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Religion News Report

July 18, 2000 (Vol. 4, Issue 231)

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Rainbow


» Continued from Part 1
=== Catholicism
24. Commercialization Of A Religious Icon

=== Jesus Christians
25. BBC barred over cult boy footage
26. Judge gags media over cult boy interview
27. Cult moves boy from Surrey
28. Cult holding boy offers to swap him for access
29. Cult leader denies spiriting boy away
30. Missing boy in Jesus cult fear

=== Bethel International Church
31. The sect where doubt is a sin
32. They exorcised me over my 'sinful' love for a woman

=== Paganism / Witchcraft
33. Review: Books: The lore of supply and demand

=== Hate Groups
34. Posse leader joins Aryan World Congress
35. Swastikas go to Russian church

=== Other News
36. Indian Leader Decries Abuse of Religious Practices
37. Dutch Call Off Aided Suicide For Children
38. Last Ethiopian emperor's funeral set for November
39. Greece Abolishes Religion from IDs

=== Religious Freedom / Religious Intolerance
40. Upset At Prayer Ban, Pearl, Miss., Eyes Religious Music At Ballgames
41. 'God' motto case revived

=== Noted
42. Animistic rituals run deep in Okinawa
43. Faith & Reason: Cannabis is, quite literally, good for your soul
44. Shakertown Sect's Celibate Utopia Has Become A Romantic Hideaway

=== The Communist Around The Corner
45. Was Christ a 'communist'? Castro thinks so


=== Catholicism

24. Commercialization Of A Religious Icon
The Tucson Citizen/Los Angeles Times-Washington Post, July 15, 2000
http://beta.yellowbrix.com/Off-site Link
There's something about Mary. And merchants know it, so they're putting the Virgen de Guadalupe's image on just about every product Imaginable - to the dismay of some Catholics.

Soaring popularity and pop culture are turning the Virgen de Guadalupe, a symbol of pride and faith for many Hispanics, into Our Lady of Commerce.

She's everywhere these days.

While consumers have become accustomed to seeing her image on such traditional items as candles or calendars, a slew of new products is taking the Virgen where she's never been before: phone cards, miniskirts, wind chimes, light-switch covers, bars of soap, mouse pads, watches, temporary tattoos and even bamboo curtains made in Vietnam.

This proliferation of products may be good for merchants but not for some Catholics, especially those of Latin American descent. The dark-skinned Virgin Mary was adopted by Hispanics after peasant Juan Diego said she appeared to him near Mexico City in 1531. While some of these products are harmless, critics of the commercialization say, other items are sacrilegious, demeaning or just plain tacky.

Father Raul Trevizo of St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church suspects some merchants either are unaware of the image's spiritual significance to Catholics or they are only trying to cash in on her appeal.

''It is the universal religious image for people of Mexican culture,'' he said. ''It's what speaks to their heart, so any trivialization of that would be very sad.''

Virgen products are acceptable, Trevizo said, as long as the buyer feels a spiritual connection to the image.

''The most important thing for me would be, is there any kind of expression of faith in that image for the person? What we would hope is that it would not simply become a fad or something devoid of all faith simply because everyone else is using it or simply because it looks pretty,'' said Trevizo.

Finding an expression of faith in such items as miniskirts or phone cards is difficult, he said, so using the Virgen's image on such products is inappropriate.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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=== Jesus Christians

25. BBC barred over cult boy footage
BBC (England), July 18, 2000
http://news.bbc.co.uk/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
The BBC has been barred from broadcasting any interview with Bobby Kelly - the 16-year-old boy missing from his home in Essex.

In an emergency ruling at 0130 BST a High Court judge also said that the BBC should not report comments by members of the Jesus Christians cult.

However the BBC is planning to go to court on Tuesday to seek to have the injunction lifted.

The legal ban prevents newspapers and broadcasters from reporting any interviews with the teenager, who disappeared more than two weeks ago.
(...)

The court order, which also bans interviews with leaders of the Jesus Christians, effectively denies the cult a platform.
(...)

Tuesday's injunction was granted by Mr Justice Singer in favour of Bobby's grandmother Ruth Kelly, his legal guardian and with whom he lives.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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26. Judge gags media over cult boy interview
News Wire (England), July 18, 2000
http://www.lineone.net/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
The family of missing teenager Bobby Kelly have been granted a media gagging order amid fears that the cult he is believed to be with is using the boy as a platform for its own ends.

The High Court injunction prevents newspapers and broadcasters from reporting any interviews with the 16-year-old, who disappeared more than two weeks ago.

It is understood the injunction was sought because of fears that responses from Bobby - who has corresponded with journalists by e-mail - were being ''guided'' by the people he is with.

The court order, which also bans interviews with leaders of the Jesus Christians, effectively denies the cult a platform.
(...)

The injunction was granted by Mr Justice Singer in favour of Bobby's grandmother Ruth Kelly, his legal guardian and with whom he lives.

It prevents newspapers and broadcasters from using ''the detail or substance of any report, interview or communications'' received from Bobby or any of six named representatives of the Jesus Christians.

