News Roundup

US Major cleared in ‘open Bible’ row

A Christian member of the US Air Force who faced a military investigation after complaints that he kept an open Bible on his desk has been told he may continue to do so following an investigation. Major Steve Lewis had become the centre of a call for “swift, visible and aggressive punishment” from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), a body dedicated to the separation of church and state within the military, when it was discovered that he kept an opened Bible on his desk at all times. The group said the opened Bible was a “brazen display of sectarian Christian triumphalism and exceptionalism” which caused “helpless subordinates” to view it daily. However, the Air Force has ruled that Major Lewis’ act is “well within the provisions” of military regulations on religious expression.

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Study examines reasons for growing non-belief in America

The number of Americans who state they no longer believe in God is growing for a number of reasons, a new study has shown. According to the Pew research Centre, which conducted an earlier study to show that non-believers now stand at 23% of the US population, fully 49% of those leaving their respective faiths are prompted by a number of causes. Reasons include “many respondents who mention ‘science’ as the reason they do not believe in religious teachings…Others reference ‘common sense,’ ‘logic’ or a ‘lack of evidence’ – or simply say they do not believe in God,” researchers stated. Others, meanwhile, cited “learning about evolution..too many Christians doing un-Christian things [and]  because I think religion is not a religion anymore. It’s a business…it’s all about money.”

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Place of Christianity in Middle East defended

A Jordanian prince and a Jewish interfaith expert have issued a joint defence of the place of Christianity in the Middle East. Working to counter the narrative of so-called Islamic State that Christianity is an import of the West to the Muslim world, Prince Hassan of Jordan and Dr Ed Kessler have authored a joint piece for Britain’s The Daily Telegraph in which they argue forcefully against the narrative. They insist: “Christianity has been part of the essential fabric of the Middle East for two thousand years. “Far from being a Western import…it was born here and exported as a gift to the rest of the world. Christian communities have been intrinsic to the development of Arab culture and civilisation.” They conclude: “It is time to call a halt to the hate and atrocities that are causing convulsions throughout our immediate region and beyond.”

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Canadian women’s group urges government to tackle religious discrimination

A lobby group for women’s equality in Canada has launched a petition calling on legislators to end anti-Christian discrimination in the country. REAL Women was prompted to act on behalf of Christians following the enactment of euthanasia legislation which was viewed as repressive of conscience. The petition urges the government to “to provide Christians and their faith-based institutions protection from [the new law’s] provisions that are contrary to their religious and conscience beliefs,” and to enact “a policy to review any new legislation” to ensure “it does not impinge upon the religious rights of Christians”.

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Major research project to study unbelief

The John Templeton Foundation is to fund a £2.3 million project to study non-religious belief worldwide. The ‘Understanding Unbelief’ project is to be led by a British-based research team comprising members of a number of universities in England and Northern Ireland, and includes Dr Stephen Bullivant, director of the Benedict XVI Centre for Religion and Society, a group involved in research and engagement activities in the area of religion and the social sciences. In examining the diversity of non-belief, ‘Understanding Unbelief’ aims to build on an earlier 15-month scientific study of non-religious belief. The project will culminate in 2019, with an international conference in Rome, to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Vatican’s landmark ‘Culture of Unbelief’ conference.

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Nearly one thousand vulnerable children without social worker – TUSLA

Nearly 1,000 at-risk children in Ireland were awaiting the allocation of a social worker at the end of 2015, latest figures show. According to the annual report of Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, 999 “high priority” cases were waiting to be assigned a social worker at the close of the year. While Tusla points out that his represents a 65% reduction for that category of case its report also concedes that, overall, 6,718 children were awaiting a social worker at the end of 2015. Acknowledging the high figure, Chief executive Fred McBride said the number of vulnerable children waiting for a social worker remained unacceptably high and said Tusla is working towards a zero rate.

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Women earn less once they have children – study

Mothers who return to work earn one third less than men over time, a new study in Britain has found. According to research undertaken by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), the disparity arises mainly from mothers tending to work fewer hours than colleagues. However, the study also showed that before having a child the average female worker earns 10-15% less per hour than a male employee. After childbirth that steadily increases to 33% after around 12 years. The IFS showed also that there has been a slight improvement in the gender pay gap, with the overall hourly gender pay gap of 18% representing a narrowing of the gap from 23% in 2003 and 28% in 1993.

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Constitutional protection for women at home ‘out of date’ – task force

The Irish Constitution’s protection for women in the home has been described as “out of date” and in need of change by officials of the Department of Justice. According to briefing notes submitted to Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald by a task force established by the department to examine recommendations made by the United Nations Human Rights Council and various advocacy groups on Article 41.2, amendment of the article is “favoured”, be that through making it gender-neutral or by repeal. The task force concedes that any change may prove controversial. Article 41.2 says the State “recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved…“The State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home.”

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Football coach fired for praying at games

A football coach in the United States has launched a legal action against a school which fired him for praying after games. Joe Kennedy was formerly the coach for the Bremerton High School junior varsity American Football team in Washington State. A committed Christian, he would pray after games, “giving thanks for what the players just did and the opportunity to be part of it”. His example led players from his own and other teams to also pray, but – after eight years – the school district suddenly asked him to stop praying or kneeling at games. He was subsequently dismissed from his coaching role. Kennedy is now taking a case to regain his job to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. His legal team has pointed out that a Buddhist coach who routinely prays during games has not faced similar sanction.

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Church needs to re-examine its methods on marriage preparation – Bishop Doran

Bishop Kevin Doran of Elphin has said the Church in Ireland needs to “seriously review” the practical, emotional, and spiritual supports it offers to those preparing for marriage.
Addressing pilgrims at Knock basilica, Dr Doran referred to the universal Church’s two recent synods on marriage and the family and reiterated the Pope’s message that marriage is “a responsibility of the whole Christian community and it is not just about formal courses. It is also about sharing experience and sharing a vision”. This, he said, gave impetus to present marriage in a more positive light. “Too often we have focused on rules and regulations and we have found it difficult ‘to present marriage as a dynamic path to personal development and fulfilment’,” he said.
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