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Religion News Report

June 26, 2000 (Vol. 4, Issue 219)

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=== Waco / Branch Davidians
1. Memo: Branch Davidians Would Fight
2. Investigator for sect faults fire inquiry
3. Fire expert disputes government claim that Davidians set blaze
4. FBI Sniper Details Davidian Standoff
5. Trial takes its toll on survivors
6. Davidian survivor recalls fire, chaos
7. Branch Davidians await return of leader Koresh

=== Falun Gong
8. China Detains 1,200 From Falun Gong

=== Scientology
9. Scientologist electrocuted
10. Spanish trial against Scientologists postponed

=== Jehovah's Witnesses
11. Highest administrative court in France rules that Jehovah's Witnesses are
a religion

=== Nuwaubians
12. Athens neighbors oppose Nuwaubians' plans to move in
13. Brown receives support from black elected officials

=== Paganism / Witchcraft
14. Woman stripped, lynched in Nagpur
15. The factory curse, the strike and the goat's horn
16. It's Witchcraft

=== Catholicism
17. Third Secret of Fatima: no apocalypse now
18. Text of the third Fatima secret

=== Buddhism
19. Dalai Lama in Marin to Shape Future of American Buddhism
20. Prophecy, Karma and a Buddhist Icon in Glendale

=== Hate Groups / Hate Crimes
21. Supreme Court Denies Racist Appeal (Matthew Hale)
22. Supreme Court: No License to Hate
23. Synagogue in Jerusalem Set Afire; Barak Condemns 'Awful Act'

=== Cults - France
24. France aims at banning 'dangerous' sects
25. Churches in France oppose anti-cult law

=== Other News
26. Alberta couple get suspended sentence in diabetes death of son
27. Religions summit focuses on ending violence worldwide
28. Powerful advertiser reaffirms no-buy position for Dr. Laura
29. Sinead joins Bishop Cox's 'healing boat'
30. Sinead Keeps The Faith
31. Five Questions With Sinead O'Connor

=== Religious Freedom / Religious Intolerance
32. Court Again Limits Prayer in Schools
33. Remain standing for the invocation
34. Kirby: Angry Debate Over Prayer at School Can Be Pinned
on Religion, Which Promotes Discord

=== Peter Jennings Reporting: The Search for Jesus
35. ABC 'Jesus' Documentary Undermines Core Christian Doctrines, Critics Say
36. He's Everywhere but Here


=== Waco / Branch Davidians

1. Memo: Branch Davidians Would Fight
AOL/AP, June 27, 2000
http://my.aol.com/news/story.tmpl?
table=n&cat=01&id=0006270556130882
Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
WACO, Texas (AP) - The federal agent who ordered the use of tanks to fire tear gas into the Branch Davidian compound was warned that sect members would ``fight back to the death'' if confronted, lawyers argued in a wrongful death lawsuit against the government.

The attorneys on Monday presented what they called ``the best piece of evidence from the government'' - a March 1993 memo from FBI criminal profilers Peter Smerick and Mark Young to on-scene commander Jeffery Jamar.

The memo warned Jamar that if the FBI attacked the compound to end the standoff, sect leader David Koresh and his followers would battle back. It also stated that if FBI agents ``physically attack'' and children are killed, the agents ``will be placed in a difficult situation,'' even if Davidians are to blame.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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2. Investigator for sect faults fire inquiry
Dallas Morning News, June 27, 2000
http://dallasnews.com/texas_southwest/102615_waco_27tex.ART.htmlOff-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
Federal assertions that the Branch Davidian fire was arson are unacceptable because they sprang from an ''incompetent'' investigation that missed many potential fuel and ignition sources for the 1993 blaze, a fire investigator for the sect testified Monday.

The government's examination of the Branch Davidian fire failed to identify dozens of propane tanks as potential fuel sources and failed to find burn or pour patterns in any of the three areas where government investigators contended that sect members deliberately set the compound fire, plaintiff's fire investigator Patrick Kennedy said.

''You can't say it's arson; it's not arson, it's accidental. The investigation is insufficient and inappropriate,'' said Mr. Kennedy, a private consultant who has helped investigate more than 2,500 fires and helped write nationally recognized fire investigation standards. ''I'm just saying they didn't do their job right.''

Offering some of the most animated testimony presented so far in the trial of the Branch Davidians' wrongful-death lawsuit, Mr. Kennedy said government investigators were particularly remiss in failing to examine how FBI tanks might have contributed to the blaze that leveled the compound on April 19, 1993. More than 80 Branch Davidians died.

The fire broke out about six hours after FBI tanks began ramming the building and spraying in tear gas to force the sect to end a 51-day standoff. The blaze also began less than an hour after FBI tanks smashed deep into the front of the building and demolished much of its rear.

Mr. Kennedy noted that one tank smashed into an area where government investigators said the first fire began and left within only a minute after the first heat from that blaze was spotted by an airborne FBI infrared camera. ''That could have released fuel'' by crushing propane tanks or lanterns known to be scattered throughout the compound, he said.

''The tanks' actions . . . made the fire burn hotter,'' he said. ''It made the fire burn faster. It made the fire spread further. Those incursions cannot be ruled out as being a cause of the fire.''

The tanks smashed compound walls into ''kindling'' and opened up massive ventilation flues for the day's 25-mph winds.

''Make it kindling, and then blow on it: It's like starting your camp fire out in the woods,'' he said.
(...)

Lead plainttiff's lawyer Michael Caddell fought off vigorous government objections Monday and introduced internal government documents in which top FBI negotiators vigorously condemned the decision to send in tanks. Among the documents were a memo written to FBI commanders during the first week of the siege that warned violence would result from any attack on the compound.

A second 1993 document detailed post-siege statements by the FBI's highest-ranking negotiator and included his assessment that the FBI's commanders were acting out of anger and frustration.
(...)

Government lawyers have maintained that the sect alone started the fire and caused the final tragedy. In addition to citing the fire investigation, they have pointed to recorded conversations captured between Branch Davidians by FBI bugs that included talk of spreading fuel and setting fires. They have also cited testimony of Branch Davidian Graeme Craddock, an Australian who was among eight Branch Davidians convicted in a 1994 criminal trial that arose from the standoff.

Lawyers for the sect played parts of a video deposition for jurors on Monday in which Mr. Craddock acknowledged hearing others in the compound discussing spreading fuel and yelling to start a fire.

But he said that the Branch Davidian he heard discussing pouring flammables was actually yelling for another sect member to pour it ''outside, not inside.''

He added that another sect member whom he heard calling out orders to start a fire gave those instructions only after others had yelled that the building was ablaze. He said that he later heard a Branch Davidian yell, 'Don't light the fire.'''

Government lawyers questioned Mr. Kennedy closely Monday about Mr. Craddock's testimony and a laboratory finding that traces of flammable liquids were found in wreckage of the chapel where Mr. Craddock was at the time.

Mr. Kennedy said that was worth considering but did not justify the arson finding.
(...)

Also Monday, jurors heard testimony from a Texas Department of Public Safety trooper who described stopping a local volunteer department's truck manned by a lone firefighter from going to fight the compound blaze.

Sgt. David Keys said a call came over his DPS radio ordering all firetrucks to be stopped from going near the compound for more than 30 minutes after the fire started, adding , ''We were told later it was for the security of the agents near the [Branch Davidian] building.''
(...)

The second week of the Waco trial began Monday with a fire survivor's graphic description of the chaos, smoke and noise of the compound blaze.

British subject Marjorie Thomas, one of only nine sect members to survive the fire, recounted feeling her way through smoke and flames, hearing others inside scream and fall silent, and finally jumping to safety as her burning legs gave way.

''I could hear rushing, screaming, crying, people praying. ...Then it went quiet,'' she said, adding her legs collapsed from the impact of burns and her jacket melted around her before she escaped.
(...)

She acknowledged to U.S. Attorney Michael Bradford of Beaumont that Branch Davidian leader David Koresh taught his followers before the 1993 siege that they would go to war and their enemies would be from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the FBI.

She also acknowledged that she once was ready to kill herself at Mr. Koresh's command.

But she testified that she ''could not recall'' many key details of her post-fire statements to authorities about the sect's apocalyptic beliefs, including her 1993 testimony that Mr. Koresh plotted a group suicide early in the standoff and taught followers that they must kill for God.

She said she was under heavy medication and was still hospitalized for third degree burns over half her body when she gave a videotaped deposition for federal prosecutors in November 1993.
(...)

Before Monday's testimony began, Judge Smith announced that a second juror had been excused for personal reasons, reducing the remaining panel of jurors to five. A juror was also excused last week for undisclosed personal problems.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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3. Fire expert disputes government claim that Davidians set blaze
Waco Tribune-Herald, June 27, 2000
http://www.accesswaco.com/auto/feed/news/local/2000/
06/26/962077453.28011.0012.0003.html
Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
An expert witness for the plaintiffs on Monday attacked the government's contention that the Branch Davidians started the fire that destroyed Mount Carmel.

And two Davidians, Marjorie Thomas and Graeme Craddock, described their narrow escapes from the flames to U.S. District Judge Walter S. Smith Jr. of Waco and the advisory jury hearing their $675 million wrongful-death lawsuit against the government.

Patrick Kennedy, a Chicago investigator who helped write the industry standards for fire investigations, told Houston attorney Mike Caddell that the government can't prove the Davidians set fires in three locations simultaneously.
(...)

