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
Atheists Sue to Stop `In God We Trust'
in The Capitol Visitor Center
he largest group of atheists and agnostics in the U.S. filed a federal lawsuit on July 14 to stop the engraving of "In God We Trust" and the "one nation under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance in the new Capitol Visitor Center.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Wisconsin-based church-state watchdog group, claimed the engravings are unconstitutional and would exclude the 15 percent of Americans who identify themselves as non-religious. "We are effectively being told that we are political outsiders ... because we don't trust in God," said Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
The House and Senate passed resolutions this month approving the inscription of the mottos in prominent areas of Capitol Visitor Center, which serves as the entrance and security screening for tourists.
Sen. Jim DeMint, of South Carolina, who sponsored the bill in the Senate, said historical references to God should not be censored for political correctness.
"The Founders based the Constitution and our laws on religious faith and principles that clear the way for individual freedom," he said in a statement. "Our true motto, `In God We Trust,' expresses this fact, and we cannot allow a whitewash of America's religious heritage."
However, Gaylor said the mottos are inaccurate since "In God We Trust" and the insertion of "under God" into the Pledge of Allegiance were adopted in the 1950s as anti-communist measures. "They wanted this up there because they think God is the foundation of our government," Gaylor said. "Boy, are they misinformed."
Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, reminded colleagues on July 14 that the Washington Monument displays the words "Praise be to God" in Latin on the side that faces the Capitol. He said "every day when the first rays of God's sun hit the very first thing in this Nation's Capitol," those words are illuminated.
White House Panel Maps Out Faith-based Plans
Members of a new White House advisory council mapped out plans to link government and religious groups, from interfaith service projects to regional town halls on fatherhood, during a two-day meeting that ended July 9.
Eboo Patel, founder of Chicago-based Interfaith Youth Core, said his task force of the Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships will work to advance President Obama's discussion about interfaith cooperation by fostering hands-on activities. "Can we have interfaith service projects on 500 campuses?" he asked fellow leaders on the 25-member council. "Can we work with 25 State Department embassies to have interfaith service projects?"
Council members discussed the priorities of six task forces, which range from reforming the faith-based office to addressing the economic crisis.
Melissa Rogers, an expert on religion and public affairs at Wake Forest University School of Divinity, said the task force charged with reforming the office will examine everything from executive orders to PowerPoint presentations to ensure church-state restrictions are clear when religious organizations partner with the government.
Several council members told administration officials they want to make sure that government partnerships extend to the city and county level--in part to ensure that economic recovery funds reach struggling grass-roots nonprofits.
Joshua DuBois, the executive director of the office, said he expects intergovernmental outreach to increase, but is seeking recommendations from the advisers on best approaches for that cooperation. Many of the advisers' proposals will be developed into a report to the White House next year. Some of their work will be evident before then, such as regional town hall meetings on fatherhood scheduled for later this year.
AME Church Bids For Rosa Parks' Estate
The African Methodist Episcopal Church is creating a separate nonprofit in hopes of acquiring the personal archive of civil rights icon Rosa Parks.
Parks, whose refusal to give up her seat to a white bus rider in 1955 helped spark the civil rights movement, was a lifelong member of the historically black denomination. After her 2005 death, her belongings were placed in the hands of Guernsey's, a prominent New York auction house, which is collecting bids for the archive.
Bishop Carolyn Tyler Guidry, president of the AME Church's Council of Bishops, declined to reveal the amount of the church's bid, but said the auction house could receive it soon. The new nonprofit will seek funds from foundations and others outside the denomination in addition to donations from members.
The proceeds of the sale of the collection could total $10 million and will be divided between a Detroit institute named for Parks and family members. "The reason that we've made the step is because of the connection between the AME Church and Rosa Parks," Guidry said in an interview. "One part of her life that never got really published was her great love for the AME Church and the fact that she thought that (church founder) Richard Allen's legacy had inspired her to community service."
The archive includes Parks' collection of church bulletins, on which she noted sermon titles, as well as a white stewardess dress and black stewardess hat that she wore when she prepared Communion at her Detroit church.
Guernsey's president Arlan Ettinger could not give any specific comment on the AME Church, or other interested parties. "Were they to be in the running and were they to get it, (the collection) certainly would find a fine home there, but that's not to say that the same wouldn't be true with one of the other organizations," he said. "They are all wonderful groups."
Appeals Court Rules on Bible Distribution in Schools
A federal appeals court has upheld a lower court ruling that found a Missouri school district unconstitutionally permitted distribution of Bibles to elementary schoolchildren in their classrooms.
But the court ruled that the South Iron R-1 School District in Iron County, Missouri, can enact a new policy permitting "any printed material" approved by the superintendent to be distributed outside classroom time. "The policy itself applies to all persons or groups wishing to distribute literature to students, not just to Bible distribution by the Gideons," wrote Chief Judge James B. Loken in the unanimous decision by the three-member panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis.
Members of The Gideons International, an evangelical organization that donates Bibles to various institutions, had given Bibles to the district's fifth graders for about three decades, the court said.
Given the dual decision, the court's action prompted an unusual positive reaction from legal groups that often oppose each other.
Americans United for the Separation of Church and State welcomed the decision preventing school-day distribution of Bibles. "As a Christian minister, I don't have a problem with the Bible," said the Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Washington-based Americans United. "But I do have a big problem with government officials who try to impose religion on schoolchildren. They have no right to do that."
Liberty Counsel, meanwhile, hailed the court's ruling on the new literature policy, which was adopted on the eve of a hearing about the Gideon Bible distribution. "We are pleased that the new equal-access policy can finally go into effect," said Mathew Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel, which is based in Orlando, Florida. "The Bible cannot be singled out for special penalties like contraband."