Saturday, December 31, 2011

COMMENTARY: Illinois State Legislature's Charitable Funding Requirement Is Wrong

This week, the Roman Catholic bishops in Illinois decided to shut down Catholic Charities affiliates in the state, because the Illinois state legislature recently passed a law that says adoption and foster-care agencies -- in order to be eligible for state money -- must include same-sex couples as potential foster-care or adoptive parents.

We believe that the Illinois state legislature was wrong to pass such a law, because it usurps the authority of Catholic Charities -- by denying state funding -- to decide itself which parents its adoption and foster-care agencies might recommend.

The fact is that same-sex parents are not recognized by the Catholic Church. Moreover, the Catholic Church considers such a relationship to be a violation of the teachings of Christ, and a serious sin.

The Illinois legislature, then, has overstepped its bounds -- and violated the discretion of Catholic Charities -- by passing such a money-threatening law.

Since the state of Illinois is now losing the services of Catholic Charities -- and perhaps other charitable organizations as well -- it would behoove the Illinois lawmakers to repeal this law for the well-being of Illinois' citizens.

UK Rips Israel's Plan to Build Jerusalem Homes; Says Doing So Is "Counter-Productive to Peace"

The Big News Network website reports today (December 31, 2011) that the British government has condemned Israel's plan to build new homes in Jerusalem.

UK criticism follows a statement by France, which also has been angered by the plans for more settlement units in areas which were taken over by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war.

Alistair Burt -- Britain's Minister for the Middle East and North Africa -- has described Israel's approval of the new construction projects in the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan as "counter-productive to peace efforts."

The first stage of the approval process for three controversial construction projects was passed by Israel on December 28.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Abbot of Greek Monastery Imprisoned in Athens; Ephrem Accused of Multi-Million Euro Land Fraud

The China Daily website reports today (December 30, 2011) that the abbot of a Christian Orthodox monastery at the centuries-old monastic community on Mount Athos in northern Greece was imprisoned on December 28 in Athens, pending trial.

The transfer of Cypriot-born abbot Ephrem to the maximum-security Korydallos prison in Athens triggered reactions by conservative circles in Greece and as far away as Russia. Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia has called on the Greek government to release Abbot Ephrem from prison, and allow him to be free while he is waiting for his trial to begin.

Abbot Ephrem is accused of fraud and embezzlement in a case of controversial swaps of land owned by Vatopedi monastery and the Greek state. Greek authorities claim the state suffered multi-million euro damages from the agreement made with former officials.

The abbot has denied any wrongdoing, but Greek authorities argue they have gathered strong evidence against him and ordered his detention.

One Million People Have Visited NYC's 9/11 Site; Ground Zero Site Has Memorial Plaza, 2 Fountains

More than one million people have visited the September 11 memorial in New York City since it opened four months ago, the Christian Broadcast Network website reports today (December 30, 2011).

The Ground Zero site in lower Manhattan -- which contains the memorial plaza and its two huge fountains -- continues to draw about 10,000 visitors each day.

Visitors are required to get a free pass in advance.

The memorial opened on September 12 this year -- after its dedication on the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Catholic Charities in Ill. Shuts Down Its Services; Won't Abide by Law to Help Same-Sex Couples

The Hot Air website reports today (December 30, 2011) that the Roman Catholic bishops in Illinois have decided to shut down most of the Catholic Charities affiliates in the state, since the Illinois state legislature recently passed a requirement that says adoption and foster-care agencies -- in order to be eligible for state money -- must consider same-sex couples as potential foster-care or adoptive parents.

This is not the first time that Catholic Charities has retaliated against a state or district by cutting its services for passing such a law.

Massachusetts and Washington, D.C. passed similar laws -- resulting in Catholic Charities closing down its services in those locations as well.

The Roman Catholic Church is adamantly opposed to same-sex cohabitation -- and even considers it to be a sin.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Church Built of Ice and Snow Opens in Germany; Structure Bathed in Blue Light Opened Last Night

A church built entirely of ice and snow has opened in Bavaria -- a century after villagers first built a snow church in an act of protest, the Huffington Post website reports today (December 29, 2011).

The church at Mitterfirmiansreut -- near the German-Czech Republic border -- is more than 65 feet in length and boasts a tower. It is made up of some 49,000 cubic feet of snow.

The structure was bathed in blue light as it opened last night with a blessing from Dean Kajetan Steinbeisser.

Steinbeisser said that when the ancestors of today's villagers built the first snow church in 1911, "it was meant as an act of provocation. Believers from the village got together and built a snow church because they didn't have a church here."

Muslims to Boycott NY Mayor's Annual Breakfast; Are Upset That NYC Police Infiltrate Mosques

The National website reports today (December 29, 2011) that several Muslim leaders are boycotting the New York City mayor's annual year-end interfaith breakfast -- scheduled for December 30 -- because they are upset at police department efforts to infiltrate mosques and spy on Muslim neighborhoods.

Michael Bloomberg -- the mayor of New York City -- has defended the police force, saying it does not take religion into account in its policing for possible terrorist activities.

In a letter to Mayor Bloomberg -- which contained the names of several dozen Muslim leaders and organizations -- the imams and activists said they believe such police measures "threaten the rights of all Americans, and deepen mistrust between our communities and law enforcement."

The letter also said, "Mayor Bloomberg, the extent of these civil rights violations is astonishing, yet, instead of calling for accountability and the rule of law, you have thus far defended the NYPD's misconduct."

Billy Graham Is Fourth Most Admired Man in 2011; He Has Finished in Top 10 of Annual List 55 Times

The Christian Post website reports today (December 29, 2011) that a USA Today/Gallup poll -- conducted two weeks ago -- sought to learn who American adults think the most admirable people in the world were in 2011, and evangelist Billy Graham was listed as the fourth most admired man.

Although he has never claimed the number one spot in this annual poll, Graham has finished in the list's top ten more than any other person -- 55 times.

Graham, 93, finished behind three American presidents -- Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton.

Businessmen Warren Buffet and Bill Gates took the fifth and ninth spots, respectively, while religious leaders Pope Benedict XVI and Thomas Monson -- president of the Mormon Church -- took spots eight and ten.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

COMMENTARY: Faithful Need to Glorify Christ More During the Christmas Season

Pope Benedict XVI was "right on the money" when he celebrated the Christmas Eve Mass at St. Peter's Basilica last Saturday evening, and urged the faithful to look beyond the holiday's "superficial glitter" and discover its true meaning.

The fact is that -- for the past several decades -- Christmas has become a "commercial holiday" instead of a religious holiday for most Christians.

Beginning with the Friday after Thanksgiving -- now called Black Friday because of a plethora of huge sales that many stores feature as early as midnight -- many Christians have become obsessed with purchasing merchandise at big savings.

Christians continue to have their minds focused on purchasing gifts for their families and friends until December 24. Christmas parties are also popular during this time.

Throughout this month-long "rat race" for buying gifts, Christians, for the most part, have neglected the most important reason for celebrating Christmas; namely, the Birth of Christ.

Christians need to keep in mind that we celebrate Christmas because of Christ's Birth in Bethlehem on Christmas day, not because it is a day when we exchange gifts.

Indeed, the Christmas season should be a time when Christians pray more, and thank Christ for everything that He has given them. It is also important that Christians attend church services and receive Holy Communion several times during this holy time.

Helping the less fortunate and making additional monetary donations to one's church should also occur during the Christmas season.

All in all, Christians need to spend more time glorifying Christ during the Christmas season -- and less time shopping for gifts -- since Christmas really should focus on the Birth of Christ and the joy that His Birth has brought to all of humanity.

New Testament Handouts at School Anger Mom; ACLU Rep Says Law Forbids School from Doing So

The New American website reports today (December 28, 2011) that a mother in North Carolina complained to her local school district after her son came home with a New Testament, telling her that he got it for free at the school.

Ginger Strivelli -- who considers herself a "pagan" -- was upset that her son's school, North Windy Ridge in Weaverville, appeared to be distributing New Testaments. What made her even more upset was that school officials "were not apologetic" about the New Testament handout.

Jackie Byerly -- the school's principal -- insisted that there was nothing amiss in making copies of Scripture available to students.

But Katy Parker -- legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union's (ACLU) North Carolina franchise -- said that a 1998 federal court decision ruled that religious literature could not be left in elementary school for students to take by choice. Parker said she planned to visit the district to set school officials right on the handout rules.

Monks Clash at Bethlehem Birthplace of Jesus; Greek Orthodox, Armenians Feud over Space

The annual cleaning of one of Christianity's holiest churches deteriorated into a brawl between rival clergy today (December 28, 2011), as dozens of monks -- feuding over sacred space at the Church of the Nativity -- battled each other with brooms until police intervened, according to the Associated Press website.

The ancient church -- built over the traditional site of Jesus' birth in Bethlehem -- is shared by three Christian denominations: Roman Catholics, Greek Orthodox, and Armenians.

Today's fight erupted when Greek and Armenian clergy accused each other of encroaching on parts of the church to which each lays claim.

Palestinian security forces rushed in to break up the melee, and no serious injuries were reported.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Survey: Christianity Is World's Largest Religion; Nearly One-Third of World's Pop. Is Christian

The Zenit website reports today (December 27, 2011) that -- based on the findings of a report published last week by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life -- Christians account for almost a third of the world's population.

The data from the 2010 survey of more than 200 countries found that worldwide, there are 2.18 billion Christians -- nearly a third of the estimated global population at that time of 6.9 billion.

Christians remain the world's largest religious group. Muslims account for a little under a quarter of the world's population.

According to the Pew Report, there are 1.1 billion Roman Catholics worldwide; about 260 million Greek Orthodox Christians worldwide; and about 801 million Protestants worldwide.

Suit in Mass. Bullying Case Settled for $225,000; Phoebe Prince, 15, Killed Herself Due to Bullying

The Cybercast News Service website reports today (December 27, 2011) that a lawsuit brought by the parents of Phoebe Prince -- a 15-year-old Irish immigrant in Massachusetts who committed suicide after relentless bullying -- was settled for $225,000.

The settlement was reached more than a year ago, but the details were not disclosed until today, as a result of a journalist winning a court order for the release of the information.

The document shows that Prince's parents settled claims against the town of South Hadley and its school department for $225,000. In return, the parents agreed to release the plaintiffs from any further claims.

Prince hanged herself in January 2010 after classmates taunted her for dating a popular boy. Five students later accepted plea deals in criminal cases connected with bullying that preceded her death.

Egyptian Court Bans Virginity Tests for Women; Female Detainees Were Forced to Take the Tests

The Daily Beast website reports that an Egyptian court today (December 27, 2011) banned virginity tests for female detainees -- months after a woman arrested last March in a rally on Tahrir Square said detained women were forced to take the examinations.

Samira Ibrahim, 25, took the military-led government to court in August, saying she was forcibly subjected to a virginity test in March.

Although she received several death threats for taking the government to court, Ibrahim said, "I will not give up my rights as a woman or a human being."