Kennedy said the government's reliance on an infrared video to prove arson is ''completely erroneous.''

''It's never been used before,'' Kennedy said. ''It's never been used since. There's no scientific evidence that you can tell anything from a FLIR (Forward-Looking Infrared video). There is no literature in fire investigation about using a FLIR.''

Kennedy said the government also can't prove that accelerants were used in the three locations - dining room, chapel and southwest corner of Mount Carmel - where fires seemed to start simultaneously on April 19, 1993, leading to the deaths of David Koresh and 75 followers.
(...)

A dog trained to alert at the smell of accelerants made 100 alerts going through the rubble of Mount Carmel, Kennedy said. Thirty hits came back positive for accelerants. Not all three areas, however, tested positive for accelerants, Kennedy said. The dining room, for example, tested negative.

''The (fire) code is clear,'' Kennedy said. ''If you don't get a lab test, you don't get a positive for accelerants.''

Kennedy said the government counted the dog's alerts as a positive indication for accelerants.

''We don't even know how the dog works,'' said Kennedy, noting that gasoline has 400 different compounds. ''We do know this: He's not always right.''
(...)

Marjorie Thomas, who suffered third-degree burns on half her body, gave the court a harrowing description of her escape from the Mount Carmel fire. She walked to the witness stand - actually a chair placed on the floor - with the help of a cane and sat on a cushion, still recovering from a March operation to remove scar tissue.

On the day of the fire, Thomas said she felt the building shake as a ''frog,'' her name for tanks, delivered tear gas into the building.

''The roof of the building lifted up and dropped back down,'' Thomas said.

A ferret round shot into Mount Carmel hit one woman, grazing her forehead, she testified. Thomas said she tried to throw the tear gas canisters back out.

''It was really hot,'' Thomas said. ''I made a few attempts. I was able to throw one out of the building.''

She stood guard duty the night before the fire, Thomas testified. That prompted government co-counsel Michael Bradford to ask if she would have shot an FBI agent trying to enter Mount Carmel.

''I wouldn't use the word 'shoot,' '' Thomas said.

''What word would you use?'' Bradford asked.

''Protect,'' Thomas said.

Smith later instructed the jurors they were only to use that portion of Thomas' testimony in considering whether the government acted reasonably in not allowing firefighters to enter Mount Carmel.
(...)

Thomas denied that the Davidians made suicide plans on April 19.

However, Thomas told Bradford there had been a plan to commit suicide if Koresh died. His body was to be put on a stretcher and taken outside, accompanied by his wives and children. Grenades would be taken, too.

''What were the grenades going to be used for?'' Bradford asked.

''It was going to be used to end our lives,'' Thomas said.

Outside court, Bradford said Thomas' testimony gave credence to government concerns of ''another Jonestown situation.'' However, Caddell dismissed the stretcher plan as a ''fantasy.''

Graeme Craddock, serving a prison sentence for possessing an unregistered destructive device (grenade) at Mount Carmel, said he was in the chapel when the fire started, according to a videotaped deposition. He heard Mark Wendel yell twice that Mount Carmel was on fire, Craddock said. The first time, he didn't see the fire. The second time, however, debris was falling like ''black snow,'' Craddock said.

Craddock also said he heard a Davidian at one point yell, ''light the fire.'' However, he said he didn't see anyone light a fire and was not aware of plans to start a fire.
(...)

Former U.S. attorney general Ramsey Clark, representing Davidians such as Clive Doyle, filed a motion Monday protesting time limits set by Smith on presentations. However, Clark said he thinks Smith ''is going to work with us on that.''
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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4. FBI Sniper Details Davidian Standoff
WFAA.Com (Dallas/Fort Worth, Channel 8), June 25, 2000
http://www.wfaa.com/wfaa/
articledisplay/0,1002,11579,00.html
Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
QUANTICO, Va. Jun 25 -- A member of the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team has broken the bureau's seven year silence about the Branch Davidian standoff.

Chris Whitcomb, a former FBI sniper, was so close he could hear the gunfire of Davidians being executed as fire consumed their compound in April, 1993.

Whitcomb will soon testify in the FBI negligence trial in Waco about what he saw that day.

''I know in my heart what happened there and I feel strongly we did what we had to do,'' he told Channel 8 in an exclusive interview.
(...)

Whitcomb is a former newspaper reporter and now an FBI hostage negotiator. He said conspiracy theorists have twisted the truth over the past seven years.
(...)

''The HRT and FBI agents never fired a round, despite being fired at the final day,'' Whitcomb said. ''A great tragedy occurred because those people did not want to live outside that compound.''
(...)

Whitcomb said the Davidians built sniper's nests -- like professional law enforcement. ''We watched them build them over a long period of time,'' he said. ''They would put their shooting positions deep inside a window and hang curtains in front of them. They were very knowledgeable in what they did and how they did it.''

Whitcomb said the Davidians opened fire from those positions when the FBI began using tanks to put tear gas inside the compound.

When the compound became engulfed in flames, the firing continued. Whitcomb said one round missed him and another agent by inches.
(...)

Whitcomb said one of his teammates risked his life to rescue a woman who did not want to be rescued from inside the burning building. ''How anyone could extend logic to the rest of us shooting into the building just baffles me. I don't even understand that,'' he said.

Whitcomb does not believe under the circumstances that any amount of negotiating would have changed the outcome. ''I really think that when we decided to go into that building -- and it would have happened some day when they ran out of food or whatever -- that David Koresh could not live in the anonymity of a federal prison, that he was not coming out of there, and those people were going to do precisely what he said.''
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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5. Trial takes its toll on survivors
Dallas Morning News, June 26, 2000
http://dallasnews.com/texas_southwest/
102124_survivors_26te.html
Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
WACO - Day after day, Branch Davidian Sheila Martin sat quietly in the back of a federal courtroom last week, reliving the tragic events that brought her here.

It was the beginning of the long-awaited trial in the sect's wrongful-death lawsuit. She has been joined in court by other Branch Davidians and relatives of the dead, some who say they came for truth and justice.

Her daily presence in court has been to show that ''this is very important to us and to the families that are not with us,'' she said.
(...)

For Mrs. Martin, like other Branch Davidians, the days in court haven't been easy.

''I guess little by little each day it gets more difficult,'' Mrs. Martin said a day after jurors were allowed to hear a 911 tape of her husband, Wayne Martin, screaming for federal agents to ''back off'' from the compound during the chaotic Feb. 28 raid at Mount Carmel.

She said it was rough to hear the recording, adding that her husband only wanted to help protect the women and children in the compound. He and their four children died in the fire that ended the standoff.

Mrs. Martin said she thinks of her husband while in court, often imagining how he would have handled the case. Mr. Martin was a Harvard-educated lawyer who had his law office at Mount Carmel.

Branch Davidians who testified last week were questioned closely by government attorneys on the teachings of leader David Koresh. Most disputed the government's claim that he preached regularly about guns and making war on the government.

Asked about government lawyers' assertions that Mr. Koresh taught followers that they had to ''kill for God,'' Branch Davidian Anetta Richards said in videotaped testimony, ''He never talked about that, God telling us to kill someone.''

But she acknowledged that Mr. Koresh was considered ''a messenger'' who ''spoke for God.'' She added that he was offering God's warnings in his preaching, which often focused on obscure Old Testament prophecies of ''chariots and horses and weapons of war.''

''He [God] would send his messengers to warn his people,'' she said. ''God always gives messages to his people before he destroys them.''

Another sect member, Rita Riddle, sat with others in court before she testified. She said she came out of the siege before it was over to tell her side of the story. Her daughter, Misty Ferguson, is expected to testify later in the trial. Ms. Ferguson escaped during the fire but sustained severe burns to her hands and face.

Ms. Riddle said that she was never taught to fire a gun and never heard Mr. Koresh teach about guns in Bible studies. She said the weapons she vaguely knew were in the building were simply an ''interest'' and a ''moneymaker'' for a few people who had them to buy and sell at gun shows.
(...)

Asked if she ever entered into a suicide pact with others at Mount Carmel, which government lawyers have said was a cause of the final fire, Ms. Riddle smiled and said no.

''There were people from all over the world there: different personalities, different families, different interests, different likes and dislikes. We were all there for one purpose, and that was the Bible studies,'' she said.Mr. Koresh, who led most of the Bible studies, met Sherry Burgo's father, Floyd Houtman, during a trip to Massachusetts. Mr. Houtman also died in the fire.
(...)

The trial has also afforded some Branch Davidians the chance to see old friends with whom they had lost contact after the fire.

Clive Doyle, who now holds Bible studies at Mount Carmel and survived the fire, said it was good to see 16-year-old Jaunessa Wendel and 18-year-old Natalie Nobrega. Both girls lived with their parents at the compound. Ms. Wendel's parents and Ms. Nobrega's mother died in the Mount Carmel tragedy.
(...)

At his home at Mount Carmel recently, Mr. Doyle said he has learned to live with the tragedy that took the life of his 18-year-old daughter, Shari Doyle. She spent most of the siege with her father in the chapel area.

''It wasn't a horrible place,'' he said of the compound. ''It was home.''