They are cult leader David Mackay, Susan and Roland Gianstefani, Nigel David, Andrew Eagles and a man known as ''Reinhardt''.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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27. Cult moves boy from Surrey
The Times (England), July 18, 2000
http://www.the-times.co.uk/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
Police are searching the West Country for a 16-year-old boy who has run away with a religious cult.

Surrey Police said that Bobby Kelly, from Romford, East London, had been staying with the Jesus Christians near Guildford, but they had now moved to the South West.

Peter Mackay, the leader of the Australian-based group, said: ''Bobby is under a great deal of stress at the moment because he is a 'wanted man'. ''

Mr Mackay said in an interview with GMTV yesterday that the group was seeking legal advice with a view to challenging the decision to make Bobby a ward of court.

He said that the boy had been in regular contact with his grandmother and was free to leave the group at any time. ''In many ways it would be easier for us if he did walk out because then we're off the hook. But as long as he wants to stay we feel that we have a kind of responsibility to allow him to make that decision,'' he said.

The cult's literature calls on converts to forsake their jobs and even their family.
[...entire item...]


28. Cult holding boy offers to swap him for access
The Independent (England), July 17, 2000
http://beta.yellowbrix.com/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
The leader of a religious cult that is believed to have abducted a teenager said yesterday he would appeal against a decision to make the boy a ward of court.
David Mackay, an Australian who leads the Jesus Christians cult, said he was willing to return Bobby Kelly, of Essex, in exchange for continued access to the 16-year-old. But he also said he did not know the whereabouts of the boy.

Last week the High Court made Bobby a ward of court to his grandmother Ruth Kelly, with whom he lives, after he abruptly left home to join the fundamentalist Christian cult just hours after meeting its members. The court order makes Bobby's grandmother his legal guardian.

But Mr Mackay argued that a 16-year-old was old enough to make his own decisions and he was prepared to challenge the order in court next week. He said: ''The thing that concerns us is that such a court order would never have been taken out if someone didn't think we were evil people. Before that we had the total support of his grandmother.''

Mr Mackay founded the Jesus Christians in 1981. The cult, based in Australia, lives by strict interpretation of the Bible.

Confusion still surrounds the whereabouts of Bobby Kelly. On Saturday, Mr Mackay insisted he was not with the cult. ''We don't have him. We definitely won't take him out of Britain,'' he said. Yet his latest statements indicate Mr Mackay has access to the boy. Concerns have been raised that the cult wants Bobby to leave the country. Previous recruits have been asked to join members abroad.

One Sunday newspaper received e-mail claiming to be from the boy forwarded via the Jesus Christians website. In the message, the author insists he is not being held against his will and says that he has ''never been happier'' since joining the cult. ''I believe there is something better to do with my life instead of working for money,'' he says.

Mr Mackay said: ''We expect that Bobby will be handed over to the authorities shortly - we just feel that we should be given the chance to get some legal advice. If there is some way we can appeal against that court order then we will do.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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29. Cult leader denies spiriting boy away
Sunday Mercury (England), July 16, 2000
http://beta.yellowbrix.com/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
The founder of a religious cult has denied that a missing 16-year- old student has been smuggled abroad.
(...)

Jesus Christians group founder David Mackay said: 'I don't have him. We don't have him. We definitely won't take him out of Britain. But we believe in his freedom as a 16-year-old to make a decision where he is going to go.'

He added: 'There are 16-year-olds all over England getting into drugs and sex and all sorts of problems.

'Here is a boy who is trying to make something of his life - he comes from a very difficult family background - and suddenly there is this nationwide manhunt to capture him against his will.'

Graham Baldwin, of anti-cult group Catalyst said: 'You know that you have a duty to surrender him to the courts.'

Mr Baldwin alleged that the Jesus Christians had sympathies with the Children of God cult, which has advocated underage sex, but Mr Mackay denied this vehemently, saying he 'totally condemned' the Children of God's ideas in that area.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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30. Missing boy in Jesus cult fear
Evening Mail (England), July 15, 2000
http://beta.yellowbrix.com/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
The hunt was continuing today for a 16-year-old youth who disappeared with a religious cult amid fears that he could be on his way to Germany.

Bobby Kelly has been made a ward of court at the High Court in a desperate bid to track him down after he left home just hours after meeting members of the Jesus Christians group.

A spokesman at the Official Solicitor's office said the judgment, obtained by his grandmother and legal guardian Ruth, meant any attempt to take him out of the country would be a criminal offence.
(...)

David Whitehouse, who knew the schoolboy for four years through his youth work at St Peter's Church, Harold Wood, Essex, said Bobby, from Romford, seemed scared when they met last Thursday in the presence of cult members.

Mr Whitehouse said the Jesus Christians group members told him the teenager would be going to Germany on a missionary trip within the next fortnight.

He said: 'Bobby seemed scared, as if he was very wary about what the group members would think about what he was saying.'

He said he and Bobby's grandmother had seen the boy a few times since he went off to join the cult two weeks ago, but always in the presence of other cult members.
(...)

