Christians face forced exodus
SUDAN As war looms between Sudan and South Sudan, Christians of southern origin living in Sudan fear retribution from its Islamist government. At least half a million black southerners (the majority of whom are Christian) living in the Arab north are now considered foreigners, though some have registered for citizenship. Officials gave southerners until May to register or leave the country, but the government has also cut off flights and land routes to South Sudan. Tensions between the two countries have escalated over the control of oil fields along their disputed border.
Supreme Court declines college case
A California college can continue denying recognition to religious student groups. The Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge to San Diego State University's nondiscrimination policy, which prohibits student groups from restricting membership based on religion. Last August, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the policy was constitutional, though it added that the university's implementation might not have been.
Minister on hook for church taxes
Pay attention, pastors: If your church skirts its payroll taxes, you can be on the hook to pay what's overdue. A North Carolina federal court ruled that a minister who was given "the general powers and duties of supervision and management usually vested in the office of president of a corporation" by her church's bylaws, and had the authority to cosign loans, was a responsible party when her church failed to pay its payroll taxes despite multiple warnings. As a result, the Internal Revenue Service can charge the minister for the total amount of taxes owed.
Faculty reportedly unhappy with oath
A contested survey suggests many faculty members at Shorter University are unhappy with the school's decision to adopt a mandatory lifestyle statement on sexual ethics, alcohol, and loyalty to Shorter and the Georgia Baptist Convention. Of the 61 faculty and staff who responded to an anonymous survey sent to 109 Shorter employees, 90 percent disagreed with the statement created after Donald Dowless became Shorter's 19th president in June 2011. Defenders of Dowless said the survey questions were biased and supporters of the statement were left out of the poll. The unofficial faculty committee that distributed the survey said it queried all full-time faculty.
Missionary wins 'rare' settlement
CHINA In what advocates call a "rare victory," police in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa agreed to compensate a missionary who sued after being criminally detained last fall. Song Kuanxin was arrested with 10 other members of his Chinese house church in Lhasa last October and held for a month "on suspicion of [being part of a] cult group." After his release, Song posted a detailed account of the incident on the Internet and filed a lawsuit. The Tibet Public Security Bureau offered to return all of Song's remaining confiscated items and agreed to pay 7,000 yuan (USD $1,110) in an out-of-court settlement.
Assemblies of God cuts 47 jobs
Just a few months after reporting the opening of more than a church a day last year, the Assemblies of God announced a "strategic restructuring" that eliminated 47 positions at its national office. The restructuring includes a shift from offering print to digital resources; most of the cuts—which affect about 6 percent of the office workforce—were in the printing department.
Churches want fewer cash offerings
NIGERIA Offering plates brimming with cash are good news for churches—but no longer in Nigeria. As the Central Bank of Nigeria prepares to switch to a "cash-lite policy" to cut costs, churches are considering new ways to collect tithes and offerings. The policy places maximum limits on cash transactions for both private and corporate accounts; transactions that exceed the limit can face surcharges as high as 20 percent. No exception exists for religious groups. Some churches are considering buying Point of Sale machines for electronic tithes; others have asked members to tithe with checks. Nigeria struggles with power and mobile network failures, raising concerns about the viability of electronic banking.
Judge: Imprecatory prayers are legal
A Dallas judge ruled that imprecatory prayers are legal as long as no one is personally threatened or harmed. Mikey Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, filed a lawsuit against a former Navy chaplain for using "curse" prayers (such as Psalm 109) to incite violence against Weinstein and his family. District judge Martin Hoffman dismissed the suit, saying there was no evidence the prayers were connected to other threats and vandalism against Weinstein's family.
Church schools will combat secularism
UNITED KINGDOM Amid challenges to public displays of faith, the Church of England says it will reform its role in education to reduce "religious illiteracy." Plans include establishing at least 200 Anglican schools, rebranding existing schools, and proposing ways secular schools can boost their religious education. The church has also suggested joining with other faiths to open multifaith schools. Currently, the Church of England runs a fifth of British state schools.
Baptism could send mother to jail
A baptism dispute may lead to jail time for a Tennessee mother. The state's appeals court ruled that Lauren Jarrell, a Presbyterian, must face a criminal contempt hearing for baptizing her children (ages 5 and 7) without notifying her ex-husband. Emmett Jarrell, a Methodist, wanted to baptize the children when they were old enough to understand its significance. A court had ordered the couple to jointly make decisions regarding the children's religious upbringing.
Christians sue for equal tax treatment
ISRAEL Christians are protesting tax exemptions that they claim are discriminatory. In March 2010, an amendment to municipal tax laws exempted synagogues—including classrooms, offices, and spaces used commercially—from property taxes; for other religious buildings, only prayer halls were exempted. Five groups led by the Jerusalem Institute of Justice have filed a lawsuit seeking to either extend the full exemption to all houses of worship or end the exemptions altogether. Legislation has since been proposed to extend the amendment to all religious buildings.
NYC drops ban of 'loaded' words
A proposed ban on 50 "loaded" words like dinosaur, Halloween, and television from student tests in New York City raised a kerfuffle across the nation. Though it would not be the first to avoid sensitive words on tests (Florida avoids hurricane and wildfire, for example), the inclusion of words like divorce, birthday, Christmas, and religion on the list raised accusations of political correctness gone awry. A week after the list became public, the city eliminated the ban.
College cancels merger
Trustees at Providence Christian College in California have withdrawn from merger discussions with Covenant College in Georgia. Both colleges signed a letter of intent to merge in March as Providence president J. Derek Halvorson prepares to become president of Covenant, his alma mater. But board chairman Pete Nanninga said Providence concluded "it simply wasn't the right time" due to accreditation challenges.
Religious travelers stopped at border
UZBEKISTAN Religious individuals entering or exiting Uzbekistan face travel bans and restrictions, according to religious freedom watchdog Forum 18. Travelers not part of officially recognized religious groups—including Baptists, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Hare Krishnas—have reportedly been blocked from entering or exiting the doubly landlocked Central Asian nation. Many travelers have reported having religious possessions confiscated at border crossings or fines levied against them. Citizens who wish to leave Uzbekistan—even Muslims who have passed state controls to make the pilgrimage to Mecca—must have an exit visa renewed every two years.
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