Originally created 07/17/04

Religion News in Brief

Report: Tighter Chinese controls threaten future of Tibetan Buddhism

SHANGHAI, China -- China is threatening the future of Tibetan Buddhism by limiting the number of monks and discouraging festivals, a watchdog group said in a report. The actions are part of a campaign to tighten control of the Himalayan region.

Authorities are reducing time for religious study in monasteries by requiring political classes, while ordinary Tibetans are under increased pressure to denounce the Dalai Lama, the region's exiled leader, said the report issued this month by the International Campaign for Tibet.

"Undermining Tibet's religion is directly linked to China's political and economic priorities," one of its authors, Kate Saunders, said by phone from Washington, where the group is based.

Buddhism is the core of Tibet's cultural identity, but China's ruling Communist Party views it as a threat to political control of the region, Saunders said.

China says Tibet has been its territory for centuries, but many Tibetans say they were independent for much of that time. Communist troops occupied Tibet in 1951 and the Dalai Lama fled to exile in India eight years later, after a failed uprising.

Tibet has 1,700 temples and monasteries and 46,000 clergy, according to official Chinese figures.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue declined to comment on the report, saying she had not seen it.

"The Chinese government respects freedom of religion and protects Chinese citizens' rights to religious freedom," Zhang said at a regular news briefing.


Trustees at Southern Baptist-affiliated college elect new chairman

PINEVILLE, La. -- A Southern Baptist-affiliated college, divided over new conservative curriculum policies, has elected a new chairman of its board of trustees.

Bill Hudson of Rayne will lead the Louisiana College panel, replacing Joe Nesom, who recently resigned amid the flap over academic policies, which some say reduce teachers' freedom.

Under the new policies, new hires must submit a written "worldview," and faculty must submit all teaching materials for approval.

Since that screening policy passed in December, the college president and vice president for academic affairs left to take other jobs, but both insisted their resignations were not due to the controversy.

Trustees who support the new policies hope to preserve the college's Southern Baptist roots.

There had been speculation that a new president might be chosen when Hudson was elected last week, but board members decided instead to follow a search process that called for interviews to begin July 12.


Eight new AME bishops include three Africans, one from LA

INDIANAPOLIS -- African Methodist Episcopal Church delegates have elected eight new bishops, including the first three "indigenous" bishops for Africa and only the second and third women to hold the post.

More than 1,900 delegates decided during the quadrennial general conference last week to designate three of the eight bishop positions for Africans. It was the first time the denomination had approved so-called "indigenous" leadership for any of its districts on the continent.

The Revs. Wilfred Messiah of South Africa, Paul J.M. Kawimbe of Zambia and David R. Daniels Jr., a native Liberian who is pastor of a West Columbia, S.C., congregation, agreed to serve in Africa, denomination spokesman Mike McKinney said.

Also among those elected were the Revs. Carolyn Tyler-Guidry of Los Angeles and Sarah Frances Davis of San Antonio. They join the Right Rev. Vashti Murphy McKenzie, elected four years ago, as the only female bishops in the 217-year history of the denomination.

The AME church is the largest U.S. body of black Methodists, claiming more than 2 million members in this country and 3 million worldwide.


Britain revives proposal to bar inciting religious hate

LONDON -- The British government has revived a contentious proposal to make it a crime to incite religious hatred, saying such a law would help protect minorities from bias and target extremists who use religion to stir up tension.

Supporters said the need for such a law was underlined by the visit to Britain of a Qatar-based Muslim cleric, Youssef al-Qaradawi, who reportedly has links to al-Qaida's funding network and has voiced support for suicide bombings by children. Others fear the proposal would stifle religious freedom and debate, even jeopardizing comedians who joke about faith.

The government first proposed making incitement to religious hatred a crime in a package of emergency measures it introduced to Parliament after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. It dropped the idea because of stiff opposition in the House of Lords, where many worried it would stifle freedom and said existing laws against inciting racial hatred and inciting violence were sufficient.

Home Secretary David Blunkett said last week that the need for a religious hatred law had only grown since the attacks on the United States and that the government would put its plan before Parliament at the earliest opportunity.

"We need to be able to take on those extremists and say, 'I'm afraid in our society, pluralism and openness, the ability to accept differences is crucial to our survival,"' Blunkett said in a recent speech.

Blunkett said an existing law that bars incitement to violence based on race, ethnicity and national origin covers attacks on Jews and Sikhs but leaves out others, including Muslims and Christians.

Dominic Grieve, the opposition Conservative Party's spokesman on legal issues, said a law against inciting religious hatred would do little to reduce discrimination but could endanger free speech.

Massoud Shadjareh, chairman of the Islamic Human Rights Commission, said he feared such a law would be used against Muslims and other religious minorities rather than to protect them.

Brazil's Catholic bishops condemn order allowing abortion in some cases

BRASILIA, Brazil -- Brazil's Roman Catholic bishops have condemned a temporary court order that allows abortions for severely deformed fetuses that are not expected to survive.

However, the bishops' conference said they won't take any direct legal action to challenge the decision.

"We cannot change the laws of the land," Bishop Odilo Scherer said last Friday. "Although we respect the decisions of the courts, that does not mean we have changed our position with regard to the ethical need to respect all human life."

Abortion is illegal in Brazil, the world's largest predominantly Catholic country, except in cases of rape or when the mother's life is in danger.

On July 1, Brazilian Supreme Court Justice Marco Aurelio issued a temporary order permitting abortions in cases in which a fetus has a severe malformation of the head that is detected by a medical examination. The full 11-member Brazilian Supreme Court is to rule on the issue later this year.

In his temporary order, Aurelio cited medical evidence saying that fetuses with severely malformed heads rarely survive. "They are stillborn in 50 percent of cases and die immediately after birth in virtually all other cases," he said.


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