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
Jesuits in Northwest Declare Bankruptcy
esuits in the Pacific Northwest filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization on February 17 in Portland, Oregon, citing civil lawsuits resulting from allegations of clergy sex abuse.
Formally known as the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus, the Roman Catholic order declared assets of $4.8 million and liabilities of nearly $62 million, according to the 123-page filing posted in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Oregon.
The five-state Jesuit province is listed as a defendant in nine active lawsuits in Alaska, Idaho, and Washington. Another suit was settled last September in Portland. The suits were brought by plaintiffs alleging sexual abuse by priests. "Our decision to file Chapter 11 was not an easy one, but with approximately 200 additional claims pending or threatened, it is the only way we believe that all claimants can be offered a fair financial settlement within the limited resources of the province," said Oregon's provincial, the Rev. Patrick J. Lee, in a written statement.
Although the Oregon province is the largest geographically in the world, it remains the poorest financially of the Jesuits' 10 provinces in the United States, according to the order's Web site.
According to the Portland-based province, the Jesuits have settled at least 200 legal claims since 2001, paying more than $25 million, not including payments by the province's insurers. The bankruptcy filing listed assets of $1.2 million in real property and $3.7 million in personal property.
"Our hope is that by filing Chapter 11, we can begin to bring this sad chapter in our province's history to an end," Lee said. "We continue o pray for all those who have been hurt by the actions of a few men, so hat they can receive the healing and reconciliation that they deserve."
Lee said the filing will allow the province to resolve its pending claims, manage its financial situation and continue its ministries in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and Alaska. The province includes more than 250 Jesuits.
The Oregon province, created in 1932, has two universities--Seattle University and Gonzaga University in Spokane--and four high schools.
Groups Try to Strip Atheist Provision From Arkansas Constitution
A religious liberty watchdog group has joined a campaign to strip the Arkansas Constitution of a provision that prohibits atheists from holding office and testifying in court.
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty sent a letter on February 17 to the Arkansas legislature in support of a bill to amend Article 19, Section 1, of the Arkansas Constitution, which states: "No person who denies the being of a God shall hold any office in the civil departments of this State, nor be competent to testify as a witness in any Court."
"The free expression of religious belief, together with what James Madison called 'the full and equal rights of conscience,' should apply to people of all religious traditions -- including atheists. Government should no more penalize a person for professing atheism than for professing a belief in Christianity, Buddhism, or Islam," the Becket Fund letter said.
Although the letter acknowledged the atheist provision isn't likely to be enforced, it compared it to laws currently in nations such as Saudi Arabia and Iran that discount court testimonies of non-Muslims, denying them of full civil and political rights.
Eric Rassbach, national litigation director at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, believes that removing this portion of the
constitution is more than mere symbolism.
"It signals to U.S. citizens and to the rest of the world, that the freedom and sanctity of conscience -- including the right to believe there is no God at all--is a fundamental right for all people," Rassbach said.
The U.S. Supreme Court declared a similar Maryland law discriminating against atheists unconstitutional in 1961, according to the Becket Fund. South Carolina's constitution was amended in 1997. Texas and Tennessee still have similar provisions in their state constitutions.
The defeat of a personhood initiative in Colorado last November did little to stop what is becoming a nationwide movement, with seven states considering bills or initiatives that would provide legal protection to all persons from the moment of conception.
The bills and initiatives are unique in that none of them reference abortion, even though all of them take aim at the legal reasoning behind the infamous Roe v. Wade ruling. The latest victory for the movement came February 17 in North Dakota, where the state House passed a bill, 51-41, that says for the purposes of interpreting state law, "a human being includes any organism with the genome of homo sapiens." No state legislature had ever passed a personhood bill. Montana's Senate Judiciary Committee considered February 19 a bill that says a person is "a human being at all stages of human development of life, including the state of fertilization or conception." Pro-lifers in Mississippi--one of the nation's most pro-life states--are expected to begin a personhood petition drive soon. A drive already has begun in Oregon. Legislators in Maryland, Alabama and South Carolina also are sponsoring personhood bills. The new movement comes months after Colorado Amendment 48, which would have defined a person as "any human being from the moment of conception," failed at the ballot, 73-27 percent. It was the first time in the nation's history that voters considered a personhood law.
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