Twenty-two African countries are facing catastrophic food shortages, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. The agency reports “the worst drought for a century” is parching most of southern Africa. Even usually wet countries are dry. Edouard Saouma, director of the organization, warns that unless aid arrives in Africa, people will be forced to eat seed saved for next year’s crop. Saouma cited extreme population growth and weak governments as contributors to the crisis.

Led by its Socialist majority, Spain’s Parliament has voted to legalize abortion in certain cases. Implementation is being delayed by Spain’s Popular Alliance Party, which has challenged the bill in constitutional court. The proposed legislation allows abortion in cases of rape, malformation of the unborn, or danger to the life of the woman. The Catholic church has campaigned against the measure since it was presented by the Socialists in May.

Archaeologists in Jerusalem have unearthed an ancient stone stairway that some scholars think is the path Jesus took to the Garden of Gethsemane. The stairway runs down the eastern slopes of Mount Zion from the Church of Saint Peter-in-Gallicantu to the Pool of Siloam. It has been buried since the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

One million people in Great Britain stopped attending church in the decade of the seventies. About a thousand churches were closed, and the number of clergy dropped by 2,500. This is based on a census conducted from 1975 to 1979 by the organization Nationwide Initiative in Evangelism. The rate of decline was lower in the second half of the decade. The census revealed that churches with between 50 and 100 members were most likely to grow.

Evangelist Luis Palau took a break from a recent two-month campaign in London to speak to some 20.000 Dutch youth about human sexuality. Palau went to the Netherlands at the urging of Dutch evangelical leaders who are concerned about increasing sexual permissiveness in their country. Palau believes that the massive youth rally at which he spoke, combined with the recent success of Billy Graham’s conference for itinerant evangelists, has laid a solid foundation on which to build a national evangelistic campaign in the Netherlands.

Persecution of Christians in South India is on the rise, according to reports that have filtered in to the distribution agency Bibles for India. Radical Hindu groups are responsible for the harassment. Though most of it is verbal, some churches have been burned and some Christians killed.

Baptist church leaders in Italy have launched an effort to identify their church doctrine and purpose. At the first Ecclesiological Congress of the Baptist Union of Italy, church representatives adopted several recommendations calling for a clarification of purpose and a plan for cooperation and propagation of their faith.

Last winter, Alabama Federal Court Judge W. Brevard Hand surprised many constitutional lawyers by ruling, in effect, that federal courts—including the U.S. Supreme Court—have no say over whether school children may pray in public schools (CT, June 17, 1983, p. 24).

Hand’s “state’s rights” decision directly challenged decades of legal precedent that applies First Amendment protections to the states (the First Amendment actually says only that Congress, not the states, is prohibited from establishing religion).

A federal appeals court overruled Hand and ordered him to issue an injunction against school prayer. Hand was slow to act, but now he has finally issued the order.

Nonetheless, Mobilians who favor school prayer are refusing to yield to the spirit of the appeals court decision. They insist on a narrow reading of Hand’s injunction that gives them almost as much latitude as they have always had. Ishmael Jaffree, the agnostic who filed the original suit so his children would not have to pray in class, is now suing Mobile school board president Dan Alexander for contempt of court.

Hand’s injunction specifically prohibits classroom use of a prayer composed by former Governor Fob James’s son, as well as the Lord’s Prayer and a rhyming lunchtime grace, “God is great, God is good, let us thank him for our food.” Alexander, whose term as school board president ends this month, circulated a copy of Hand’s order with a letter telling school teachers what they must not say in class. “Obviously I’m implying that whatever else they might pray has not been enjoined,” Alexander said. “The court could easily have given an all-encompassing injunction, but didn’t. Hand did exactly what the circuit court asked and no more.”

While Alexander awaits his contempt hearing because of this alleged “end-around,” the school board is appealing the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. It is there that organized prayer and Bible reading in schools has been declared unconstitutional in cases dating from the early 1960s. Whether the Court will agree to hear arguments regarding the extent of its own jurisdiction is not known. If the case is accepted, it may prove to be one of the most intriguing assaults on the presumed “wall of separation” between church and state in many years.

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