Egyptian authorities originally denied issuing the tests, but at least one senior official has admitted the practice exists.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Study: Going to Church Can Lower Blood Pressure; Findings in Norway Compatible with US Research

The Big News Network website reports today (December 26, 2011) that -- based on findings from a new study in Norway -- attending church services helps to lower a person's blood pressure.

"We found that the more often the participants went to church, the lower their blood pressure," Torgeir Sorensen, from the School of Theology and Religious Psychology Center in Norway said.

Previous research in the United States has shown that there is a possible link between people who attend church and lower blood pressure.

"Our findings are almost identical to those previously reported from the United States," Sorensen said.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews and Police Clash in Israel; Radical Jews Want Segregation of Men, Women

The Agence France-Presse (AFP) website reports that clashes erupted today (December 26, 2011) between police and several hundred ultra-Orthodox Jews -- who are campaigning for men and women to be segregated -- in a town near Jerusalem.

Israeli police had increased their patrols in Beit Shemesh following unrest sparked by discrimination against women imposed by a radical branch of the town's Orthodox Jews.

Residents of Beit Shemesh -- a town of about 80,000 people 18 miles west of Jerusalem -- showered police and television crews with eggs and stones, and set fire to refuse bins.

Several placards urging segregation between men and women that had been removed by police were later put back up by the protesters.

Exclusive: Afghan-Taliban Peace Talks to Begin; Afghanistan, Taliban, US to Hold Talks in Qatar

In an exclusive report today (December 26, 2011), the Reuters website states that Afghanistan will accept a Taliban liaison office in Qatar to start peace talks -- but no foreign power can get involved in the process without its consent -- the government's peace council said, in an effort to find a solution to the decade-long Afghanistan war.

Afghanistan's High Peace Council -- in a note to foreign missions -- has set up ground rules for engaging the Taliban, and the U.S. has secretly agreed to open an office in the Qatari capital, Doha.

U.S. officials have held about half a dozen secret meetings with their insurgent contacts, with representatives of Mullah Omar -- leader of the Taliban's Quetta Shura -- this year to prepare the way for face-to-face talks between the group and the Afghan government.

A representative office for the group is considered the starting point for such talks, and Doha has in the past served as a meeting ground for initial contacts.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Pope Slams Commercialism at Christmas Season; Calls on All Christians to Focus on Birth of Christ

Pope Benedict XVI decried the increasing commercialization of Christmas as he celebrated Christmas Eve Mass on Saturday night, urging the faithful to look beyond the holiday's "superficial glitter" to discover its true meaning, the Associated Press website reports today (December 25, 2011).

Benedict, 84, presided over the service in a packed St. Peter's Basilica, kicking off an intense two weeks of Christmas-related public appearances.

In his homily, Benedict lamented that Christmas has become an increasingly commercial celebration that obscures the simplicity of the message of Christ's birth.

"Let us ask the Lord to help us see through the superficial glitter of this season, and to discover behind it the child in the stable in Bethlehem, so as to find true joy and true light," the Pope said.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

COMMENTARY: Northeastern University Must Scrutinize Activities of Its Muslim Chaplain

This week, it was revealed by the Creeping Sharia website that Abdullah Faaruuq -- the Muslim chaplain and spiritual adviser at Northeastern University in Boston -- has been assisting Islamic terrorists in the United States and advocating violence against Americans for years.

Creeping Sharia also indicated that Faaruuq was a key speaker at a fundraiser in Worcester, Massachusetts on December 8, 2011 -- that's right, this month -- for a female terrorist by the name of Arafia Siddiqui, who also goes by her nickname of "Lady al Qaeda."

In his speech, Faaruuq gave high praise to Siddiqui -- a terrorist convicted in 2008 of attempting to kill American soldiers in Afghanistan.

Personally, I find this situation to be extremely sad and painful, since I hold both undergraduate and graduate degrees from Northeastern University, and I have been an avid supporter of Northeastern for more than a half-century. I can remember how several Northeastern presidents -- including Carl Ell, Asa Knowles, and Jack Curry -- worked so diligently and tirelessly, in an effort to make Northeastern the stellar world-renown university that it is today.

Now, Joseph Aoun -- the current president of Northeastern -- needs to take a serious and objective look at Faaruuq's background and activities to ensure that Faaruuq is worthy of the Northeastern position he holds.

Only such an objective and thorough scrutiny must determine whether Faaruuq is terminated or remains as the Muslim chaplain and spiritual adviser at Northeastern.

Exclusive:Islam JROTC Students to Wear Turbans; CAIR Activism Caused DoD to Approve Islam Garb

After intervention by the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Department of Defense (DoD) has decided it will now allow Muslim students participating in the Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps (JROTC) to wear headscarves and turbans while in uniform, the World Net Daily website reports exclusively today (December 24, 2011).

World Net Daily also reported today that the Army's Muslim chaplain program was founded by a terror-supporting convict while the Army's first Islamic chaplain -- who is still serving -- has been associated with a charity widely accused of serving as an al-Qaida front.

CAIR said its activism was responsible for the DoD decision to allow Muslim garb in JROTC.

It is well-known by U.S. intelligence officials that Islamic groups tied to terrorism have been infiltrating the American military during the past few years.

France-Turkey Relations Take Turn for the Worse; Each Nation Accuses Other of Employing Genocide

The New York Times website reports today (December 24, 2011) that -- in a breakdown of France-Turkey diplomatic relations -- Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey accused France yesterday of genocide against Algerians in the period of French colonial rule, just one day after France made it a crime to deny the Armenian genocide by the Ottoman Turks.

"Approximately 15 percent of the population in Algeria have been subjected to a massacre by the French starting from 1945," Erdogan said of the French dominion, which ended in 1962. "This is genocide."

Turkey halted diplomatic consultations and military dealings with France on December 22, after the French Parliament backed the bill, which would impose a fine of about $58,700 and a year in jail for those who deny the Turkish genocide of up to 1.5 million Armenians between 1915 and 1918.

France -- a powerful member of the European Union (EU) -- has played a leading role in blocking Turkey's efforts to join the EU. Greece and Cyprus have also played a significant role in vetoing Turkey's attempts to join the EU, and will continue to do so, until Turkey relinquishes its control of the northern third of Cyprus, which it illegally seized in 1974.

Friday, December 23, 2011

NJ Church Janitor Convicted of Murdering Priest; Janitor Was Fired for Outstanding Arrest Warrant

The Huffington Post website reports today (December 23, 2011) that a former church janitor was convicted yesterday of murdering a New Jersey priest who was stabbed more than 30 times while brewing a cup of coffee in his kitchen, wearing his clerical robes.

Jose Feliciano, 66, of Easton, Pennsylvania didn't deny stabbing the Rev. Edward Hinds to death in the rectory of St. Patrick Roman Catholic Church in Chatham in October 2009.

The prosecution said Feliciano "slaughtered" the priest after Hinds discovered Feliciano had an outstanding arrest warrant in Philadelphia from the 1980s for sexually touching a child, and fired him.

Feliciano argued the priest demanded sex in exchange for keeping quiet about the warrant. He is scheduled to be sentenced in February for his murder conviction.

Pop. of Albania Shrinks Over 7 Percent in Decade; Heavy Emigration, Decrease in Births Are Causes

The Balkan Insight website reports today (December 23, 2011) that -- according to the results of the 2011 census -- the population of Albania is 2,831,741 or 7.7 percent down from what it was 10 years ago.

"Large-scale emigration and fertility decline are the presumed main causes of the observed population decrease," the report released today by the National Institute of Statistics said.

But an estimated 1.4 million Albanians have migrated in the last 20 years, since the country emerged from the communist regime of Enver Hoxha in 1991 and borders opened.

The population of Albania in 2001 -- when the last census was carried out -- was 3,069,275.

Albania is considered to be the poorest country in all of Europe by most experts of Europe's economy.

KY School Stuffs Autistic Boy, 9, into a Duffel Bag; Mother: "Treated Like Trash, Thrown in Hallway"

The Associated Press website reports today (December 23, 2011) that a 9-year-old autistic boy in Kentucky -- who misbehaved at school -- was stuffed into an Army-type duffel bag with the drawstring pulled tightly closed, according to his mother, who said she found him wiggling inside as a teacher's aide stood by.

The mother of fourth-grader Christopher Baker said her son -- upon recognizing her voice -- called out to her when she walked up to him in the bag on December 14.

The case has spurred an online petition calling for the firing of school employees responsible. "He was treated like trash and thrown in the hallway," Christopher's mother, Sandra Baker, said yesterday.

State education officials are investigating the case, which occurred at the Mercer County Intermediate School in Harrodsburg in central Kentucky.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Pope Says Church of Europe Has "Faith Fatigue;" Calls for Faith to Take on New Life, Real Strength

The Catholic Culture website reports that Pope Benedict XVI -- in a year-end address to the leaders of the Roman Curia -- said today (December 22, 2011) that the Church of Europe is facing "a crisis of faith."

Citing Europe's "fatigue" as a main reason for the crisis, the Pope noted that during the past year Europe has suffered through "an economic and financial crisis that is ultimately based on the ethical crisis looming over the Old Continent."

The problem facing the Church, the Pope said, is that "regular churchgoers are growing older all the time and that their number is constantly diminishing; that recruitment of priests is stagnating; that skepticism and unbelief are growing."

The Pope concluded, "If we find no answer to this -- if faith does not take on new life, deep conviction, and real strength from an encounter with Jesus Christ -- then all other reforms will remain ineffective."

Fort Lauderdale Approves Plan to Help Homeless; Allots $25K for One-Way Bus Tickets Out of Town

The Drudge Report website reports today (December 22, 2011) that the city of Fort Lauderdale in Florida has come up with a way to help the homeless who have relatives in other parts of the country willing to take care of them.

On December 20, the city's commission approved a $25,000 program which will buy them one-way bus tickets out of town.

The program won't cost taxpayers any money, because it is being paid for by the Florida Law Enforcement Trust Fund, which is money confiscated from criminals.

Fort Lauderdale Vice Mayor Bobby DuBose was the only commissioner to vote against the program. He felt there were other ways the money could be used to help the homeless.

Northeastern U. Muslim Chaplain Backs Terrorist; Abdullah Faaruuq Raises Funds for Terror Convict

The Creeping Sharia website reports today (December 22, 2011) that Abdullah Faaruuq -- a Muslim spiritual adviser and chaplain at Northeastern University in Boston -- was a key speaker at a fundraiser this month for a criminal female terrorist named Arafia Siddiqui, and nicknamed "Lady al Qaeda."

The fundraiser for Siddiqui was held at the Islamic Center of Worcester, Massachusetts on December 8, with the stated goal of raising $30,000 to assist this female terrorist convicted in 2008 of attempting to kill American soldiers in Afghanistan.

Abdullah gave Siddiqui high praise at the fundraiser, saying, "It is sad that we're trying to raise $30,000 tonight. I would say it's better that we've raised your awareness and raised your ire, as your anger against a government who would level the charges that they have against this woman, and they say she is guilty. I would say she's only guilty of defending herself."