He said he wants more than a victory for plaintiffs in the suit: He wants a full airing of what he and other Mount Carmel residents saw and heard in 1993. He disputes the government assertion that the Branch Davidians fired the first shots at the beginning of the siege and he says that Branch Davidians did not set fire to the compound.

But Mr. Doyle also said he is not going into court with his ''head in the clouds'' about the prospect of vindication.

''From what I know of Judge [Walter] Smith - how he operates, what he's done in the past - I would be very, very surprised if we got justice or a favorable settlement,'' he said. ''That does not mean that it can't happen, because I believe in miracles.''
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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6. Davidian survivor recalls fire, chaos
Dallas Morning News, June 26, 2000
http://dallasnews.com/texas_southwest/102286_waco.htmlOff-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
WACO - A survivor of the government's raid on the Branch Davidian complex testified Monday about a chaotic scene as fire enveloped the compound.

''I could hear rushing, screaming, crying, people praying,'' Marjorie Thomas said. ''You could hear the flames really roaring, things popping. It was noisy.''

Thomas jumped from a window and was one of nine sect members who survived the last day of the 51-day standoff in 1993, although she suffered third-degree burns over half of her body. Eighty other Davidians died.
(...)

The soft-spoken woman, who now lives in Great Britain, testified that sect members never planned to start a fire or commit suicide.

But during cross examination, U.S. Attorney Michael Bradford pointed out that in her 1993 deposition Thomas recalled that sect leader David Koresh talked more than once about suicide plans. The 1993 deposition was used in the 1994 criminal trial of five Davidians, who were convicted of voluntary manslaughter in the deaths of four federal agents.
(...)

Bradford also referred to her 1993 interview with the Texas Rangers, in which she said some male Davidians bragged about shooting agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

Monday, Thomas said she could not remember making such statements.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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7. Branch Davidians await return of leader Koresh
National Post (Canada), June 24, 2000
http://www.nationalpost.com/search/story.html
?f=/stories/20000624/326972.html
Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
WACO, Tex. - David Koresh perished in the fire that consumed the Branch Davidian compound after U.S. government agents stormed it in 1993, but his followers say they expect him to return.

They have been waiting patiently since 1993 for Mr. Koresh, the charismatic Bible teacher and prophet who died with as many as 80 others when federal agents attacked their heavily armed compound on April 19, 1993.

''We're waiting for his return,'' said Clive Doyle, an affable Australian who survived the conflagration that destroyed the compound and who now leads the remnants of the Davidian community. ''Until then we're basically treading water.''

Mr. Doyle also expects the resurrection of his daughter, Shari, who was 18 when she died in the fire.

The 20 or so followers Mr. Doyle has gathered call themselves Students of the Seven Seals, a reference to the series of events that precipitates the final Apocalypse, as described in the Bible's Book of Revelations.

Most of Mr. Doyle's congregation are people who lived through the initial government raid on Feb. 28, 1993, which killed six Davidians and four agents of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms.
(...)

Some new members have come to Waco to study with Mr. Doyle, drawn by the publicity that has surrounded the movement since the siege and by its apocalyptic, Bible-based theology.

''There's a secret, the secret is in the Bible,'' said Ron Goins, a neatly bearded 45-year-old who abandoned Judaism and settled on the Branch Davidians after making spiritual stops along the way, including the Hare Krishnas.

The Branch Davidians are an offshoot of the Seventh Day Adventists. The Adventist movement was born in the 19th century, when a New England prophet, William Miller, became convinced of the imminent Apocalypse after reading Revelations and the Book of Daniel.

He predicted the world would end on Oct. 22, 1844. On that day, as many as 50,000 Millerite Adventists gathered in prayer, waiting to be taken up to the Lord after having abandoned their farms and businesses.

When the sun rose on Oct. 23, a day known as the Great Disappointment, the movement initially crumbled and then was reborn as the Seventh Day Adventists. The Davidians split in 1929, returning to the older and riskier tradition of actually naming the date and time of the end of days.

Mr. Koresh saw himself as the holder of the final seal of the Apocalypse, which would bring about the end of the world.

''The doctrine is the same but we're in a holding pattern because David's not here,'' said Mr. Doyle.
(...)

Most Davidians live in the city of Waco, about 15 km from the ranch, but there is talk of eventually rebuilding some sort of a commune at Mount Carmel.

''We're heading in that direction,'' Mr. Doyle said.

For many townspeople in Waco, the continued presence of the Davidians is an embarrassment and an unwelcome reminder of the events that made their town a household name around the world.
(...)

The trial shows the continuing gulf between the Davidians -- who see themselves as God's favourites in the upcoming doomsday -- and the world view of the rest of the country.

In 911 tapes from Feb. 28, 1993, played for the judge and jury, Mr. Koresh and his followers talk to police dispatchers while fighting off federal agents. While officers try to negotiate a ceasefire, Mr. Koresh veers off to talk about the Seven Seals, the Book of Deuteronomy and Biblical prophecy.

To Mr. Doyle's little band, that view of looking first to the Bible still holds true. They say God has delayed the Apocalypse briefly to allow for the wrongful death trial in the hopes that government officials who planned the raid would have the opportunity to repent and be saved.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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=== Falun Gong

8. China Detains 1,200 From Falun Gong
AOL/AP, June 26, 2000
http://my.aol.com/news/story.tmpl?
table=n&cat=01&id=0006260839866613
Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
BEIJING (AP) - Falun Gong followers have stepped up public demonstrations of their banned sect's practices, drawing more than 1,200 arrests in one week, a rights group reported Monday.

On June 18, 300 followers practiced their slow-motion exercises in a park in the southeastern city of Guangzhou, and in the seven days following, Beijing and the northeastern provincial capital of Harbin each reported gatherings of 100 people, the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy reported.

Arrests were reported in nine Chinese provinces and cities, the center said. The center's report could not be independently verified.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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=== Scientology

9. Scientologist electrocuted
InlandEmpireOnline, June 26, 2000
http://www.inlandempireonline.com/news/
stories/062600/golden26.shtml
Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
A Church of Scientology member was electrocuted in a bizarre accident Sunday morning in an underground vault at the church's film studio north of San Jacinto, authorities said.

The woman's identity was not released Sunday. She was a woman in her 20s who had been a church member for 2 ½ years, said Riverside County sheriff's spokeswoman Lisa McConnellc. The girl was a production company crew member at Golden Era Studios, which produces promotional and training films for the church.

Firefighters were called to the scene about 10:15 a.m., said Riverside County fire Capt. Tim Chavez. The call first came out as a traffic collision, then as a structure fire.

''When we arrived we found a woman electrocuted in a below-ground level vault, obviously dead,'' Chavez said, adding she was badly burned.

Firefighters called sheriff's deputies, who arrived about 11:10 a.m., McConnell said.

Ken Hoden, the manager of Golden Era Studios, said he believes the woman was trying to figure out why a squirrel had died in the vault weeks earlier.

The woman loved animals and had a squirrel as a pet, he said, and was saddened by the death of a squirrel that had ventured into the vault. He said he did not know how the squirrel had died.
(...)

The entrance of the vault was a ground-level manhole, Chavez said. The room underneath was about 20 feet by 20 feet and contained four transformers inside, he said.

The woman slipped on some oil and hit some wires, McConnell said. The woman was discovered by a security guard who is also a church member, she said.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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10. Spanish trial against Scientologists postponed
Alt.religion.scientology Week in Review, June 25, 2000
http://www.egroups.com/message/weekinreview/34?
&start=32
Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
A trial in Spain against Scientology for fraudulent drug recovery programs
has been postponed until September. From Europa Press on June 2nd:

''The Provincial Audience of Madrid has decided to postpone up to September
25 the trial against the Church of the Scientology, due to the sickness of
one of the lawyers defenders, Manuel Cobo. The district attorney requests
a 56 year-old sentence for the reverend American Herber Jentzsch, world
leader of the church, and a total of 36 years of jail for the other 16
followers. The trial that was opened by a tribunal of Madrid 16 years ago
and whose beginning has been suspended several times, with almost 150
witness. The district attorney charges the Church of the Scientology in
Spain the crimes of illicit association; against the public country
property, for not paying taxes, invasion, for giving medicine to junkie
and psychiatric treatments to followers without qualified professionals.

''It considers that some of the accused made crimes against the public
health, for the preparations given in the centers of rehabilitation, labor
crimes, for the conditions in that those employees of the organization
worked, false accusation, illegal detention, for the arrest in the airport
of Barajas of a member that wanted to move away from the Church. The
judge of the case ordered in November of 1988 the detention of 37
Scientologists.

''The defense says that the district attorney has made several errors in
their qualification of facts. With regard to the appreciation of a crime
of illegitimate association, they assure that the ownership to the
Scientology only consists on sharing some beliefs. They add that those
quantities managed by the Public Ministry to impute a fiscal crime were
obtained incorrectly.''
[...entire item...]

* Alt.religion.scientology Week in Review excerpts the week's most
notable messages from the alt.religion.scientology newsgroup. Free
subscriptions available at: http://www.egroups.com/group/weekinreviewOff-site Link

* Entire message:
http://www.deja.com/getdoc.xp?AN=636647177&fmt=textOff-site Link


=== Jehovah's Witnesses

11. Highest administrative court in France rules that Jehovah's Witnesses are a religion
Public Affairs Office of Jehovah's Witnesses, June 23, 2000 (Press Release)
http://www.jw-media.org/releases/000623.htmOff-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
France's highest administrative court, the Council of State, ruled today that Jehovah's Witnesses qualify as a religion under French law. The case involved exempting Jehovah's Witnesses from property taxes levied against their houses of worship.

