Originally created 08/29/98

Religion briefs: Lawmakers draw fire



GALESBURG, Ill. -- In response to pressure from the clergy, the Knox County Board voted to open its monthly meetings with a prayer.

Paul Mangieri, Knox County state's attorney, said prayers would be led by people of "any faith or no faith whatsoever." But the Freedom From Religion Foundation said that means only major faiths would be represented.

"Where are you going to find publicly known atheists?" Annie Laurie Gaylor, an investigator for the foundation in Madison, Wis., said.

The 4,000-member group is primarily an association of agnostics and atheists campaigning for a strict interpretation of the Constitution's separation of church and state mandate.

Mangieri said opening board meetings with a prayer is legal so long as there is no overt proselytizing for a particular faith. Prayer, he added, serves a secular purpose by focusing attention on the solemnity of the board's tasks.

Police close temple following stabbing

ABBOTSFORD, British Columbia -- Police have closed a Sikh temple indefinitely after a man was stabbed in a dispute among moderate and fundamentalist members.

Several men are in custody, and the victim is being treated for his injuries, according to Constable Elly Sawchuk.

"It appears that what sparked this altercation is some fundamentalists were in the dining hall and some moderates who attended refused to remove their shoes," Sawchuk said.

Witnesses said the victim was stabbed in the abdomen with a kirpan, a ceremonial knife carried by Orthodox Sikhs.

Several fights were in progress when police arrived and cleared the temple.

The Sikh community has been plagued by violence between moderates and fundamentalists over an edict from the ruling body in India to remove tables and chairs from temple dining halls. The temple at Abbotsford complied after early refusals. Vancouver's Ross Street temple and Surrey's Guru Nanak temple have to date refused to remove the furniture.

Police closed the Vancouver temple in early August after fundamentalists invited supporters to the temple and tempers flared.

Classroom religion leads to courtroom

EAGLE NEST, N.M. -- Administrators and a former teacher at Eagle Nest Elementary School are being sued by parents who say their daughter was traumatized and her civil rights were violated two years ago when the teacher preached religion in her third-grade class.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court alleges that the teacher, Devonna Todd, told her class "Christians go to heaven." It alleges she said Catholics would not.

The lawsuit was filed by Wayne and Debra Anderson on behalf of their daughter, Jenny. It also names school principal Lee Mills and school board president Stanley R. Samuels, among others.

"Todd said that the devil was in the classroom, in the drawers, in the desks and in the children themselves," according to court papers.

She allegedly told the children not to say anything to their parents unless they spoke to her first. When Jenny Anderson told her parents, they contacted the school.

Samuels said the district has a policy against teachers proselytizing in school. He said Todd was put on administrative leave with pay until the superintendent recommended an eight-day suspension.

"By that time it was the end of the school year," he said. "I do think we acted properly once we became aware of everything that was going on."

The Andersons have since moved out of the school district.

`Ghost month' begins

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- The seventh lunar month is "ghost month," when spirits of the dead walk the earth and adherents flock to Taoist temples on the first day to pray for blessings and offer gifts of fruit.

Temple priests also begin the month by opening symbolic doors to welcome the spirits and beg them not to make mischief among the living. Throughout the month, banquets and other ceremonies will aim to appease the spirits.

The lunar month begins with the new moon and this, the seventh, is believed to be a particularly dangerous time for making major changes. Moving, marriage, new jobs and travel often are postponed until the month passes. Pregnant women may induce labor to give birth before the month begins.

Stained glass window goes begging

PITCAIRN, Pa. -- For sale: Stained glass window, circa 1901. Depicts Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. One of a pair from the old First Christian Church of Charleroi. Asking price: $11,000.

Larry and Laurie Gresh bought the windows in a private sale about a year ago and installed one in the entryway of their home.

So far they have had no takers for the extra window. If they don't sell it, they said they may give it to their church, the First Baptist Church of Monroeville, which is putting up a new building.