The Creeping Sharia website also reports today that Abdullah -- an imam at Boston's Mosque for the Praising of Allah, in addition to his Northeastern University positions -- has been advocating violence against Americans for years.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Lesbians Share "First Kiss" on Navy Ship's Return; Is First Time Navy Chose Same-Sex Couple to Kiss

A Navy tradition caught up with the repeal of the U.S. military's "don't ask, don't tell" rule today (December 21, 2011) when two women sailors became the first to share the coveted "first kiss" on the pier after one of them returned from 80 days at sea, the Huffington Post website reports.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Marissa Gaeta of Placerville, California descended from the USS Oak Hill amphibious landing ship at Virginia Beach, Virginia, and shared a kiss in the rain with her lesbian partner, Petty Officer 3rd Class Citlalic Snell of Los Angeles.

Gaeta, 23, wore her Navy dress uniform, while Snell, 22, wore a black leather jacket, scarf, and blue jeans. The crowd screamed and waved flags around them.

Navy officials said it was the first time on record that a same-sex couple was chosen to kiss first upon a ship's return.

COMMENTARY: "Saturday Night Live" Show Is Irresponsible for Its Jesus Mockery

Televangelist Pat Robertson this week blasted the "Saturday Night Live" (SNL) skit on Tim Tebow -- the quarterback of the Denver Broncos who prays during football games he plays -- because the SNL skit depicts Jesus in the Broncos' locker room telling Tebow to ease up on the Jesus stuff.

"There's an anti-Christian bigotry that is just disgusting," Robertson said on the Christian Broadcast Network, regarding the TV comedy show last Saturday night.

Robertson went on to praise Tebow for his public display of faith, saying, "This man has been placed in a unique position and I applaud him. God bless him."

Indeed, the producers of the SNL show have conveyed that they lack good taste and decent ethical standards by making a mockery of Christianity.

While we believe in religious freedom -- as well as freedom of speech and expression -- we also believe that the TV networks have a responsibility to draw the line in their negative depiction of Christ.

The TV networks must not allow a show to be aired that makes a mockery of Christ, because doing so shows a lack of respect for Christianity -- the primary religion of the United States. Christ and Christianity, then, must be considered "off limits" with respect to being used as a mockery on TV comedic shows.

The TV networks have this responsibility vis-a-vis the American people -- and even more important, for the utmost respect that they must show for Christ.

K of C Poll: Americans Prefer "Merry Christmas;" More Than Double Prefer It to "Happy Holidays"

A Knights of Columbus (K of C) poll conducted last month shows that Americans still prefer the traditional "Merry Christmas" greeting, as opposed to the phrase "Happy Holidays," the Christian Post website reports today (December 21, 2011).

Sixty-four percent of adults believe people should say "Merry Christmas," while 31 percent believe that the appropriate greeting should be "Happy Holidays," according to the poll.

"That we prefer 'Merry Christmas' by such a wide margin is indicative of the importance that Christmas has in the lives of the great majority of Americans," said Knights of Columbus Supreme Knight Carl Anderson.

The Knights of Columbus is the world's largest Catholic fraternal service organization.

Pat Robertson Is Not Laughing at SNL Tebow Skit; Says It's "Anti-Christian Bigotry That Is Disgusting"

The Los Angeles Times website reports today (December 21, 2011) that popular televangelist Pat Robertson is not laughing over a "Saturday Night Live" skit on Tim Tebow -- the quarterback of the Denver Broncos.

The skit -- which has racked up millions of online views since it aired on NBC last Saturday night -- depicts Jesus appearing inside the Denver Broncos' locker room via a cloud and a heavenly shaft of light. He tells Tebow to ease up on all the Jesus stuff.

Robertson ripped into the skit during an appearance on the Christian Broadcast Network, attributing it to a wave of "anti-Christian bigotry that is just disgusting."

For non-sports readers of Theology and Society, Broncos' quarterback Tebow bends down on one knee during football games, and gives Jesus credit for his performance at every opportunity.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Jesse Jackson Greets Occupy London Protesters; "You Represent Jesus Standing Outside Temple"

The Christian Today (British) website reports that American civil rights campaigner Jesse Jackson delivered a message of encouragement to Occupy London protesters this week.

The 70-year-old former aide to Martin Luther King told protesters camped outside St. Paul's Cathedral to "stand up and fight back."

He drew cheers from the 200-strong crowd when he suggested that Jesus would have appreciated their cause. "You represent Jesus standing outside the temple," said the church minister.

Jackson added, "Jesus was an Occupier, born under a death warrant, a Jew by religion, born in poverty under Roman occupation."

New Study Finds Teens Smoking More Marijuana; It Also Finds Teens Using Less Alcohol, Cigarettes

The National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) released the results of it 2011 survey of teen drug use, and the findings indicate that teens are smoking more marijuana, but using less alcohol and cigarettes, the Alter Net website reports today (December 20, 2011).

Teens are smoking more weed today because they do not perceive it to be as harmful as did teens in the past.

Indeed, marijuana is less harmful than alcohol and cigarettes, according to NIDA.

The NIDA study found that about 25 percent of teens surveyed said they tried marijuana at least once last year -- a statistically significant rise of about 4 percent since 2007. Additionally, 6.6 percent of 12th graders admitted to smoking weed daily.

New Study Finds 1.6M Children in US Homeless; Live in Cars, Shelters, Abandoned Bldgs, Parks

The Raw Story website reports today (December 20, 2011) that at least 1.6 million children in the United States -- or one in 45 kids -- were homeless last year, living in cars, shelters, abandoned buildings, and parks, according to a study released yesterday.

With youth homelessness still surging amid tough economic times, the National Center on Family Homelessness called its study a "call to action for all of us to address child homelessness before we lose another generation."

Of the children affected, 42 percent were under the age of six, and a third were living with single mothers, the study found.

It also said homeless children were more likely than others to suffer from hunger, school problems, stress, and illness.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Two Muslims Forced Off Plane Sue Delta Air Lines; Say Pilot Felt They'd Make Others Uncomfortable

Two Muslim men -- who were forced off an airplane last May -- are suing Delta Air Lines Inc. and a regional carrier that operated the flight from Memphis, Tennessee to Charlotte, North Carolina, according to the Associated Press website.

The suit was filed today (December 19, 2011) in federal court against Delta and Atlantic Southeast Airlines Inc.

The suit claims that the pilot wanted Masudur Rahman and Mohamed Zaghloul off the plane because he thought their presence would make other passengers uncomfortable. The men are described in the suit as having beards and "traditional Arab clothing."

The two were traveling to a conference on anti-Muslim discrimination.

High School Punishes Student for His Rel. Beliefs; Federal Lawsuit Filed on Behalf of Mich. Student

The One News Now website reports today (December 19, 2011) that a federal lawsuit has been filed on behalf of a Michigan public school student who was punished for telling his teacher he opposes homosexuality.

When his high school economics teacher -- a homosexual activist -- asked Daniel Glowacki, a junior, about his feelings on homosexuality, the student responded that as a Catholic, he is offended by the lifestyle.

Glowacki was then threatened with suspension and ordered to leave the classroom.

The Thomas More law firm is suing the teacher, Johnson McDowell, and the Howell Public School District because the school is supporting whatever agenda homosexual activists have.

Congress Funds Rel. Freedom Comm. Thru 2018; Commission Is Watchdog of Rel. Liberty Abusers

The California Catholic website reports today (December 19, 2011) that a U.S. federal commission -- whose primary function is to support religious freedom around the world -- has been reauthorized by Congress through 2018, just hours before it was scheduled to go out of existence.

In a statement after the U.S. House vote on December 16, Rep. Frank Wolf, R-VA, described the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom as "a beacon of hope" for those whose religious liberty is under attack.

The commission's funding was set to expire at 5 p.m. on December 16.

The commission advises the president, Congress, and the State Department on the status of religious freedom. It also presents an annual report on religious liberty abusers, and recommends that countries that severely violate religious freedom be designated as "countries of particular concern," sometimes referred to as "the international hall of shame."

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Vatican Lights St. Peter's Square Christmas Tree; Ukrainian Orthodox, UGCC Bishops Lead Ritual

The Orthodox Church Info blog reports today (December 18, 2011) that the Vatican on December 16 lit its traditional St. Peter's Square Christmas tree, which came as a gift from Ukraine this year.

The lighting ceremony was presided over by a delegation of bishops from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC).

Pope Benedict XVI described Ukraine -- whose predominant religion is Greek Orthodox Christianity -- as having been "for centuries at the crossroads of different cultures, a meeting point for the spiritual richness of East and West."

The Great Schism of 1054 split Christianity into Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox divisions. Although the Christian split has existed for nearly a thousand years, a harmonious relationship and serious dialogue have prevailed between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches in recent years -- and this rapprochement may well result in re-establishing Christian unity in the near future.

Palestinian Flag Is Raised at UNESCO Building; Was Symbolic Ceremony to Mark Palestine's Entry

The France 24 website reports today (December 18, 2011) that the Palestinian flag was raised for the first time on December 13 above a UN agency -- the UNESCO headquarters in Paris -- in a diplomatic victory won by Palestinians despite stiff resistance from the United States and Israel.

Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas looked on as the flag was raised and the Palestinian anthem was played.

UNESCO said the flag-raising was a symbolic ceremony "to mark Palestine's admission to the organization" that occurs each time a new member joins.

The Palestinians were admitted to the body in late October, when the UNESCO general assembly voted 107-14 to make Palestine its 195th member.

Chinese Police Shut Down Christmas Celebration; Push, Punch Worshipers,Turn Over Piano on Stage

The Christian Broadcast Network website reports today (December 18, 2011) that Chinese police in the village of Xintan broke up a public Christmas celebration before it even started.

The Xintan Village Church said it had permission to hold an outdoor event on the village square.

Church members said the police officers rushed the stage, wrecked a mixing console, turned over an electric piano, and pushed and punched worshipers amid the Christmas decorations, injuring five believers.

A Chinese religious affairs official said an outdoor event of religious nature is strictly banned from being organized.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

COMMENTARY: Turkey's Erdogan Needs to Stop Threatening Nations

Recep Tayyip Erdogan -- prime minister of Turkey -- blasted France today for supporting a bill that would make it a crime to deny the World War I-era killings of some 1.5 million Armenians by Turks was genocide.

Erdogan emphasized that Turkey would retaliate against France "through all kinds of diplomatic means."

Turkish leaders have refused to accept the historical fact that Turkey committed genocide against Armenians, but instead attribute the 1.5 million deaths to a "civil war."

Turkey's diplomatic threats against France will have little if any effect on French President Nicolas Sarkozy whose country -- along with Greece and Cyprus -- has helped to prevent Turkey from being admitted to the European Union (EU).

This is not the first time that Erdogan has threatened a nation with retaliation because of its belief of Turkish genocide. About a year ago, a U.S. congressional subcommittee voted in favor of recognizing Turkey's World War I genocide against Armenians.

Unfortunately, the full U.S. House of Representatives never had a chance to vote on this measure, because of pressure used by the Obama administration that prevented the House subcommittee from forwarding it to the House of Representatives, thus causing the measure to die.

Indeed, this is a sad scenario for America's democracy, because it illustrates par excellence how the United States was intimidated by Turkey to prevent the democratic process from moving forward in our country. It also implies that the Obama administration views the security of U.S. military bases in Turkey as being more important than maintaining America's democracy.