''France's equivalent of a supreme court has now clearly stated for the first time that Jehovah's Witnesses are a recognized religion that offers no threat to public order,'' said Jean-Claude Pons, spokesman for Jehovah's Witnesses in France. ''We believe this will hinder any future attempts to classify our houses of worship as taxable. It also strengthens the recognition by the government that Jehovah's Witnesses are a legitimate religious group.''

In France as in the United States recognition of a religion is given through tax exemptions rather than through a registration process.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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=== Nuwaubians

12. Athens neighbors oppose Nuwaubians' plans to move in
Macon Telegraph/AP, June 27, 2000
http://www.macontelegraph.com/local/
0627_nuwaubians.htm
Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
ATHENS - Folks in this funky college town are used to having offbeat neighbors, but that doesn't mean they're willing to welcome the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors.

The Nuwaubians have already riled their neighbors in Putnam County, where the quasi-religious group settled in 1993, erecting Egyptian-style pyramids and obelisks on a 400-acre compound.

Now the group has bought a building a block from the Victorian homes of Athens' Dearing Street Historic District. The Nuwaubians have applied for variances to add an extra story to the commercial-zoned building and expand the parking lot.

Residents say they're not opposing the Nuwaubians because of their beliefs, which combine elements of black empowerment, Biblical themes, Egyptian polytheism and alien visitation.

Neighbors are afraid the expansion would mean cutting down trees that create a buffer between their homes and busy West Broad Street, where the Nuwaubians' new property is located.

''If they're going to land a spaceship there, they've got to have a lot of space,'' said Burt Sparer, president of the Athens Federation of Neighborhoods.

Malachi Z. York, the Nuwaubians' founder, has said spaceships will come to Earth in 2003 to claim a selected 144,000 people for ''rebirth.'' He claims to be from another galaxy.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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13. Brown receives support from black elected officials
Savannah Morning News, June 25, 2000
http://www.savannahmorningnews.com/smn/
stories/062500/LOCGABEO.shtml
Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
Embattled Liberty County Tax Commissioner Carolyn Brown on Saturday received support from the state's largest organization of black politicians.
(...)

A judge has ordered Brown to repay Liberty County $1.2 million in fees, commissions and legal expenses she collected from property taxes and vehicle tag payments. Two weeks ago, a judge ruled that Brown is ineligible to run for re-election.
(...)

But the issue that took center stage Saturday was changing the Georgia state flag, which incorporates the Confederate ''Stars and Bars.''

The Rev. Nelson Rivers, director of field operations for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, pressed the issue during the event's keynote speech, saying the flag was ''symbolic of the hatred of you because of your color.''

''The Confederate Flag is about white supremacy,'' Rivers said. ''What flies above the (Statehouse) ought to be the symbol of all the people. ... We don't want a flag for some people, we want a flag for all people.''
(...)

A good portion of those in attendance Saturday were from the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors, a black group located in Eatonton whose members claim to be descended from the Egyptians and from a tribe of American Indians indigenous to Georgia. Egyptian architecture, including pyramids, are located on the group's property in central Georgia.

Group members have been in a dispute with Putnam County authorities over voter registration and zoning issues. They claim election officials there have been unfairly challenging the residency of Nuwaubians in order to prevent them from voting in the predominantly white county. Justice Department officials have become involved because of the charges of racism.

Convention attendees voted to support the Nuwaubians, Brown, the flag issue, efforts to lift the Cuban embargo, as well as efforts to combat alleged racism against officials in Treutlen County, Cuthbert, and black people in Richland.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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=== Paganism / Witchcraft

14. Woman stripped, lynched in Nagpur
The Times of India, June 27,2000
http://www.timesofindia.com/270600/27indi5.htmOff-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
NAGPUR: A 20 year-old married woman was stripped, paraded and lynched (to death) by a superstitious mob who suspected her of practising witchcraft. The gory incident took place in the Vijay Nagar slums on the eastern outskirts of the city.

Largely illiterate Chhatisghari tribals live in the densely-populated slum. A resident Yogesh Thakur, whose two-and-half-year-old daughter Manisha died on Saturday afternoon after some illness, held his neighbour Tikambai Sahu responsible for it. He consulted a tantrik from another slum who alleged that Tikambai was a witch and had cast a fatal spell on little Manisha.

By evening a panchayat was summoned and it was decided to ``punish'' Tikambai for practising ``sorcery''.
(...)

The police rounded up 19 persons, five of them women, for their involvement in the incident. The tantrik has also been held. More arrests were likely, the police said.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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15. The factory curse, the strike and the goat's horn
Sunday Times (South Africa), June 25, 2000
http://www.suntimes.co.za/2000/06/25/news/news29.htmOff-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
''Bewitched'' workers at a factory in Barberton, about 300km northeast of Johannesburg, had to resort to an illegal strike before they could persuade their boss to allow in a witchdoctor to hunt for the cause of their unexplained illnesses.

When a witchdoctor was eventually allowed to check the premises, he dug up a goat's horn which was ceremonially burnt to cleanse the factory and its workers - and the staff say their illnesses disappeared.
(...)

The clash of two cultures was highlighted in a case before the Labour Appeal Court this week when lawyers fought over the compensation due to several workers sacked after the illegal muti strike and not re-hired.
(...)

At one stage, Rudge invited two Christian priests to the company. They said prayers and poured a ''reddish substance'' onto the factory floor, saying that it would heal the illnesses, but it had no effect.
(...)

Rudge gave the strikers several ultimatums, then sacked them. A few days later, Rudge's mother, accompanied by a Christian priest, addressed the workers congregated outside the factory. They poured oil on the head of each worker, and the priest led a prayer.

Those workers re-employed by Rudge still refused to begin work, however, until the factory had been cleared of the suspected muti .

Rudge agreed to this and a ''prophet'', Joseph Maluleka, arrived a few days later, conducted a search and dug out the horn and burnt it.
(...)

The Labour Appeal Court has reserved judgment.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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16. It's Witchcraft
Daily Express (England), June 26, 2000
http://www.lineone.net/express/00/06/26/features/f0300-d.htmlOff-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
Witches say they are gaining a new-found respectability, thanks to JK Rowling's Harry Potter books. ROLAND HOWARD went to see for himself whether 'natural magic' is all about broomsticks and black cats
(...)

Latham is one of around 50,000 witches in the UK - and the number is rising. The Pagan Federation has 5,000 members and has been inundated with inquiries over the past two years - possibly due to the popularity of the Harry Potter books. Witches in America have commented that JK Rowling's stories of spells and wizardry have given them a greater respectability.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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=== Catholicism

17. Third Secret of Fatima: no apocalypse now
AOL/Reuters, June 26, 2000
http://my.aol.com/news/story.tmpl?
table=n&cat=01&id=0006261110933878
Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The Vatican published the ''Third Secret of Fatima'' Monday and assured the faithful it referred to a violent past rather than an apocalyptic future.

The gist of the secret -- said to have been told by the Madonna to three Portuguese shepherd children in 1917 -- predicted communism's persecution of Christianity in the 20th century and foretold the 1981 assassination attempt on Pope John Paul, the Vatican says.

But mostly, Vatican officials said, it pointed to the hope of a brighter future forged by the sufferings of the past.
(...)

Over the years, the Vatican's refusal to make the secret public has inspired books, doomsday cults convinced it predicted the end of the world, and even a hijacking.
(...)

The text was written in 1944 by Lucia dos Santos, now a 93-year-old nun who is the only survivor of the three children, but a succession of popes decided not to reveal it.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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18. Text of the third Fatima secret
BBC, June 26, 2000
http://news.bbc.co.uk/low/english/
world/europe/newsid_806000/806543.stm
Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
The following is the text of the third part of the secret of Fatima as written down by Sister Lucia dos Santos, one of the three children believed to have seen the Virgin Mary in 1917.

I write in obedience to you, my God, who commands me to do so through his Excellency the Bishop of Leiria and through your most Holy Mother and mine.

After the two parts which I have already explained, at the left of Our Lady and a little above, we saw an angel with a flaming sword in his left hand. Flashing, it gave out flames that looked as though they would set the world on fire.

But they died out in contact with the splendour that Our Lady radiated towards him from her right hand.

Pointing to the earth with his right hand, the angel cried out in a loud voice: ''Penance, penance, penance!''

And we saw in an immense light that is God, something similar to how people appear in a mirror when then pass in front of it, a bishop dressed in white.

We had the impression that it was the Holy Father.

Other bishops, priests, religious men and women were going up a steep mountain, at the top of which there was a big cross of rough-hewn trunks as of a cork-tree with the bark.

Before reaching there the Holy Father passed through a big city half in ruins and half trembling with halting step, afflicted with pain and sorrow, he prayed for the souls of the corpses he met on his way.

Having reached the top of the mountain, on his knees at the foot of the big cross he was killed by a group of soldiers who fired bullets and arrows at him, and in the same way there died one after another the bishops, priests, religious men and women, and various lay people of different ranks and positions.

Beneath the two arms of the cross there were two angels each with a crystal aspersorium in his hand, in which they gathered up the blood of the martyrs and with it sprinkled the souls that were making their way to God.
[...entire item...]

