving funds to address the immediate needs of people are unavailable," said Archbishop Migliore.
Looking at more long-term solutions, the Holy See’s representative said that “the initial economic emergency aid must be accompanied by a concerted effort of all to invest in long-term and sustainable agriculture programs at the local and international levels.
He also mentioned the fast-tracking of agrarian reforms in developing countries that would give small scale farmers “the tools for increasing production in a sustainable manner as well as access to local and global markets."
"My delegation," Archbishop Migliore concluded, "welcomes the recommendations of the recent High-level Conference on World Food Security held in Rome at the FAO. These recommendations offer a practical guide on how to deal with short- and long-term consequences of the food crisis and gives guidance on how to guard against future crises."
Washington D.C., Jul 8, 2008 (CNA) - The Christian Defense Coalition (CDC) has launched a campaign called “Barack Obama: The Abortion President” highlighting what it says is Sen. Barack Obama’s position that taxpayers should fund abortions.
The Christian Defense Coalition claims that last year, according to the Chicago Tribune, Obama said his proposal for expanded access to health insurance would cover “reproductive health services.” An Obama spokesperson contacted afterward said that would include abortions.
The Obama campaign’s web site says the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee “has been a consistent champion of reproductive choice and will make preserving women's rights under Roe v. Wade a priority as President.”
Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney, Director of the Christian Defense Coalition, in a press release criticized Obama’s position, saying, "Senator Obama talks about bringing hope, faith and change to American politics. We now see this is all just political 'doublespeak.' One of his top priorities as President would be protecting abortion rights and even expanding them. If elected, Senator Obama would become 'The Abortion President,' with the most extremist policies on abortion of any President in history.”
"Senator Obama's views on abortion are so radical that he even wants American citizens to pay for them… This is not a candidate who is concerned about social justice, hope and equality,” Mahoney argued.
“Rather, this is candidate who will continue the violence and pain of abortion and refuse to end this tragic war against America's women and children.”
Kaitlin Clare, Program Director at Christian Defense Coalition, told CNA that awareness of Obama’s abortion record is “slim to none” among most people.
She recounted to CNA the reactions she observed to a CDC campaign display at the Creation Christian Music Festival, where about 70,000 people were in attendance. She estimated between 70 and 90 percent of the attendees had no idea of Obama’s abortion position and some even thought he was pro-life.
Ignorance about Obama’s position, she explained, is “a really huge issue.” She suggested this situation was possibly purposefully cultivated by the Obama campaign.
Reaction to the “Barack Obama: the Abortion President” campaign has been mixed, Clare said. “If you’re pro-life everybody is really excited about it,” she said, while those supportive of Obama are “obviously enraged” by the effort.
She related one incident in which a man standing near her shouted obscenities and made obscene gestures while the campaign was being launched on Tuesday in front of Obama’s Washington D.C. office.
Clare said the Christian Defense Coalition would address other issues on which Obama’s stands are questionable, but stated the CDC’s main focus is on his abortion record because “it is such a big deal and because people don’t know anything about it.”
Ottawa, Canada, Jul 8, 2008 (CNA) - Madonna House, an Ontario Catholic organization founded by Servant of God Catherine Doherty, has returned its founder’s Order of Canada medal after the decoration was granted to the abortionist Dr. Henry Morgentaler. The move adds to the controversy over the honoring of Morgentaler, who played a key role in striking down Canadian abortion laws in 1988.
"We carried out a simple, symbolic gesture of returning (Catherine Doherty's) medal and citation to a representative of the governor general at the Princess Gate of Rideau Hall," Susanne Stubbs of Madonna House said on Tuesday.
Rideau Hall is the official residence of Governor General Michaelle Jean, who on July 1 named Morgentaler for the Order of Canada, Canada’s highest civilian honor.
Doherty founded Madonna House in Combermere, Ontario in 1947. According to a Madonna House press release, the community is "dedicated to loving and serving Christ through promises of poverty, chastity and obedience." It offers services ranging from soup kitchens to places of retreat, operating in the U.S. and other countries.
Doherty received the Order of Canada in 1976 and died in 1985. Pope John Paul II later declared her a “Servant of God,” the first step in the canonization process.
Catherine Doherty, a Russian refugee of the October Revolution, was awarded the decoration for, “a lifetime of devoted services to the underprivileged of many nationalities, both in Canada and abroad,” according to the decree granting the award. Stubbs noted that, “For her it was her greatest decoration, surpassing the Medal of St. George she once received from the Czar. The Order of Canada was an immeasurable gift to her. It meant: ‘Canada accepted me.’”