Erdogan also ended Turkey's diplomatic relations with Sweden last year, after the Swedish government agreed to recognize Turkey's Armenian genocide.

Earlier this year, Erdogan also ended Turkey's diplomatic relations with Israel, because Israel refused to apologize for attacking a Turkish flotilla in Israeli sea waters.

Erdogan's diplomatic and other threats against nations -- because they disagree with his own beliefs -- reminds us of our childhood days when our sand-lot baseball teams used to get into arguments over close plays. "Let the babies have their bottles" was the expression we often used to end these baseball quarrels.

Based on his persistent threats to nations who do not view situations the same way he sees them, Erdogan has conveyed that he has not yet reached maturity, but remains "a baby who wants to be given his bottle."

It's time for Erdogan to grow up and stop his childish threats to nations around the world.

Kim Kardashian Is Most Ill-Mannered of 2011; Kate Middleton Named Best-Mannered by NLJC

The Daily Mail (British) website reports today (December 17, 2011) that the creme de la creme of Southern belles have decided that Kim Kardashian has neither class nor breeding.

The National League of Junior Cotillions (NLJC) have dubbed Kardashian, 31, the "Most Ill-Mannered Person of 2011." She tops their annual list "for making a private matter public and disrespecting the institution of marriage."

NLJC National Director Elizabeth Anne Winters said, "The annual selections are based on the demonstration of dignity, honor, and respect."

On the other hand, Kate Middleton -- the Duchess of Cambridge who married Prince William of England last April -- has been named by the NLJC as the Best-Mannered Person of 2011 "for the poise and dignity with which she conducts herself in the public spotlight."

Ten Killed, 300 Wounded in New Egypt Protests; Activists See Ruling Generals Being Too Dictatorial

The Washington Post website reports today (December 17, 2011) that military police attempted to break up a protesters' camp in central Cairo yesterday, setting off violent clashes that left at least ten people dead and some 300 injured.

Observers feared that the latest move against protesters could undercut voting in the final round of lower house elections -- the first poll since President Hosni Mubarak's ouster in February.

The current Cairo clashes -- which began before dawn yesterday and were still raging this afternoon -- involved protesters throwing firebombs and igniting blazes, while police fired live ammunition into the crowds.

The initial popularity of Egypt's ruling generals has declined significantly in the past 11 months, with activists accusing them of failing to reform government institutions and slowing the transition of civilian rule.

Turkey Slams France for Supporting Genocide Bill; Bill to Make Denial of Armenian Massacre a Crime

The Associated Press website reports that Recep Tayyip Erdogan -- prime minister of Turkey -- today (December 17, 2011) strongly criticized France for supporting a bill that would make it a crime to deny the World War I-era mass killings of Armenians by Turks was genocide.

Saying France should investigate its own "dirty and bloody history" in Algeria and Rwanda, Erdogan insisted that Turkey would retaliate against France "through all kinds of diplomatic means."

Historians estimate that some 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks as the Ottoman Empire was collapsing -- an event many international experts regard as genocide, and that France recognized as such in 2001. Turkish leaders reject the term genocide, and claim that the Armenians killed were victims of a civil war.

On December 22, the French Parliament will debate a proposal that would make denying the Armenian massacre was genocide punishable by up to a year in prison and 45,000 euros ($58,500) in fines, putting it on par with the Holocaust denial.

Friday, December 16, 2011

SEC:Father,Son Used Mormonism in $220M Plot; Raised Money from Investors for Their Own Usage

The Forbes website reports today (December 16, 2011) that two members of the (Mormon) Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints have been charged by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) with securities fraud.

The SEC says a father and his son solicited investors -- by using their membership in the Church of Jesus Christ Latter-Day Saints -- to make connections and win over the trust of prospective investors in a Ponzi scheme.

Since at least 2008, Wendell Jacobson and his son Allen Jacobson have raised $220 million from investors who thought they were investing in apartment communities. Instead, the money was transferred to various accounts, and then used to pay for other expenses the father and son had, the SEC said.

After filing its complaint today in federal court in Salt Lake City, Utah, the SEC obtained an emergency court order freezing the assets of the Jacobsons and their companies.

Fired Church Secretary Sues Former Employer; Says Church Fired Her for Marrying a Black Man

The Huffington Post website reports today (December 16, 2011) that Debra Dodd -- former secretary at the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Fayetteville, Tennessee -- is suing her former employer, arguing that she was fired for marrying a black man.

Dodd has filed a lawsuit for back wages and $500,000 in punitive damages against the church, after she was fired for what she says is racial discrimination.

Dodd said the all-white church first embraced her during her two years as secretary -- and then fired her last May after they learned she had married a black man in April.

Rev. Tim Smith -- pastor of the church -- said Dodd's marriage is unrelated to her firing, but also said his lawyer has directed him not to discuss particulars.

Obama Tells Reform Jews of His Support of Israel; Says No Other Admin.Helped Israel as Much as His

President Barack Obama told a gathering of Reform Jews today (December 16, 2011) that his record of support for Israel has been "unprecedented," the Jewish Telegraphic Agency website reports.

"No U.S. administration has done more in support of Israel's security than ours -- none," he said in an address this afternoon to more than 5,000 people at the biennial conference of the Union of Reform Judaism.

Obama listed areas of close U.S.-Israeli cooperation, including missile defense and Iran sanctions.

However, the Republican National Committee published data in today's issue of the conservative Human Events magazine, showing Obama to be vulnerable to losses among Jewish voters in key states -- including Florida -- in next year's presidential election.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Report: Half of US Schools Fail Federal Standards; Largest Failure Rate in NCLB Law's 10-Yr. History

The Associated Press website reports that nearly half of America's public schools did not meet federal achievement standards this year -- making it the largest failure rate since the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Law took effect a decade ago, according to a national report released today (December 15, 2011).

The Center on Education Policy report shows more than 43,000 schools -- or 48 percent -- did not make "adequate yearly progress" this year. The failure rates range from a low of 11 percent in Wisconsin to a high of 89 percent in Florida.

The findings are far from below the 82 percent failure rate that Education Secretary Arne Duncan predicted earlier this year, but still indicate an alarming trend that Duncan hopes to address by granting states relief from the federal law.

The law requires all states to have every student performing at grade level in math and reading by 2014 -- a goal most educators say is impossible to achieve.

Atheists Sue Kentucky Over Anti-Terrorism Bill; Bill Says Citizens Need God's Help Re Terrorism

The Fox News Insider website reports today (December 15, 2011) that a group of atheists is suing the state of Kentucky over an anti-terrorism bill that declares that Kentucky citizens need God's help and protection from a terror attack.

In addition to enforcing the bill, state law demands the Department of Homeland Security displays this proclamation prominently: "The safety and security of the commonwealth cannot be achieved apart from reliance upon Almighty God."

Edwin Kagin -- an atheist who is suing Kentucky -- said this law could negatively impact the future of the United States. "A law such as this is a step toward establishing a theocracy in our state," Kagan said.

On the other hand, Tom Riner -- a Kentucky State Representative -- fully supports the law. He said, "Safety and security of the state cannot be achieved apart from recognizing our dependence upon God."

Census: Half of Americans Poor or Low Income; Confirms Notion US Middle Class Is Disappearing

The Slate website reports today (December 15, 2011) that new census data gives confirmation to the notion of a disappearing middle class in the United States: Nearly one in two Americans are now officially either low income or impoverished, the Associated Press (AP) reports.

The AP explains that 97.3 million Americans are "low income," which means earning at or just over the poverty line.

Added to the 49.1 million Americans living in poverty, that's 146.4 million, or about 48 percent of the U.S. population.

The "low income" cutoff for a family of four is $45,000, a number more and more middle-class Americans are dipping to -- and staying -- below.

Vermont Entrepreneur Develops Creative Toasters; Sells Toasters with Images of Jesus, Virgin Mary

The Cable News Network website reports today (December 15, 2011) that -- this holiday season -- a Vermont entrepreneur is capitalizing on a toaster that imprints images of Jesus Christ.

Galen Dively is selling the Jesus Toaster for $31.95.

Dively's company -- called Burnt Impressions (pun obviously intended) -- also sells toasters that imprint images of the Virgin Mary, peace signs, and pot leaves among others.

Dively said that right now he is selling 50 to 100 Jesus Toasters every day.

What do you think? Good fun? Sacrilegious? Please feel free to comment below on this unique enterprise.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

COMMENTARY: Time for Hispanics to Adapt to America's Public Schools

This week, the Huffington Post website revealed that elementary school students at the Alicante School in Lamont School District in California -- which is 97 percent Hispanic -- recite the Pledge of Allegiance in English and in Spanish every school day.

In fact, this has been the case at the school since 2002, although some parents and teachers are not happy about it.

The school principal justifies the Spanish recitation of the Pledge by saying it is an important way to include "all cultures."

One of the teachers at the school said teachers never had a chance to vote for -- or even discuss -- the idea of having the students recite the Pledge in Spanish.

The assistant superintendent of the Lamont School District told a California television channel recently that he was unaware of any concerns of teachers and parents with respect to the Pledge being recited in Spanish.

Nonetheless, some teachers and parents are opposed to having the Pledge recited in Spanish every day. The feeling is that this is America, and immigrants need to be proud to be living the American way of life; consequently, they need to adapt to American culture and to America's English language.

All of the other ethnic groups that came to America (mostly in the 20th century) -- French, Italian , Greek, Polish, etc. -- had to learn English in the public schools, without teaching or favoritism of their native languages.

If parents of these ethnic groups wanted their children to learn their native languages, they sent them to parochial or church schools instead of public schools. The same should be the case today with Hispanic children.

Indeed, Hispanic students are not entitled to preferential school treatment that other ethnic students have been and are still denied. Such preferential treatment can even be considered a violation of the U.S. Constitution and its equal protection of the laws clause.

In America, we are all Americans, and English -- not Spanish -- is our primary language of communication. Hispanics who have a problem with this American tradition should feel free to return to their native Hispanic homeland, where they can speak and learn Spanish whenever they want.

Desperate British Students Turn to Prostitution; Many Women Work in Sex Due to Govt. Fin. Cuts

The Reuters website reports today (December 14, 2011) that desperate British students -- faced with rising costs on the back of government austerity measures -- are often turning to prostitution and other sexual pursuits to fund their studies.

The English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP) -- a welfare body for sex workers -- said it estimated the number of people approaching it for help had doubled in the last year, as students have been struggling to make ends meet.

Sarah Walker -- spokeswoman for the ECP -- told Reuters, "The way that women survive poverty is often through sex work. The government knows that and it doesn't seem to care, frankly."

Estelle Hart -- national women's officer for the National Union of Students (NUS) -- said a recent study by Leeds University in northern England revealed that 25 percent of strippers and lap dancers in Britain were women college students.

Percentage of Married Couples Hits Record Low; Only 51 Percent of American Adults Now Married

The Slate website reports that the percentage of married Americans has fallen to a record low -- thus reflecting an evolving shift in attitudes about the role of marriage in society -- according to a new census analysis released today (December 14, 2011) by the Pew Research Center.

