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
Christian Schools Report Closures,
Drops in Enrollment
Colorado-based organization of Christian schools is reporting that more than 200 schools closed or merged in its last fiscal year.
As of June 30, 186 schools had closed and 16 had merged, according to the Association of Christian Schools International. That's up from an average of 150 school closures that the association has reported in previous years.
Janet Stump, a spokeswoman for the schools group, said the U.S. economic crisis also is affecting the number of students who attend the Protestant schools affiliated with the association.
There are now 689,000 students attending its 3,781 schools nationwide, a decrease of 4.5 percent from the previous fiscal year.
“That is the first year it has dropped in the last 10 years,” she said Wednesday (July 22). “(Enrollment had) been growing every year.”
Stump said parents who have lost jobs or are facing other financial crises are choosing to place their students in other schools or teach them at home. Some have opted to take students out of Christian elementary schools but keep older children in Christian high schools.
“Enrollment issues and retention are really tough because our financial base for our schools is tuition,” she said. “During difficult times, tuition becomes optional. There's a public option.”
Report: U.S. Funded Religious Programs in Africa, Iraq
The federal government used taxpayer dollars to rebuild mosques in Iraq and teach Bible-based abstinence in Africa, violating a prohibition on funding “inherently religious activities,” according to a recent audit of the U.S. Agency of International Development (USAID).
The report by the agency's inspector general, released Wednesday (July 22), said “some USAID funds were used for religious activities” during 2006 and 2007.
USAID disputed those claims, and a spokesperson said the results are “not supported by the facts and is an unsupported legal conclusion regarding the constitutional requirement of separation of church and state.”
According to the report, USAID funded an abstinence-promoting HIV/AIDS prevention program for youth in Africa with curriculum that included Psalm 119:9 as a Bible “memory verse” and a take-away thought that said, “God has a plan for sex and this plan will help you and protect you from harm.” USAID later told the grant recipient that their funds could not be used in conjunction with the program.
A second instance concerned the rebuilding of four mosques damaged by the U.S. military in Fallujah, Iraq, at a price tag of $325,000; after the audit, the agency reportedly refused to pay $44,531 of that money to a contractor.
The report raised questions of whether the constitutional principal of church-state separation applies in other countries, and whether diplomatic advances and foreign policy trump official governmental support of religion.
Rob Boston, spokesman for Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, said, “I'll concede the issue is a little murky.”
But, Boston added, “If it's illegal for the government to build houses of worship in the U.S., that rule should be in effect in other nations.”
In 2007, USAID requested clarification from the Department of Justice on the legality of such funding and has yet to receive a response. In compliance with the audit, agency officials met with a representative of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships on April 21 to “discuss issues raised by the audit.”
Faithful Can Now `Tweet' Prayers to Western Wall
People of all faiths can now “tweet” their prayers via Twitter to the Western Wall, one of Judaism's most sacred sites.
Since the beginning of July, more than 1,000 people have sent messages known as “tweets” to Alon Nir, the Israeli who came up with the Wall Twitter initiative. Nir prints out every message and brings them to the wall, which is a remnant of the biblical Jewish Temple.
“I'm swamped. I can't keep up with all the tweets,” Nir, a 25-year-old economist, told the Associated Press on Thursday (July 23). “It started as a hobby, and I can't keep maintaining it by myself. But I'm determined to not lose even one prayer.”
Placing prayers in the cracks of the Kotel, as the wall is known in Hebrew, is a centuries-old tradition. Many Jews and others believe that their prayers will be answered if they are placed in the narrow cracks between the ancient stones.
Twitter is just many of the ways believers can send their prayers to the Kotel. It is also possible to fax, e-mail and text-message to services based in Jerusalem.
Jerusalem's main post office also receives thousands of “snail-mailed” prayers every year which are hand-delivered to the wall. Nil is reportedly seeking a sponsor to help maintain the service.
Churches Push $10 Minimum Wage by 2010
Religious leaders and advocates, not satisfied with the 70-cent rise in the federal minimum wage that went into effect on Friday (July 24), are calling on congressional leaders to hike it up to $10 by 2010.
Even after the increase to $7.25 an hour, more than 600 interfaith leaders across the nation have signed a letter sponsored by a non-profit coalition whose aim is to raise the federal and state minimum wage to a “living wage.”
Borrowing their name from a Bible verse that says “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an overflowing stream,” the Let Justice Roll Living Wage Campaign members are redoubling efforts to increase wages on pace with inflation.
“We think this truly is a faith issue, a moral issue,” said the Rev. Steve Copley, board chairman of the Campaign. “People who've worked hard and played by the rules ... don't have enough to live on.”
The wage increase was a “necessary step,” he said, but still not enough. The $7.25 rate is the third step in a three-step adjustment that raised wages over two years from $5.15 an hour, which had been unchanged since 1997.
Directors of the Campaign say minimum wage raises are a “well-targeted stimulus” because they go to those who need it the most. Business leaders say increasing the minimum wage can hurt small businesses and cost jobs.
Copley, the leader of the Give Arkansas a Raise Now coalition that raised the Arkansas minimum wage in 2006, said the Campaign is first amassing religious, labor and community leaders, and then will attempt to rally support on Capitol Hill.
Last week's increase was the third wage hike since the Campaign's inception in 2004. “We've been really successful and we hope to be even more successful,” Copley said.