The Jesus Christians group was founded in 1981 in Australia by David McKay, an American who has lived in Australia for many years and from where he exercises strict control over his followers.

Graham Baldwin, of CATALYST, a charity working with those who fall foul of cults and which helped Bobby's grandmother apply for her grandson to be made a ward of court, warned the boy could suffer emotional and psychological damage in the cult's hands.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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=== Bethel International Church

31. The sect where doubt is a sin
Daily Express (England), July 17, 2000
http://www.lineone.net/express/00/07/17/news/n0820-d.htmlOff-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
A British grandmother is the head of an international cult-style sect ruled by fear, guilt and manipulation, say former followers.

The power of the church run by self-styled servant of God Jean Spademan, 75, over members is absolute, they claim.

Followers were told that even to voice doubts about the wisdom of the leaders of the Bethel Interdenominational Church in the Nottinghamshire village of Mansfield Woodhouse or its sister King's Chapel in Connecticut was a sin.

Many members have handed over thousands of pounds to the sect, even getting into debt with ''love offerings'', some of which have been used to allow Mrs Spademan, known as Syro - an obscure biblical reference, to live in luxury. Followers have come to believe that she is a prophet.

One American follower was beaten and locked in an empty house for three days and two young men wrongly ''admitted'' to sexually abusing children after being ordered to confess by church leaders.

The two men were cleared after a judge directed that not guilty verdicts should be entered. The crown court heard that one of them, a 17-year-old youth, had been brainwashed. The prosecutor said: ''He had come to believe he had done things and felt impelled to go to the police and confess them. The expert advice is he may well have been brainwashed and driven to a confession.''

Other former devotees claim they were persuaded into marriage or to cut themselves off from their families, including spouses.

Mrs Spademan, who claims to hear the voice of God telling her of people's thoughts and sins, oversees deliverance rituals, akin to exorcisms, to cleanse hearts of the lust and sin. The church is believed by experts to be unique because its prophet figure is female.

One former member said: ''It is blasphemous and evil. It's almost as if Mrs Spademan has taken Christ's role in this church. They have torn families apart and ruined people's lives because they want total control.'' To outsiders it rejects the image of a happy, loving family led by pastor John Hibbert and his ministry team.
(...)

Disciples are expected to devote their time to the church, which has included cleaning Mrs Spademan's home and helping to build a covered swimming pool at the rear.

Followers could be called at all times of the day and night to serve. Those who voiced doubts or discontent were guilty of ''murmuring'' and reprimanded. ''You can't outgive God'' is a favourite maxim.

The most heinous crime a Bethel member could commit, however, was having lustful thoughts about another member of the congregation.

Maria Krecidlo, a member of the sister church in the United States, said: ''They take normal human emotions, turn them and use them to devastate you.'' Members were encouraged to play games such as ''musical laps'', a form of musical chairs where the men remained sitting and women moved around.

Later people would be accused of adulterous thoughts. The control endured by members is astonishing in light of the people involved, who would not be considered to be ''vulnerable'' members of society.

Most are highly intelligent professional people - teachers, nurses, even lawyers, who were drawn into the church by a simple desire to live good Christian lives.

Dr Martyn Percy, an expert in new religious movements, said the controlling nature of the church was ''cult-like'' and abusive.

''It is a fascinating form of religious control,'' he said. ''If you really believe people know what you are thinking, you do not dare step out of line.

''What makes this particular church absolutely unique is that a woman is not a mere figurehead but the prophetic leader who is deferred to by the men.'' When interviewed by the Daily Express, Mrs Spademan and Mr Hibbert seemed confused about her role. Mrs Spademan said: ''I don't believe I'm a prophet. I never said ... once I may have verged on it.''

Mr Hibbert admitted Mrs Spademan had said she was a prophet but ''only once as a means to an end in a particular circumstance''. He said: ''I would say she fits into the prophet category (of the ministry) but not in the way the press is making it out to be, but because she is behind the scenes and she communes with God a great deal.''
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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32. They exorcised me over my 'sinful' love for a woman
Daily Express (England), July 17, 2000
http://www.lineone.net/express/00/07/17/news/n0840-d.htmlOff-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
As a small child Rachel never doubted the church leaders who ruled every aspect of her life.

That was until, as a confused and emotional 16-year-old, she was denied the chance of a boyfriend outside the church by sect teaching, and began a relationship with a teenage girl.

The sect's reaction terrified her. ''I was called to the house for deliverance, like an exorcism,'' said Rachel. ''Syro told me she knew from God that I was doing this sinful and evil thing.

''I was shouted at and screamed at, shaken, prayed over and had a Bible pushed against my chest. I was upset, confused and scared.''
(...)

To break up the relationship, Spademan and Hibbert sent Rachel to the church in Connecticut, where she lived at the home of lead pastor Sam Wibberley.

''I felt like a slave,'' she said. ''I had to get up and prepare meals, work at Wibberley's firm all day, prepare meals and clean in the evenings and then I was up all hours for prayer meetings.
(...)

