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Religion News Report

March 5, 2001 (Vol. 5, Issue 333) - 2/3

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» Continued from Part 1

=== Mormonism
14. Russian religious claims to be branch of the Church of Jesus Christ

=== Hate Groups
15. Prosecutor Discusses N.H. Deaths
16. Hate crimes bill hits wall

=== Other News
17. Court Nixes Student's Speech Appeal
18. DiIulio Works on Religious Issues
19. Chinese Scholars Condemn U.S. Annual Report on Human Rights
20. Russia Blasts Critical U.S. Human Rights Report
21. New Status Fortifies Salvation Army
22. Benin Maintains Homage to Voodoo

=== Science
23. To Biblical Experts, He's a Voice in the Wilderness
24. Assault on evolution

» Part 3

=== Noted
25. Polygamy prevails in remote Ariz. town
26. Diet program looks to religion

=== Mormonism

14. Russian religious claims to be branch of the Church of Jesus Christ
The Daily Universe/Brigham Young University, Mar. 1, 2001 (Mormon Perspective)
http://newsnet.byu.edu/Off-site Link

Mission president Sheridan Ted Gashler was introducing The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to the mayor of a small Russian village, when upon hearing the name of the church, the mayor exclaimed, ''We already have Mormons here.''

Rumors of earlier Russian ''Mormons'' began surfacing soon after the Russia Samara Mission opened in 1990, but were never officially acknowledged until Gashler felt inspired to send two missionaries to investigate the Mekhzavod village of the Volga River area in June 1998.

The missionaries were told by locals that these people called ''Mormons'' did not drink alcohol or smoke tobacco, had strong family ties, helped the poor and wore white at funerals, said James Scott, 22, a junior from Spokane, Washington, majoring in international business.

There were also claims that a large, hand-written, red-covered book entitled ''The Book of Mormon'' had been preserved through the generations, Scott said.

Eric Eliason, BYU folklorist and ethnographer, specializing in American religious movements, encouraged Gary Browning, BYU professor of Russian and a former mission president in Russia, to participate in a research trip to Russia.

In the course of their field studies in Russia, however, Eliason and Browning found no connection between the subjects of his study and the Church of Jesus Christ -- except in the nickname.

''We didn't uncover any evidence at all that these religious groups were connected to the LDS Church,'' Eliason said, although, on the surface, there appeared to be some similarities.

So how did the term ''Mormon'' become associated with these Russian religious groups?

''On the basis of what we found, it appears that over the years, the term 'Mormon' came to be used to refer to dissident groups, that is, non-orthodox groups (in Russia),'' Browning said.

Eliason said the Church of Jesus Christ was better known in the late 19th century.

''(American) Mormons were in the news on a very regular basis because of our conflict with the federal government,'' Eliason said.

''The practice now of Russia using the term 'Mormon' to refer to small, religious groups is left over from the 19th Century,'' he said.

Scott said he hopes to document this religion he feels may soon disappear because there are only a few of these religious groups left.

Theologically, Mormonism is a cult of Christianity. It does not represent historical, biblical Christianity in any way.

=== Hate Groups

15. Prosecutor Discusses N.H. Deaths
AP, Mar. 4, 2001
http://news.excite.com/Off-site Link

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) -Investigators did not find neo-Nazi materials in the home of one of the teen-agers charged with killing two Dartmouth College professors, New Hampshire's top prosecutor said Sunday.

Robert Tulloch, 17, and James Parker, 16, are charged with first-degree murder in the Jan. 27 stabbing deaths of Half and Susanne Zantop in their Hanover home near the Dartmouth campus.

McLaughlin said an ABC News report that investigators found literature on neo-Nazism, Holocaust revisionism and white supremacy in Tulloch's bedroom was false.

''It was inaccurate,'' McLaughlin said of the report. ''I have no idea what it was that they based their report on.''

Prosecutors initially refused to comment on the ABC report. McLaughlin said he didn't want his office placed in the position of itself leaking information by being forced to confirm or deny news reports.

But he said Sunday he commented on this report because he feared it would gain legitimacy if it was not officially denied. No other law enforcement authorities have commented on the report.

A spokesman for ABC News, whose program ''PrimeTime,'' aired the report more than a week ago, defended the story.