* Full text of the message of FatimaOff-site Link


=== Buddhism

19. Dalai Lama in Marin to Shape Future of American Buddhism
San Francisco Chronicle, June 24, 2000
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?
file=/chronicle/archive/2000/06/24/MN30195.DTL
Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
MARIN CO. -- There was the Dalai Lama, surrounded by Tibetan lamas in maroon and yellow robes, Thai monks draped in orange and an assortment of California Buddhists wearing everything from blue jeans to the traditional Zen vestments of Japan.

But perhaps the most extraordinary thing about a private gathering of 220 Asian and Western Buddhist leaders in Marin County this week was that half of the assembled teachers were women.

''Someone asked the Dalai Lama if there could be a woman Dalai Lama,'' said Jack Kornfield, a Buddhist teacher and co-founder of Spirit Rock Meditation Center near Woodacre, which hosted the unprecedented five-day assembly.

Participants say much of the discussion at the sessions, which were closed to the public and the non-Buddhist press, revolved around efforts to nurture an American incarnation of this ancient spiritual practice and to overcome centuries of sexism and sectarianism in Asian Buddhism.

''Buddhism is a huge world religion,'' said Kornfield. ''We have our fundamentalists, and we have our Unitarians.''

Perhaps so, but Buddhism, American-style, simmers in a meditative melting pot where teachers and students from various Asian schools have come together for the first time.

''For 2,000 years, they've mostly only heard rumors about each other,'' Kornfield said. ''The Burmese misunderstood the Tibetans, or the Tibetans couldn't understand why the Japanese were hitting each other with sticks. There's a history of sectarianism, rivalry and put-downs that we want to avoid in America. It's an issue the Dalai Lama is very interested in.''

According to some estimates, there are between 2 million and 3 million practicing Buddhists in the United States, an eclectic mix of Asian immigrants and Western converts.

One of the main questions that emerged at the Marin County gathering was how to separate Buddhism's essential teachings from its cultural trappings.

''The Dalai Lama talked about how important it is for us to stick to the basics -- to cultivating compassion and freeing ourselves from anger and greed,'' Kornfield said.
(...)

While the Dalai Lama was the best-known Buddhist at this week's Marin County meeting, many other leading U.S. and European teachers from the three major Buddhist schools -- the Theravada, Vajrayana and Zen/Pure Land traditions -- attended the gathering.
(...)

San Francisco has long been a magnet for American Buddhists.
(...)

Traditional leadership styles -- where the teacher is all-powerful -- soon led to numerous scandals involving sex, money and abuses of spiritual authority.

Many of the pioneer roshis and lamas of the 1960s and 1970s have died, leaving the next generation of Buddhist practitioners to find new, more democratic, forms of temple leadership.

According to Barbara Gates, co- editor of Inquiring Mind, an American Buddhist journal published in Berkeley and a participant at the Spirit Rock conference, ''there were some interesting discussions with the Dalai Lama looking at some of the dangers of having devotion to a teacher.''

Kornfield said today's Buddhist devotees are less naive about the powers and purity of gurus, lamas and other meditation masters. ''A lot of centers have established clear, ethical guidelines that apply to teachers and students,'' he said.
(...)

As for the question of a future female Dalai Lama, the current Dalai Lama has said that it would be possible, although few observers of Tibetan Buddhism expect it to happen anytime soon.
(...)

Largely because of the media, Hollywood and other purveyors of popular culture, Tibetan Buddhism and its leader, the Dalai Lama, have become household words in America.

Books by the Dalai Lama and other Buddhist writers are anchored on the best-seller lists. Films like ''Kundun'' and ''Seven Years in Tibet'' have spread the faith, as have Buddhist movie stars like Richard Gere and Steven Seagal.

Kornfield, who studied in Buddhist monasteries in Thailand, India and Burma before co-founding Spirit Rock, said Hollywood's embrace of Buddhism is a mixed blessing.

''It gets people interested, but they may show up and say, 'I want to learn to meditate, so I can levitate like I saw the lamas do in the movies,' '' he said.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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20. Prophecy, Karma and a Buddhist Icon in Glendale
Los Angeles Times, June 26, 2000
http://www.latimes.com/news/front/20000626/t000060445.htmlOff-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
In the Earth Ox Year of 749, an enlightened Buddhist master of extraordinary power journeyed to the Himalayan kingdom of Tibet.

Guru Rinpoche was born in the Milk Ocean land of what is now Pakistan. Ancient legends say he could defy death and brought the teachings to Tibet when he was 1,000 years old. One of them was the secret blueprint of a sacred map to enlightenment called the Shi-Tro mandala.

The mandala was said to be so potent that merely looking at it could liberate any being from all negative karma--the unavoidable consequences of harmful actions. It could transform anger and fear into altruism and compassion.

In the Wood Monkey Year of 804, the chronicles say, the guru left Tibet with a wondrous display of miracles, riding a horse through the air before an astonished crowd. Before he left, he prophesied that the teachings would someday reach the world.

''When the iron bird flies,'' it is written that he said, ''the teachings will go to the West.''

Now, in the Iron Dragon Year of 2000, a master Tibetan artist and his staff are using the ancient blueprint in Glendale to build the first three-dimensional mandala in the United States.

Working in the shadow of Forest Lawn Memorial Park's landmark white cross in Glendale, Pema Namdol Thaye is busily adding jewels and paint to what resembles the celestial palace of 100 peaceful and wrathful deities. By the time it is completed in October, this icon of intricate art and intense spirituality will be 10 feet tall and will have taken nine months and $250,000 to construct.

The project will be personally blessed this week by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet, who arrived in Los Angeles on Friday to give a week of Buddhist teachings.

For Lama Chodak Gyatso Nubpa, the mandala project represents an urgent race to preserve a vanishing cultural and religious art. Once a standard fixture in almost every large monastery, the three-dimensional mandala has become perilously rare amid the destruction of more than 6,000 monasteries during nearly five decades of the Communist Chinese occupation of Tibet.

But project members also envision the mandala as more than important museum art or esoteric Buddhist practice. Their driving motivation is to bring the mandala's benefits to the street: to gangbangers and truck drivers, teachers, dot-commers and children, to open hearts and minds--the only way they believe genuine peace is possible.

Members of Chagdud Gonpa T'hondup Ling, the lama's Los Feliz center, are hammering out a nonsectarian curriculum for peace education to offer to schools and communities as the mandala begins a national tour.
(...)

Other project members are marketing the mandala in a hip and humorous way: ''Shi-Tro Happens.'' The image campaign, aimed at creating buzz among a younger, not necessarily Buddhist crowd, features a planned CD of Tibetan music, an e-card of snazzy flash graphics linked to the project's Web site (http://www.shi-tromandala.com), and products ranging from T-shirts to incense.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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=== Hate Groups / Hate Crimes

21. Supreme Court Denies Racist Appeal
AOL/AP, June 26, 2000
http://my.aol.com/news/story.tmpl?
table=n&cat=01&id=0006261108933726
Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court rejected the appeal of an Illinois white supremacist who says the state committee that denied him a law license violated his free-speech rights.

The court, acting without comment Monday, turned away Matthew Hale's arguments that Illinois has established ''orthodox religious and political beliefs to which (an aspiring lawyer) must subscribe as a condition of admission.''

Hale, an East Peoria resident and leader of the segregationist World Church of the Creator, was denied a law license last summer even though he graduated from Southern Illinois University's law school and passed the state bar exam.

State bar officials noted that Hale had ''dedicated his life to inciting racial hatred,'' and said ''he cannot do this as an officer of the court.'' The Illinois Supreme Court refused to hear Hale's appeal last November.

Hale's appeal said he cannot lawfully be excluded from the legal profession ''on the basis of his beliefs.''
(...)

Illinois Bar officials urged the justices to turn down Hale's appeal, saying he had failed to prove he has ''good moral character.''

''As opposed to being excluded from Illinois' bar on the basis of beliefs or speech, Hale's past conduct, lack of credibility and inability to meet his burden of (good character) proof doomed his bar application,'' they said.

Shortly after the state committee's rejection of Hale, a former member of his group went on a shooting spree. Benjamin Smith targeted minorities, killing two people and injuring several others before killing himself.

Hale later said it was possible the shootings were the result of the committee's action, a remark state bar officials said further proved he lacks the ''moral character necessary to satisfy even minimal bar admission standards.''

The case is Hale v. Committee on Character and Fitness, 99-1349.

On the Net: For the state court ruling: http://www.courts.net and click on Illinois.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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22. Supreme Court: No License to Hate
Law.com/American Lawyer Media, June 27, 2000
http://www.law.com/cgi-bin/gx.cgi/
AppLogic+FTContentServer?pagename=law/View&c=Article&cid=ZZZ3S7XKY9C&live=true&
cst=2&pc=0&pa=0&s=News&ExpIgnore=true&showsummary=0
Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
The Supreme Court on Monday let stand an Illinois ruling that denied a license to practice law to avowed racist Matthew Hale.

The Court's action avoids what could have been a contentious exploration of the free speech rights of lawyers and potential lawyers who run afoul of state licensing standards because of their views.

Hale challenged the denial as a violation of his First Amendment rights in the case of Hale v. The Committee on Character and Fitness of the Illinois Bar. It arrived at a Court that is generally sympathetic to free speech rights. But many justices have expressed concern about the lack of civility and professionalism among lawyers.
(...)

