Prayers at Naval Academy, Citadel under scrutiny after VMI decision
"In establishing its supper prayer, [the Virginia Military Institute] has done precisely what the First Amendment forbids," a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Monday (full decision). "Put simply, VMI's supper prayer exacts an unconstitutional toll on the consciences of religious objectors. While the First Amendment does not in any way prohibit VMI's cadets from praying before, during, or after supper, the Establishment Clause prohibits VMI from sponsoring such a religious activity."

Today's Boston Globe notes that the decision is "a precedent-setting ruling against prayer at a state college" because it's the first time a court at that level has ruled "to extend to public colleges and universities a series of Supreme Court rulings against prayers at public elementary and high schools. … In other recent appellate decisions involving public colleges or universities, other courts have allowed prayers at commencement exercises—something that the Supreme Court has banned at the grade school and high school level."

The ruling was immediately felt at similar colleges. The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland called on the U.S. Naval Academy to "re-examine" its sponsorship of prayer at lunchtime, and officials at the Citadel are reconsidering its practice of allowing student volunteers to lead cadets in prayer before each meal (a student chaplain led prayers at VMI).

"The Air Force, Coast Guard and Merchant Marine academies offer a moment of silence before meals; the U.S. Military Academy at West Point does not even offer that," notes The Baltimore Sun.

Virginia Attorney General Jerry Kilgore says he will ask the full 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider the panel's ruling, and might take the case to the Supreme Court. "I continue to believe that the nondenominational, nonsectarian grace before supper is the sort of thing that is appropriate in a military setting," he said earlier this week. "These prayers were part of VMI's educational program and are precisely the sort of prayers recited in the United States military, on ships at sea each night, and before lunch at the United States Naval Academy." He might not be able to make that last point for long.

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Post-war Iraq:

  • Churches reach out to Iraqis | Christians say their mission is to help with food, not convert (The Detroit News)

  • Relief aid: Onward, Christian soldiers—to Iraq | The International Bible Society has already sent 10,000 booklets created for Iraqis to the Mideast (Newsweek)

  • Iraq humanitarian update | How can aid workers be kept safe enough so they can do their work? How can they maintain their independence from the U.S. military? And should Christian aid workers try to evangelize Iraqi Muslims? (Religion & Ethics Newsweekly)

  • Christians' main role: Communicate God's love | A genuine evangelical's concern is never focused on persuading someone to change their membership from one religious organization to another (Larry Cox, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

  • Resentment, not the Gospel, likely to spread | Many Muslims continue to portray the war in Iraq and the war on terrorism as an attack on Islam. Nothing would feed that image more readily than having prominent evangelical Christians who have denigrated Islam at the forefront of humanitarian relief efforts (Charles Kimball, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

  • Iraqis have choice to make regarding religious freedom | The point of liberating Iraq wasn't to enable it to become a theocratic state (Terry Eastland. The Dallas Morning News)

  • If Iraqi Shiite majority wants clerics, let them | If the United States intervenes to quash the desire of the Iraqi people for an Islamic government, won't we simply be trading one form of tyranny for another? (Cathleen Falsani, Chicago Sun-Times)

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Faith in the military:

Church and state:

  • Groups file briefs opposing monument | Baptists, Jews and Arabs are among a diverse list of religious and other groups that have filed written arguments with a federal appeals court in opposition to a Ten Commandments monument in the Alabama state judicial building (The Birmingham News, Ala.)

  • Access to Mormon land raises First Amendment issue | A divisive dispute over public access to a piece of Mormon-owned land in the heart of Salt Lake City could go before the U.S. Supreme Court next fall (Legal Times)

Politics and law:

  • Charitable choice struggles, thrives | Hiring practices are being challenged (The Philadelphia Inquirer)

  • Religious zealotry always politically potent | This administration has demonstrated the undeniable lure of mixing religion and public policy. It's good politics because people of zeal can be expected to show out in force (John Young, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

  • Exactly who's the bigot here? | Rick Santorum is a devout Catholic. Like it or not, nothing he said in that interview diverges from Catholic doctrine (Rod Dreher, The Dallas Morning News)

  • Church and state store | Perhaps Christians shouldn't be buying booze on the Sabbath (Lynda Guydon Taylor, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

  • The church and politics | The Church deserves to take its rightful place in the governance of every nation, and the Zambian case should be no exception (Editorial, The Post of Zambia)

  • Earlier: One African Nation Under God | Zambia is missionary David Livingstone's greatest legacy. But this Christian nation isn't always heaven on earth (Christianity Today, Feb. 5, 2002)


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Sexual ethics:

Health and science:

  • Regular fasting seems to improve health | Scientists are now planning a study to see if fasting, which seems to benefit mice, will be good for people too (Associated Press)

  • Loss of faith hits medicine | A decline in Christianity is taking its toll on the number of people willing to donate their organs for transplantation, according to a doctor (BBC)

  • Religion versus science might be all in the mind | By stimulating the cerebral region presumed to control notions of self, Michael Persinger has been able to induce in hundreds of subjects a "sensed presence" only the subjects themselves are aware of (The Sydney Morning Herald)

Missions and ministries:

  • Luis Palau leads nation in prayer | Palau was chosen because "he's an internationally known evangelist and a lot of people know his name," said Mark Fried, media and marketing coordinator for the National Day of Prayer Task Force (The Oregonian)

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Church life:

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  • Ukrainian monks seize part of monastery | Ukraine's Orthodox monks are resorting to sit-ins to regain church property seized by the Soviet government and still occupied by secular organizations (Associated Press)

Orthodox Easter (Pascha):


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