Today's report shows that married couples are on the brink of becoming the minority, with only 51 percent of American adults currently married. That figure is down from 57 percent in the year 2000.

A 2010 Pew survey found that more than 40 percent of adults under 30 considered the institution of marriage to be outdated.

Pew also found in its survey released today that college graduates are much more likely to get married. Over two-thirds of college graduates are married, while less than half of adults without a college degree are wed.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Govt. of Canada Bars Veils at Citizenship Rites; Says Doing So Lets Everyone Share in Ceremony

The Reuters website reports today (December 13, 2011) that the government of Canada said yesterday it would bar all women wearing face coverings from taking part in citizenship ceremonies.

"Requiring that all candidates show their faces while reciting the oath allows judges and everyone present to share in the ceremony," Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said.

Kenney's announcement will affect women wearing the niqab -- a face veil with an eye opening -- as well as the burqa, which has a full face covering with a mesh area to allow vision.

The move could trigger a court challenge for those who say the restriction violates freedom of religion provisions under Canada's constitution.

Pledge of Allegiance Recited in Spanish in Calif.; Principal Says It's a Way to Include All Cultures

The Huffington Post website reports today (December 13, 2011) that elementary school students in California's Lamont School District recite the Pledge of Allegiance every day -- in Spanish.

For the city -- which is 97 percent Hispanic -- doing so has been a tradition since 2002, but not everyone has been happy about it.

"One of the issues with it being in Spanish is that not everyone got a chance to voice their opinion doing it that way," said teacher Barry Champagne. He added, "Every time it was brought up for discussion, it was set aside and we never got a chance to vote on it or even discuss it any further."

Fred Molina -- principal of Alicante School -- said it's an important way to include all cultures.

Congress Given Lowest Rating in Gallup History; Americans Rate Members' Ethics Low, Very Low

A record 64 percent of American adults -- surveyed by Gallup in a poll released yesterday (December 12, 2011) -- rated the honesty and ethical standards for members of Congress as "low" or "very low." Those numbers mark the lowest rating that Gallup has measured for any profession since it began polling the question in 1976, according to the Yahoo website.

The 64 percent rating ties members of Congress with the 64 percent low rating that lobbyists received in Gallup's 2008 survey.

The low ethics rating is in line with the overall low regard the American public has for its lawmakers.

Members of Congress, lobbyists, car salespeople, and telemarketers round out the bottom tier of professions ranked by public perceptions of their ethics in the Gallup survey. Professions earning high ethics marks in the poll were nurses, pharmacists, medical doctors, and high school teachers.

The November 28 to December 1, 2011 poll of adults had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Ukraine Harmonizes Various Rel. Denominations; Orthodox, UGCC, Catholics, Protestants Coexist

The Religious Information Service of Ukraine website reports today (December 12, 2011) that the National Sociological Survey of the population of Ukraine -- conducted from November 22 to December 6, 2011 -- indicates that the most popular religious denomination in Ukraine is the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kiev Patriarchate (UOC-KP).

In answering the question about their religion, 23.1 percent of respondents identified themselves as non-religious; 31.1 percent called themselves faithful to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kiev Patriarchate; and 25.9 percent faithful to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate.

Another 8.5 percent of respondents identified themselves as part of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC); 1.7 percent as faithful to the Roman Catholic Church; 1 percent as Protestants; and 0.2 percent as Muslims.

For the survey, 2,012 adult respondents were questioned. Statistical error is within 2.2 percent.

Gingrich Takes His Fourth "No-Adultery Pledge;" Past Marriages Ended in Divorce Due to His Affairs

The Ticket website reports today (December 12, 2011) that Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has signed a pledge to uphold conservative values of the Iowa-based group The Family Leader, and vowed to restrict federal dollars from paying for abortion overseas, uphold the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and stay true to his wife, Callista.

"I also pledge to uphold the institution of marriage through personal fidelity to my spouse and respect for the material bonds of others," Gingrich wrote in a letter to The Family Leader.

Gingrich -- whose first two marriages ended in divorce because he was having love affairs -- said he has sought forgiveness for his mistakes. Last week, he made his fourth "no-adultery pledge."

"In my case, I said up front openly, I've made mistakes at times. I've had to go to God for forgiveness. I've had to seek reconciliation," Gingrich said.

Saudi Arabia Beheads Woman Practicing Sorcery; Claimed She Could Heal Illness Using Witchcraft

The Daily Beast website reports that Saudi Arabia executed a woman today (December 12, 2011) for practicing magic and sorcery, which is banned in the ultra-conservative kingdom.

Amina bin Abdulhalim Nassar was beheaded, according to the Saudi interior ministry.

She was convicted for claiming she could treat people's illnesses using witchcraft.

Saudi Arabia has beheaded 73 people this year.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Penn. Priest Is Arrested for Viewing Child Porn; Rev. Bartley Sorensen Is Held in Allegheny Jail

The Reuters website reports today (December 11, 2011) that a Roman Catholic priest has been arrested on charges he viewed child pornography on a computer in the rectory of his Pittsburgh-area church.

The Rev. Bartley Sorensen -- pastor of St. John Fisher Church in Churchill, Pennsylvania -- was arraigned on charges of possession of child pornography, according to the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

Sorensen, 62, was being held today in the Allegheny County Jail in lieu of a $100,000 bond.

Child abuse and sexual impropriety against Catholic clergy in the United States have rocked the Catholic Church since 2002, and the church has paid out some $2 billion in settlements to abuse victims.

Iran's Revolutionary Guards Placed on War Alert; Iran Believes US or Israeli Attack Is Imminent

The Newsmax website reports today (December 11, 2011) that Iran's Revolutionary Guards have been placed on a war alert amid signs that the United States and its allies are taking action to cripple the country's nuclear weapons development.

Ayatollah Khamenei -- Iran's spiritual leader -- ordered the heads of the nation's military, intelligence, and security organization to "take all necessary measures to protect the regime."

An explosion at a Revolutionary Guard Corps base in Iran on November 12 leveled buildings and killed 17 people. Iranian officials called the explosion an accident.

"However, many former U.S. intelligence officials believe the explosion was part of a covert effort by the U.S., Israel, and other nations to disable Iran's nuclear and missile programs," the Los Angeles Times reported.

Dublin Abp.:Lapsed Catholics Can Leave Church; Says Church Does Not Need "Cafeteria Catholics"

The Irish Central website reports today (December 11, 2011) that the Archbishop of Dublin is telling lapsed Catholics to leave the church.

As rising numbers of Catholics only show up at church for sacraments -- such as baptism and marriage -- Archbishop Diarmuid Martin is urging non-believers to have the maturity to walk away.

In the new documentary, "Would You Believe," priests reveal they will expect a firmer commitment from church-goers.

The church believes that "cafeteria Catholics" -- that is, those who pick and choose which Catholic rituals they will follow -- are not religious enough, and the church will be getting stricter with requirements for parents who want their children baptized Catholic.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

COMMENTARY: Yeshiva University's Newspaper Should Not Have Published Controversial Essay

An editor of Yeshiva University's student newspaper, "The Beacon," was forced to resign this week because she authorized the publication of an essay about a woman having premarital sex with a man in a hotel room, and the regret she felt afterward.

The essay fueled a controversy at Yeshiva, mainly because it is an Orthodox Jewish-oriented university. For a better understanding of the reasons for this controversy, a brief overview of Judaism may be helpful.

Most Jews view Judaism as being divided into three major branches: Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox. Reform Jews are considered the most liberal Jews; Orthodox Jews are considered the most traditional Jews, as they tend to strictly adhere to the Torah or Old Testament of Judaism par excellence; and Conservative Jews tend to fall in-between Reform and Orthodox Jews, as they are not as strict as Orthodox Jews, but are also not as liberal as Reform Jews.

Yeshiva is a university that is inspired by Orthodox Judaism; therefore, an essay relating to premarital sex in the student newspaper is considered to be highly offensive by most of its students.

On the other hand, students at Brandeis University -- another Jewish-oriented university located in Waltham, Massachusetts -- would not have been offended, if that same essay appeared in "The Justice," the student newspaper at Brandeis. Why the difference? Because Brandeis is primarily comprised of Reform Jews, who are much more liberal than Orthodox Jews.

That said, we must agree that the controversial essay published in "The Beacon" at Yeshiva University should not have been published.

One of Yeshiva's major goals is to maintain the high moral traditional Orthodox Judaic commandments, as it instills its values on its students. Indeed, an essay on premarital sex -- and its ramifications -- in Yeshiva's student newspaper is in direct contradiction of the university's Orthodox Judaic values.

Gingrich's Rude Statement Fuels Mideast Conflict; Calls Palestinians "Invented People" to Raze Israel

The Reuters website reports today (December 10, 2011) that Palestinian leaders believe Newt Gingrich -- Republican candidate for U.S. President -- has instigated more conflict in the Middle East by calling Palestinians an "invented people" who want to destroy Israel.

Hanan Ashrawi -- a senior Palestinian official -- said today that Gingrich's "very racist comments" showed he was "incapable of holding public office."

Believed by many Americans to be a ploy by Gingrich in order to receive Jewish votes in his bid for the presidency -- and one that will in effect backfire and be detrimental -- his rude statement regarding Palestinians has been viewed as being racist, ignorant, and arrogant, and as an obstruction to peace in the Middle East.

Some Americans have compared Gingrich's statement with another ignorant one made by veteran White House reporter Helen Thomas, 91, in June 2010, which resulted in her losing her job at Hearst News Service. Thomas -- a Lebanese American Orthodox Christian -- at that time told the Jews to "Get the Hell out of Palestine, and go back to Germany and Poland."

New Study: MTV Shows Often Demean Women; Women Degrade Themselves, Other Females

The Christian Broadcast Network website reports today (December 10, 2011) that -- according to a recent study by the Parents Television Council (PTC) -- MTV network constantly demeans women in its programming.

PTC researchers said only 24 percent of what the women on many of these shows said about themselves was positive.

Tim Winter -- president of PTC -- said, "Compared to men, women were far more degrading to themselves and other females."

The MTV series "Jersey Shore" accounted for most of the degrading comments on women. Ironically, this series is produced by a woman.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Pope Lights Up the World's Largest Xmas "Tree;" On Hillside Where St. Francis of Assisi Made Crib

The Independent Catholic News website reports today (December 9, 2011) that Pope Benedict XVI switched on the solar lights on the world's largest Christmas "tree" last night on a hillside near Gubbio, where St. Francis of Assisi made the first living crib.

The Pope used the latest technology -- a tablet computer.

The 800-meter tree is illuminated by hundreds of lights -- all powered by photovoltaic panels.

The Pope told the crowd: "The message I would like to give is that I hope each one of us brings a little light to the environment where we live -- in our families, in our countries, towns, communities."

Editor of Yeshiva University's Newspaper Resigns; Offended Many Students for Essay on Making Love

The New York Daily News website reports that an editor of Yeshiva University's student newspaper resigned today (December 9, 2011), as a result of an article about premarital sex that appeared this week in The Beacon -- the student newspaper of the school in New York City.