''As far as I'm concerned the Constitution is dead,'' Hale said while vowing to file suit in federal court to challenge Illinois' character and fitness procedures. Though he declined to name which ones, Hale said he is looking to surrounding states for admission to one of their bars.

Hale discussed the irony of the denial of cert, saying that to release the decision around the 4th of July is a ''slap in the face.''

And while Hale claims he has advocated nonviolence all his life, he said he can no longer.

''I can't tell my people 'Obey the law' when the law doesn't protect them,'' Hale said. ''It's just completely tragic that the Supreme Court has decided to move this country toward a police state where the only way people can express their opinions is through a barrel of a gun.''

Hale's rhetoric, as well as extreme viewpoints, is nothing new.

By the time Hale graduated from Southern Illinois University's law school in Carbondale in 1998, his views were widely known on campus. He was leader of the Worldwide Church of the Creator, which promulgated ''The Sixteen Commandments of Creativity.'' Among them: ''Your first loyalty belongs to the white race,'' ''Phase out all dealings with Jews as soon as possible,'' and ''Do not employ niggers or other coloreds.'' The church admires Adolf Hitler and advocates the deportation of blacks, Jews and other ''mud races.''

After Hale passed the state bar exam, his application for a law license was referred to an inquiry panel to determine if he met the requirement of ''good moral character'' for admission to the bar. The panel held a hearing at which Hale advocated the repeal of the 14th Amendment and said that the precept ''all men are created equal is an ''idiotic notion.'' He said he could protect and defend the Constitution, but would continue to espouse his views as a lawyer. The panel refused to certify Hale as a lawyer.

''The balance of values that we strike,'' the panel agreed, ''leaves Matthew Hale free, as the First Amendment allows, to incite as much racial hatred as he desires and attempt to carry out his life's mission of depriving those he dislikes of their legal rights. But in our view he cannot do this as an officer of the court.'' The panel also said, ''this case is not about Mr. Hale's First Amendment rights.'' Based on the panel's report, the full committee on character and fitness denied Hale a law license.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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23. Synagogue in Jerusalem Set Afire; Barak Condemns 'Awful Act'
New York Times, June 26, 2000
http://www.nytimes.com/library/world
/mideast/062600israel-synagogue.html
Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
JERUSALEM, June 25 -- After a Conservative synagogue in Jerusalem was set on fire Saturday night, Prime Minister Ehud Barak condemned the crime today as ''an awful act that causes every Jew to shudder.''

Rabbi David Bateman, who leads the Kehilat Ya'ar Ramot synagogue, said his congregation of about 150 families was trying to digest what had happened as arson investigators dug through the rubble of burned prayer books and furniture today. The fire came within yards of the ark, but the synagogue's three Torah scrolls emerged unharmed.
(...)

An investigation is under way. But synagogue leaders say they suspect youths on the fringe of highly observant Orthodox Jewish groups, judging from previous incidents and a ''calling card'' left at the scene.

Yonatan Liebowitz, a spokesman for the Conservative movement, said witnesses reported seeing apparently religious men, wearing black velvet skullcaps and white shirts, fleeing as the flames raged. But Rabbi Bateman said it was unclear whether the men were connected to the attack, and he cautioned against reading the violence as an expression of ''the ultra-Orthodox'' as opposed to ''some kind of a lunatic fringe.''

Strictly Orthodox Jews see Reform and Conservative Judaism as watered-down and inauthentic versions of a religion whose God-given rules are inviolable. Some do not see them as Judaism at all, although they are the dominant streams outside Israel. In a series of court cases that have ignited tensions here, the liberal movements have been fighting for recognition and equal status in a country that gives all the religious authority to the strictly Orthodox.

Progressive Jews here took the fire as a sad sign that the battle between strictly Orthodox and liberal streams of Judaism had plummeted to a new low.

''In the States,'' Rabbi Bateman said, ''we saw the occasional synagogues defaced with a swastika but we never saw one burned. And there, maybe it was neo-Nazis or skinheads. Not our own.''
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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=== Cults - France

24. France aims at banning 'dangerous' sects
UPI, June 23, 2000 Note: UPI is owned by the Unification Church
http://www.marketwatch.newsalert.com/bin/story?
StoryId=CovlGWbebzNjHBMnLlwn1BhrZ&FQ=sects&Title=
Headlines%20for%3A%20sects%0A
Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
PARIS, June 23 (UPI) -- French Justice Minister Elisabeth Guigou says a proposed French law legally defining cults and banning them -- only just approved by the National Assembly -- is a ''significant advance for democratic states.''

The proposed statute won National Assembly approval Thursday and now needs only the final support of the French Senate before it is enacted. It has the backing of the Socalist-led government of Prime Minister Lionel Jospin. Guigou told French radio today the new law would arm the country with ''appropriate legal tools needed to combat cults.'' The language in the legislation makes ''mental manipulation'' or brainwashing a criminal offence.

The statute has come under fierce attack by various religious minorities -- most especially the Church of Scientology, which charges the statute as ''anti-democratic.''
(...)

The head of the government committee identifying so-called dangerous sects is Alain Vivien. And in February, he said there should be no total bans imposed on all sects, but that ''extremely dangerous'' organizations -- and he singled out the Church of Scientology in particular -- should be disbanded by government order. His committee report asserted French Scientology church leaders were manipulated by church headquarters in Los Angeles. Vivien also claimed Scientology in France included ''underground activities led from abroad.''
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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25. Churches in France oppose anti-cult law
The Independent (England), June 25, 2000
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/World/Europe/
2000-06/anticult250600.shtml
Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
When is a religion a sect? When can conversion, or evangelism, or even political campaigning, be described as ''brainwashing''?

The lower house of the French parliament last week adopted the first draft of Europe's most draconian law against religious sects.

Three years ago the German government published a pamphlet accusing the Scientology sect of totalitarian tendencies, and several Länder have banned sect members from jobs in the public sector, but attempts to impose a wider ban in Germany have hit legal obstacles.

If approved by the Senate or upper house, and then President Chirac, the French law would place a new criminal offence - ''mental manipulation'' - on the statute book.

The intention is to allow the police and the parents of sect disciples to bring legal action against sects, even if the ''victims'' have made no complaint.

The law would allow the French government to shut down sects convicted of mental manipulation on more than one occasion.

However, the vagueness of the wording and the sweeping nature of the new law have set alarm bells ringing in mainstream French churches, as well as the headquarters of the Scientologists and the Moonies.

''The role of the State is to protect religious liberty and guarantee its exercise, not to limit it,'' said Monseigneur Claude Dagens, the Roman Catholic bishop of Angoulême. ''We want a laity which shows respect [for religion], not intolerance.''

Michel Bertrand, president of the council of Protestant churches in France (themselves persecuted in the not so distant past), said: ''We will not move forward through repression, nor by casting suspicion on all forms of religious faith.''

He pointed out that the wording of the draft law could be interpreted as banning political campaigning.

The draft law, proposed by Socialist members of the National Assembly but approved unanimously by deputies of all parties on Thursday, follows a parliamentary investigation into the proliferation of sects in France.

Up to 500,000 French people are thought to belong to ''new religions'' or sects. The Scientologists are especially strong in France.

However, the Socialist-led French government has itself expressed doubts about the wisdom and legality of the draft anti-sect law in its present form.

The justice minister, Elisabeth Guigou, said the text might infringe the articles of the European Convention on Human Rights which guarantee liberty of belief, speech and association.

She called for a ''pause'' before the text goes to the Senate, to seek the views of both human rights groups and churches.

Under the text agreed on Thursday, it would be an offence to ''exercise serious and repeated pressure on a person in order to create or exploit a state of dependence, which would lead the person, whether willingly or not, to act, or fail to act, in a way which would be gravely prejudicial to that individual''.

Danièle Gounord of the French Church of Scientology said the draft law was ''the death-knell of democracy in France''. Members of the Rael sect proclaimed that a ''climate of persecution'' now existed in France. As a result, they said, sect members would seek political asylum in the United States.
[...entire item...]

* It should be noted that in France, as elsewhere, many Christians are not
well-informed about the spiritual and sociological dangers of cults and
sects
. Too, as shown above, cults are going to great lengths to misrepresent the scope and intent of the proposed law.


=== Other News

26. Alberta couple get suspended sentence in diabetes death of son
Ottawa Citizen (Canada), June 26, 2000
http://www.southam.com/ottawacitizen/newsnow/
cpfs/national/000626/n062651.html
Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
RED DEER, Alta. (CP) - An Alberta couple whose religious beliefs kept them from caring for their gravely ill teenage son won't do jail time. Steven and Ruth Shippy each received a three-year suspended sentence in court Monday.

Earlier this month, they were found guilty of failing to provide the necessities of life in the case of 14-year-old Calahan Shippy but were acquitted of criminal negligence.

Calahan died at home on Dec. 30, 1998, from complications of diabetes.

The Shippys belong to a religious sect called the Followers of Christ, based in Oregon.

The sect believes illness is cured by prayer and by anointing oil.
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27. Religions summit focuses on ending violence worldwide
Post-Gazette, June 26, 2000
http://www.post-gazette.com/regionstate/20000626united8.aspOff-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
Twelve years ago, Masankho Banda was a refugee from Malawi. Now living in the San Francisco Bay area, he's attending the Pacific School of Religion, and the energetic theology student is already thinking of how to make a difference in the world.