''We stand by the story. Specific references were made to these items in documents supporting search warrants that the attorney general has opposed releasing,'' said Jeffrey Schneider, spokesman for ABC News.

Friends say the Zantops strongly believed their native Germany should face up to its Nazi past. The belief earned them many friends in the Jewish community.

16. Hate crimes bill hits wall
Chicago Tribune, Mar. 2, 2001
http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/metro/chicago/printedition/article/0,2669,SAV-0103020240,FF.htmlOff-site Link

SPRINGFIELD -- In a surprise move, a House committee rejected a proposal Thursday aimed at cracking down on hate-inspired crimes like the 1999 shooting rampage of Benjamin Smith.

The bill is designed to toughen penalties against people who commit or encourage hate crimes. But some lawmakers and a religious leader questioned whether the legislation would make churches liable if some disturbed parishioner misinterprets a preacher's sermon as a command to kill.

The bill's stunned sponsor, Rep. Jeff Schoenberg (D-Evanston), whose identical legislation won easy passage last year, vowed to be back for a second vote before the committee next week.

Smith targeted minorities and Jews in his two-state killing spree. He killed two people, including former Northwestern University basketball coach Ricky Byrdsong, and shot nine others before killing himself Downstate. Smith was a follower of Matt Hale, the leader of a white supremacist group, World Church of the Creator.

The bill would create a new conspiracy crime that could send church leaders to prison for up to 3 years and provide for tougher penalties if the crimes were based on a victim's race, sexual orientation or religion. It would also allow the state to charge church leaders who cannot now be prosecuted for hate crimes they may have encouraged but did not directly participate in.

=== Other News

17. Court Nixes Student's Speech Appeal
AP, Mar. 5, 2001
http://www.lasvegassun.com/Off-site Link

[...more about religious intolerance...]
WASHINGTON (AP) -- A California high school valedictorian who was barred from giving a graduation speech in which he planned to ask the audience to ''accept God's love'' and live by ''Jesus' example'' lost a Supreme Court appeal Monday.

The court, without comment, turned down the former student's argument that public school district officials violated his rights by refusing to let him give a speech that a lower court described as a ''religious sermon.''

Last June the justices ruled that public schools cannot let students lead stadium crowds in prayer before football games. The ruling said allowing such prayers would violate the constitutionally required separation of government and religion.

In 1992 the justices barred clergy-led prayers -- invocations and benedictions -- at public school graduation ceremonies.

The status of religious freedom in the U.S. is, in essence, as follows:
  • Christians find prayer and witnessing increasingly curbed under so-called separation of church and state laws.
  • Meanwhile, the U.S. government pressures foreign governments to accept religious cults like Falun Gong and extremist movements like Scientology as ''legitimate religions.''
  • At the same time, the U.S. government is preparing to fund various social programs set up by such movements.

18. DiIulio Works on Religious Issues
AP, Mar. 2, 2001
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/aponline/20010302/aponline145640_000.htmOff-site Link

WASHINGTON -- President Bush's pointman for directing more federal money to religious charities says the effort probably will wind up in court, even as he tries to convince Americans that concerns over mixing church and state are overstated.

''Americans sue each other. They sue and sue and sue,'' John DiIulio said in an interview. ''I guess it's going to happen.''

DiIulio, who directs the new White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, said he is convinced that the courts will line up on his side. ''Am I blinking? I'm not blinking,'' he said.

He doesn't seem to be revving for a fight, either. Less than two weeks into his Washington job, the Ivy League academic strikes an attitude that's more professorial than litigious, more lecturer than lobbyist. DiIulio seems sure he can convince skeptics that their fears are exaggerated.

When pressed, he addresses the heart of their concerns, allowing that much of their legal analysis is accurate.

Yes, he says, government money may wind up paying for programs that require involvement in religion, even require someone to profess particular religious views.

Yes, he says, churches and synagogues should be allowed to continue discriminating in their hiring, even if they get government money.

And yes, he says, religions outside the mainstream - the Church of Scientology, the Nation of Islam, the Unification Church - would be allowed to compete for government contracts just like any other.

But DiIulio argues that these concerns miss the point.

The vast majority of organizations that stand to benefit, he says, don't discriminate or push their religion on anyone. He likes to think of his office helping a community-based program that's denied government money because it stores lumber in a church parking lot.