She still believed that Spademan had been told by God about her lesbian relationship. In fact her mother had confided in Spademan, hoping for church guidance.

When Rachel returned to England, she felt under pressure to conform and entered into a relationship with another church member whom she eventually married.

Rachel said: ''I was totally unprepared for marriage and for sex with a man. I didn't have the same feelings for him as for my girlfriend.'' She and husband Ian eventually left the church.

She said ''I tried to love Ian but I think that having grown up in the church, he found it hard to show affection. The relationship fell apart.''
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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=== Paganism / Witchcraft

33. Review: Books: The lore of supply and demand
The Sunday Telegraph (England), July 16, 2000
http://beta.yellowbrix.com/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
Publication date: 2000-07-16

A Dictionary of English FolkloreOff-site Link
by Jacqueline Simpson and Steve Roud

Once upon a time there was an old, old man with a long white beard, and his name was Sir James Frazer. He wrote a big book - The Golden Bough - in so many volumes that no one could read them all, so everyone said it must be true. In this book he explained that folklore and religion and magic all came from fertility cults, and so it was that corn dollies and morris dancing were believed to have something to do with ancient Mesopotamia, which is what people thought ever after.

Then there came a strange lady called Margaret Murray, who wrote a short book - The Witch-Cult in Western Europe - which everyone read, and so they also said it must be true. According to Murray, witches in the olden days were not surly old women doing folk-medicine but members of a wonderfully well organised secret society which preserved the practices of an ancient religion, meeting in groups of 13 and worshipping a horned fertility-god.

And then there was a very strange man called Gerald Gardner, who wrote a book - Witchcraft Today - which not many people read, but the ones who did went soft in the head, as if a moonbeam had touched them there. Gardner said he had been initiated into an ancient order of witches, whose religion was based on (yes, you've guessed) a fertility-cult, and he called it ''Wicca'', which sounded very ancient, even though no one had ever called it that before.

All these theories satisfied people for three reasons: they suggested that various folk-practices concealed some sort of secret wisdom or doctrine; they implied that there was a single, unifying theme - fertility, the rhythms of nature - underlying a multiplicity of practices and traditions; and they claimed that those traditions were survivals from the ancient past.

Serious modern experts on folklore (and there can be few more serious than the compilers of this Dictionary, who are the Secretary and Librarian of the Folklore Society) take a very different view. They find no secret wisdom in our folk traditions; about the closest thing to it is practical advice of the ''Red sky at night, Shepherds' delight'' variety, which may be wise but is hardly very secret. And they certainly find no unifying theme running through the extraordinary variety of English folk customs, which range, in this book, from calendar customs to folk-medicine, from cheese-rolling in Gloucestershire to well-dressing in Derbyshire, and from children's games to curses, death omens and funeral rites.

As for the ''ancient'' nature of these practices, modern research tends to suggest, in one case after another, that they are not really ancient at all.
(...)

Does this mean that all folklore is recent or bogus - as inauthentic as, say, pancake racing (which started in 1945), or Father's Day (invented by the greetings card industry in the 1970s)? Not quite. There are genuinely old customs associated with the ritual calendar of the Church; there are some superstitions and folk remedies mentioned by 16th-century writers, and still practised to this day; and there are even a few things, such as the Yule log, which can be found in most areas of the former Roman Empire, and which may indeed represent a survival of pagan religion.

All these are lucidly discussed in this excellent, scholarly but non-technical Dictionary.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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=== Hate Groups

34. Posse leader joins Aryan World Congress
Spokane.net, July 15, 2000
http://www.spokane.net/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
A leader of the Posse Comitatus -- a violence-preaching anti-government sect within the white supremacy movement -- is attending this weekend's Aryan World Congress.

August B. Kreis III, of Ulysses, Pa., is the scheduled lead-off speaker for today's events at the Aryan Nations compound north of Hayden Lake.

Kreis joined Aryan founder Richard Butler on Friday in greeting an expected 100 racists who began arriving for the three-day annual event.
(...)

A Ku Klux Klan-style cross burning is scheduled after sunset tonight as the 83-year-old Aryan founder carries his white supremacy message into the new millennium in North Idaho.

Law enforcement authorities are monitoring the event.

The annual July gathering, which Butler has hosted for two decades, offers a glimpse of new alliances being forged in the often-fractured racist movement.

The Aryan Nations-Posse Comitatus alliance is this year's pairing. Kreis, 45, is attending the conference with his wife and child.

He said he joined Aryan Nations a week ago and plans to be the group's new Web master, designing and linking articles for the Aryans' Internet site. ''Wake up, you white men,'' Kreis says on his Posse Comitatus Web site. ''There's a bloody war to be fought, and it will be racial, religious and ideological.''

Butler welcomed Kreis and said the racist movement is looking to the Internet to spread the ''Aryan message.''
(...)

He was seated at a table draped with a German war flag, held down by a Bible and copy of Hitler's ''Mein Kampf.''

