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
Update: Palin's Burned Church Reopens
n Alaska evangelical church attended by former Republican vice presidential nominee Gov. Sarah Palin that was seriously damaged by a December fire held services in its building again on February 1.
"Our building is looking more like a new construction every day, and less like a fire-damaged building," reads an update on the Web site of Wasilla Bible Church. "On February 1, we return to our partially restored church building, with grateful hearts for all who have helped and prayed for us."
The fire at the church, which Palin sometimes attends, was ruled suspicious and a potential arson by authorities. Members met in a local middle school in Wasilla, Alaska, for worship after the fire.
The day after the Dec. 12 fire, Palin reportedly told an assistant pastor that "she apologizes if the incident is in any way connected to the undeserved negative attention the church has received since she became a vice-presidential candidate on August 29."
Workplace Discrimination Claims on the Rise
Complaints of religious discrimination in the workplace are on the rise, but civil rights advocates say that may not be such a bad thing.
That's because a likely reason for a steady rise in reported incidents has nothing to do with intolerant corporate cultures but rather religious minorities who are more aware of their rights and more willing to exercise them.
"Before, somebody might have prayed kind of quietly at work and hoped nobody would stop them and didn't really want to ask permission," says Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). "Now they state openly: `Yes, I'd like permission. Is there an open room where I could pray?'"
Between 1992 and 2007, claims of religious discrimination filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission more than doubled, from 1,388 to 2,880. Among the contributing factors: a growing U.S.
population and tensions precipitated by an increasingly diverse workforce.
But recent years have also ushered in a new era of assertiveness, especially among members of minority faiths that require specific codes of dress, diet or behavior, according to David Miller, director of Princeton University's Faith & Work Initiative. "They're not the kind of complaints you would have seen 10 or 15 years ago," Miller says.
In analyzing EEOC claims, Miller finds relatively few incidents of religious bullying, such as proselytizing managers who insist all employees attend Bible study sessions. More commonly, he sees cases in which employees demand a right to religious expression on the job. Muslims petition for breaks to pray at appointed times of day, for instance, or Seventh-day Adventists seek Saturdays off to honor their Sabbath. And when their bosses say no, workers increasingly file formal complaints.
Proving religious discrimination on the job can be an uphill battle. Under the amended Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers must practice "reasonable accommodation" of an employee's religion unless doing so would pose "undue hardship" for the organization.
"The Courts have defined `undue hardship' to mean anything above a de minimis cost or inconvenience," said Barry Bussey, associate director of the Seventh-day Adventists' office of Public Affairs & Religious Liberty. "So any inconvenience of accommodation of religious practice is thereby enough to allow employers off the hook."
The proposed Workplace Religious Freedom Act would provide greater protections but has languished in Congress for more than a decade, despite broad bipartisan support and support from an unusually diverse
range of religious groups.
Even so, America also has some of the world's most robust religious freedom laws. Wearing an Islamic headscarf, or hijab, might be prohibited in French schools or Turkish government buildings, but they are permitted in U.S. public institutions. Now religious minorities are exploring which other aspects of their faiths they're entitled to bring to work with them under the protection of the First Amendment.
Legal teams have coalesced in recent years to help alleged victims of religious discrimination. Sikhs, for example, coalesced after the 9/11 terrorist attacks when many Sikh men were mistaken for Muslims. Sikhs now have access to a group of about a dozen Sikh lawyers who work to defend Sikhs' rights to wear religiously mandated beards and turbans in the workplace, at airports and elsewhere.
Twenty some years ago, "Sikhs didn't know how to respond to workplace discrimination, but now they do," says Narinder Singh Kapany, chairman of the Sikh Foundation, an educational organization in Palo Alto, California.
Muslims have also mobilized support networks. CAIR, which operates offices in more than 30 cities across 19 states, has made workplace rights a top priority. That means resources are available for people like Maryam Abdi, a 17-year-old Somali immigrant who always wears a hijab in public.