''These organizations represent the volunteer spine of civil society,'' said DiIulio, on leave from the University of Pennsylvania, in a recent two-hour interview. ''They are the places that bring the mentors, that bring the people who deliver meals to elderly shut-ins. They're the people who deal with the infirm elderly.''

But people want to focus on the extreme cases, he said.

Critics, including civil libertarians and some religious leaders, say it is DiIulio who is missing the point. Concerns about entanglement between government and religion don't go away, they say, just because they may not apply to every situation.

''My tax dollars will ultimately be defending an organization that allows discrimination and that advocates a specific religious message,'' said Hannah Rosenthal, executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, one of many critics who has met with DiIulio in recent weeks.

19. Chinese Scholars Condemn U.S. Annual Report on Human Rights
Xinhua, Mar. 5, 2001
http://www.individual.com/Off-site Link

BEIJING, Mar 2, 2001 (Xinhua via COMTEX) -- Experts and scholars from China Society for Human Rights Studies (CSHRS) convened Friday to refute the distorted statements concerning China's human rights record in the U.S. annual report on human rights, which was released February 27 by the U.S. State Department.

In response to the statement in the annual report accusing Chinese government's autocratic rule and prevailing infringement on human rights, Zhou Jue, President of CSHRS, said that it is a common practice for the U.S. government to fabricate conclusions out of hearsay evidence.

Zhou held that the ultimate goal of the annual report was to change the socialist system of Chinese society.

Human rights specialists present at Friday's seminar also held that this year's human rights statement by the U.S. government is characterized by taking China's official ban on the Falun Gong cult as a vital proof for persecution on religion.

''The annual report turned a deaf ear to the atrocities done by the Falun Gong cult organization. Isn't it the most inhumane and vicious deed for a mother to destroy lives gestated by her at the instigation of Li Hongzhi, the cult's ringleader?'' asked Ye Xiaowen, director of the State Administration of Religious Affairs.

United Nations human rights specialist Fan Guoxiang said that the U.S. government was using the human rights issue as a pretext to interfere with China's internal affairs and attempting to stall China's rapid social development.

Fan said that countries with different cultural and historical backgrounds define human rights differently. It is a hegemonic act of the U.S. State Department to impose their human rights standards on other countries with the release of the annual report.

China on February 27 released ''U.S. Human Rights Record in 2000 '' detailing the rampant infringement of human rights in the United States in response to the U.S. accusation.

Many countries targeted in the U.S. government's reports on human rights point out that America consistently fails to examine its own human rights abuses - ranging from violating international laws to the use of the death penalty:

Amnesty International's report on U.S. human rights abusesOff-site Link

See also:
Commentary from Joe CisarOff-site Link on the 2001 US State Department report on Germany
Critical Interpretation of Scientology & Alternative Religions, Mar. 3, 2001

20. Russia Blasts Critical U.S. Human Rights Report
Reuters, Mar. 2, 2001
http://www.themoscowtimes.com/Off-site Link

The Russian government denounced Thursday a critical U.S. State Department report on human rights in Russia, saying it was heavy-handed and overlooked shortcomings in Washington's record at home.

A Foreign Ministry statement noted praise in the report for Russia's electoral process and freedom of assembly and said Moscow was willing to admit ''inevitable'' difficulties encountered as post-Soviet reforms were proceeding.

But it said the report, issued this week, also contained ''contrived assessments'' of the situation in Chechnya, where Russia is battling separatist rebels, and in its considerations on freedom of the press and religion.

''...We cannot tolerate the superior tone and peremptory accusations of a country where unpunished cases of police violence, anti-Semitism and racism are far from isolated, as is the failure to observe basic constitutional rights and freedoms,'' the statement said.

21. New Status Fortifies Salvation Army
The Moscow Times (Russia), Mar. 5, 2001
http://www.themoscowtimes.com/Off-site Link

The Russian branch of the Salvation Army has been granted the status of a ''centralized'' nationwide religious group.

The church hopes this will improve its chances for resolving its legal problems in Moscow, where a local court refused to reregister the group last year on the grounds that it poses a ''national security threat.''

Captain Adam Morales, who is responsible for financial and legal affairs of the church's operations in Russia and other former Soviet republics, said Friday that on Feb. 20 the Salvation Army was registered as a ''centralized'' religious organization by the federal Justice Ministry.

''It means that we are not in a critical situation any more,'' Morales said in a telephone interview.

