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Culture | The government cannot force faith-based charitable organizations that receive federal funding to

Issue: "New Orleans' comeback kids," Oct. 22, 2005

The government cannot force faith-based charitable organizations that receive federal funding to "secularize" their hiring practices.

So ruled U.S. District Judge Sidney Stein Sept. 30 in New York City in dismissing key parts of a lawsuit filed against the Salvation Army and New York officials last year.

"Nothing in the Constitution precludes Congress from accommodating the Salvation Army's residual free exercise interest in selecting and managing its employees with reference to religion," Judge Stein wrote.

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The suit was filed by current and former members of the Army-an evangelical church-who claimed they were victims of religious discrimination.

The ruling further defines a U.S. Supreme Court opinion in favor of the Bush administration's Faith-Based Initiative. The high court affirmed the right of the government to contract with religious organizations to provide social services.

Liberal activists have strongly protested the initiative from the beginning on grounds it violates the Constitution's Establishment Clause. They are now trying to show that government money, whether directly or indirectly, is being used to subsidize religious purposes of faith-based nonprofits-contrary to law. To receive government grants, religious groups must agree not to use the money to further religious beliefs. Monitors have found most groups, including the Salvation Army, in compliance so far.

Of peace or purity

A theological task force assigned to find ways to promote "peace, unity, and purity" in the strife-riven 2.4-million-member Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) missed the mark.

A central issue in the controversy is the PCUSA's constitutional standard for pastors: "fidelity in marriage" and "chastity in singleness." Gay activists and their allies in the church have fought for years to remove the standard. The task force's final report recommends that the denomination's general assembly next June not change the standard. But it also suggested a change that would, in effect, allow local option. It would permit the ordination of practicing homosexuals if the ordaining bodies don't regard their behavior as a violation of "essential" requirements.

Gays and their allies denounced the proposal and demanded full and equal treatment for all pastors. At least six presbyteries (regional units) want the upcoming assembly to scrap the fidelity/chastity requirement altogether. In defiance, several recently approved open gays as pastors. And this month, the Presbyterian Coalition of nine conservative PCUSA renewal groups also rejected the task force report. They said it promotes unrest, disunity, and immorality.

Bulletin Board

  • Explosive growth describes what is happening in evangelical higher education. Enrollment at member schools of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities increased by 70.6 percent between 1990 and 2004-from 134,592 to 229,649. The numbers are based on data recently published by the U.S. Department of Education. The figures place overall growth of U.S. public four-year institutions at 12.8 percent for the 14-year period, 28 percent for all independent ones, and 27.5 percent for all independent religious schools.
  • The governing board of troubled First Presbyterian Church Hollywood, long an evangelical citadel, this month reluctantly asked its two main pastors to resign. It called for a vote by the congregation to make official the ouster of senior pastor Alan Meenan and Rev. David Manock. The action was necessary to bring about reconciliation among the divided congregation, the church leaders said. The conflict centered on sagging finances, pastoral management, and contemporary ministry styles.
  • Big surprise: The Episcopal Church (ECUSA) governing council decided not to "divest" ECUSA's holdings in companies that do business with Israel. Several denominations, led by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), voted earlier this year to divest from companies whose products and services for Israel were allegedly harmful to Palestinian interests. Israel and American Jewish groups vigorously protested those actions, disrupting long-standing ecumenical relationships.
Edward E. Plowman
Edward E. Plowman

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