As Aryan Web master, Kreis replaces Jerry Gruidl, a longtime Butler confidant who reportedly left the Aryan Nations as a result of a recent internal feud.
(...)

Posse Comitatus members consider themselves the armed, white Christian arm of the local sheriff.

Posse members are described by the Anti-Defamation League as ''a loosely organized group of Christian Identity activists dedicated to survivalism, vigilantism and anti-government agitation.''

Butler was an active member of Posse Comitatus when he moved to North Idaho in the mid-1970s from California.

The posse and Kreis' involvement have not gone unnoticed by civil rights watchdogs.

The Southern Poverty Law Center says posse leaders Kreis and James Wickstrom recently glorified fugitive Eric Robert Rudolph, wanted by the FBI for bombings at the Atlanta Olympics and at abortion clinics.
(...)

Over the years, Butler's allies in the racist movement have faded away as behind-the-scenes disputes and power struggles boiled.
(...)

Other former participants, including former Aryan security guards and members of a splinter group called The Order, are in prison.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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35. Swastikas go to Russian church
The Jerusalem Post (Israel), July 14, 2000
http://beta.yellowbrix.com/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
It is a muggy Wednesday afternoon in Russia's largest Pacific seaport and as people meander home, a handful of men and boys position themselves around the central square, an asphalt plaza decorated with a monument to the communist revolutionaries who conquered the Far East.

The group's members are wearing black - boots, jeans, shirts, and berets - everything except the armbands, which are red and white and decorated with a bladed swastika. A ''Slavic swastika,'' they will tell you.

They begin distributing a newspaper called Our Fatherland, which leads with a story on Russian President Vladimir Putin's newly appointed regional representatives who oversee the region's governors. Six of the seven are Jews, the paper states in a story headlined, ''The shadow of Putin's Yid menorah lies upon Russia.''
(...)

The group are recruiters from Russian National Unity (RNU), a fascist party so extreme that even this region's strongman governor, who himself has been known to chortle out antisemitic sneers in public, was prevailed upon to ban its inclusion in local elections.

In an interview, RNU members urged the lynching of the nation's political leaders and expressed admiration for Adolf Hitler (a curious sentiment, since Hitler regarded Slavs as subhuman).

What is disturbing is not simply that antisemitism exists in Russia - extremists can be found in any country - but that it has found fellow travelers in parts of the Russian Orthodox Church.

In recent years, antisemitism has been nurtured under the onion domes of many churches, critics contend. To be sure, the hierarchy condemns attacks on Jews, even to the extent of denouncing several synagogue bombings in Moscow last year. But critics say the church has looked the other way, as some clergy have worked hand-in-hand with the RNU and other hate groups.

''The Russian Orthodox Church leadership does nothing to punish bishops, monks or priests who promote antisemitism, even though as a strictly hierarchical organization the ROC leadership does have means at its disposal to bring its people into line,'' said Nikolai Butkevich, research and advocacy director for the Washington-based Union of Councils for Soviet Jews.

The council has documented a long list of cases in which local churches encouraged antisemitism.
(...)

Church officials deny there is antisemitism within their ranks. Reached by telephone in Moscow, Father Vladimir Divakov, head of the church's chancellery, or administrative office, said, ''This problem doesn't exist - certainly not in Moscow,'' and declined to take further questions.
(...)

Critics say the worst of it is that church officials simply do not recognize the problem.

''This is a big problem, as antisemitism was historically characteristic of any Christian church, but now it is disseminated in the publicly active part of the [Orthodox] church,'' said Alexander Verkhovsky, a political scientist with the Moscow-based Panorama Political Research Center who has studied extremism and antisemitism in Russia and is also a Jew.

''There are no statements on the official level, but individual priests do it all the time.''

The Russin Orthodox Church has often had a dark record when it comes to relations with Jews. In times of trouble, Jews were convenient scapegoats.
(...)

Now, as extremism has grown in Russia, the Orthodox Church has assumed a leading role in society. In 1997, at the urging of the church, the State Duma, or parliament, adopted a law restricting the practice of religion in Russia, despite constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion.

On the surface, the law permits the practice of Judaism, Islam, Roman Catholicism and other religions that can prove they have been established in Russia for more than 15 years. In practice, there is little guarantee of such protection, and local officials have denied registration to some Jewish, Moslem and Protestant groups, thereby preventing them from legally organizing and collecting funds.

This, in turn, has encouraged discrimination toward groups long regarded as mainstream in the West, such as Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses. (Indeed, priests in the Primorye region, where Vladivostok is located, launched a smear campaign in the local media against Jehovah's Witnesses last year, claiming they encouraged a young man to kill himself; local Witnesses said the youth was not a member of their group, and the group has never been known for encouraging suicide.)

Even a faith as old as Islam, which has a history in Russia that extends back for many centuries, has run into trouble.
(...)

