Postal service cutbacks may hurt nonprofits

The U.S. Postal Service could hike mailing costs for nonprofits if a proposed bill by Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA) passes. The bill would help cut costs and restructure management. Over six years, it would reduce the 40 percent discount nonprofits currently receive to 10 percent. Many nonprofits use the discount to solicit donations through direct mail, which accounted for 78 percent of the $300 billion donated in 2009.

Pro-life group scrutinized over deficit

A high-profile Catholic pro-life group is under scrutiny after an audit revealed a $1.4 million deficit in last year's budget. Bishop Patrick Zurek of Amarillo, Texas, said he suspended director Frank Pavone over concerns about how Priests for Life was spending the $10 million it received in donations in 2010. Pavone has appealed to the Vatican and is seeking a new diocese in which to base his activism. In spite of a decline in 2010 donations, the organization loaned $879,000 to a related ministry, Gospel of Life Ministries, which recently had its tax-exempt status revoked by the IRS after failing to file tax forms for three years.

Commission backs off defense of Christians

UNITED KINGDOM The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) announced this summer that British judges were failing to protect the freedoms of Christian employees. But it has pulled back from supporting current religious discrimination cases. The EHRC initially planned to argue on behalf of four Christians pressured to quit their jobs because of their beliefs or because they wore religious symbols on the job. They are appealing their cases to the European Court of Human Rights. The EHRC had said the court should adopt a principle of reasonable accommodation of religious beliefs, but later announced it would gather public input to determine what accommodations to recommend.

Church fights tax bill

A Nashville megachurch is fighting a $425,000 property tax bill assessed after it added an activities center with a bookstore, café, fitness center, and gym in 2004. A property assessor in 2007 said the new areas operate like other businesses and could not be exempt from property taxes. Church leaders argue that the new facilities are for ministry. In 2009, a judge ruled that the gym should be taxed at 50 percent. The church's lawyer is arguing for complete exemption, saying the church's extensions should be treated like college bookstores and hospital gift shops, which do not pay property tax.

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Churches compensated for seized properties

CZECH REPUBLIC After 20 years of negotiations, the Czech government agreed to return some Communist-seized property to churches, reimburse them for the rest, pay church upkeep fees for a time, and phase out state funding of clergy salaries. The state will give back 56 percent of seized property and reimburse churches $3.49 billion over 30 years for the remainder. Eighty percent of funds and property will go to the Catholic Church; the rest will go to Protestant and Orthodox churches and Jewish synagogues.

Court: Church not liable for damages

Idlewild Baptist Church no longer has to pay $4.75 million in damages to a man who claimed permanent injury resulting from a youth group's ski trip in 2003. Hillsborough County Circuit judge James Arnold vacated a prior decision against the 11,000-member Florida megachurch that awarded sizable damages to the man, and ordered a retrial because of jury conflict.

Christian minorities gain, lose representation

PAKISTAN For the first time, each of the Muslim nation's four provinces will get one senate seat for a religious minority. However, a concurrent government move hurts religious minorities: assassinated minister for minorities Shahbaz Bhatti's position was downgraded in rank and responsibilities. The All-Pakistani Christian League, a new Christian political party, formed in late July to mixed enthusiasm, as critics remembered previous failed attempts at forming a viable Christian party.

NYC, SF suspicious of pro-life advertising

San Francisco officials are proposing a bill to make it illegal for city crisis-pregnancy centers to advertise services falsely. And the city attorney asked local center First Resort to state clearly in its ads that the organization does not perform or refer abortion services. A federal judge recently barred a similar New York City ordinance, saying the ordinance was overly broad.

Court: City can't refuse church permit

City officials cannot impose zoning restrictions on religious organizations that do not apply to others, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled. Centro Familiar Cristiano Buenas Nuevas had requested a permit to open a church in an old department store in downtown Yuma, Arizona. The city denied the request, saying it needed to revitalize the historic district for restaurants and other entertainments that would require liquor licenses. But state law forbids selling liquor in a 300-foot radius around a house of worship. The court stipulated that in such an entertainment area, city officials could overrule the liquor restriction.

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Debate over cash crops

ZIMBABWE Church leaders are debating the ethics of raising lucrative tobacco crops. One farmer tithed USD $600,000 from his $6 million crop, and national church leaders wondered aloud whether to accept the gift. Some denominations, such as the Seventh-day Adventists, do not allow members to raise tobacco; others are conflicted. The national director for evangelism of the Methodist Church in Zimbabwe, Josias Mudenda, said he would not encourage tobacco growing because of the health risks associated with smoking.

Crosses annoy neighbors

SOUTH KOREA Some church neighbors complain that the light from tens of thousands of red neon crosses topping churches across the country is a nuisance, but the government's hands are tied. Church leaders say the crosses, which often stay lit until midnight, are a sign of Christian hope ("like a . . . lighthouse for passing ships in the dark," said one). Neighbors who live near such a cross say the glaring light makes it difficult to sleep. New legislation limits light pollution by mandating an 11 P.M. shutoff for outdoor lights, but the government excluded religious signs from regulation in 2008.

Ex-gang members seek permission to evangelize

Four alleged members of the Latin Kings in Elgin, Illinois, are asking to be removed from a lawsuit barring gang members from meeting in public. The four men say they are now Christians who have left the gang or were never members. They also want to talk with current Latin Kings about Christianity in order to lead them out of the gang. The Kane County state's attorney office filed suit against 81 alleged Latin Kings in September, attempting to weaken the group.

Chaplain suit gains numbers

A 12-year-old court case alleging discrimination against 65 U.S. Navy chaplains may finally move forward, thanks to new statistics. It alleges that evangelical Navy chaplains are denied promotions because of their denomination. The statistics indicate that under the eight chiefs of chaplains from 1981 to 2001, 83 percent of candidates who shared the chief's denomination were promoted to commander, compared with only 73 percent of those from other denominations.

Church holes up for prayer vigil

CUBA A pastor and 60 worshipers holed up in a church for more than three weeks in September, sparking nationwide concern that the group may be a doomsday cult. The church said it was on a spiritual retreat and would continue the prayer vigil to "liberate Cuba from sins" until God told them to stop. Medical officials checked the health of several minors and pregnant women in the church and reported that all were safe and healthy. But neighbors and family members remained nervous. National Assemblies of God leaders removed pastor Braulio Herrera last year, but he has refused to give up the church.

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