Ordinarily, Banda, who studies the connections between spirituality and dance, would seem half a planet away from Kathy Cunningham of Lawrenceville and Gregory Olverson of Lincoln-Larimer, two friends who met at East Liberty Presbyterian Church.

Their worlds meshed yesterday. All three were participants in the kick off of the United Religions Initiative, a global summit organized to end religiously motivated violence.

They were joined yesterday by 200 participants from six continents who formed a rainbow of nationalities, faiths and spiritual traditions to begin a six-day conference at Carnegie Mellon University.

The initiative was the idea of California's Episcopal Bishop William Swing of San Francisco. A thoughtful man, Swing envisioned a spiritual parliament five years ago at a worship service marking the 50th anniversary of the United Nations.
(...)

Along the way, a few organized religions have endorsed the effort, but the Roman Catholic authority, the fundamentalist Southern Baptists, and even Episcopalian leadership -- some have called Swing a ''heretic'' -- have not given the initiative their blessings.
(...)

The heartbeat of the movement comes from grassroots advocates worldwide. Their diversity was in full bloom yesterday.
(...)

The mix of Hindu, Jewish, Wicca, Christian, Muslim and other faiths isn't in town to only affirm their differences. The United Religions Initiative prides itself on interfaith partnerships that work to cease religiously motivated violence and other international ills. The conference highlight is today's signing of the charter, which officially launches the initiative.
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28. Powerful advertiser reaffirms no-buy position for Dr. Laura
The Oklahoman/Religion News Service, June 24, 2000
http://www.oklahoman.com/cgi-bin/shart?
ID=507630&TP=getarticle
Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
Powerful advertiser Procter & Gamble has told conservative Christian activists it is standing by its decision to not advertise on Paramount Domestic Television's fall talk show hosted by radio advice guru Laura Schlessinger.

''We cannot sponsor Dr. Laura's television show,'' Bob Wehling, a Procter & Gamble officer, wrote in a letter faxed recently to one of six Christian groups that met with company officials about its mid-May decision.

Proctor & Gamble dropped advertising plans after intensive lobbying by gay and lesbian organizations that object to Schlessinger's criticism of homosexuality on the ''Dr. Laura'' show.

''It's a shame that she has become so polarizing on several issues, because we think the majority of the advice she gives is good and helpful, if not always compassionate,'' Wehling wrote in the letter, obtained by the Hollywood Reporter. ''While she has every right to assert her views on all subjects in the context of her show, we have an equal right as an advertiser to place our commercials in less polarizing environments.''

Wehling also called Schlessinger ''an eloquent spokesperson for traditional values.''
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29. Sinead joins Bishop Cox's 'healing boat'
The Times (England), June 25, 2000
http://www.sunday-times.co.uk/news/pages/sti/
2000/06/25/stiireire01005.html
Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
The renegade bishop who ordained Sinead O'Connor plans to proselytise Ireland by boat. Michael Cox is promising to sail around Ireland in a trawler performing miracle healings and ordinations.

O'Connor, known in the breakaway Latin Tridentine church as Mother Bernadette Marie, has promised to join the bishop on the boat when she is finished promoting her latest album.

Cox, the controversial archbishop of the Catholic splinter group, is redecorating the 72ft trawler in Fenit harbour, Co Kerry, and plans to put the floating chapel to sea this summer.

''Miracle'' healing ceremonies and ordinations for women and married men are among the rituals he is planning aboard the Ocean Gain II, which is being renamed The Little Bishop. ''Anyone that wants to obtain divine healing, or hear the old Latin mass, I will be in a position to do that. There will be music as well - I'm bringing my uillean pipes and my accordion,'' Cox said.

Although his authority is not recognised by the Catholic church, marriages, baptisms, confirmations, and masses will also be available to people as the boat tours the islands around Ireland.
(...)

The bishop became widely known last year after he ordained O'Connor a priest in a ceremony at a hotel room in Lourdes. In recent years his health has deteriorated, and he is now on medication after a heart attack last year.
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30. Sinead Keeps The Faith
TIME, June 12, 2000
http://www.time.com/time/magazine/articles/
0,3266,46474,00.html
Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
The outspoken Irish singer sounds off on her new priesthood, celibacy, child rearing--and making her best album in years
(...)

Faith and Courage is one of the best CDs of the year. On her past albums, O'Connor's songs burned with anger. Her new album, for which she recruited a wide range of producers, including hip-hopper Wyclef Jean, radiates forgiveness, and the music is often as sweet and smooth as strawberries and cream. A few tracks, including The Healing Room, beam with sunny reggae rhythms. The album is dedicated to ''all Rastafari people.'' In one song, What Doesn't Belong to Me, O'Connor sings from the perspective of God, rejecting the self-segregation in the world: ''I'm Irish, I'm English, I'm Muslim, I'm Jewish/ I'm a girl, I'm a boy/ and the goddess meant for me only joy.'' On another track, The Lamb's Book of Life, O'Connor becomes Ireland itself, running from history and searching for redemption in America: ''I know that I have done many things/ To give you reason not to listen to me/ ... Words can't express how sorry I am.''
(...)

But back to the question of the day: What's the deal with her becoming a priest?

''If you're going to put yourself in the position of criticizing something, then you must feel that you can do a better job,'' she says. ''Well, if you feel you could do a better job, then join the organization and do what you can to change it. I do believe in not throwing the baby out with the bathwater. There are things that need to be cleaned out within the church, but underneath all of that there's a beautiful baby, this beautiful truth.''

She says her priest name is Mother Bernadette Mary. And, she adds, her exact title is now archdeacon. ''Basically, I do all the things that other priests do, allowing for the fact that I have two children,'' she says. ''Obviously my children come first. So I do what I can. [But] I don't do marriages. The reason I don't do marriages is that people tend to want me to do them because I'm a pop star. It's the Al Green syndrome--everyone wants Al Green to marry them because he's Al Green.''
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31. Five Questions With Sinead O'Connor
Excite/AP, June 21, 2000
http://news.excite.com/news/ap/000621/12/
ent-celeb-fiveqs-sinead-oconnor
Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
(...) What ''hit the fan'' was the reaction to O'Connor's tearing up a picture of Pope John Paul II on NBC's ''Saturday Night Live'' in 1992. Journalists still ask why she did it, O'Connor said.

''It was a symbol of tearing down of the church's secrets and lies. In Ireland, it was coming out (that) there had been child abuse within the church and it had been shut up. It wasn't an attack on the man,'' she said.
(...)

Last year, O'Connor was ordained as a priest in the Latin Tridentine Church, a splinter group of the Roman Catholic church. On the day of the interview, she wore a navy dress, adorned with a crucifix around her neck.

She doesn't want to dwell on her ordination because she didn't do it for publicity. ''It was about reclaiming a place for women in the church,'' she said.
(...)

2. Why did you dedicate your new CD to Rastafarians and to your father?

O'Connor: It's an acknowledgment of love for my father. And Rastafari people have a huge sense of the presence of God in every person. And they don't deny the magic of religion.
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=== Religious Freedom / Religious Intolerance

32. Court Again Limits Prayer in Schools
New York Times/AP, June 26, 2000
http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/w/AP-Scotus-School-Prayer.htmlOff-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
[Religious Intolerance]
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court set aside a ruling Monday that let public school students in an Alabama county lead group prayers at graduations, assemblies and sports events.

The justices told a federal appeals court to restudy the case in light of a major school-prayer decision they announced last week in a Texas case. In that ruling, the court said prayer in public schools must be private and that such prayers at high school football games violate the constitutionally required separation of church and state.
(...)

The case is Chandler vs. Siegelman, 99-935.

On the Net: For the appeals court ruling in Chandler v. James: http://www.uscourts.gov/links.htmlOff-site Link and click on 11th Circuit.
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33. Remain standing for the invocation
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, June 26, 2000 (Editorial)
http://www.ardemgaz.com/today/edi/wopJERRYCOX26.htmlOff-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
[Religious Intolerance]
(...) Just as disturbing as banning student-led prayers at high school football games is the tone of the court's recent opinion. Chief Justice William Rehnquist, in a dissenting opinion, said, ''It bristles with hostility to all things religious in public life.''

Unfortunately, this ruling marks the most recent episode in a 40-year effort by the courts to purge religion from public life, especially public schools.

In 1962, the Supreme Court said officially sponsored prayers or religious statements in public schools violate the First Amendment's ban on any ''establishment of religion.'' The next year the court banned the reading of the Bible as part of devotional exercises in public schools. In 1980, the court outlawed the posting of the Ten Commandments in public schools. In 1985, the justices outlawed daily moments of silence if public school students are encouraged to pray. In 1992, the court prohibited clergy-led prayers at public school graduation ceremonies.

One glimmer of hope in this saga occurred in 1990 when the court said public schools must allow student prayer groups to meet and worship if other student clubs are permitted at school. This ruling has allowed students to engage in religious activities, such as ''see you at the pole,'' in which students hold voluntary prayer meetings on public school campuses.

As a result of the 1990 ruling, many Arkansas high schools began allowing students to lead in prayer over the PA system at football games. Now the Supreme Court says this, too, is illegal. Now students who lead in prayer over a public address system at a football game are agents of the state and subject to censorship and loss of freedom of religious expression.