Morgentaler, also is a refugee of persecution, having survived the Holocaust. However, his work was quite different from Doherty’s. After immigrating to Canada, he openly performed illegal abortions before the law was changed. He now runs clinics across Canada and is considered a hero by abortion rights supporters.
In a letter explaining their return of medal, the Directors General of Madonna House explained their decision saying, “Dr. Morgentaler’s work, so enthusiastically listed in his citation, more likely represents the reverse side of an otherwise bright medal. In our view, through his crusade, the dignity of the person is violently transgressed, justice for the most vulnerable is trampled on, the healing arts are compromised, and little faith is shown for the future. Is this really what we want as a nation?”
“Catherine Doherty would not have judged Henry Morgentaler, nor should we. Like all of us, he is a poor person. Has he not been surrounded by death all his life? Yet we have to protest … simply, peacefully, unremittingly and with the tools we have at hand … the serious misdirection our country and many of its leaders, in our view, appear to be taking, as exemplified by the award and glowing citation given him for his misguided work. Catherine Doherty would shout, ‘Wait. Don’t you see where we are going? There is another way. I’ll show it to you.’ With this act of returning the Order of Canada we are choosing to place truth before honours,” the directors wrote.
Stubbs said that Madonna House returned the medal publicly because the awarding of the medal is a very public affair.
“Dr. Morgentaler is a very public and symbolic figure. We were moved in conscience to make a public gesture of disappointment and sadness for our country," she said, according to CTV Ottawa.
According to Stubbs, Madonna House felt it could return the medal because Doherty once told them the award went to all members of the Madonna House community.
The Governor General’s web site said Morgentaler was honored with the Order of Canada for “his commitment to increased health care options for women, his determined efforts to influence Canadian public policy and his leadership in humanist and civil liberties organizations.”
At least one other Order of Canada recipient, Bosco House founder Father Lucien Larre, has returned his medal after the announcement of Morgentaler’s decoration.
San Jose, Calif., Jul 8, 2008 (CNA) - Reaction continues to the decisions of the 218th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA), which took place between June 21 and June 28. The assembly nullified proscriptions against sexual behavior outside of marriage and called for a vote to delete the church’s constitutional standard requiring fidelity in marriage and chastity in singleness. It also initiated a process that could remove mention of the Bible’s prohibition against homosexuality form the Heidelberg Catechism.
The moves are seen by some as an attempt to clear a path for the eventual ordination of practicing homosexuals to the church offices of deacon, elder, or minister.
Further, the assembly authorized the creation of a $2 million legal fund to litigate against churches which seek to transfer to other Reformed denominations while retaining their property.
Amendments to the Heidelberg Catechism and the constitution are not final, but become effective if approved by the 173 regional governing bodies, called presbyteries, of the Presbyterian Church USA.
The Board of Directors of the Presbyterian Lay Committee decried the decision as a “frontal assault on Biblical Christianity,” saying in a July 8 statement that the General Assembly “disregarded historic Reformed standards, undermined its Constitution and failed to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ with its actions.”
“The PCUSA has jettisoned the solid rock of Biblical authority and morals and is now floundering in the sea of cultural relativity. In desperation, it lays claim to the property of congregations that love the Word of God more than denominational loyalty,” the Presbyterian Lay Committee said.
Jim Berkley, Director of the Institute on Religion and Democracy's Presbyterian Action Committee, lamented the decisions, saying in a statement:
"With a handful of rushed votes this morning, this General Assembly has turned its back on God's gracious plan for our lives. It has abandoned scriptural morality. It has caused us to deviate from the belief and practice of the church throughout history and around the world to this day.”
The General Assembly elected as its General Moderator the 39-year-old Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow, pastor of Mission Bay Community Church in San Francisco. As General Moderator, he will represent the denomination and preside over General Assembly business. Rev. Reyes-Chow made known his support for the ordination of homosexuals as ministers, though he has not publicly stated his position on same-sex marriage.
The only public opponent to homosexual ordination and marriage in the moderator's election was the Rev. Bill Teng, a pastor from Heritage Presbyterian Church in Alexandria, Virginia.
Writing in a release prior to the assembly, Rev. Teng voiced his concerns over churches leaving the Presbyterian Church USA: "there needs to be someone who could stand up and remind our church what its primary calling is, and that is to go back to the basics, to put our emphasis on mission and evangelism."
Rev. Teng received 35 percent of the vote on the second ballot, while Rev. Reyes-Chow received 55 percent.
According to the Philadelphia Bulletin, PCUSA lost 46,544 members between 2005 and 2006.