The story that fueled the controversy -- and published on December 5 -- was an account of a Yeshiva female student having premarital sex with a male lover, and the regret she felt afterward.

Mayer Fertig -- university spokesman -- said most of the students were "deeply offended" by the essay.

Simi Lampert -- co-editor of The Beacon who resigned that position as a result of her decision to publish the essay -- admitted the article talks about premarital sex, and is assur (a sin according to Jewish law). She added that she did not regret her decision to publish the essay at the Orthodox Jewish school, because The Beacon was founded "to be a platform for every student, not just the majority."

Walter Reed Mil. Hospital Rescinds Its Bible Ban; Rescinded After Iowa Rep.King Demanded Reason

The One News Now website reports today (December 9, 2011) that the Walter Reed military hospital in Bethesda, Maryland has rescinded a ban on Bibles and other religious materials given away during visits to wounded troops.

The ban was issued last September, but only came to light last week.

Iowa Congressman Steve King's office says that when he demanded an explanation, the hospital's senior officers told him the memo was improperly worded, and would be rewritten to affirm that religious items are "welcome in the hospital, if they are welcomed by the patient."

Walter Reed apologized on its website for its former policy, and said that patients' families may bring religious materials and that religious groups won't be barred from visiting.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

France to Decide If It Will Criminalize Prostitution; Parliament Will Soon Discuss Bill Making It Illegal

The France 24 website reports today (December 8, 2011) that the National Assembly in Paris this week set in motion a move towards criminalizing prostitution in France.

A bill will now be introduced in parliament in coming days that -- if passed -- will make the act of paying for sex illegal in France.

But the proposed crackdown -- which comes as a surprise to many observers considering the long history of liberal attitudes towards sex in France -- has angered several organizations that represent sex workers.

Sara Walker -- speaking for the London-based International Prostitutes Collective -- said, "Sex workers' experience and all the research shows criminalizing clients drives women underground and into more danger."

Bearded Orthodox Rabbi Becomes Army Chaplain; His Branch of Judaism Prohibits Him from Shaving

An Orthodox Jewish rabbi -- who was barred from serving as an Army chaplain for the past two years because he refused to shave the beard required by his faith -- has won his legal fight against the military, and will be sworn in tomorrow (December 9, 2011), according to the Associated Press website.

Rabbi Menachem Stern, 29, of Brooklyn, will be officially admitted to the chaplaincy in a ceremony at The Shul Community Center in Surfside, Florida.

Stern is a member of the Chabad Lubavitch movement of Judaism, whose rabbis are prohibited from shaving their beards.

This is just the second time ever -- the first was more than 30 years ago -- that a bearded Jewish rabbi has been granted an exemption to serve as a military chaplain.

Exclusive: Al Qaeda Infiltrates US Armed Forces; Violent Islamist Extremists Pervade US Mil. Bases

The Washington Times website reports today (December 8, 2011) that lawmakers -- at a special joint House-Senate hearing yesterday -- revealed that Al Qaeda has infiltrated the U.S. armed forces, resulting in military facilities becoming dangerous for American troops.

Rep. Peter King of New York -- chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee -- said at the hearing, "The Department of Defense considers the U.S. homeland the most dangerous place for a G.I. outside of foreign war zones, and the top threat they face here is from violent Islamist extremists."

A report from the hearing states, "There is reason to believe that the actual number of radicalized troops is far more than publicly realized or acknowledged."

The report also states that Al Qaeda's primary ongoing effort in the U.S. military is "to recruit or radicalize vulnerable servicemen to commit future acts of terror."

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

COMMENTARY: Discriminating against Interracial Couples in Kentucky Church Should Not Have Occurred

Outrage occurred throughout the United States on November 27, 2011 -- and for several days thereafter -- as a result of members of a church in Eastern Kentucky voting to ban interracial couples from receiving church membership.

Members of the Gulnare Freewill Baptist Church -- located in the town of Pikeville -- voted nine to six in favor of the ban.

Fortunately, on December 4, members of the Gulnare Church declared the ban to be null and void, because new church bylaws cannot run contrary to local, state, or national laws. Moreover, church members voted unanimously for a new resolution that welcomes believers regardless of their race, creed, or color.

Just what were the Gulnare Church members thinking when they voted on November 27 to ban church membership of interracial couples? Did they think that they did not need to abide by national, state, and local laws that clearly forbid this kind of discrimination?

Did they think that interracial couples are "second-class citizens" who are not entitled to the same rights as couples who are of the same race?

Whatever the reason(s) for their blatant prejudice, church members never should have passed -- or even discussed -- such a discriminatory resolution.

Indeed, these church members must keep in mind that Jesus loves all Christian worshipers, regardless of their race, color, gender, socioeconomic status, or ethnic background. Human beings must treat each other with a similar love and respect.

House Speaker Boehner Lights Capitol Xmas Tree; Says Evergreen Depicts "Everlasting Life in Christ"

The Christian Broadcast Network website reports today (December 7, 2011) that U.S. House Speaker John Boehner -- before lighting the Capitol Christmas Tree yesterday -- said the evergreen represents "everlasting life" in Christ.

Boehner also said Christmas is about Jesus Christ, "whose birth to Mary fulfilled a prophecy of joy and salvation."

The 65-foot white fir from California was illuminated as the Army Band and a children's choir from California performed Christmas carols.

Congressman Jeff Denham -- whose district grew this year's tree -- said he felt overwhelmed by "the significance of being able to celebrate a religious holiday because of our freedoms in this great country."

Blagojevich Gets 14 Yrs. in Prison for Corruption; Sought Money from Appointee to US Senate Seat

The Associated Press website reports today (December 7, 2011) that Rod Blagojevich -- the ousted Illinois governor whose three-year battle against criminal charges became a national spectacle -- was sentenced to 14 years in prison today.

Blagojevich's 18 convictions included allegations of seeking a bribe from someone he would appoint to fill President Barack Obama's vacated Senate seat.

In a final plea for mercy today, Blagojevich, 54, told Judge James Zagel, "I'm here convicted of crimes... and I am accepting of it, I acknowledge it, and I of course am unbelievably sorry for it."

Blagojevich was born in Chicago and is of the Serbian Orthodox Christian faith. His parents emigrated to the United States from Serbia in 1947.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Queen May Lose Head of Church of England Role; Letting Monarch Marry a Catholic May End Role

The Telegraph (British) website reports today (December 6, 2011) that the Queen's role as head of the Church of England may no longer be "appropriate" as a result of changes to the law of succession.

Reforms agreed to earlier this year by Commonwealth countries would create a potential conflict of interest because they allow a monarch to marry a Roman Catholic, said a parliamentary committee.

It said that if a future heir to the throne were raised as a Catholic, there would be an "obvious difficulty" in that person becoming head of the Anglican Church on their succession.

Under the current laws, the Queen is required to "join in communion" with the Church of England and take on the role of Supreme Governor, promoting Anglicanism in Britain.

Dutch Catholic Priest, 81, Fights His Suspension; Won't Stop Living with His 85-Year-Old Girlfriend

An 81-year-old Catholic priest -- expelled from the priesthood because he lives with his 85-year-old girlfriend -- says he may take his case to the European Court of Human Rights, the Dutch News website reports today (December 6, 2011).

Jan Peijnenburg -- who has lived with his girlfriend for 46 years -- received a letter on December 3, telling him he has been suspended because he refuses to leave his partner.

Peijnenburg is now seeking legal advice to determine "if the rights of the church conflict with the rights of the citizen."

Rik Torfts -- a professor of religious rights -- said the suspended priest has little chance of success, because freedom of religion laws have priority over the right to marriage.

Ex-Miss USA Is Arrested on Drunk Driving Charge; Rima Fakih (2010 Miss USA) First Muslim to Win

The Associated Press website reports today (December 6, 2011) that Rima Fakih -- the first and only Muslim to win the Miss USA title -- was arrested on December 3 in the Detroit enclave of Highland Park on a drunken driving charge.

Doraid Elder -- Fakih's lawyer -- said she is "very saddened and very apologetic for the situation that she is in right now."

Fakih, 26, was born in Lebanon. She was raised in New York and moved to Dearborn, Michigan in 2003.

She won the Miss USA Pageant in May 2010, and was the first Miss Michigan to win the title since 1933, and the first Arab American winner ever.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Supreme Court Refuses to Hear NYC Worship Ban; Allows It to Ban After-Hours Worship in Schools

The Cybercast News Service website reports that the U.S. Supreme Court today (December 5, 2011) rejected an evangelical church's plea to overturn New York City's ban on after-hours religious worship services at public schools.

The justices -- by refusing to hear the case today -- left in place a federal appeals court ruling that upheld the city's policy.

The Bronx Household of Faith is an evangelical Christian church that said New York City allows many groups to use school buildings after school hours.

But the city says it is violating church-state separation, if it allows worship services in public schools.

Ecumenical Patriarch Calls for Religious Freedom; Says Dialogue Helps Peace, Harmony, Tolerance

The Ekklesia website reports today (December 5, 2011) that Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I -- spiritual head of some 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide -- said last week that there must be respect for the "inherent rights of all human beings, and their aspiration and rights of religious freedom should be important components to sustain tolerance among all God's creation."

The Patriarch of Constantinople made his comments at a consultation in Istanbul, Turkey -- called Freedom of Religion and Rights of Religious Minorities -- which is sponsored by the World Council of Churches (WCC) Commission of the Churches on International Affairs and hosted by the Ecumenical Patriarch.

"We are called to promote dialogue among all communities and peoples to create peace, harmony, and tolerance in a world that is faced with violence, conflicts, and religious hatred," Bartholomew said.

The consultation -- which ended on December 2 -- featured 30 experts on religious rights from 23 countries.

PA Town Displays Nativity Scene Despite Threats; FFRF Complained Display Endorses Christianity

Despite complaints and threats from an atheist group, a Pennsylvania mayor has shown his courage by supporting his town's annual Christmas tradition of displaying a Nativity scene in front of the Municipal building, the Christian Post website reports today (December 5, 2011).

Hundreds gathered at Elmwood City's borough building to support the 50-year-tradition Nativity display last Friday (December 2).

Last year, the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) tried to break the ritual by accusing Elmwood City of endorsing Christianity.

Instead of protesters, dozens of Lawrence County residents gathered at city hall this year, carrying wooden crosses and signs that read, "Jesus is the Reason for the Season." Elmwood City Mayor Tony Court said, "I'm overwhelmed."

Sunday, December 4, 2011

KY Church Overturns Ban on Interracial Couples; Votes to Welcome Believers Regardless of Race

The Associated Press website reports today (December 4, 2011) that an eastern Kentucky church -- whose members recently voted to bar mixed-race couples from joining the congregation -- overturned that decision today, saying it welcomes all believers.

Stacy Stepp -- pastor of the Gulnare Free Will Baptist Church in Pikeville -- said the vote by nine people last week was declared null and void, after it was determined that new bylaws cannot run contrary to local, state, or national laws.

He also said the proposal was discriminatory; therefore, it could not be adopted.

