The Adventist Review shares the following world news from Religion News Service as a service to readers. Opinions expressed in these reports do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Review or the Seventh-day Adventist Church. -- Editors
Texas Court Strikes Down
State Rules on Seminaries
Texas court has struck down a state requirement that religious higher education institutions must meet specific standards before they can call themselves a "seminary" or use certain terminology to describe their degrees.
The Texas Supreme Court ruled August 31 in favor of HEB Ministries, which runs Tyndale Theological Seminary in Fort Worth. The state had fined the school $173,000 because it had not been authorized by a state educational board to grant degrees.
"The state may not deny a religious program of study clearly denominated as such the use of all words capable of describing educational achievement," wrote Justice Nathan L. Hecht in a unanimous opinion by the court.
The case also affects two religious institutions that train Hispanic and African-American pastors, San Antonio-based Hispanic Bible Institute and Dallas-based Southern Bible Institute, which joined the case as additional plaintiffs.
In an effort to ban so-called "diploma mills," the state had enacted a law that restricts the terminology a school can use about educational attainment unless a school has received a certificate of authority from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.
"We think it beyond serious dispute that the statue clearly and excessively entangles the government in matters of religious instruction," Hecht wrote. "The board's standards, and those of recognized accrediting agencies, cannot be applied without a thorough, detailed, and repeated examination of an institution's operations and curriculum."
Kelly Shackelford, chief counsel of the Liberty Legal Institute, a Texas organization that argued the case for HEB Ministries, hailed the decision. "This decision is a huge victory for all seminaries not only in Texas but nationwide," he said. "The state has no authority or competence to control the training of pastors and ministers."
San Diego Diocese Settles Abuse Cases for $198 Million
The Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego has agreed to pay $198 million to 144 alleged victims of sexual abuse by clergy or other church employees, the second-largest such settlement since the abuse crisis exploded five years ago.
The settlement follows four years of negotiations and a threat from a U.S. bankruptcy judge to dismiss the diocese's Chapter 11 claim if a settlement was not reached by September 11.
In announcing the settlement Friday, San Diego Bishop Robert Brom said the diocese would now ask to be released from bankruptcy court.
In the wake of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles' record-setting $660 million settlement in July, the San Diego agreement brings to more than $2 billion the total amount the U.S. Catholic church has paid in sexual abuse-related matters since 1950.
San Diego will pay about $107 million of the settlement, including $30 million for religious orders, some of which the diocese hopes to recover, Brom said in a statement. The insurance carrier Catholic Mutual will pay $76 million; the Diocese of San Bernardino, which split from San Diego in 1978, will pay about $15 million.
"Some have accused the diocese of engaging in delay tactics in order to avoid our responsibility to victims," Brom said. "We have done our best ... to bring this matter to conclusion with justice for all involved, but many forces beyond our control have complicated the process."
Joelle Casteix of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests said, "No settlement will ever magically restore hundreds of stolen childhoods, betrayed psyches, shattered self-esteem, and damaged relationships. But a settlement can be an important first step in healing, exposure, accountability, and prevention."
IRS Clears Dobson, Focus on the Family
The Internal Revenue Service has cleared Focus on the Family Chairman James Dobson after an investigation into charges that he had violated IRS rules by being involved in prohibited politicking.
Dobson hailed the IRS' conclusion in a broadcast on his conservative Christian radio program on September 10 and read from documents he received from the agency.
"Our examination revealed that Dr. Dobson's reported remarks did not occur in publications of Focus on the Family, did not occur at functions of Focus on the Family, and did not involve Dr. Dobson suggesting that he was speaking as a representative of Focus on the Family," the IRS said.
The agency spent almost a year auditing Dobson's ministries after receiving a 99-page request in November 2005 from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which accused him of endorsing Republican candidates and requested the revocation of Focus on the Family's tax-exempt status.
On his broadcast Dobson said the Washington watchdog group's intent was to try to frighten clergy and other nonprofit organizations from addressing moral issues such as marriage, homosexuality, and abortion.
"I think the purpose for this was not only to see if they could damage us and maybe shut us up and take us out but to scare every pastor and every nonprofit that's out there," Dobson said.
Naomi Seligman Steiner, deputy director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said Dobson's charge was "ludicrous."
"We want to make sure that every nonprofit in this country obeys both the spirit and the letter of the law," she said.
Congress Poised to Challenge Bush on Pro-family Issues
BY BP STAFF ©2007 Baptist Press
Attempts to advance policies opposed by pro-life and pro-family organizations are expected to resume now that Congress has reconvened after a month-long recess.
The Senate and House of Representatives returned to work September 4 with the war in Iraq the center of attention, but the Democratic leadership also appears prepared to challenge President Bush with votes on such controversial proposals as funding destructive embryonic stem cell research (ESCR) and expanding so-called "homosexual rights."
For the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and other opponents of such legislation, the president's veto power is their surest weapon.
The Senate has yet to hold a vote to override Bush's June veto of the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, which seeks to weaken the president's policy blocking federal funds from being used in stem cell research that destroys embryos. The measure would provide funds for research using stem cells taken from embryos stored at in vitro fertilization clinics.
Extracting stem cells from embryos destroys the days-old human beings. The president's 2001 rule permits funds for embryonic research only on stem cell lines already in existence at the time of the announcement of the policy.
Defenders of Bush's policy may have just enough votes to prevent a successful override in the Senate requiring a two-thirds majority. The Senate voted 63-34 for the measure in April. It appears only three of the four senators who did not vote in April will support an override, which would leave the bill a vote short, unless a senator who originally voted against the bill switches or does not vote.
In the House, meanwhile, challengers of the presidential rule lacked 35 votes for a super-majority when the legislation was approved in June.
ESCR advocates are trying another approach as well. The Senate Appropriations Committee passed in June a proposal by Sen. Tom Harkin, D.-Iowa, that would grant government money for studies of stem cell lines derived from embryos over nearly the last six years. The measure would gut Bush's policy, authorizing federal funds for research on stem cells from embryos destroyed in private work between August 9, 2001, and June 15 of this year.
Passage appears highly unlikely, however. The full Senate has yet to vote on it, and the overall bill would have to be agreed to by the House. Also, Bush has promised to veto any bill that "weakens current Federal policies and laws on abortion, or that encourages the destruction of human life at any stage."
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