Somehow the court decided that hearing a prayer might offend or harm students who choose not to pray. Never mind the fact that dissenters can exercise their constitutional right not to pray. Never mind the fact that football games are voluntary extracurricular activities. Never mind the fact that 67 percent of Americans support student-led prayer at games. Never mind the fact that the First Amendment says that the government shall not prohibit the free exercise of religion.
(...)

The framers of the Constitution and Bill of Rights feared the establishment of a state-sanctioned church such as the Church of England. This is why the so-called establishment clause was included in the First Amendment. In no case did any of the Founding Fathers ever advocate banning public prayer.

In fact, they would likely find recent actions of the court just as deplorable as the rest of us. Our nation was founded on freedom of religion, not freedom from religion.

If outlawing prayer at school events was the intent of the framers of the Constitution, why didn't they ban prayer in the schools of their day? It took over 160 years for the courts to twist the original intent of the Constitution enough to use it to launch the great purging of religion from public life in America. Where will it end?
(...)

Jerry Cox is president of Family Council, a non-profit education and research organization based in Little Rock.
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34. Kirby: Angry Debate Over Prayer at School Can Be Pinned on Religion, Which Promotes Discord
Salt Lake Tribune, June 24, 2000 (Robert Kirby, Columnist)
http://www.sltrib.com/06242000/saturday/61517.htmOff-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
[Religious Intolerance]
Monday's ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court prohibits high school students from praying for deliverance from rival football teams.

In a 5-3 split, justices determined that student-led prayers at school sporting events were a violation of something called the Establishment Clause, which says, ''Congress shall make no law respecting religion without first soliciting PAC funds.''

I'm paraphrasing of course, but you get what I mean.
(...)

The issue came to its most recent head when two Texas families--one Mormon, the other Catholic--sued to ban students from praying over the public address system before high school sporting events.

Apparently the predominant evangelical Christian local faith got under their skin with the prayers. This is understandable, especially if the prayers lasted for hours, and encouraged God to smite the Bugville High Wombats.

The interesting part is that the identities of both families are being kept a secret, for fear of reprisal from the local Christian element. Proving, of course, that the public practice of religion might not be working as well as it should.

While I don't generally support the idea of tax-funded prayer, it rarely bothers me when people get up and pray on my dime.

Over the years, I have listened to a variety of prayers offered at public events. The list includes Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Mormon, American Indian, Far Eastern and assorted born-again-unto-Jesus prayers.
(...)

As a Mormon police officer, I once directed traffic around a Catholic priest administering last rites to a dying man. Another time, we waited to write a ticket to an orthodox Jew until he had finished praying. As long as the prayers didn't interfere with practical rescue efforts, I didn't care if people prayed, even if it wasn't to my version of God.

I suspect that the real issue with respect to public and even state-tolerated prayer has more to do with intolerance or indifference to others than it does with the Constitution. As such, there's plenty of blame to go around.

Despite its mandate of love and tolerance, most Christians reject the idea of anyone who doesn't pray to the one true God (patent pending). We don't want to listen to it, and we certainly don't want our kids learning anything from it.
(...)

If the Supreme Court's recent decision troubles the faithful, it may be time to take a good look at ourselves rather than waste time pointing the finger at everyone else. Any success in the attack on public prayer has been achieved primarily because of our inability to practice what we pray for.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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=== Peter Jennings Reporting: The Search for Jesus

35. ABC 'Jesus' Documentary Undermines Core Christian Doctrines, Critics Say
Lifeline news/Baptist Press, June 26, 2000
http://www.lifelinenews.net/candm/candm5/candm5.htmlOff-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
LOUISVILLE, Ky.(BP)--An ABC documentary on the life of Jesus amounts to little more than an advertisement for the controversial Jesus Seminar, says Daniel Akin, the dean of the school of theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

The two-hour program, ''Peter Jennings Reporting: The Search for Jesus,'' airs June 26 at 9 p.m. (EDT). It follows Jennings through the Holy Land and derives much of its content from interviews with Jesus Seminar participants and likeminded biblical scholars. Southern Seminary, based in Louisville, Ky., obtained a review copy of the documentary and made it available to selected faculty members and to Southern Baptist Convention President James Merritt on June 21.

''The scholars that were on the show were certainly reflective of a particular worldview perspective -- the anti-supernatural,'' Akin said after screening the program. ''You had extensive representation from the Jesus Seminar. I thought 'The Search for Jesus' was a marvelous commercial for the Jesus Seminar's perspective on who was Jesus and what did he do.''

The Jesus Seminar was a gathering of more than 200 men and women who ''voted'' on the historical reliability of the Gospels. They concluded that Jesus ''probably'' said only 18 percent of what is attributed to him and that only 16 percent of events in the Gospels ''probably'' occurred.

Such thought dominates the ABC program, according to the Southern Seminary reviewers. Only one scholar was shown defending the historical reliability of Jesus' resurrection. No scholar was shown defending the historical reliability of Jesus' miracles or virgin birth.

The documentary showcases seven biblical scholars. Four were participants in the Jesus Seminar; two did not participate but are likeminded, having rejected much of the Gospels' reliability. Only one scholar is a self-described evangelical.
(...)

Southern Seminary preaching professor Hershael York, who received his doctorate in New Testament studies, said he was bothered by Jennings' implications.

''What troubled me the most was the way [Jennings] would say, 'historians say, scholars believe.' -- not 'some scholars believe' or 'some historians think,''' he said.

During the first few minutes of the program Jennings says, ''Scholars told us early on that they didn't take everything they read in the New Testament literally, because the New Testament has four different and sometimes contradictory versions of Jesus' life.''

York pointed out that Jennings and the scholars quote stories about John the Baptist as if they are fact -- while at the same time questioning the historical accuracy of Jesus.

''It just shows their inconsistency. ... They never questioned any of the details of John -- what he wore, what he ate, where he preached, what he said -- but they completely dismantle the Jesus presented in the Gospels,'' York said.
(...)

Two Internet sites are providing extensive coverage of the program: ABCNEWS.com and Beliefnet.com.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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* Beliefnet.com promotes religious pluralism without any discernment in sight.
It's columnists include Jesus Seminarian Marcus Borg.


36. He's Everywhere but Here
Washington Post, June 26, 2000
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A59597-2000Jun25.htmlOff-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
An essentially thankless task that proves also to be a pointless one, ''The Search for Jesus'' is likely to anger many of those who see it--and merely bore others. A two-hour ABC News special, the documentary proceeds from a foolhardy premise and, in the end, doesn't accomplish much more than a dog chasing its tail.

And it's not much more illuminating to watch.

''Peter Jennings Reporting: The Search for Jesus''--yes, Jennings gets top billing over even the Messiah--supposedly aims to discover what can be learned about ''Jesus, the man,'' in historical rather than religious terms. But can those two aspects of Jesus's life really be separated? The danger is that what you'll end up with is an exercise in myth-debunking potentially offensive to devout members of the Christian faith. And that is precisely what happens.

The program, at 9 tonight on Channel 7, is peppered with disingenuous disclaimers. ''We are very aware of our limitations,'' Jennings says at one point, though much about the program suggests journalistic arrogance and hauteur. He concedes that it is difficult for a reporter ''to get the story right'' in this case, but isn't it rather presumptuous even to try? A little later, when Jennings says the question of Jesus's divinity is ''a matter of taste,'' he sounds ridiculously nonchalant about a topic of the deepest spiritual profundity.
(...)

As for the resurrection of Christ, upon which the entirety of Christian faith rests, Jennings notes in his cavalier style that there is ''a wide range of opinions'' about whether it occurred. Come, now. You believe it or you don't. That's the range of ''opinions.'' Anyone looking for scientific or historical ''proof'' is flamboyantly Missing the Point.

''All but the most skeptical historians believe Jesus was a real person,'' Jennings is willing to concede. But one by one he sets about discrediting what Matthew, Mark, Luke and John say about the miracles and divinity of Jesus, making a big fuss, for one thing, over the fact that the four New Testament books contain inconsistencies in their recountings of the story.
(...)

Sometimes Jennings is content with ''analysis'' of the most innocuous sort. Jesus ''must have been a controversial figure'' in his own time, Jennings says. No kidding. But mostly we get specious debunkery. Stories of Jesus performing miracles were most likely ''invented'' by ''the gospel writers,'' Jennings tells us. Even as relatively mundane a detail as Jesus getting a hero's welcome when he entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday is dismissed: The crowd ''may have been singing and shouting, but not necessarily for Jesus,'' one of the ''experts'' opines.

To the credit of producer Jeanmarie Condon, ''The Search for Jesus'' does contain many visually arresting images, and the program was for the most part beautifully shot by Ben McCoy.
(...)

Thus the program is handsomely produced yet stubbornly wrongheaded and bogus, often seeming a gratuitous effort to cast doubt on deeply and widely held beliefs. This isn't really proper terrain for journalists to traverse. It was a bad idea to do the show and it came out as flawed and muddled as anyone might have dreaded.
(...)

At several of the shrines in the Holy Land, we see tourists with video cameras making their own personal documentaries about a visit to the Middle East. Some viewers would be quite justified in wishing they could look at those tapes rather than at ABC's misbegotten and misguided ''Search.''

It is a search that leads nowhere. Slowly.
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