Stepp added that about 30 people voted unanimously today on a new resolution that welcomes "believers into our fellowship regardless of race, creed, or color."

Church Members Nab Suspected Copper Thieves; Two Charged with Vandalism, Theft, Conspiracy

Members of a Carmichael, California church that had been targeted by copper thieves for two nights in a row managed to help nab the suspected thieves when the pair returned for a third night, according to the Drudge Report website.

Church officials set up a baby monitor on top of the Carmichael Bible Church, hooked it up to a monitor and VCR, and took shifts watching it.

About 4:30 a.m. on December 2, the alleged thieves returned and Pastor Jeff Livingston was watching. He alerted other members of the church and called authorities.

Sacramento County Sheriff's deputies arrived shortly thereafter and arrested the pair, identified as Curtis Darnell, 36, and Howard Sanders, 26. Both have been charged with felony counts of vandalism, grand theft, and criminal conspiracy.

Vatican Plans to Welcome Christmas with Carols; Arranges Worldwide TV Broadcast of Dec.24 Event

The Catholic News Service blog reports today (December 4, 2011) that the Vatican is planning to sing its way into the Christmas season this year, with a chorus and orchestra leading Christmas carols at the annual unveiling of its Nativity scene.

The hour-long evening ceremony on December 24 will feature traditional Christmas songs in several languages, performed by a 100-person choir and orchestra in St. Peter's Square.

The Vatican is arranging for worldwide television broadcast of the event.

As usual, Pope Benedict XVI is expected to bless the gathering from his apartment window above the square.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

COMMENTARY: Women's Right to Drive in Saudi Arabia Is an Idea Whose Time Has Come

This week, a new report released by Saudi Arabia's largest religious organization states that allowing women to drive motor vehicles would mean that "there would no longer be any virgins" in that nation within 10 years.

The report is an assessment of the impact of allowing women to drive in Saudi Arabia -- the only country in the world in which women are not allowed to drive -- sparked by a recent case in which a Saudi woman was sentenced to 10 lashes for driving a car.

A more sincere assessment for women's "loss of virginity" would be that Muslim men fear that allowing women to drive cars will provide women with too much freedom, thus resulting in many of them to live immoral lives.

To understand the underlying reasons for the fanatical denial of rights to Saudi women -- and not just with respect to driving a car -- we need to bear in mind that Saudi Arabia is considered by many experts of Islam to be the "most Islamic" country in the world. Consequently, Saudi Arabia tends to be resistant when it comes to letting go of Islamic traditions.

Perhaps the most important reason for Saudi Arabia to maintain these traditions is because Mohammed -- the prophet who founded Islam -- was born in the Saudi city of Mecca, which is considered the most holy city of Islam.

In fact -- even today -- it is a tradition for all Muslims around the world to face Mecca, as they pray several times every day.

Moreover, Islamic tradition provides its men worshipers with more rights than its women; however, driving a car should not be considered a right, but rather a necessity in today's society.

It is now time for Saudi Arabia to join every other nation in the world in allowing its women to drive cars.

Bishop Eddie Long's Wife Files for Divorce in GA; Voids Divorce File One Day Later, Stays Married

A few hours after issuing a statement about her plans to divorce husband Bishop Eddie Long, Vanessa Long has withdrawn her petition to split from the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church preacher in Atlanta, Georgia, the Huffington Post website reports today (December 3, 2011).

Vanessa Long released a follow-up announcement yesterday afternoon, saying, "I love my husband. I believe him and admire his strength and courage. My filing (for divorce yesterday) followed years of attacks in the media that frustrated and overwhelmed me."

Last year, the infamously anti-gay preacher was accused by four men of coercing them into having sexual relations with him. Long settled the suits out of court last May.

Dabara Houson -- Long's previous wife -- filed for divorce in 1985 and accused Long of beating her while she was pregnant with their son, according to ABC News.

Thousands Support Statue of Jesus in Montana; Is WWII Memorial; FFRF:"It Insults Atheists"

The World Net Daily website reports today (December 3, 2011) that the American Center for Law and Justice has sent the National Forest Service a letter with more than 70,000 names of people expressing their support for a statue of Jesus erected by World War II veterans as a war memorial on Big Mountain in Montana.

The veterans put the statue in place more than a half century ago.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) is challenging the renewal of a long-standing lease that permits the Jesus statue to remain at the Whitefish Mountain Resort, alleging it establishes the government's endorsement of religion.

Annie Laurie Gaylor -- co-president of the FFRF -- said the display "insults and excludes" atheists and non-Christians, in a statement to have it removed.

Nude Photo of Actress Causes Furor in Pakistan; Muslim Cleric Calls It "a Shame for All Muslims"

A Pakistani actress -- who posed naked for an Indian magazine with the initials of Pakistan's feared and powerful intelligence agency on her arm -- has triggered fury across predominantly Islamic Pakistan, the Associated Press website reports today (December 3, 2011).

Veena Malik's photo on the website of FHM India -- in advance of its publication in the magazine's December issue -- has been lighting up social network websites this week.

Many in Pakistan anticipate a backlash, as Islamists regularly stage rallies against anything they deem to be an insult to Islam.

Conservative Muslim cleric Maulana Abdul Qawi declared on Pakistani television today that Malik's nude photo was "a shame for all Muslims."

India -- whose primary religion is Hinduism -- and its Islamic neighbor Pakistan have been arch enemies for more than 50 years.

Friday, December 2, 2011

ACLU Claims FBI Has Spied on Muslim Groups; Says "FBI Illegally Uses Its Community Programs"

The Big News Network website reports today (December 2, 2011) that a U.S. human rights group has claimed that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has been illegally spying on Muslim community groups under the pretense of holding outreach meetings.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) issued a report today saying the FBI had overstepped its authority and was violating the trust of groups that agreed to meet its agents.

"The FBI has been illegally using its community outreach programs to secretly collect and store information about activities... for intelligence purposes," the ACLU said.

However, the FBI denied wrongdoing, saying that information gathered by outreach teams was not used for operational matters.

Report Opposes Women Drivers in Saudi Arabia; "There Would Be No Virgins" If Women Drove

The Asia News website reports today (December 2, 2011) that a new report states that allowing women to drive motor vehicles in Saudi Arabia would result in lesbianism, prostitution, and pornography -- and "there would no longer be any virgins" in the country.

These are the allegations contained in the report by the Majlis al-Ifta 'al-A'ali -- the largest religious organization in Saudi Arabia -- that was sent to all 150 members of the Shura Council (the legislative assembly).

The report is an assessment of the impact of lifting the ban on women drivers in Saudi Arabia -- the only country in the world to impose such a ban -- reviewed after a 34-year-old woman was sentenced to 10 lashes recently, because she was driving a car in Jeddah.

The "scientific" report -- as it has been called -- was drawn up in collaboration with Kamal Subhi, a former professor at King Fahd University.

Family in Serbia Builds Five-Ton Portable Church; Accommodates 15 People, Sells for $16,000 Plus

A family in Serbia has built a portable mini-church that it can deliver to anyone who wants a place of worship in their backyard, according to the Orthodox Church Info blog.

The five-ton, stone-and-steel church -- which can accommodate 15 worshipers -- is equipped with a cross, a bell tower, an altar, and frescoes. The enterprise was initiated by Svetislav Mancic and his son Goran near the southern Serbian city of Nis.

The elder Mancic said the portable church "will be available in every restaurant that organizes weddings, in hotels, motels, and hospitals. The only thing that we need is a blessing from the Serbian Orthodox Church, and we don't need any construction permits and approvals."

The portable church can be ordered online, with the cheapest model selling for about 12,000 euros ($16,000).

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Pope Benedict: Time to End the Death Penalty; About One-Third of World's Nations Still Use It

The National Catholic Register website reports today (December 1, 2011) that Pope Benedict XVI encouraged countries around the world to end the death penalty as a legal sanction at his general audience yesterday.

Addressing a group of pilgrims gathered in Rome for an international conference on the controversial topic, the Pope said he hopes that their deliberations "will encourage the political and legislative initiatives being promoted in a growing number of countries to eliminate the death penalty."

About a third of the world's nations still use the death penalty as part of their legal code.

In the United States, there are currently 34 states where the death penalty is legal.

Church Bars Membership of Interracial Couples; KY's Gulnare Baptist Church Ruling Shocks U.S.

A church in Eastern Kentucky voted this week to ban interracial couples from receiving membership, the Christian Post website reports today (December 1, 2011).

Gulnare Freewill Baptist Church -- located in Pike County -- voted nine to six on November 27 in favor of the proposal, which has stirred outrage across the United States.

Pastor Bill Staggs of nearby Meta Baptist Church -- in an interview with the Christian Post -- said, "I can only tell you that from my perspective, the interracial issue should not be an issue associated with any church, period."

The proposal to ban interracial couples -- written by Gulnare Church member Melvin Thompson -- reads, in part, "That the Gulnare Freewill Baptist Church does not condone interracial marriage. Parties of such marriages will not be received as members, nor will they be used in worship services and other church functions."

Afghan Pres. Pardons an Imprisoned Rape Victim; Is Pardoned for Agreeing to Marry Her Rapist

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has pardoned an Afghan woman serving a 12-year prison sentence for having sex out of wedlock, after she was raped by a relative, the Associated Press website reports today (December 1, 2011).

Karzai's office said the woman and her attacker have agreed to marry. A judge had previously offered the woman freedom -- if she agreed to marry the rapist -- but at that time she refused.

More than 5,000 people signed a petition urging Karzai to release the woman.

In Afghanistan and in other predominantly Islamic nations, women -- who are convicted of adultery or having sex out of wedlock -- can be stoned to death, as stated in the Islamic holy book, the Koran.

Obama: I Helped Israel More Than Any Other Pres; Says Israel Is "The Most Important Ally of the US"

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency website reports today (December 1, 2011) that President Obama said his administration has done more than any other has ever done to help Israel.

"This administration has done more for the State of Israel than any previous administration," Obama said yesterday during a campaign fundraiser at the New York home of Jack Rosen, chairman of the American Jewish Congress.

"We don't compromise when it comes to Israel's security," the U.S. President said. He referred to Israel as "the most important ally of the United States."

Obama -- who is running for re-election of the U.S. presidency in 2012 -- has lost the former support he had of many Jews, because of his opposition to Israel's settlement-building in the West Bank, and his call earlier this year for Israel to return (with some land swaps) the land it conquered from the Palestinians in the 1967 Mideast war.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

COMMENTARY: Freedom of Speech Must Not Be Viewed as Having No Limit

Last week, Emma Sullivan, an 18-year-old high school student in Kansas was taking part in a school function at the state capitol in Topeka, when she sent out a tweet regarding Kansas Governor Sam Brownback.

Sullivan's tweet proved to be an eye opener, because she said some vulgar things in it about Gov. Brownback. After reading the tweet, Brownback's office contacted Sullivan's school, and the school's principal, Karl Krawitz, demanded that Sullivan write a letter of apology to Gov. Brownback.

This week, Sullivan said she would not apologize to Gov. Brownback, and her school said Sullivan would not be disciplined after all, because of her "constitutionally-protected freedom of speech."