Orthodoxy has become the de-facto state religion in Russia, with priests given free rein to recruit on military bases, participate in public ceremonies and visit the sick in hospitals - benefits not allowed to other beliefs.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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=== Other News

36. Indian Leader Decries Abuse of Religious Practices
The Salt Lake Tribune, July 16, 2000
http://beta.yellowbrix.com/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
An American Indian leader from Oklahoma blasted a recent ceremony in Ogden Canyon involving whites who paid to attend, calling it a ''bastardized version of authentic Indian religion.''

Carter Camp, a 58-year-old Ponca Indian from White Eagle, Okla., and founding member of the American Indian Movement (AIM) in his home state, was asked to comment on the ceremony conducted by Nicholas Stark, who allegedly charged attendees $200 per person. Camp said in a telephone interview that a genuine Indian religious leader would never charge an entry fee to a prayer meeting, although he said he does not know Stark personally.

He called a July 8 ceremony in Ogden Canyon ''pseudo-Indian practices'' and said that ''cheap imitations'' disgrace sacred Indian traditions and harm efforts to end misunderstanding about the customs of the Native American Church, which is often referred to as ''peyote religion.''

Camp has fought to preserve Indian traditions for nearly 30 years. On Feb. 27, 1973, he was one of more than 200 members of AIM who took the symbolic hamlet of Wounded Knee, S.D., by force.

That group vowed to control Wounded Knee until the U.S. government met AIM demands to review all Indian treaties. Federal marshals surrounded the protesters, beginning a 71-day siege that ended when Indian leaders laid down their weapons in exchange for a promise of negotiations from the U.S. government.

Camp, who served a three-year stint in federal prison for his high- profile role in the dispute, continues to fight for Indian sovereignty, as well as the rights of Native Americans to practice their ancient religious traditions.

''We attend church much like anybody. We gather as families to pray together and to receive the wisdom of our respected elders. . . . There is no great mystery involved,'' Camp said, adding that many Native American Church members are also practicing Christians. ''Peyote is an integral part of our ceremony, like the sacrament at a Catholic [Mass]. Many members say that peyote enhances your ability to talk to God.''

But an authentic Indian ceremony would not provide a venue for indiscriminate peyote use among a group of white, upwardly-mobile professionals or those who allegedly confessed to crimes, Camp said.

''It sounds like a weird New-Age therapy session that is completely non-Indian,'' Camp said of the Ogden Canyon gathering. ''If [Stark] is a true Indian, then he must not believe in himself. . . . It sounds like he is trying to tap into a stereotype -- what he thinks these people expect Indian religion should be.''
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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37. Dutch Call Off Aided Suicide For Children
International Herald Tribune/AP, July 15, 2000
http://www.iht.com/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
AMSTERDAM - The Netherlands government has withdrawn a proposal that would have allowed sick children as young as 12 to decide whether to end their lives without parental consent.

The deletion of the much-debated clause was likely to improve chances for approval of a broader bill legalizing assisted suicide, which is now accepted practice in the Netherlands under certain guidelines, even though, technically, it is still outlawed.

The Ministry of Justice said it had withdrawn the proposal involving children, which, as drafted, offered ''physicians the possibility, in exceptional cases, of allowing a request for euthanasia by a minor between 12 and 16 against the wishes of their parents.''
(...)

The bill would legalize guidelines set by the government in 1993 under which doctors would not be prosecuted for assisting suicide.

The regulations, to be incorporated in the new law, place strict conditions on euthanasia: The patient must be suffering irremediable and unbearable pain, be aware of all other medical options, and make voluntary and informed requests. Doctors would not be allowed to suggest it as an option.

In 1999, 2,216 cases of euthanasia and assisted suicide were recorded in the Netherlands.
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38. Last Ethiopian emperor's funeral set for November
AOL/Reuters, July 17, 2000
http://my.aol.com/news/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
ADDIS ABABA, July 17 (Reuters) - An Ethiopian royalist group said on Monday it planned to hold the official funeral of the late Emperor Haile Selassie on November 2 this year -- a quarter of century after his death and on the 70th anniversary of his coronation.

The Emperor Haile Selassie I Foundation said it needed around $1 million to organise the reburial ceremony of the late emperor and called on all Ethiopians at home and abroad to contribute.
(...)

Emperor Haile Selassie was murdered in 1975 after being deposed in 1974.

His death was officially announced on August 27, 1975 -- of circulatory failure, according to the Ethiopian News Agency -- but he was believed to have been killed days earlier and his remains stuffed into a makeshift grave built under a lavatory.
(...)

His remains were exhumed in 1992 and placed inside Menelik Mausoleum until being quietly moved to a specially-built tomb inside the Orthodox Trinity Cathedral in the capital.

Controversy still abounds over whether the remains are really his.

The Rastafarians, the cult which believes Haile Selassie was a living god, say the remains of another male corpse exhumed from the palace after Mengistu fled the country are those of the Emperor.

The sect, with roots in the West Indies, takes its name from Ras Tafari, the Emperor's name as a young prince and bases its beliefs on matching verses of the Bible with Haile Selassie's title as Lion of Judah, King of Kings.
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39. Greece Abolishes Religion from IDs
Yahoo/AP, July 17, 2000
http://dailynews.yahoo.com/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
ATHENS, Greece (AP) - The Greek government issued a decree Monday formally abolishing religion from state identity cards - a decision the powerful Orthodox Church has said it will fight with all means at its disposal.

