March 27, 2009
The Week in Review: As Difficult As Pie
Obama and his HHS nominee fight with Catholic leaders, courts change immigration rules for religious folks, and other stories.
1. Obama at Notre Dame
The President will be the principal speaker at commencement and receive an honorary doctorate. A number of Catholics say the invitation directly contradicts a 2004 statement from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that "the Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions."
The Bishop of Ft. Wayne-South Bend said he wouldn't attend and asked parishioners to pray that the university would "recommit itself to the primacy of truth over prestige."
2. Kathleen Sebelius in trouble with Catholic leaders, too
The Health and Human Services Secretary-designate has already been in trouble with the archbishop of Kansas City. Now that she's heading to D.C., the head of the Vatican's highest court says should not present herself for Communion there either. Expect what religion journalists call a "wafer watch" to see what happens if she does go forward for the Eucharist.
3. UN Human Rights Council again passes a resolution against "defamation of religions and incitement to religious hatred"
The vote was 23 members for (mostly Muslim nations, but also Belarus and Venezuela), 11 against (mostly Western countries: Canada, all the European Union countries on the council, Switzerland, Ukraine, and Chile), and 13 abstentions. India abstained, for example, because Islam was the only religion specifically named as deserving protection.
The United States did not vote on the resolution because it does not sit on the Human Rights Council, but it has opposed similar resolutions and isn't too keen on how countries with terrible human rights records control the human rights council.
The resolution is not binding, and similar measures have passed before, but critics say it justifies religious persecution and suppression of speech, especially in the countries that pushed for the resolution. (Another seven stories after the jump...)
4. Judge strikes down Homeland Security's tough policy on religious visas
It has been harder for religious workers to get their green cards than it was for workers in other fields. The Department of Homeland Security under Bush had said that's because there was more fraud among religious work visa applicants.
A federal district court said Homeland Security's application of the law was at odds with Congress's intent for the law and threw out the policy.
Meanwhile, there was significant item in the religion and immigration world this week. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals - which often issues left-leaning decisions a lot of conservative Christian groups don't like - this week issued a ruling that will help Chinese Christians. The three Chinese Christians had been arrested and tortured in China for helping North Korean refugees. They escaped, came to America, and applied for asylum, but a U.S. immigration judge claimed they were punished for breaking Chinese law, not for their beliefs. The 9th Circuit Court this week basically said that's crazy (especially since there isn't an actual law in China against helping North Korean refugees, just a general policy discouraging such help). After this week's decision, it may be easier for Chinese Christians to get asylum here.
5. 9th Circuit: School can cut mic during valedictorian's speech
Here's the Ninth Circuit Court acting more like the Ninth Circuit we've come to know (though more conservative courts may very well have come to the same conclusion).
A Nevada high school censored a valedictorian's graduation speech, taking out her references to the Bible and "the Lord." She decided to give the uncensored version anyway, was about halfway through when school officials unplugged her microphone. The Ninth Circuit in a short decision said the school was free to cut her off.
6. Supreme Court won't hear suit over evolution and religion claim
The University of California at Berkeley has a website called "Understanding Evolution," which says Darwinism is compatible with religion. A woman sued over it, saying that a state university making religious declarations like that violates the separation of church and state. A lower court told her it's too bad she was offended, but that wasn't enough to sue over it. The Supreme Court this week said, essentially, it didn't want to get involved.
7. Pa. state senator proposes law protecting church pies
The backstory is that a Pennsylvania health inspector was checking out a church's kitchen, saw a woman slicing pies, and asked if she'd cooked it at the church. When she explained that it had been brought from home, the inspector told her she couldn't serve the pie. It wasn't cooked in an inspected facility. A backlash ensued, and now State Senator Elder Vogel is charging to the rescue by introducing a bill that lets churches serve homemade food. God bless America.
8. Baseball's Opening Day is Good Friday
The Tigers, Rockies, Royals, and Brewers have games in the early afternoon, when many Christians are going to be in church. The teams thought about moving the games to nighttime, but realized a lot of other churches have evening Good Friday services. Church leaders are basically saying it's irritating (downtown churches will have traffic and parking problems), but expect devoted Christians to choose church over the game.
9. Christian Book Expo turnout: 10% of expectations
Organizers were hoping for 15,000 to 20,000 Christian book fans to show up to the Dallas event last weekend. They got 1,500. Some are blaming the lack of advertising or the recession. Others say it was the admission fee: you can't charge people $29 to go buy books and meet authors. In any case, it's probably not a great sign for either the Christian book industry or the Christian conference world.
10. Study of unchurched says those in 20s are more spiritually open than those over 30
Lost and Found, a new book from Lifeway Research, says unchurched 20 year olds are more likely to affirm the resurrection of Christ than older adults. In addition, 57 percent of them agree that "there is only one God and that's the one described in the Bible" - not even half of unchurched adults over 30, will say that. "Unchurched young adults are open and believe many of the things that Christians believe, but they still need to be reached for Christ," Stetzer told Baptist Press. "The challenge today may not be convincing them that there was a resurrection, but convincing them there was only one that brings them new life - and that new life is lived out in a community called church.