Earthquake destroys hundreds of churches

Chile Headlines about the 8.8-magnitude February earthquake in Chile quickly faded, but the country's Baptists found that the temblor had severely damaged half of their churches. The Baptist General Convention of Texas gave $25,000 to the Baptist Union of Chile to repair 250 buildings. Other denominations throughout the country suffered as well; up to 80 percent of Catholic churches were destroyed in dioceses surrounding the epicenter near Concepción, Chile's second largest city. The quake displaced 1.5 million people.

Court: "Under God" may remain in pledge

Reversing its own 2002 ruling, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the phrase "under God" can remain in the Pledge of Allegiance because the phrase is religious but does not represent a prayer. The court issued a similar ruling about the motto "In God We Trust" on currency, saying the use of "God" is ceremonial and patriotic, not religious. In 2002 the court ruled that "under God" was unconstitutional. All three lawsuits were filed by Sacramento atheist Michael Newdow, who says the phrase alienates nonreligious people in the U.S.

World Vision workers killed in Pakistan

Pakistan Seven Pakistani employees of World Vision died in a March 10 robbery, the worst attack in the organization's 60-year history. About 15 unidentified gunmen shot the workers, injured six others, and set off a bomb after stealing equipment from the Oghi office in northern Pakistan. World Vision has halted operations in the country while government officials investigate the attack. An agency spokesman said that on average, one World Vision worker dies each year in violent attacks.

Court: Church defamed pastor

An Oregon appeals court determined the First Amendment does not protect churches from all defamation lawsuits and awarded a fired pastor $355,000 in damages. Pastor Tim Tubra sued the denomination of Vernonia Foursquare Church for defamation of character after officials read a letter to congregants after his resignation, accusing him of misappropriating church funds. At issue: whether a $3,000 withdrawal in April 2004 was part of his 2003 compensation agreement. The court ruled in Tubra's favor because the defamation was not religious in nature. Observers said the February ruling was a first for church-state issues and will likely head to Oregon's Supreme Court.

Government bans intelligent design

Australia Christian schools in South Australia are protesting new guidelines that ban the teaching of intelligent design and creationism in science classes. The December policy from the Non-Government Schools Registration Board requires science to be taught "as an empirical discipline" focused on objective inquiry and evidence. The policy does not allow scientific curricula based on literal interpretations of religious texts. A spokesperson for the board said creationism could still be taught in religion courses, but the Australian Christian Lobby said the policy limits the freedom of religious schools.

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Christians murdered before election

Iraq The run-up to Iraq's March elections saw at least 10 Christians murdered and more than 800 Christians displaced from Mosul. Sunni Muslims had promised to wreck the elections; 38 people were killed on Election Day, March 7. Meanwhile, leaders from 14 denominations recently formed the Council of Christian Church Leaders in Iraq to unite believers still in the country. A U.N. refugee commission estimates that half of Iraq's 750,000 Christians have left the country since 2003.

Government will monitor church finances

China Churches and other religious institutions must hire accountants and submit annual financial reports to the Chinese government starting in 2011. The March statement from China's State Administration of Religious Affairs also lets the government audit an institution if its leader leaves. Chinese law recognizes churches as public organizations, and officials say the new rules will help the government supervise finances at the nation's 130,000 religious organizations. China is on a U.S. list of nations whose governments repress freedom of religion.

Catholic charity drops spousal benefits

Prompted by the December legalization of same-sex marriage in the District of Columbia, Catholic Charities of Washington transferred its 80-year-old foster care program to another provider. Then it dropped health benefits for spouses of new hires. Church officials said the changes were necessary to maintain city contracts under the new law. The organization also added a hiring clause requiring new employees to uphold church tenets.

New EU group will monitor Christian rights

Italy A new European Union working group will create guidelines for EU embassies to monitor religious freedom and to help Christians in countries where they are persecuted. The group, headed by Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini, will distribute the guidelines to embassies in countries ranked by nonprofit Open Doors as the worst persecutors. Frattini formed the group in part because of a European Court of Human Rights ruling last fall—later overturned—that crucifixes could not be displayed in Italian schools.

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Denomination refuses to let church leave

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America refused to let a Florida congregation to leave the synod over theological differences. Members of St. Peter Lutheran Church voted twice unanimously to leave the denomination. The last official step in the process was for the regional synod to approve the move, but the Florida-Bahamas Synod refused the request, saying the church is in a key spot for missions. St. Peter moved on without approval and joined Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ.

Colorado cuts adoption list in half

Thanks to an initiative spearheaded by Focus on the Family, the number of eligible unadopted children in Colorado shrunk from nearly 800 to 365 in the past two years. Focus started the Wait No More initiative in November 2008, organizing large events where prospective adopters can learn more about adoption and begin the process. State and local governments as well as churches and other private organizations partner with Focus to organize the adoptions.

Divorce now easier for Indian Christians

India Christians no longer have to wait two years after marriage to file for divorce, according to an Indian high court ruling in February. When a Christian couple filed suit to be allowed to divorce after eight months, the court declared part of the existing Indian Divorce Act unconstitutional for discriminating against Christians. Like members of other religious groups, Christians can now file for divorce after one year.

Popular Chinese Bible updated

The most popular Chinese-language Bible translation has been updated for the first time in 90 years. The American Bible Society translation team, which included scholars from mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, and the U.S., updated language characters no longer in use and designed the translation to be understood in many Chinese regions and dialects. The new translation, which will target more than 300,000 Chinese churches worldwide, will be available this fall.

Back door could open to assisted suicide

United Kingdom A ruling from the British director of public prosecutions could effectively open a back door to assisted suicide in the country. The office said prosecuting a man who helped his parents book a room at a Swiss suicide facility is not in the public interest. Caractacus Downes and his sister received £2.6 million when their parents died. The large amount of money qualified Downes to be prosecuted for assisting a suicide under February guidelines.

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