The decree, signed by Public Order Minister Mihalis Chrisohoidis and Finance Minister Giorgos Dris, alters the identity cards that all Greeks are required to have from age 14, eliminating the ''religion'' entry. It also abolishes fingerprints, occupation and spouse's name, while it adds a blood type option as well as Latin characters to allow easy travel in the 15-nation European Union.

But it is the religion change that has sparked a bitter fight between the government and the Orthodox Church. The church, which described the decree as ''autocratic,'' said Monday's signing was ''the implementation of an irrational, anti-religious plan with complete contempt for the opinion of our faithful people.''

About 97 percent of Greece's native-born population is baptized into the Orthodox Church, which sees itself as the true guardian of Greek identity and traditions.

Many church leaders are deeply suspicious of the government's drive to make Greece a modern European country. They see it as a threat to the Christian Orthodox character of the nation and possibly the stirrings of an eventual separation of church and state in Greece.
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=== Religious Freedom / Religious Intolerance

40. Upset At Prayer Ban, Pearl, Miss., Eyes Religious Music At Ballgames
The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN), July 16, 2000
http://beta.yellowbrix.com/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
Pearl, Miss., school officials are considering the idea of allowing the band to open football games and other sports contests with religious melodies such as Amazing Grace.

The American Civil Liberties Union said such performances would be a violation of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that students and ministers can't lead the fans in prayer before football games. A longtime school law attorney says it's a gray area.

''We want our kids to follow the law,'' said new Pearl Supt. Stanley J. Miller. ''We need to set an example.''
(...)

The U.S. Supreme Court on June 18 put an end to a Friday-night Deep South ritual with a 6-3 ruling that bans students from leading stadium crowds in prayer before high school football games. The decision said such prayers violate the constitutionally required separation of government and religion.

Miller has suggested the band's music to his school board. The result was enthusiastic support.

''Our community is most upset about this. I believe they will want us to do something,'' said school board president Sondra Odom. ''It's a sad day when you look back at how our country was founded and the intent of the Founding Fathers. That's different from the courts' interpretation.''

Miller said many school board leaders around the state fear a costly lawsuit if they buck the decision.

Proctor said he doesn't see a problem with bands striking up hymns or religious songs. And other districts may be looking for alternatives, just like Pearl, he believes.
(...)

David Ingebretsen, executive director for the Mississippi ACLU, said any song at ballgames that promotes religion is unconstitutional.

''It is school-supported religious activity,'' he said. ''The fact that it is not prayer . . . it is still a religious action.''
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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* Suggested reading (buy it now, before the ACLU tries to ban the book for
its use of the word ''Christmas''):

How The Grinch Stole ChristmasOff-site Link
by Dr. Seuss


41. 'God' motto case revived
Cincinnati Post, July 15, 2000
http://www.cincypost.com:80/news/motto071500.htmlOff-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
Ohio's state motto of ''With God, all things are possible'' has been constitutionally revived - for the moment - by the Cincinnati-based U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

In a rare move, a majority of the federal appellate judges Friday vacated a 2-1 decision April 25 that found the motto unconstitutional and granted a state motion to have the entire court rehear the case by the end of the year. They then will decide whether to uphold or overturn a 1998 U.S. District Court ruling that found the motto legal.

A three-judge panel previously found the motto an illegal state endorsement of Christianity, since it ''comes directly from the voice of Jesus'' as quoted in the Bible.

Full-court reviews of decisions issued by three-judge panels are unusual, with the judges typically affirming their colleagues' decisions by declining to grant ''en banc'' rehearings.

''The motto is constitutional again but remains under challenge,'' said Todd Boyer, spokesman for Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery.

''This is rare. The fact the court agreed to the en banc hearing shows it realizes there are important constitutional issues here better addressed by the full court,'' Boyer said.

American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio lawyer Mark Cohn, who represents a Presbyterian minister from Cleveland challenging the motto, conceded the court's decision to rehear the case could be viewed as a setback.
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=== Noted

42. Animistic rituals run deep in Okinawa
Japan Times (Japan), July 17, 2000
http://www.japantimes.co.jp/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
KUDAKA ISLAND, Okinawa Pref. -- When the gods arrived by boat at the Okinawan islands during the fourth and ninth months of the Chinese calendar, they first set foot on the shores of Ishiki Beach, say residents of Kudaka Island.
(...)

''Don't take that home with you,'' Nishime is quick to warn a visitor who stoops and pockets a piece of coral. ''It's something the gods placed here -- you shouldn't remove it.''

Like other ''utaki,'' sacred places throughout Okinawa where the gods are thought to alight, no ''torii,'' or shrine gate, is thought necessary to mark either Ishiki Beach or the nearby clearing where prayers are offered.

These places still preserve pockets of animistic beliefs and rites that were once held by the ancient Japanese, say ethnologists.
(...)

