For thousands of children waiting in Russian orphanages, one path to a permanent home went cold in December: Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law banning adoptions of Russian children by U.S. citizens.
The Dec. 28 decree came two weeks after U.S. officials passed legislation that included financial sanctions against Russian violators of human rights. Adoption advocates—and a handful of Russian politicians—blasted Putin’s retaliatory move, saying it would punish thousands of orphans. UNICEF has estimated there are 600,000 abandoned children in Russia, and U.S. citizens have adopted nearly 70,000 Russian children in the past 20 years.
With 50 Russian children in the final stages of adoption by U.S. families at the end of December, the State Department reported it had “no information on whether the Russian government intends to permit the completion of any pending adoptions.”
With government grants and reimbursements funding nearly half its budget, Planned Parenthood (PP) logged a record number of abortions in 2011. The organization’s latest annual report, released Jan. 4, revealed the unwelcome figures.
• 333,964 Abortions PP performed in 2011
• 11% Proportion of clients PP says received abortions that year
• 915 Abortions per day, or 1 abortion every 94 seconds
• $1.2 billion Revenue for fiscal year 2012
• $1.5 million Taxpayer funding per day, including Medicaid reimbursements
Iranian authorities continued their nefarious tradition of holiday persecution by arresting some 50 Christians at a private home during a Christmas celebration in Tehran on Dec. 27.
Police released most of the group after an interrogation that included demands for the Christians’ mobile phones and passwords to their email accounts and social networking sites. Church members say authorities sent 60-year-old pastor Vruir Avanessian to the notorious Evin Prison, despite the minister’s serious health problems.
The raid came two days after Iranian police detained Youcef Nadarkhani, the Iranian pastor acquitted of apostasy charges and freed from prison in September. Authorities re-jailed Nadarkhani on Christmas Day, and said the pastor must serve 45 days remaining in a sentence for evangelizing Muslims. Less than two weeks later, police released Nadarkhani on Jan. 7.
By jailing Nadarkhani after his dramatic release last fall, authorities sent an ominous message to Iranian Christians, according to Elizabeth Kendal of the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin: “This is nothing but pure harassment, doubtless aimed at driving the family from Iran and also sending a message to all Iranian Christians that the regime can and will persecute them with impunity.”
Christians in North Korea suffered the most persecution in the world for the 11th straight year in 2012, according to rankings released Jan. 8 by Open Doors International. The World Watch List includes 11 countries—mostly in the Middle East—where “extreme persecution” is taking place. The biggest surprise was in the African country of Mali, which went from unranked to No. 7. China dropped from No. 21 to 37, although the movement had more to do with intensifying persecution elsewhere than more religious freedom in the world’s most populous country.
When the Republican leadership in the House shelved an aid package necessary to Superstorm Sandy relief, it provoked outrage from the devastated regions’ governors and legislators, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican. In a Jan. 2 press conference, Christie eviscerated House Republicans and Speaker John Boehner, whom Christie said he called four times without a response. Christie recited how long it took Congress to pass aid packages for hurricane-hit regions in the past. In the case of Hurricane Katrina, Congress passed an aid package 10 days after the storm. In the case of Sandy, “66 days and counting,” he said. “Shame on you. Shame on Congress.”
Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., also delivered a furious speech against Boehner on the House floor: “This is not the United States. This should not be the Republican Party. This shouldn’t be the Republican leadership.”
After passing a compromise to avert the fiscal cliff, Congress passed an initial $9.7 billion Superstorm Sandy recovery package. Aid in the initial package will pay claims for those who hold federal flood insurance. Congress is scheduled to take up in mid-January an additional $51 billion aid package, covering the rest of storm recovery.
Watchdog groups say the larger aid package—originating in the Senate—contains pork projects as well as aid for other storm-hit regions of the country. House lawmakers say their aid package will be slimmer and more focused.
Sandy was among the worst storms ever to hit the Northeast, and parts of the region remain crippled. Full commuter train service in New Jersey returned only this month, and tens of thousands of residents in New York and New Jersey remain displaced.
In a move aimed at protecting nearly $500 million worth of church properties, the Diocese of South Carolina filed suit against The Episcopal Church on Jan. 4. The action comes three months after the Diocese of South Carolina voted to leave The Episcopal Church, citing the denomination’s approval of unbiblical practices like homosexuality.
It’s a messy parting: Episcopal Church leaders say the diocese can’t leave without the denomination’s approval. Diocese officials say since the diocese was formed as an independent association in 1785—before The Episcopal Church formally began—it acts as its own entity.
Diocese leaders also say their independent identity means departing congregations should be allowed to keep their properties, including some of the oldest operating churches in the nation. While some mainline denominations have sued departing congregations—and forced local churches to relinquish properties—the South Carolina diocese has asked a judge for pre-emptive protection. Mark Lawrence, bishop of the diocese, said the group wants the freedom to practice its faith “as we see fit, not as it is dictated to us by a self-proclaimed religious authority who threatens to take our property unless we relinquish our beliefs.”
Arab news outlet Al-Jazeera has purchased liberal cable television channel Current TV, giving it access to almost 40 million American households. The New York–based channel, known as Al-Jazeera America, will be staffed by journalists in 10 to 15 bureaus focusing on U.S. news, say its Qatari-based owners. Time Warner Cable Inc., the nation’s second-largest TV operator, dropped the station after former vice president and Current TV founder Al Gore confirmed the deal (which netted him $100 million).