U.S. Appeals Court Upholds Ten Commandment
Display, Rebukes ACLU  as "Tiresome"

BY BP STAFF                                                                                                                                       © 2005 Baptist Press

federal appeals court has upheld a Ten Commandments display identical to one ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year, rebuking the American Civil Liberties Union in the process.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Cincinnati, affirmed Dec. 20 a federal judge's decision that a courthouse display in Mercer County, Ky., of nine documents, including the Ten Commandments, is constitutional. In a unanimous opinion by a three-judge panel, the court agreed with the lower court that the inclusion of the Decalogue does not violate the Constitution's establishment clause because the display has a secular purpose. The panel also ruled the display does not endorse religion.

The Mercer County display that the Sixth Circuit upheld does not differ from the final version of displays in Kentucky's McCreary and Pulaski counties, which the Supreme Court invalidated in June, upholding an earlier decision from the Sixth Circuit. In a 5-4 decision, the high court ruled the history of the courthouse displays in McCreary and Pulaski counties should be weighed. In both cases, the Ten Commandments stood alone before other documents were twice added. The final version still had a "predominantly religious purpose," Associate Justice David Souter wrote.

In Mercer County, however, the Ten Commandments and the other documents -- including the Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights and Magna Carta -- were displayed together in frames of equal size from the start. A Mercer County resident, Carroll Rousey, received permission from a county court to put up the display and paid for and hung it himself in 2001.

In contrast to the exhibits in McCreary and Pulaski counties, the Mercer County display "lacks a similar sectarian pedigree," Judge Richard Suhrheinrich wrote for the Sixth Circuit panel in ACLU v. Mercer County. "A reasonable observer would not view this display as an attempt by Mercer County to establish religion. Instead, he would view it for what it is: an acknowledgment of history."

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Religion Writers Rank Biggest Stories of 2005

BY NICOLE  LAROSA                                                                                     © 2005 Religion News Service

Religion writers deemed Pope John Paul II's death and the naming of his successor, Pope Benedict XVI, the top two religion stories of 2005.

An end-of-life dispute, faith-based disaster relief and the ordination of gay clergy also made the list, released by the Religion Newswriters Association on December 13. One hundred of its journalist members ranked 28 religious events in an online survey Dec. 7-12.

Terri Schiavo captured the No. 3 spot in the poll. Her death in a Florida hospice center after her feeding tube was removed under court order sparked heated debates in Congress and among religious groups.

Faith-based organizations' massive mobilization to help victims of natural disasters was voted the No. 4  of the year. Hurricane Katrina's devastating blow to the Gulf Coast and an earthquake in Pakistan also spurred discussions about God's role in cataclysmic events and the morality of racial inequalities in America.

The ordination of gay clergy continued to roil mainline Protestant groups, making it the No. 5 story. The Episcopal Church and Canadian Anglicans remained firm in their decision to ordain gays and lesbians, despite objections from bishops and others in the worldwide Anglican Communion. United Methodist courts supported the banning of gay clergy and even parishioners, despite the protests of many congregants.

In addition to ranking religious news events, 68 percent of voting reporters said John Paul II was the biggest newsmaker of the year.

Other ranked stories were the debate over intelligent design as an alternative theory to evolution, faith-based groups' response to Supreme Court nominees, megachurch pastor Rick Warren's book sales and AIDS relief work, and the Rev. Billy Graham's farewell evangelism tour in New York City.

A complete list of the top 20 stories can be found at www.rna.org.

Post-Hurricane Donations Most Generous
Outpouring in Nation's History

BY BRUCE NOLAN                                                                                               © 2005 Religion News Service

The outpouring of private charity to the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina and two sister storms now ranks as the most generous in American history, surpassing donations after Sept. 11, according to researchers who track philanthropy.

Americans have donated about $2.97 billion to families affected by hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma, said Patrick Rooney, director of research with the University of Indiana's Center on Philanthropy.

That surpasses the $2.8 billion donated after the terrorist attacks of 2001, he said.

Moreover, the center's estimate of storm-giving is certainly low, Rooney said. The center based its estimate on a survey of more than 175 organizations that report storm-related collections and distributions. As a result, it missed the uncountable value of off-radar gifts. Examples include the value of thousands of volunteer laborers and truckloads of supplies sent into the storm zone by independent churches, the value of private convoys and other relief efforts organized by families with relatives in the storm zones, and the value of private homeowners opening homes to displaced families, the center said.

The center included aid for hurricanes Rita and Wilma in its research because that's how most agencies solicited help, Rooney said. Americans' response after the hurricanes was remarkable in another way, Rooney said: It poured in at a furious rate.

Americans contributed $1 billion in just three weeks after Katrina. By contrast, it took eight weeks to reach that level after the terrorist attacks four years ago, he said.

"The rapidity of the growth in donations to hurricane relief is really quite astonishing," he said. "We think it was a combination of  many people affected, the incredible media coverage ... the permanence of the damage, and also the clear evidence of the disproportionate impact on the poor."

In addition, Americans are growing ever more comfortable going to their computers and giving money over the Internet, he said.  The slow and relatively ineffective governmental response probably also had an effect, he said.

"I think a lot of people must have said, `We'd better give some money because they're screwing this thing up,'" Rooney said. "Just about everybody I know felt the need or desire to do something."

The American Red Cross was far and away the greatest resource, according to the center's figures. By mid-November it had already given away or committed almost $1.6 billion.

The next-largest donors were the Salvation Army, giving $270 million by late October; Catholic Charities USA, which committed $105 million; and the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund, which reported $100 million in mid-November, Rooney said.

Egypt Changes Restrictions on Repairing Christian Churches

BY MICHELE CHABIN                                                                                                 © 2005 Religion News Service

Christian churches in Egypt, an overwhelmingly Muslim country, will be able to carry out long-delayed repairs thanks to a decree by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

The decree was made in response to appeals from Egypt's community of 7 million to 10 million Christians, who say they are systematically discriminated against due to their status as a religious minority. International human rights group have also pressured the Egyptian government to deal with all religions in an equal manner.

Mubarak decided to reform the Hamayouni Decree, an Ottoman law dating back to 1856, which required the president's personal approval for the simplest of repairs. The Egyptian media announced the reform, known as Decree No. 291, on Dec. 8.

In accordance with the decree, the government now has 30 days during which to approve church requests for renovations. Governors -- the officials entrusted with making church-related decisions -- must justify a rejection.

The government has approved only 12 requests for church-related construction, the U.S. State Department said in its 2005 International Religious Freedom Report.

Jubilee Campaign, an interdenominational Christian human rights pressure group based in England, said in a 2004 report that Egypt's Copts, who comprise about 90 percent of the country's Christians, have faced an uphill battle with regard to repairs and building rights.

As an example, the organization noted that "permission has been denied for the last four years to build a toilet for St. Mary's Church in El Kosai in Assiut Province."

Jubilee Campaign asserted that militant Muslims have been known to set up makeshift mosques near the site of planned churches or beside churches in need of repair, thereby giving the government a legal pretext for preventing construction or repair.

Safwat El Baiady, president of the Protest Churches of Egypt, told Compass Direct, a Christian news agency, that the decree "will solve almost 80 percent of our problems, rebuilding old churches, but we have to be very frank: It doesn't solve all our problems."

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