The Adventist Review shares the following world news from Religion News Service as a service to readers. Opinions expressed in these reports do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Review or the Seventh-day Adventist Church. -- Editors
Canadian Anglicans, Lutherans
Say No to Same-Sex Unions
he national governing body of the Anglican Church of Canada on June 24 defeated by the tightest of margins a motion to forge ahead with same-sex blessings across the country.
The church's lay and clergy delegates voted to allow same-sex blessings, but church bishops defeated the move, 21-19. Majorities in all three groups would have been needed to approve the measure.
Earlier in the day, delegates approved a statement that said the blessing of same-sex unions is "not in conflict with the core doctrine" of the Anglican Church of Canada. Yet bishops, perhaps mindful of pressure from overseas Anglican provinces, narrowly killed the measure.
Archbishop-elect Fred Hiltz, who was chosen Friday (June 22) as the church's next primate, or top bishop, voted in favor of same-sex blessings, and said he wanted to reach out "pastorally" to gay and lesbian Christians.
"This is no doubt going to cause lots of pain," Hiltz said. "There are a lot of people who will say, 'How long, oh Lord? How long?'"
The decision is likely to spare the Canadian church some of the ire from overseas Anglicans that has been directed south of the border at the Episcopal Church in the United States. Both churches were told to promise not to allow same-sex blessings by September 30 or face unspecified "consequences" from the worldwide Anglican Communion. But in Canada, which legalized same-sex civil marriage in 2005, Hiltz--who was the bishop for Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island--and others wondered whether a better, simpler way could be found to hold such important votes.
"It's a bitter pill for those in our church who are frustrated and had wanted to move forward," said Vancouver-area Bishop Michael Ingham, whose diocese is the only one in Canada to have formally approved the blessing of committed same-gender relationships.
"The decision raises serious doubts about leadership -- when the whole church is held back by two bishops," Ingham said. The Anglicans' rejection of same-sex blessings came one day after the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, which was also meeting here, defeated a similar motion.
On Saturday, 52.5 percent of delegates from the 175,000-member Evangelical Lutheran Church voted against allowing local churches to offer the rites of blessing to same-gender couples.
Supreme Court Turns Down Challenge to Faith-based Office
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday (June 25) that taxpayers affiliated with an atheist group do not have standing to challenge the White House initiative channeling federal funds to religious groups providing social services.
Overturning a federal appeals court decision, the justices gave the White House a 5-4 victory in a closely watched ruling regarding its Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives.
"It has long been established ... that the payment of taxes is generally not enough to establish standing to challenge an action taken by the federal government," Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the majority, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy.
"If every federal taxpayer could sue to challenge any government expenditure, the federal courts would cease to function as courts of law and would be cast in the role of general complaint bureaus," Alito wrote.
The case, Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation, focused on the use of taxpayer money to fund faith-based offices and related conferences across the executive branch. Foundation members said that policy violated the First Amendment's prohibition on "establishment" of religion, but the White House office argued the case was "intrusive" on the executive branch.
In a statement, President Bush said the decision "is a win for the thousands of community and faith-based nonprofits all across the country that have partnered with government at all levels to serve their neighbors.
"Most importantly," Bush said, "it is a win for the many whose lives have been lifted by the caring touch and compassionate hearts of these organizations."
The justices were asked to determine if taxpayers -- in this case, the Wisconsin-based foundation -- had standing to sue. The court did not address the merits of the suit in general.
The foundation argued that a 1968 case, Flast v. Cohen, applied to their complaint. In that case, the high court ruled that taxpayers could sue when Congress provided financial aid to public and private schools, including parochial schools.
But Alito wrote that Flast did not apply, in part because it dealt with a "specific congressional appropriation" rather than an executive branch action. He noted that Flast is not overruled by the new decision.
Justice Antonin Scalia, in a concurring opinion, said Flast should have been overruled because it has confused lower courts. "We had an opportunity today to erase this blot on our jurisprudence, but instead have simply smudged it," wrote Scalia, in an opinion joined by Justice Clarence Thomas.
Justice David Souter, in a dissenting opinion joined by Justices John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Stephen Breyer, said he could not see the logic in the majority opinion's distinction between government branches. "When executive agencies spend identifiable sums of tax money for religious purposes, no less than when Congress authorizes the same thing, taxpayers suffer injury," Souter wrote.
HHS Study Reveals Flaws in Sex Education
Comprehensive sex-education classes taught in public schools across the nation contain medical inaccuracies, present information in an amoral way, and do not delay the onset of sexual activity among youth, according to a study released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The study, released June 12, came just two days before the full House Appropriations Committee was scheduled to vote on abstinence education funding. But in a victory for abstinence education supporters, the vote has been postponed until after the July 4 recess. "I think that it's really good that we have some additional time to educate both members of Congress and the American public in general because -- as we've communicated before -- there's so much misinformation about what abstinence education is, what comprehensive sex education is, and what even the new term abstinence plus is," Valerie Huber, executive director of the National Abstinence Education Association, told Baptist Press.
"If we have a couple more weeks so that those members of Congress can vote on a more informed basis, I think it's good," she said.
The HHS study reviewed nine popular comprehensive sex-education programs and found that hardly any emphasis is placed on true abstinence from sexual activity. The focus, rather, is on contraception and ways to lessen the risks associated with sexual behavior. "Of the curricula reviewed, the curriculum with the most balanced discussion of abstinence and safer-sex still discussed condoms and contraception nearly seven times more than abstinence," the study, requested in 2005 by Republican Senators Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, found. The appropriations committee was expected to consider a bill that would increase the largest federal funding stream for abstinence education, the Community Based Abstinence Education Program, to $141 million per year. Meanwhile, the House Energy and Commerce Committee is allowing another funding stream, Title V, to expire June 30 after the committee's chairman, Rep. John Dingell, D.-Mich., called abstinence education "a colossal failure." "We're hoping, even though we're down to the final two weeks, that Rep. Dingell will listen to his colleagues -- and even more importantly his constituents who favor abstinence education continuing -- and that in this eleventh hour he'll make a decision that's in the best interest of those teens that are going to lose abstinence education if he doesn't change his mind," Huber said. In a report similar to the one released by the Department of Health and Human Services, the National Abstinence Education Association (NAEA) asserted that in recent years comprehensive sex education proponents have tried to "rebrand" their programs by calling them "abstinence.
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Poll: Trust in Organized Religion at Near-Record Low
Americans trust the military and the police force significantly more than the church and organized religion, a new Gallup Poll says.
Only 46 percent of respondents said they had either a "great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in the church, compared with 69 percent who said they trusted the military and 54 percent who trust police officers.
The figures are among the lowest for institutionalized religion in the three and a half decades that Gallup has conducted the poll. Peaking at 68 percent in May 1975, the numbers bottomed out at 45 percent in June of 2003.
But while confidence is waning for organized religion, the numbers are even bleaker for other American institutions. Just 25 percent expressed confidence in the presidency, while a mere 14 percent say they trust Congress. The poll was conducted by telephone from June 14-17. The margin of error is three percentage points.