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Religion Notes

"Religion Notes" Continued...

Issue: "Pensacola," Dec. 20, 1997

Man knows not his time...

Prayer, peace with God, and reconciliation with others at the end of life are important to at least half of American adults, but only one-third expect a member of the clergy to provide their greatest comfort in their final days, according to a Gallup poll. Among the most trusted sources of comfort and support are family members (cited by 81 percent of respondents in a multiple-selection process) and close friends (61 percent). Pastoral care counselor Rosemary Marmouget of Springfield, Mo., who helped prepare the survey, said that in actual practice, "when people know they're approaching death, most of them do seek a clergyman or chaplain." Other experts said the poll shows the hunger people have for spirituality when facing sickness and death, and the need for clergy to be better prepared and more involved.

Gays in court

The U.S. Supreme Court let stand two rulings that clarify when homosexuals may act to restrict public critics. Justices declined to interfere in the 1993 firing of Baptist minister Eugene Lumpkin from San Francisco's Human Rights Commission. Mayor Frank Jordan axed Mr. Lumpkin, who had a "pro-gay" voting record in discrimination cases, after the clergyman in a TV interview professed literal belief in the Bible, including passages dealing with homosexuality. Homosexual activists claimed this put him on record as favoring the stoning of homosexuals, which Mr. Lumpkin denied. The high court also declined to hear a civil-rights charge against the El Dorado, Calif., Republican Central Committee for ousting a homosexual couple accused of being Democrats. Observers said the case did not involve a government entity and was more about politics than sexual preference.

Try as he might, Judge Grinch still cannot steal Christmas in Alabama

The Christmas show-including a nativity scene-went ahead as it has for the past 50 years at Swift school in Bon Secour, Ala. But many Alabama school systems canceled their traditional Christmas pageants or removed religious elements following an injunction and orders by federal judge Ira DeMent in October restricting religious activities in DeKalb County schools (WORLD, Nov. 8). His actions were widely interpreted as applying to all public schools in the state since he had eight months earlier declared unconstitutional the state's 1993 law permitting prayer in public schools. Initially, school officials scrapped plans for Swift's Christmas program, too. In past years it had featured a manger scene and children dressed as biblical characters, with carol singing by the audience. Swift's parents, however, voted to go ahead with the play anyway. Baldwin County school superintendent Larry Newton edited the script with an eye to passing court muster. The nativity scene remained, with secular themes receiving equal emphasis. Educators and lawyers agreed it met federal guidelines. "This has been in the Lord's hands from the beginning," an ecstatic Karen Nelson, vice president of the school's Parent-Teacher Organization, told the Mobile Register. At Dothan (Ala.) High School, the principal and school board on the advice of counsel ordered that two religious songs be stricken from the choir's annual Christmas concert. Some choir members complained their rights were being violated. Their parents secured the help of Christian Birmingham attorney A. Eric Johnston. He threatened the school board with a suit, The Huntsville Times reported. He pointed out there is widespread dissatisfaction with Judge DeMent's actions in the DeKalb County case. Pending a judgment by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, Dothan city schools should not accept the DeKalb County order as binding on them, Mr. Johnston insisted. School officials agreed to allow the songs. Elsewhere, Etowah County Circuit Judge Roy Moore, who is enmeshed in his own First Amendment battle (WORLD, Sept. 13), issued a temporary restraining order in his jurisdiction against Judge DeMent's injunction. Alabama newspapers reported students at some schools were staging outdoor prayer meetings and circulating religious literature. At some football games, students and parents knelt in prayer prior to kickoff. Such activities are permissible under Judge DeMent's guidelines. However, at a high school in Pell City, more than two dozen students were suspended for three days for leaving class to stage a prayer protest of the judge's actions. Judge DeMent's injunction and related orders came in response to an inquiry by DeKalb County school officials as to what is and is not permissible. He prohibited teachers and other school employees, as well as outsiders, from doing anything that could be interpreted as promoting religion in the classroom and at school-sponsored functions. But he approved teaching objectively about religion in class studies. Judge DeMent ordered monitors into the schools this month to measure compliance with his injunction. News accounts said many students and teachers have dubbed them "the prayer police."

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