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
Sotomayor Has Mixed Record
on Church-state Disputes
s a federal judge, Sonia Sotomayor sided with Santeria prisoners who wanted to wear religious beads and with Muslim inmates who wanted to break the fast during the holy month of Ramadan.
At the same time, she ruled against Muslims who wanted a Muslim crescent and star added to post office holiday displays that featured Christmas and Hanukkah symbols.
As the Senate holds confirmation hearings on the woman who hopes to be the newest member of the U.S. Supreme Court, experts who monitor church-state cases say--as on other matters--that Sotomayor's past decisions indicate that she's hard to pigeonhole.
"They're certainly not totally predictable in terms of her siding with one side or another," said Howard M. Friedman, a retired law professor at the University of Toledo, whose Religion Clause blog tracks church-state legal developments. "She looks pretty carefully at all the facts."
Church-state legal groups, including Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AUSCS) and the Baptist Joint Committee, have issued legal analyses of Sotomayor's lower court decisions as they seek clues to how she might rule if confirmed to the nation's highest court.
The Rev. Barry Lynn, AUSCS executive director, says Sotomayor seems to seriously consider the First Amendment's protections for the "free exercise" of religion, along with other legal principles.
"Certainly on the free exercise side she is nuanced," he said. "She does clearly believe that claims of religious freedom are to be taken seriously, but that doesn't always mean that the religious person making the claim wins."
Other church-state experts found evidence of Sotomayor's sensitivity to religious minorities in prison cases. K. Hollyn Hollman, general counsel of the Baptist Joint Committee, pointed to Sotomayor's decision in a case involving two New York inmates who wanted to wear beads related to their Santeria faith, which combines Catholic and traditional African practices. "She recognized explicitly that the plaintiffs' beliefs, even if unfamiliar, deserve First Amendment protection from overly broad rules that burden the practice of non-mainstream religion," Hollman wrote in her analysis.
In addition to prisoner cases, Sotomayor joined colleagues on the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in a 2002 ruling supporting New York's Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, which fought the city for the right of homeless people to sleep on its steps. "She was essentially vindicating the church's ability ... to enact its ministry," said Nathan Diament, director of public policy for the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.
Experts say Sotomayor's potential rulings on the First Amendment's Establishment Clause—which prohibits a governmental establishment of an official religion—may be even harder to gauge.
Jesse Galef, a spokesman for the Secular Coalition for America, said his organization sent questions to the Senate Judiciary Committee in hopes of finding some clarity. His office has been particularly interested in a 1993 case from White Plains, N.Y., in which Sotomayor rejected a city's resolution that prevented a rabbi from placing a menorah in a city park during Hanukkah.
"She did say that she understands the city's concerns that it could be taken as their speech," Galef said. "In more flagrant violations, I think that could come down more on our side."
Church-state watchdogs are especially concerned about Sotomayor's seat on the Supreme Court because she is poised to replace Justice David Souter, who ruled against Ten Commandments displays in Kentucky courthouses because of their religious purpose.
"Justice Souter turned out to be a giant in church-state understanding, a person who really understood that government had no business resolving religious disputes or in any way promoting religious doctrine or ideas," Lynn said.
But legal observers, including Greg Baylor, director of the Center for Law and Religious Freedom at the Christian Legal Society, admit there is no way to know how Sotomayor would rule as Supreme Court justice. "There's nothing in her religion cases themselves that suggest to me that ... she has decided or analyzed cases inappropriately but ... these cases are of limited value in determining what she's going to do on the Supreme Court," he said.
Episcopal Church Lifts Ban on Gay, Lesbian Bishops
The Episcopal Church on July 14 overwhelmingly voted to lift a three-year-old moratorium on consecrating gay and lesbian bishops, despite warnings that the ban was necessary to preserve unity in the wider Anglican Communion.
A large majority of Episcopal bishops, priests and lay delegates gathered in Anaheim, California, for the church's triennial General Convention asserted that "God has called and may call" gays and lesbians in lifelong committed relationships "to any ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church."
More than 70 percent of lay and clergy delegates in the church's House of Deputies approved lifting the moratorium on Tuesday; the church's House of Bishops had approved it Monday by a 2-to-1 margin.
While the resolution clears the way for gay and lesbian bishops, it does not mandate that dioceses must consider them, nor does it guarantee that, if elected, they will receive the necessary ratification votes to serve.
Also late Tuesday, Episcopal bishops debated a resolution that would begin the development of liturgical rites to bless same-sex unions, and enable bishops in states where gay marriage is legal to change marriage rites in the Book of Common Prayer to be gender neutral.
The resolution, if passed by the bishops, would also need the approval of lay and clergy delegates before it could become church law.
Openly gay Bishop V. Gene Robinson's consecration in 2003 caused a furor in the 77 million-member Anglican Communion, which counts the 2.1 million-member Episcopal Church as its U.S. branch. Many Anglicans, particularly in the rapidly growing Global South, say homosexuality is sinful and unbiblical.
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the spiritual leader of Anglicans worldwide, warned last summer at a meeting of more than 600 bishops from around the world that the communion would be in "grave peril" should the moratorium on gay bishops be lifted.
Pope Meets Obama, With Abortion as Topic No. 1
President Obama met Pope Benedict XVI for the first time on July 10 in a closed-door meeting that a Vatican statement said covered multiple topics but focused on the Catholic Church's opposition to abortion.
The pope also gave Obama copies of his recent encyclical on the global economy and a statement of Catholic teaching on bioethics, which Benedict's personal secretary said would help Obama "better understand" why church positions are at odds with the president's.
Obama's visit to the Vatican came at the end of the G-8 summit in L'Aquila, 70 miles northeast of Rome, which Obama told the pope had been "very productive."
Benedict greeted Obama outside his private library shortly before 4:30 pm, and escorted the president inside for a 30-minute private conversation. Although Benedict speaks fluent English, the leaders were joined by two interpreters seated on either side of the pope's desk.
A Vatican statement released shortly after the meeting made it clear that while the two men discussed a number of issues, abortion was at the top of the pope's agenda.
"In the course of their cordial exchanges, the conversation turned first of all to questions which are in the interests of all ... such as the defense and promotion of life and the right to abide by one's conscience," the Vatican statement said.
The mention of "conscience" was an apparent reference to so-called conscience clauses, which exempt health care providers from participating in services -- namely abortion, sterilization and contraception -- to which they have moral objections. Obama has moved to scrap the protections, which were approved as former President George W. Bush was leaving office.
Even so, Obama "told the pope of his commitment to reduce the number of abortions and of his attention and respect for the positions of the Catholic Church," Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi told reporters after the meeting.
Report: One-third of Scientists Believe in God
Only a third of scientists say they believe in God, according to a new survey, and while 18 percent believe in a high power, four in 10 scientists believe in neither.
The report was released July 9 by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press in collaboration with the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Scientists were evenly split--at 48 percent each--between those who claimed a religious affiliation and those who did not. The new statistics vary sharply with findings for the general public: 83 percent of Americans say they believe in God and 82 percent said they are affiliated with a religious tradition.
The Pew report indicated sharp divergence between scientists and the general public on issues such as evolution and climate change. While 87 percent of scientists believe humans have evolved over time, just 32 percent of Americans in general hold that belief.
A similarly large percentage of scientists (84 percent) said the earth is warming because of human activity, while only 49 percent of the public agreed with that statement. Also, while 93 percent of scientists favor federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, just 58 percent of the general public agreed with such research.
The report was based on a random sample of the scientific association's 2,533 members, and a random survey of 2,001 U.S. adults. Each of those surveys had an overall margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.