Abdi, who lives in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, figured she was out of luck last summer when she applied for a cashier's job at an Old Country Buffet. A manager told her that a hijab violated the restaurant's dress code. "I knew it was unfair, but they said (the headscarf) wasn't the uniform, so I thought, `Maybe they're right'," Abdi says. "I didn't know what to do about it."
Then another Somali teen encouraged Abdi to contact a local CAIR chapter, which promptly intervened on her behalf. Within a few weeks, she was working the Old Country Buffet register in her hijab.
"Now a lot of Muslim girls out there know they can take a stand for their religion and their headscarves," said Abdi, who ended up leaving the job when her family relocated to another town.
Report: African-Americans Surpass Others in Religiosity
African-Americans surpass others in the U.S. in a range of expressions of faith, from praying more to attending religious services more frequently, a new report shows.
"Compared with other racial and ethnic groups, African-Americans are among the most likely to report a formal religious affiliation, with fully 87 percent of African-Americans describing themselves as belonging to one religious group or another," states "A Religious Portrait of African-Americans," released by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life on January 30.
The analysis finds that:
-- 79 percent of blacks say religion is very important in their lives, compared with 56 percent of all U.S. adults
-- 76 percent say they pray on at least daily, compared to 58 percent of the total U.S. population
--88 percent believe in God with absolute certainty, compared to 71 percent of all U.S. adults
-- 83 percent believe in angels and demons, compared to 68 percent of the total U.S. population.
--53 percent of African-Americans report attending religious services at least weekly, compared to 39 percent of Americans overall.
The research, drawn from Pew's 2007 U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, showed that most African-Americans--59 percent--are affiliated with historically black churches. Another 15 percent belong to evangelical churches, 4 percent to mainline Protestant churches, and 5 percent to Catholic churches. One percent each are affiliated with Jehovah's Witness and Muslim congregations, and 12 percent are unaffiliated.
Church to Shut Down For a Month to Save Money
Many Americans are giving up something in this dire economy. But Sharon Dawson will go without something unusual: her church.
To save money, First Unitarian Church in Portland, Oregon, has decided to close for the month of July. The Rev. Marilyn Sewell, senior pastor, said the 142-year-old church faces a projected $185,000 deficit for the fiscal year that ends June 30.
The closure, during a traditionally quiet month in the church calendar, will save a predicted $100,000 in staff pay and help the church avoid laying off employees. Employees also will take an additional two weeks of unpaid leave. Even so, the church will have to make additional cuts, said the Rev. Thomas Disrud, Sewell's associate.
Houses of worship across the country are closing or merging because of the economy, but furloughs are rare. "The congregation needs to own the problems and understand the consequences," said Sewell, who announced the decision during services on January 25 and then sent a letter to the church's 1,500 members.
Normally, the church expects about 4 percent of pledges to go unpaid, she said, a number that's been consistent through the 17 years she's been pastor at First Unitarian. But this year, about 10 percent of pledges are unpaid, and about 250 families haven't pledged at all.
Dawson, who said she pledges, worries about employees losing a month's pay. "I know that's difficult for anybody. Would it be better to lay off some people and let others keep their jobs?" she asked. "I don't really know what I would do."
The closure will mean no worship services, no adult or children's education, and no programming for the month. The only activities in the church will be those whose sponsors have rented the space, generating income, Sewell said.
Personnel costs are the largest expense in the church's annual budget of about $1.8 million, Disrud said. The church employs 35, but because some are part time, they total an equivalent of about 22.5 full-time jobs.
Disrud has heard from at least one longtime member who wrote that shutting the church in difficult times is the last thing the congregation should do. "But the most common response I've received is that we're not happy, but this seems like a reasonable approach to it," he said. "A lot of places are cutting back."
Sewell was disappointed that the congregation was willing to accept the closure. "I was hoping for more of a vigorous response from people who haven't pledged," she said. "But fear is a powerful force right now. People are thinking, `Wait and see -- it may be even worse than we can imagine.'"