Speak to Fumiko, a yuta in Tomigusuku village, and you soon learn to see the gods in the trees, in the kitchen stove, in ancestors and in the foam on the waves. ''We don't distinguish between Shinto and Buddhism,'' says Fumiko, who asked that her full name be withheld. ''They are all gods -- and very close to us.''

And serving the gods, many of whom are demanding and jealous, is a dangerous undertaking, she says. One misinterpretation could lead to dire results.

''Yutas fall ill if they make light of what they sense,'' she says.
(...)

But while animism remains deeply rooted in Okinawan culture on a day-to-day level, it is also true that many of the larger religious rites and institutions are on the verge of extinction.

One such institution is the organization of holy women, or ''noro.''
(...)

The noro system, a hierarchical network headed by the king's sisters, was established in 15th century to pray for safe passage of ships carrying taxes and tribute, and to pray for plenty in an era when the amount of rice, barley and wheat harvested was closely related to the well-being of royal coffers.

Powerful enough to force the resignation of kings, noro once attended battles during war, guided kings and presided over festivities during peace.

But villages like Yomitan in Okinawa Island, which has been without a noro for over 30 years, now ''borrow'' noro from the southern part of the island for major festivals and do without for others.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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43. Faith & Reason: Cannabis is, quite literally, good for your soul
The Independent (England), July 15, 2000
http://beta.yellowbrix.com/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
(...) While drug use among writers and musicians may be frowned upon but tacitly accepted, its role in generating religious experience tends to be either dismissed out of hand, ignored or denied. Yet a significant proportion of those drawn to Buddhism and other Eastern traditions in the 1960s were influenced in their choice of religious orientation by experiences induced by psychoactive substances such as cannabis and LSD. Although Western Buddhists would now tend to eschew these substances and warn against the dangers of abuse, few would deny their role in opening their eyes to a life of spiritual and religious meaning.

The connection between drug use and spirituality is not, however, limited to the experience of a few ageing hippies. The ritualised use of drugs is still practised among sadhus and shamans of traditional cultures from India to Peru.
The current use of drugs such as Ecstasy at all-night raves is likewise associated with heightened states of individual consciousness as well as the forging of a deep ecstatic bond between participants.
(...)

It is all too easy either to dismiss such claims of spiritual significance for drugs as thinly veiled justifications for hedonistic indulgence or to invoke the tragic consequences of heedless excess as grounds for denying the validity of any drug-induced experience at all. In so doing, we fail to recognise the spiritual aspirations that are seeking expression and fulfilment in this way. We likewise ignore the harsh fact that this society has lost the ability to address the religious feelings of a considerable section of its young.

When the broad culture sends out contradictory messages about drugs while politicians seem incapable of anything but blanket condemnation, to whom can people turn for informed and sympathetic guidance? If drug use is a spiritual issue, then surely this responsibility should fall on religious leaders. Yet the spokesmen and women of the mainstream denominations seem to have little to say on the subject beyond pious encouragement to abstinence. Buddhism is no exception. The taking of intoxicating drugs is listed along with murder, sexual misconduct, theft and lying as something every lay Buddhist is expected to relinquish.
(...)

Stephen Batchelor is a former Buddhist monk and the author of 'Buddhism Without BeliefsOff-site Link' (Bloomsbury, pounds 6.99)
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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44. Shakertown Sect's Celibate Utopia Has Become A Romantic Hideaway
Dayton Daily News, July 16, 2000
http://beta.yellowbrix.com/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
(...) When the Shakers established their village near the limestone cliffs of the Kentucky River in 1805, they envisioned a place of peace where men and women would work and worship together, but remain apart.

An offshoot of the English Quaker church, the Shakers - so named for their whirling religious dances - believed in racial and sexual equality, but not sex.
(...)

Bob Baker, a retired Air Force systems designer who works with Ward at the farm, says several couples have told him that Shakertown is a place of recommitment.

''They don't necessarily renew their vows but they renew that feeling that you hope to maintain,'' he says, pipe smoke encircling his broad-brimmed hat. ''With an environment, what, of 50 percent failure rate (of marriages), this is probably an antidote to that.''
(...)

On the Web: www.shakervillageky.orgOff-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
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=== The Communist Around The Corner

45. Was Christ a 'communist'? Castro thinks so
CNN, July 14, 2000
http://www.cnn.com/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
HAVANA (Reuters) -- Cuba's Catholic-educated President Fidel Castro, one of history's most famous communists, believes Jesus Christ shared his political faith.

''Christ chose the fishermen, because he was a communist,'' Castro said in comments carried by state media Friday, referring to Christ's choice of humble fishermen from the Sea of Galilee to be his first disciples.

Castro, whose once-stated atheism is believed to have possibly mellowed in recent years, made the comment during a National Assembly debate on the local fishing industry.

His brother Raul Castro -- second-in-command in the ruling Communist Party headed by Fidel Castro -- concurred entirely. ''I think that's why they killed Jesus, for being a communist, for doing what Fidel defined as Revolution ... that is to say, changing the situation,'' he said.
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