''But the Moscow court decision is still outstanding and in force. If we don't overturn it, it will be a black stain on our reputation and can cause us problems in the future.''

A 1997 law, which was criticized by many religious freedom advocates in Russia and abroad, stipulated that religious organizations operating in Russia had to reregister by Dec. 31, 2000. All groups that failed to meet the deadline may face ''liquidation'' proceedings later this year, which would mean they would lose their status as legal entities and, consequently, their right to own or rent property, carry out services in public places, distribute literature and invite pastors from abroad.

Under the law, churches registered as ''centralized'' can provide their regional branches with special certificates, which can facilitate the process of registering locally.

Branches with such certificates do not have to prove that they have been operating in the area for at least 15 years, as required by the 1997 law.

In Russia, the Salvation Army operates in 14 cities and is registered in five of them - St. Petersburg, Vyborg, Petrozavodsk, Volgograd and Rostov-on-Don.
No date for a new court hearing in Moscow has been set, Morales said. But he hopes the federal registration will help.

''Now [if the city denies the church registration] it would look like the right hand does not know what the left is doing.''

22. Benin Maintains Homage to Voodoo
AP, Mar. 3, 2001
http://news.excite.com/Off-site Link

COTONOU, Benin (AP) - They're waiting for a white dove to land on someone's shoulder this weekend in the West African nation of Benin, or for the right ray of light to illuminate the right man at the right time.

Oh, and they're also voting for president, on Sunday.

By coincidence, both the nation's top political post and top religious post are open at once. The death last month of 89-year-old Sossa Guedehoungue, president of the official National Community of Voodoo, compelled Benin to search for a new leader of the traditional religion at the same time it picks a head of the body politic.

Benin gave the world both voodoo and West Africa's first democratic transfer of power, in 1991 - but voodoo came long before.

So don't look for chiefs of the centuries-old tradition of voodoo to give the country's decade-old bout with the ballot box a try.

''Voting is a modern notion, an imported notion,'' said Erick Vidjin Agnih Gbodossou, president of an international association of voodoo, in town from Senegal.

''In democracies, someone who has money can use it to win,'' Gbodossou said, speaking in a National Community of Voodoo compound and clinic in Benin's commercial capital of Cotonou, as followers spoke softly into cell phones and something out in the courtyard squealed sharply and then stopped.

''That is why we must let the natural forces work,'' said Gbodossou, wearing a traditional robe. In voodoo, ''one should consult the oracles.''

At least 60 percent of Benin's 6.3 million people practice voodoo. The tradition holds, in part, that life derives from the natural forces of earth, water, fire and air.

=== Science

23. To Biblical Experts, He's a Voice in the Wilderness
Los Angeles Times, Mar. 3, 2001
http://www.latimes.com/print/calendar/20010303/t000018712.htmlOff-site Link

Amateur archeologist Michael Sanders persuaded a production company to finance his expedition to the Middle East for more than a million dollars.

He got NBC to air two hourlong ''Biblical Mysteries'' specials, starting Sunday night, in which Sanders says he has found the location of the original stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments, as well as the biblical cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.

But what the Irvine resident hasn't gotten is the remotest respect from professional archeologists and biblical scholars. ''There's about one of these guys every month,'' scoffs Marc Brettler, a professor of the Hebrew Bible at Brandeis University.

Adds Sidnie Crawford, a research associate at Harvard Divinity School: ''In an area that has just been excavated and searched more than any other area of the world, it stretches credulity.''

Sanders, who concedes that he has no formal archeological training, says the two biblical cities and the stone tablets--which, according to the book of Exodus, were handed to Moses by God--are just the start. Sanders says he's raising money for an expedition to Turkey, where he will locate the Tower of Babel and the Garden of Eden.

The professional community's disdain has not deterred the TV network, which will air the first special on the Ark of the Covenant and Ten Commandments at 7 p.m. Sunday, with the second, on Sodom and Gomorrah, to follow the next Sunday.
John Miller, the NBC executive who bought the show for the network, says he was intrigued when Sanders first approached him. Other NBC shows about ancient history, such as the miniseries ''Noah's Ark,'' had scored well in the ratings, but he says the network couldn't finance the trip.

Many academic experts say Bible stories are myths that may be embellished from a historical occurrence, as opposed to more conservative religious groups who take a literal view. Scholars even debate the existence of biblical kings Solomon and David and whether the Exodus from Egypt occurred.

