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
Union University Classes Resume February 20
BY TIM ELLSWORTH ©2008 Baptist Press
nion University students displaced by the February 5 tornado that ravaged the campus will return to class February 20, officials at the Jackson, Tennessee, campus announced February 12.
President David S. Dockery said all faculty and staff offices will open February 18, with students returning to their housing Feb. 19 and beginning classes the next day.
"It is absolutely amazing to think that we will be able to start classes within two weeks of this devastating story," Dockery said. "We are so excited about seeing our students return to class. I can't say enough about our faculty and staff and the amazing work they have done to enable us to be ready to move forward with the spring semester schedule."
More than 1,100 residential students left campus after the EF-4 tornado destroyed much of Union's student housing. Two of the housing complexes -– Hurt and Watters -– were hit the hardest and will be demolished. To accommodate student housing needs, Union will house 300 students in The Jett, formerly the Old English Inn. Englewood Baptist Church in Jackson, which owns the facility, has turned operation over to Union for student housing through December.
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Democrats Lodge Complaint Over Evangelical Polling
BY DANIEL BURKE ©2008 Religion News Service
Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, has sent a public letter to national election pollsters, blasting them for only asking Republicans about their religious practices.
"So far, exit polls, media reports and pundits have largely missed the story because they're using an outdated script, which leaves the impression that religion and faith matter only to Republicans," Dean said in a letter on February 1.
Following on earlier complaints by progressive evangelicals, Dean notes that Democratic voters in the Iowa caucuses and Michigan primary weren't asked about their religion, while Republicans were. In South Carolina, exit pollsters asked Republicans extensively about their faith, while Democrats were only asked how often they attend worship services. "And this bias in polling questions has in turn shaped news coverage," Dean said "making it appear that one party has a monopoly on religion in this race."
The National Election Poll consortium, which includes the polling directors of ABC, CBS, CNN, FOX, NBC and The Associated Press, has said they "have limited real estate on our questionnaires," and "routinely do not talk publicly about what questions are on our surveys," according to Faith in Public Life.
Dean called on pollsters to "honor the religious diversity of our country by including Democrats when asking about faith.".
Catholics Agree to Probe Role in School Abuse
BY RON CILLAG ©2008 Religion News Service
Roman Catholic bishops in Canada have agreed to take part in a truth commission on abuse that occurred in church-run Indian residential schools. The bishops, whose participation was in doubt until now, said the hearings will provide "balance" to a decades-old controversy that pitted Christian churches against the schools.
"Certainly, mistakes were made and we're open to acknowledging that and being responsible but, most of all, we're hoping that the story is really ... balanced," said Archbishop Sylvain Lavoie, one seven northern Canadian bishops who met on January 29 in Ottawa with Phil Fontaine, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations.
From the 1870s to about the 1970s, Canada's federal government, together with the Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian and United churches, removed aboriginal children from their villages and sent them to some 130 residential schools for training in Christianity and Western ways.
Thousands of former students have alleged they were beaten, neglected, and sexually abused. They have also charged that their native tongues and cultures were brutally suppressed.
Last year, the government approved a $1.9 billion compensation deal for the estimated 80,000 surviving students of the school system, to be split between the government Ottawa and the churches.
But the Catholic Church did not agree to the deal. Instead, it said it would pay $25 million toward a healing and reconciliation fund, open the church's archives, and provide counseling and other services to survivors.
Part of the out-of-court settlement was the creation of a "Truth and Reconciliation Commission," which will hold public hearings across Canada. The bishops made no promises to apologize for wrongdoings or to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Egyptian Court Allows Muslims to Become Christians
BY DANIEL BURKE ©2008 Religion News Service
Egypt's Supreme Civil Court has permitted 12 Coptic Christians who had converted to Islam to revert to their original faith, the second such recent victory for religious minorities in the predominantly Muslim nation.
The ruling, which overturns an April decision by a lower court, allows the 12 Christians to carry government identity papers indicating their religious choice. Egypt's secular courts often defer to Shariah, or Islamic law, which forbids conversions from Islam, in such circumstances, according to international human right's experts.
At least some of the Coptic Christians were men who converted to Islam in order to obtain a divorce, which is proscribed by the Coptic Orthodox Church, according to international news reports.
"The judges' decision marks a happy ending to an absurd and unnecessary court fight," said Hossam Bahga, director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. "It was only the stubborn insistence of Interior Ministry officials to place their prejudice above the law that made it necessary to go to court at all."
The National ID cards are required for education, employment, financial transactions and other purposes. The Muslim ID subjected the Christians to Muslim family law, and determined their children's religion and education, according to Human Rights Watch, which says it has documented 211 similar cases in Egypt.
"The state should not be in the business of controlling religious conversion," said Joe Stork, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "This court decision will have repercussions for all Egyptians who wish to change their faith without facing administrative or criminal punishment."
Williams says Shariah `Unavoidable' in UK Laws
BY AL WEBB ©2008 Religion News Service
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has triggered a storm of controversy by suggesting that Britain should adopt some aspects of Islam's tough Shariah law into its legal system.
In a BBC radio interview on February 7, Williams said the 1.6 million Muslims now living in Britain make that prospect all but "unavoidable" and that "as a matter of fact, certain conditions of Sharia are already recognized in our society."
He suggested that parts of Sharia dealing with marital disputes and financial affairs could be incorporated into British law. But he pointedly rejected draconian punishments, such as the public beheading or hanging of murderers and drug traffickers, that are practiced in some Islamic societies. "Nobody in their right mind, I think, would want to see in this country a kind of inhumanity that sometimes appears to be associated with the practice of law in some Islamic states (with) the extreme punishments, the attitude toward women as well," he said.
But Britain has to "face up to the fact" that thousands of its citizens do not relate to its legal system, Williams said, and what is needed is a "constructive accommodation" with some Muslim practices. For instance, he proposed a "plural jurisdiction" under which Muslims would be allowed to choose whether some legal disputes could be dealt with secular or Sharia courts.
But the archbishop's remarks brought furious protests across the country. Trevor Phillips, chairman of the government's Equality and Human Rights Commission, called them "muddled and unhelpful." Prime Minister Gordon Brown's office said in a statement that Sharia law "cannot be used as justification for committing breaches of English law." His culture secretary, Andy Burnham, described the archbishop's proposals as "a recipe for chaos."
Khalid Mahmood, a Muslim member of Britain's Parliament, insisted that "the vast majority of UK Muslims oppose any such move to introduce Sharia here" and that "British law is the envy of the world."
Shaista Gohir, one of the Brown administration's adviser on Muslim women, said there was no need for Sharia courts in Britain because "the majority of Muslims do not want it."