This decision is one in which principal Krawitz is wrong. Krawitz should have insisted that Sullivan apologize to Gov. Brownback, or be suspended (for at least three days).

The fact is that the right of freedom of speech carries with it responsibility. In this situation, Sullivan was indeed irresponsible for her vicious, defamatory, and obscene tweet regarding Gov. Brownback.

Moreover, she had no basis or justification for making such obscene comments. Sullivan says she was kidding; nonetheless, that does not justify such a defamatory tweet.

Freedom of speech must not be viewed as having no limit. The United States has libel laws that have resulted in lawsuits in which individuals and news publications have been ordered to pay millions of dollars to people whose character they have wrongfully defamed.

Sullivan -- who is 18 years old -- is not too young to be cognizant of these libelous laws, and to abide by them. Otherwise, she may not be so lucky, if she defames a person in the future.

Rhode Island Outraged Over State "Holiday Tree;" Gov. Chafee Called a "Grinch" for Pigheadedness

The Fox News website reports today (November 30, 2011) that a Rhode Island lawmaker is calling Gov. Lincoln Chafee "Governor Grinch" after he defied lawmakers and decided that the state could have a "holiday tree" instead of a "Christmas tree."

Chafee defended his decision by arguing that it maintains the tradition of the state's founding in 1636 by religious dissident Roger Williams -- as a haven for tolerance -- where government and religion were kept separate.

RI State Rep. Doreen Costa called the governor a "Grinch." She had sponsored a resolution passed by the House of Representatives last January declaring that the state's tree be referred to as a "Christmas tree," but Chafee refuses to honor that resolution.

So Costa has decided to erect her own Christmas tree -- at the State House -- and on lighting it on December 6, when Chafee plans to host the official "holiday" tree lighting event.

Boston Univ. Installs Foot Baths for Its Muslims; Mike Huckabee: Foot Baths Are "Un-American"

At its own initiative and cost, Boston University has installed foot baths for Muslims in its bathrooms and student union prayer rooms, The Boston Channel website reports today (November 30, 2011).

"We have to pray five time (every day), and every five times we have to wash," said student Reema Alashgar, a Muslim.

Student Center director Margot Veldivia said, "The students didn't ask for this, but rather we understood the tradition and how necessary it was in their daily lives."

Mike Huckabee -- former candidate for U.S. President and an ordained Southern Baptist minister -- said foot baths are "an accommodation we're making to one religion at the expense of the others." He also said they are "un-American."

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Pagan Chapel Is Built at US Air Force Academy; "Stonehenge-Like" Ring of Stones Cost $80,000

The New American website reports today (November 29, 2011) that a pagan chapel has been built at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

The new open-air "Stonehenge-like" ring of stones -- with a propane firepit -- was provided at a cost of nearly $80,000 to the American taxpayers.

According to the academy's enrollment records, only three of the 4,300 cadets identified themselves as pagans -- followers of an ancient religion that generally does not worship a single god and considers all things in nature interconnected.

In supporting the pagan chapel, Maj. Darren Duncan -- the chaplain in charge of all the faith communities at the academy -- said that if the military is to defend the Constitution, it should also be upholding its guarantee of religious freedom.

Calif. City Drops Charges in Bible Study Case; Had Said Home Bible Study Violated City Ordinance

The case against a Southern California Christian couple -- that was recently fined $300 for holding a Bible study in their home -- has been dismissed, the Christian Broadcast Network website reports today (November 29, 2011).

Last September, city officials in San Juan Capistrano, California cited Chuck and Stephanie Fromm for holding a Bible study in their home.

Officials at that time had said the couple violated a city ordinance by using property developed for residential use for public assembly, and ordered them to stop holding the Bible studies.

Officials have now dismissed the case and refunded the $300 citation fee to the Fromms.

Ten-Year-Old Girl Is Raped in Jutland, Denmark; Somalian Boy, 16, Arrested, Denies He Raped Girl

The Copenhagen Post website reports today (November 29, 2011) that a 16-year-old Somalian boy has been arrested for the rape of a 10-year-old girl in the small town of Jutland in Denmark.

On November 19, two girls were threatened at knife-point by a boy and led into a forest.

Although the nine-year-old girl managed to escape and sound the alarm, the 10-year-old girl was raped.

The boy charged with the rape appeared in court on November 26. He denied any involvement in the rape.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Brownback: Staff "Overreacted" to Teen's Tweet; Gov. Apologizes,Teen Won't for Her Lewd Tweet

The Slate website reports today (November 28, 2011) that Kansas Governor Sam Brownback is sorry his office made such a big deal of an obscene tweet about him from a teen last week.

"My staff overreacted to this tweet, and for that I apologize," Brownback said in a statement to the news media this afternoon. He added, "Freedom of speech is among our most treasured freedoms."

After coming across 18-year-old Emma Sullivan's tweet -- which said that the Kansas governor "sucked" and included #heblowsalot -- last week, Brownback's office flagged it, and her school principal, Karl Krawitz, demanded Sullivan write a letter of apology to Brownback.

School officials said today the high school student -- who refuses to apologize to Brownback -- will not be disciplined, because of her constitutionally-protected freedom of speech.

UN Accuses Syria of Crimes against Humanity; New Report Reveals at Least 256 Children Killed

A UN investigation report -- released today (November 28, 2011) -- accused Syrian forces of killing and torturing children, and other crimes against humanity since last March, the Associated Press website reports.

The report by a UN Human Rights Council -- released in Geneva, Switzerland -- found that at least 256 children were killed by government forces between mid-March and early November, with some of them tortured to death.

The full list of alleged crimes committed by Syrian forces included "murder, torture, rape, and other forms of sexual violence," said panel chairman Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, a Brazilian professor.

More than 3,500 Syrians have been killed by Syrian forces since last March, when thousands of Syrians began protesting for ending the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and his dictatorship.

New Mass Translation Launched in US Churches; Roman Missal Is Updated from Its Original Latin

English-speaking Roman Catholics -- who have been attending Mass for years -- found themselves in an unfamiliar position Sunday (November 27, 2011), as they needed printed cards or sheets of paper to follow along with the ritual, according to the Associated Press website.

The Mass itself -- the central ritual of the Catholic faith -- hasn't changed, but the English translation has.

A years-long process of revision and negotiation led to an updated version of the Roman Missal -- the text of prayers and instructions for celebrating Mass -- which originally was written in Latin.

The new translation began across the English-speaking Catholic world on Sunday, after several months of preparation.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Israel Is Accused of Harassing Women Journalists; IFJ Lists Six Nations Noted for Harassing Women

The Big News Network website reports today (November 27, 2011) that Israel has been pinpointed by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) as one of six countries where female journalists face "extreme levels of violence" while carrying out their jobs.

The IFJ highlights Mexico, the Philippines, Somalia, Russia, Nepal, and Israel as countries where women journalists face "threats, political pressure, violence, rape, and abuse either due to their gender or simply for doing their job."

In all of the countries highlighted by the IFJ -- except for Israel -- women journalists have been killed or shot during the course of their work.

In Israel earlier this year -- in an episode that became known as bra-gate -- a female journalist was denied entry to a press conference with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu because she refused to remove her bra for a security check.

Unilever to Launch World's First Toilet Academy; Will Open in 2012 to Combat Sanitation Problems

Unilever-- a multi-billion dollar global company -- will launch the world's first toilet academy next year in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, the Cybercast News website reports today (November 27, 2011).

Unilever says it will open the academy as a first step in combating the sanitation problems caused by the 2.6 billion people around the world without access to toilets.

Keith Weed -- chief marketing and communications officer at Unilever -- said, "We know that better sanitation saves lives, which is why we at Unilever have committed to sustainably improve sanitation through the Domestos Toilet Academy program."

Unilever -- which employs some 167,000 people around the world -- is a $5.2 billion business that owns Dove, Lipton, VO5, Knorr, and other companies.

Arab League Votes for Sanctions against Syria; Assad Govt. Killed 3,500 Protesters Since March

The Arab League approved sanctions against Syria today (November 27, 2011) in the latest bid to dissuade the Assad regime from its continuing killing of dissenters, according to the RIA Novosti (Russian) website.

Nineteen of the regional bloc's 22-member nations voted in favor of the unprecedented sanctions at a meeting in Cairo.

Damascus -- which has already been under U.S. and European Union sanctions -- denounced the move as a betrayal of Arab solidarity.

More than 3,500 Syrian protesters have been killed since the protests against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began last March.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

COMMENTARY: President Obama's Godless Thanksgiving Address Is Upsetting to Many

President Barack Obama this week upset a plethora of Americans -- as well as many other people throughout the world -- because he failed to thank God during his Thanksgiving radio address to the nation, thus defying the holiday's historic tradition.

Instead, President Obama used his radio address to express his gratitude to service members, and volunteers to soup kitchens and shelters.

The president said that he and his family would spend the day "eating great food, watching a little football, and reflecting on how truly lucky we are." Instead of reflecting on luck, it would have behooved President Obama if he reflected on God and conveyed to the nation how good God has been to us.

President Obama also acknowledged America's tough economic climate, and offered hope that the economy would improve. Again, instead of depending on hope, the president should have asked God to help our nation to recover from these dismal economic times.

It is all right that President Obama mentioned all of the factors that he considered important as we celebrate Thanksgiving day. Nonetheless, as President of the United States, he also had a responsibility to thank God for all that He has given us on Thanksgiving -- and indeed throughout the entire year.

Cairo Rally Vows: "One Day We'll Kill All Jews;" Held on Anniv. of 1947 UN Plan for Jewish State

The Y Net News (Israeli) website reports that a Muslim Brotherhood rally in Cairo's most prominent mosque yesterday (November 25, 2011) turned into a venomous anti-Israel protest, with attendants vowing "one day we'll kill all Jews."

Some 5,000 people joined the rally, called to promote the "battle against Jerusalem's Judaization." The event coincided with the anniversary of the United Nations' partition plan of 1947, which called for the establishment of a Jewish state.

Speakers at the event delivered hateful speeches against Israel, slamming the "Zionist occupiers" and the "treacherous Jews."

Upon leaving the rally, worshipers were given small flags -- with Egypt's flag on one side and the Palestinian flag on the other -- as well as maps of Jerusalem's Old City detailing where "Zionists are aiming to change Jerusalem's Muslim character."

Army Removes Cross from Chapel in Afghanistan; Officials Say Permanent Cross Violates Army Regs

The Christian Post website reports today (November 26, 2011) that the U.S. Army has removed a cross that was prominently placed on the front of a chapel located at the remote base of Camp Marmal in Northern Afghanistan.

Although soldiers at the Central Asian base considered the cross to be an inspiring symbol, officials said that having a permanent sectarian image on the chapel violated army regulations.

One U.S. soldier referred to the decision -- and the regulation behind it -- as "a direct attack against Christianity and Judaism."

Joe Conn -- a spokesman for Americans United for Separation of Church and State -- told The Christian Post that the Army made the right decision. "The American military includes personnel from many different faith traditions and some who follow no spiritual path at all. That diversity should be respected," said Conn.