Unitarians Form Commission to Probe Charges of Church Racism
BY JASON KANE © 2005 Religion News Service
he Unitarian Universalist Association has established a special review commission to investigate allegations of institutional racism after a series of conflicts at the church's annual meeting in Fort Worth, Texas.
Tensions flared at the five-day meeting in June when white delegates assumed several non-white UUA youth were hotel service people. Among other events, white Unitarians asked several non-white delegates to carry their bags and park their cars, board secretary Paul Rickter wrote in an open letter of apology posted on the denomination's Web site in July.
UUA President the Rev. Bill Sinkford and Moderator Gini Courter appointed a five-member commission -- a collection of ministers and members from across the United States -- to review the events leading up to and during the General Assembly.
"The goal is to identify learnings about the structures of racism and ageism both within and outside our faith community which we must address in our journey toward wholeness," Courter and Sinkford wrote in an Sept. 1 e-mail.
The 200,000-member denomination, which draws inspiration from a variety of sources including Christianity, Buddhism and naturist traditions, lists the pursuit of equality as one of its guiding principles. Though Unitarians have a reputation for tolerance and political liberalism, the June event sparked debate about the possibility of underlying racial tensions within the mostly white denomination.
A faction of Unitarians believes the problems stemmed from the
disrespectful behavior displayed by the youth at the conference. Courter and Sinkford hope the commission will lead to answers.
"We expect no recommendations about the behavior of individuals," they wrote. "Institutional learning is our goal."
Christian Schools Accuse University of California
BY SARAH PRICE BROWN © 2005 Religion News Service
Christian schools have filed a discrimination lawsuit against the University of California, accusing the public institution of refusing to accept courses from private schools with a conservative Christian perspective.
Calvary Chapel Christian School in Murrieta, Calif., and the Association of Christian Schools International, which represents 800 Christian schools in California and nearly 4,000 schools nationwide, charged UC officials with refusing to certify courses that teach creationism and other beliefs.
The University of California system requires private school students to meet certain high-school course requirements before they are eligible to apply to one of the nine undergraduate UC campuses. Only courses that have been approved by university officials can count toward the requirements.
"This case is about viewpoint discrimination," said Robert Tyler, a lawyer with Advocates for Faith and Freedom, who is representing Calvary. "The university system is apparently going to allow just about every viewpoint to be taught except Christianity."
According to the complaint, which was filed Aug. 25, UC officials have routinely rejected science courses that teach creationism. They have also rejected non-science courses, including three courses submitted for approval by Calvary: "Christianity's Influence on American History," "Christianity and Morality in American Literature" and "Special Providence: American Government."
"Out of all the different perspectives taught in textbooks -- liberal and conservative, African-American and Hispanic, feminist and environmentalist, and Jewish, Buddhist and Christian -- only one has been singled out to be discriminated against," said Wendell Bird, an Atlanta-based lawyer who represents the association of schools.
The UC policy, Bird said, violates the First Amendment rights -- including freedom of speech and religion -- of Christian schools, students and teachers.
Ravi Poorsina, a spokewoman for the university, did not dispute the schools' right to teach their viewpoints. But she said the rejected courses primarily used religious texts and failed to meet UC standards for "knowledge generally accepted, for example, in the scientific or educational communities."
"Our core objective is to make sure all students who come into the university are thoroughly prepared for UC coursework," she added.
University of California officials have until mid-September to respond to the complaint, although they could ask for an extension. Bird, representing the Christian schools association, said he expected the first court hearing to take place in December.
Air Force Clears General Accused of Proselytizing at Academy
BY ADELLE M. BANKS © 2005 Religion News Service
The Air Force has cleared a brigadier general accused of violating the Constitution by proselytizing non-Christian cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy.
The military service determined that the allegation against Brig. Gen. Johnny Weida, the commandant of cadets at the academy, "was not substantiated," said Jennifer Stephens, an Air Force spokeswoman, in a Wednesday (Sept. 7) statement.
The Air Force Inspector General's office investigated whether Weida violated the First Amendment's Establishment Clause by "using a religious communicative code to facilitate the proselytizing of non-Christian cadets."
Weida, an evangelical Christian, was investigated for his outspoken promotion of faith and had been criticized for promoting the National Day of Prayer in an e-mail message.
"Gen. Weida has readily acknowledged that his actions were inappropriate and has taken positive, visible corrective actions that reflect his true character," Stephens said. "Since the incident in question, Gen. Weida has also been a key leader in terms of strengthening and improving religious accommodation policies for cadets of all religions, along with those who claim no religion," at the academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.
On Aug. 29, the Air Force service issued new interim guidelines urging its military members and civilian employees to protect the free exercise of religion. Those guidelines were called for in a June report that investigated the religious climate at the academy.
New Pope to Put His Personal Stamp on U.S. Hierarchy
BY ROCCO PALMO © 2005 Religion News Service
As Pope Benedict XVI prepares to make his first major personnel move in the United States, American Catholics can expect the beginning of a subtle but substantive change in the makeup of the church's hierarchy.
Church observers expect the new pope to put his own stamp on the U.S. church and streamline a process that has been slowed by extra scrutiny applied in the wake of the sexual abuse scandal. They also hope he will move quickly to fill a string of American seats that have been vacant for months.
For nearly a quarter century, Benedict, as the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, played an advisory role in the appointment of bishops. But when he was elected pope last April, he inherited the papacy's absolute authority to select suitable leaders for the world's 2,700 dioceses -- 197 of which are in the United States.
Benedict faces his first major American test in choosing a new archbishop of San Francisco to succeed Archbishop William J. Levada. In May, Benedict called Levada to Rome to fill the pope's old job as head of the church's doctrine office.
Besides his new responsibilities as prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, Levada, who shares close ties with Benedict, will likely play a similar "kingmaker" role in the bishop-making process that then-Cardinal Ratzinger played for John Paul II.
Beyond San Francisco, Benedict has indefinitely delayed naming replacements for two prominent American churchmen -- Cardinals Theodore McCarrick of Washington and Adam Maida of Detroit -- who have reached the church's mandatory retirement age of 75.
McCarrick, who submitted his resignation on his 75th birthday in July, was asked to remain in office for a period of "two or so years," according to a statement from the Washington archdiocese. In May, Maida was told to continue as leader of Detroit's 1.4 million Catholics for the foreseeable future, according to spokesman Ned McGrath.
If prelates are in good health, Benedict can delay their departures beyond the mandatory retirement age; cardinals often serve until age 80. But, a string of lengthy vacancies due to bishops' deaths, illnesses or transfers to other dioceses present him with the challenge of finding more immediate replacements.
Eight American dioceses are currently waiting for new leaders, including Sioux City, Iowa, which has been without a bishop since January 2004. The new bishops, though vetted under criteria set by John Paul, will need to fit the new pope's desired qualities for the church's next generation of leadership.
In the Catholic world, bishops are the central figures of church life and administration. A bishop's functions are both prestigious and diverse, ranging from confirming young Catholics, governing the local church, assigning clergy to parishes, settling high-profile church disputes and ordaining new priests and deacons.
Despite Roman rumblings about "rampant careerism" among some prelates, the church's theology still teaches that a bishop is wedded to his diocese. The pope, however, reserves the right to transfer bishops -- such as Levada -- from post to post.