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Chaplain Says Pornography Forced Him
Out of the British Navy

BY AL WEBB
                                                                                   © 2006 Religion News Service
 
 trainee chaplain has told an employment tribunal that he was driven out of Britain's Royal Navy by pornography being shown at all hours aboard warships on which he was serving.
 
The Rev. Mark Sharpe said he quit his Navy job within weeks after being told to turn a blind eye to porn aboard the assault ship HMS Albion and later the destroyer HMS Manchester. He added that he was advised not to raise the issue if he valued his naval career.
 
Sharpe, an Anglican priest married for 20 years and now based ashore in Worcestershire, England, said he was invited to join a sex club and smacked on his rear, and found sexually explicit photographs of women plastered on his bunk.
 
At one point, he said, he witnessed shipmates watching hard-core DVDs at 7 a.m. "I expected people to have pictures of girls," the priest told the tribunal, but he was "not aware this level of hard-core pornography would be a routine part of life."
 
Sharpe, a former policeman, said that "I was in the obscene publications squad in the police, but this pornography was stuff I had not seen before." When he raised the issue with others, "they said it was harmless fun."
 
The Royal Navy also denied that pornography was condoned aboard its ships and said it was not the real reason Sharpe left the service. Rather, the officials said, the cleric missed his wife and began complaining only after he had decided to leave the service.
 
 
Court Says Tithing Not an Option for the Bankrupt
 
BY JASON KAN                                                                             © 2006 Religion News Service
 
When the collection plate goes around at weekly services, America's charitable but bankrupt worshippers must now abstain. A federal judge has reluctantly ordered debtors to repay their credit-card bills first.
 
Judge Robert E. Littlefield Jr. of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of New York has ruled that charitable or religious contributions are no longer considered a necessary living expense for those filing Chapter 13 bankruptcy.
 
"This change effectively closes the door for debtors who are above the median income from deducting charitable contributions as an expense," Littlefield wrote in his Aug. 28 opinion.
 
The judge was interpreting a law that went into effect last October which, in effect, deems "tithing" acceptable only in very limited circumstances, such as for ministers who must donate as part of their contract.
 
Littlefield said the 2005 law trumps the Religious Liberty and Charitable Donation Protection Act, signed in 1998 by President Clinton, which allowed tithing under the bankruptcy code.
 
More than 2 million Americans filed for bankruptcy protection in 2005 and hundreds of thousands are expected to do the same by the end of 2006, according to the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys.
 
Henry Sommer, president of the group, said the legislation favors the credit industry at the expense of religious liberty.
 
"Some people who need bankruptcy protection may hesitate to file if they are not allowed to tithe and would then be denied the relief they might need," Sommer said. "It makes you choose between spiritual necessity and physical necessity,"
 
The opinion was handed down in the case of Frank and Patricia Diagostino of Massena, N.Y., who filed chapter 13 bankruptcy last March. When reporting monthly expenses, they tacked on a $100 allowance for "continued charitable contributions." The amount was flatly rejected by the bankruptcy trustee, who said the Diagostinos made more than the state's median income level, prohibiting them from making charitable contributions.
 
Mark Swan, a Salt Lake City attorney who represents creditors, said there is no "expectation in any religion that people pay the church and not their debts."
 
"I have a different opinion as a religious person than as an attorney," Swan said. "As an attorney, I go by the law. As a religious person, I believe there isn't an expectation on God's part that people break contracts to contribute to the work of his church.
 
"What good is it for your spiritual life or for the church if it looks like we're ignoring our obligations to each other to give to the church?"
 
The New York decision may lead credit-card companies to demand similar
treatment in other states.
 
Universal enforcement would adversely affect congregations that expect their members to tithe 10 percent of their total income, including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormons), some Protestant denominations and other religious groups.
 
Judge Littlefield criticized the legislation, but said the "court's hands are tied" until Congress makes further revisions.
 
"The court does not agree with this awkward, bifurcated congressional framework which makes charitable giving easier for some debtors and not others. Whether tithing is or is not reasonable is for Washington to decide," he said. "However, consistency and logic would demand the same treatment of all debtors."
 
 
Calvin Seminary's First Female Professor Charges Sex Bias
 
BY CHARLES HONEY                                                                        © 2006 Religion News Service
 
Six years after making history, the first full-time female professor at Calvin Theological Seminary has resigned, alleging sex discrimination at the Christian Reformed Church school for ministers.
 
Ruth Tucker did not return when classes began this month, charging she was "excluded and sidelined" by seminary administrators.
 
"I was being held to a different standard than my male colleagues," Tucker, 61, said. "I do not believe that, had I been an insider and a man, that this ever would have happened to me."
 
In a lengthy, hard-hitting account on her Web site, Tucker, who taught missions and church history, calls her experience a "nightmare" and accuses administrators of covering up her appeals of a demotion three years ago.
 
"I hope that by telling my story no one else will ever have to endure such a painful ordeal as I have and that positive changes will come to the school," Tucker writes at www.ruthtucker.net.
 
Though unwilling to go into details, seminary officials deny Tucker was discriminated against at the seminary. "I believe that Professor Tucker as our first woman faculty member was really important to Calvin Theological Seminary, and we continue to be intent on using the gifts of women," said the Rev. Cornelius Plantinga Jr., president of the 300-student seminary.
 
 
American Muslims Say Harassment Up 29 Percent Last Year
 
BY OMAR SACIRBEY                                                                      © 2006 Religion News Service
 
A woman in Freeport, Ill., hits a Muslim woman for wearing a head scarf; a Texas man firebombs a mosque in El Paso, and a Quran is stuffed in university library toilet in Stockton, Calif.
 
Those were just three of the 1,972 acts of violence, harassment and discrimination committed against Muslims in America in 2005, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which on Monday (Sep. 18) released "The Struggle for Equality," a report examining Muslim civil rights in America.
 
The 2005 figure represents a 29.6 percent jump over 2004, when 1,522 cases were reported. The report also found that anti-Muslim "hate crimes" (physical assault) in 2005 rose 8.6 percent from the previous year, increasing to 153 last year from 141 in 2004.
 
"We believe the biggest factor contributing to anti-Muslim feeling and the resulting acts of bias is the growth in Islamophobic rhetoric that has flooded the Internet and talk radio in the post-9/11 era," said Arsalan Iftikhar, CAIR's legal director and author of the report.
 
Iftikhar added that the rise in reported incidents can also be attributed to more Muslim Americans stepping forward to report such crimes.
 
Overall, nine states and the District of Columbia accounted for almost 79 percent of all civil rights complaints to CAIR in 2005, including California (19 percent); Illinois (13 percent); New York (9 percent); Texas (8 percent); Virginia (7 percent); Florida (6 percent); District of Columbia (5 percent); Maryland (4 percent); Ohio (4 percent); and New Jersey (4 percent).




 
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