December 14, 2006

World News

Congress Passes Law Allowing Bankrupt to Tithe


BY DANIEL BURKE                                                                                      © 2006 Religion News Service
capCongress has approved a bill that allows people who have filed for bankruptcy to continue to tithe and to make charitable contributions.
Earlier this year, a New York court ruled that debtors above the median income must pay off their debts before giving to charity or tithing.
The Religious Liberty and Charitable Donation Clarification Act of 2006, passed on December 6, responds to that ruling by tweaking bankruptcy rules passed by Congress last year. It ensures "that all individuals in bankruptcy, no matter their income, would be able to continue giving to charity and their church," according to a statement from the office of one of the bill's sponsors, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.
It is unclear whether President Bush will sign the bill. A White House spokesperson did not return requests for comment. "Congress has a long history of protecting our religious freedom to tithe," said another bill sponsor, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. "That was our intent when we enacted bankruptcy reform last year, and this bill clarifies the law so that those who tithe can continue to live their faith while in bankruptcy."
More than 2 million Americans filed for bankruptcy protection in 2005 and hundreds of thousands are expected to do the same by the end of 2006, according to the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys. Debtors and religious groups had feared that the New York ruling might lead credit-card companies to demand similar rulings in other states. Enforcement would have had an adverse affect on religious bodies that expect members to donate 10 percent of their income to their church, synagogue, mosque or temple.

German Church May Go to Court
to Keep Stores Closed on Sundays


BY NIELS SORRELLS                                                                                  © 2006 Religion News Service
Germany's Protestant church is thinking about heading to court if that's what it takes to keep Sunday a day of rest. Germany's longstanding--and legally mandated--tradition of keeping shops closed on Sundays is under attack like never before.
Instituted partly to uphold cultural heritage and partly to guarantee a day off for workers, many businesses argue the rule is holding them back in today's modern economy. The policy has already eroded on many fronts; some larger cities allow stores to stay open on special Sundays, such as during the Christmas shopping season.
But a recent reform of Germany's federal system devolved the power to decide store hours to individual German states. Berlin, Brandenburg and Saxony quickly jumped at the opportunity, allowing stores to operate on up to 12 Sundays a year. That might be a step too far for Wolfgang Huber, head of Council of Evangelical Churches of Germany (EKD) and the bishop of Berlin's Lutheran churches.
"I think it's urgent that we check to see if we're still protecting Sundays and holidays as days of rest and reflection, as mandated by the Constitution," according to the Berliner Zeitung (Berlin Newspaper).
Huber has not decided what, if anything, to do. But he could theoretically bring the question of store hours to Germany's highest court for a ruling on whether the Sunday openings violate constitutional protections.

Portland Archdiocese Settles Nearly 150 Sex Abuse Cases


BY ASHBEL S. GREEN and STEVE WOODWARD                                               © 2006 Religion News Service 

The Archdiocese of Portland is likely to emerge from nearly three years of bankruptcy and return to normal operations next spring, according to a deal announced Monday (Dec. 11) by mediators.
The amount of the settlement won't be made public immediately, but insurers for the archdiocese will chip in more than $50 million toward the cost to resolve priest sex abuse claims, said U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan, one of two mediators.
Nearly 150 cases have been settled during more than three months of mediation; about 20 cases remain unresolved. Hogan expressed confidence that most of the remaining claimants would settle, but said anyone who did not agree to deals would have the right to a jury trial.
Although Hogan would not discuss financial details, he said the settlement would not include using schools and parishes as collateral. The settlement also includes a fund for accusers who come forward in the future. The new plan, scheduled to be submitted before Christmas, must be approved by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court as well as a majority of the creditors.
In the meantime, Hogan kept his gag order in place to prevent anyone involved in the bankruptcy, including attorneys, parishioners and accusers, from discussing the case until the settlement has been secured. "We are not going to undermine all this good work that has been done," Hogan said.
Erin K. Olson, an attorney representing more than two dozen priest accusers, took legal action Monday to undo the gag order. In a motion before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Olson said the gag order violated the free speech rights of her clients.
The Portland Archdiocese settled more than 150 claims for $56 million before filing for bankruptcy protection in July 2004. But lawsuits continued to mount. And on the morning a case seeking $135 million was scheduled to go to trial, Portland became the first archdiocese in the United States to seek bankruptcy protection from priest sex abuse litigation.

Chrysler Test-Drives Marketing to Black Churches


BY G. JEFFREY MacDONALD                                                                     © 2006 Religion News Service
Auto maker DaimlerChrysler is finding redemption--and a valuable new venue for showcasing its vehicles--in the African-American megachurch.
Four of the nation's largest black megachurches are breaking new ground in the worlds of marketing and religion by hosting test drives for Chrysler vehicles this fall. So far, about 500 churchgoers have driven the new Aspen SUV, the new Sebring sedan or the Chrysler 300 on sacred ground that's not known for peddling big-ticket merchandise.
For Chrysler, observers say, the experimental test drives mark a coup on two levels: the carmaker has overcome a centuries-old taboo on marketing goods for profit in sacred spaces, and also gained entry into influential black church circles less than four years after Chicago-area black pastors launched a boycott alleging the company discriminated against black customers.
Chrysler has achieved its de facto redemption in part by sponsoring singer Patti LaBelle's 14-city gospel concert tour, which includes partnerships with local churches with memberships that range between 3,000 to 27,000 members. For each test drive, Chrysler gives the driver a free concert ticket and donates $5 to the Abramson Cancer Center at the University of Pennsylvania.
The campaign helps Chrysler reach its target demographic more directly than through advertising alone, according to David Rooney, director of Chrysler brand marketing at DaimlerChrysler.
"We try to go out to our best prospects in their environment, where they're already engaged ... and in the African-American community, one of the opportunities is the church," Rooney says. Churches provide access, he says, to "opinion leaders who are involved, upscale, new-car-buying types of people."
Twenty years ago, such an initiative would have likely been a non-starter due to black pastors' skeptical views of corporate America, said Tulane University sociologist Shayne Lee. But now, Chrysler is riding a "revolutionary" shift in attitudes, especially in prosperous congregations, where Lee spots an emerging "commercialization of black religion."
Test drives at congregations are "just symbolic of greater changes taking place in the black church," Lee says. "The black church under (Martin Luther) King had sort of prophetic response to corporate America, to raise challenges and attack systemic racism.
"Now we have this new black church that is very conservative, very bourgeois, telling people: `Hey, corporate America is your friend. God wants you to make money, so you need to know how this world works.'" Corporate sponsorships of religious activities dovetail with a "prosperity gospel" from the pulpit, he says, to make for "a perfect marriage."