A city destroyed in an earthquake may have turned into the tale of Sodom and Gomorrah, which, according to the Old Testament, God destroyed because its citizens were sinners.

''Serious Bible scholars do not take these stories as historical fact,'' Brettler says. ''If I had money to spend, I would not spend it on looking for Sodom and Gomorrah because these have the character of religious stories, rather than the character of historical truth.''

Even if Sanders found a city, scholars say, who's to say it's Sodom or Gomorrah? It's not like there will be a sign saying ''Welcome to Gomorrah.''

''Suppose you find a pillar of salt?'' says Hershel Shanks, editor of Biblical Archaeology Review. ''That doesn't mean that's Lot's wife.''

Sanders, 61, shrugs off his critics. ''If you want to set up a debate with your friend at Brandeis University, I would be pleased to have a debate with him,'' he says excitedly, gesticulating with his arms to accentuate his points.

He says that although he doesn't know whether God performed the miracles, ''the historical events described in the Bible are, in fact, historical events, not fairy tales.''

Prominent archeologists support his work, he says, but he would not provide their names.

He says he has studied parapsychology and at one point became an advisor to royal families in the Persian Gulf.

He grew up Jewish, he says, but he will not discuss his current religious beliefs.

Does he believe in God?

''That's an extremely complex and a complicated question that cannot be explained in a short newspaper article. I'll write a book on it.''

24. Assault on evolution
Salon, Feb. 28, 2001
http://salon.com/Off-site Link

Feb. 28, 2001 | The debate over teaching Darwinian biology in public schools has become the hottest battle in the culture war. The Darwinians cheered their victory on Feb. 14, when the Kansas Board of Education decided -- in a 7-3 vote -- to require the teaching of evolution in public schools across the state, thereby reversing a decision in August 1999 to remove evolution from the statewide guidelines for teaching and testing. But those Darwinians who think that in winning this battle they have won the war are mistaken.

What really happened in Kansas is that the opponents of Darwinism tested a new intellectual weapon. As they become more skilled in the use of that weapon, the tide in this protracted battle could shift in their favor. The new weapon is called ''intelligent design theory,'' or IDT.

Until recently, the critics of Darwinism have championed creationism -- the idea that a literal reading of the early chapters of the Bible offers a more accurate account of human origins than Darwinian biology does. The Darwinians have easily defeated this position by dismissing it as a religious belief unsupported by
material evidence and inappropriate in science teaching.

But now intelligent design theorists are claiming that scientific data show evidence in the living world for ''irreducible complexity'' or ''specified complexity,'' which can only be explained as the work of an intelligent designer.

Whether this cosmic designer corresponds to the biblical God, they admit, is a metaphysical or theological question that defies empirical science.

Nevertheless, they argue, the observable evidence for design is scientifically compelling.

Steve Abrams, a Kansas school board member who voted with the majority in 1999 and with the minority on Feb. 14, argued vigorously that teaching IDT as an alternative to Darwinism does not depend upon religious belief at all. After the Feb. 14 decision, Abrams insisted that intelligent design is based on ''what is observable, measurable, testable, repeatable, falsifiable, good empirical science.'' The Discovery Institute, (http://www.discovery.org/crsc/Off-site Link) which identifies itself as ''an intelligent design think tank'' in Seattle, issued a press release condemning the decision in Kansas. Its spokesman, Mark Edwards, declared, ''What is heralded as the triumph of science is instead a victory for censorship and viewpoint discrimination. This is not what science, or America, is about; discussion of the dissenting scientific opinion on Darwinism should be allowed in science classrooms.''

The Discovery Institute is led by conservative Republicans who promote IDT as a strategy for defeating what they regard as the immoral materialism of modern science. They hope to influence the new Bush administration. Their ultimate objective is to win a case before the U.S. Supreme Court that would uphold the constitutionality of teaching IDT in public school biology classes.

The institute's legal strategy is laid out in a recent Utah Law Review article by David DeWolf and Stephen Meyer, who are associated with the organization.

- - - - - - - - - - - -
About the writer
Larry Arnhart is a professor of political science at Northern Illinois University and the author of ''Darwinian Natural Right: The Biological Ethics of Human Nature.''Off-site Link

» Part 3