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
ore than 100 college presidents, some from top schools like Duke, Dartmouth, Syracuse and Johns Hopkins, have reignited the debate about lowering the drinking age from 21 to 18, contending that allowing teenagers to drink legally might actually curb binge drinking among college students.
The group, dubbed the Amethyst Initiative after a Greek gemstone believed to ward off intoxication, noted in a statement that Congress passed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act in 1984, imposing a penalty of 10 percent of a state's highway appropriation on any state setting its drinking age lower than 21.
"Twenty-four years later, our experience as college and university presidents convinces us that 21 is not working," the group of presidents and chancellors said. "A culture of dangerous, clandestine 'binge-drinking' -- often conducted off-campus -- has developed.
"Alcohol education that mandates abstinence as the only legal option has not resulted in significant constructive behavioral change among our students," they added. "Adults under 21 are deemed capable of voting, signing contracts, serving on juries and enlisting in the military, but are told they are not mature enough to have a beer. By choosing to use fake IDs, students make ethical compromises that erode respect for the law."
The group asks, "How many times must we relearn the lessons of prohibition?" and then calls upon elected officials to support a public debate over the drinking age, consider whether the 10 percent highway fund encourages or inhibits the debate, and offer new ideas about preparing young adults to make responsible decisions about alcohol.
Church of Scientology Faces Court Trial in France
The Church of Scientology and seven of its members will be tried for fraud and other allegations in a groundbreaking case that could lead to a ban on the church's operations in France, legal sources
cited by local media say.
The allegations stem back a decade, and were originally leveled by a woman who claims she paid the church more than $28,000 for lessons, books, drugs and an "electrometer," which church members claim can be
used to measure a person's mental state.
The trial in Paris, which according to reports is likely to take place in 2009, is the first time the church would be judged on charges of swindling. Previous legal charges have been leveled at individuals or against the church (in 2002) for violating individual freedom and information laws.
The Paris area chapter of the church and its president ultimately paid several thousand dollars apiece in the 2002 case. The church swiftly rebutted the latest allegations, claiming it was being stigmatized.
"The special treatment reserved for the Church of Scientology Celebrity Centre raises questions about the equality of the justice system and the presumption of innocence," it said in a statement.
"We are far from dissolution," Daniele Gounord, spokeswoman for the Church of Scientology in France, told Paris' Le Monde newspaper on September 9. "Based on previous experiences in France and elsewhere things usually finish well," she said.
Founded half a century ago in the United States, the church that claims prominent members such as Hollywood star Tom Cruise, is viewed with skepticism in a number of European countries. In Germany, federal and state interior ministers claimed the church was unconstitutional last December, paving the way for possibly banning it in the country.
The church or its individual members have been on trial on four separate occasions in France, starting in 1978. In two of the earliest cases, sentences were ultimately shortened or dropped altogether on appeal.
Florida Court Tosses Challenge to Religious Funding Ban
Florida's Supreme Court has tossed out two statewide ballot initiatives aimed at ending a longstanding ban on public funding for religious institutions, drawing praise from church-state watchdogs.
Civil liberties groups had filed suit to remove the amendments headed for the November ballot, which sought to rewrite the state constitution to allow church groups to participate in government programs, and pave the way for school voucher programs.
A lower court had upheld the initiatives in an August 4 decision. Americans United for the Separation of Church and State and the Anti-Defamation League, which supported the plaintiff in the case, hailed the ruling. "Religious liberty and public education are two cornerstones of the American way of life, and these amendments would have badly damaged both of them," said Americans United's vice president, Rabbi Merrill Shapiro, in a statement. "We're glad the Florida Supreme Court did its duty and put a stop to it."
If passed, the initiatives would have opened state funding to religious organizations. They also provided a means by which state money could be used for vouchers at private schools -- including religious institutions. Florida law currently prohibits taxpayer-funded vouchers for private school tuition.
Supporters of the initiatives contend that the current constitutional restrictions were originally enacted by Protestants to discriminate against Catholic groups. The Florida Catholic Conference and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Miami were among the religious organizations that intervened in the suit.
Gary McCaleb, senior counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, which provided financial assistance for the case, called the state's current policy "obnoxious."
"Floridians should have had the right to vote on the matter, and obviously it's very sad when advocacy groups step in and silence citizens from voting," McCaleb said.