Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Cellphone Alert System Announced in NYC

The U.S. government and local authorities will soon be able to reach people directly on their cellphones to warn them of imminent danger, even in the middle of an emergency that overloads communications systems, officials said Tuesday. (May 10)

Teachings Of The Church Of Scientology Coming To A School Near You?

Should the teachings of the Church of Scientology shape the integrity and moral rectitude of children in Illinois’ public schools? A resolution before the state’s House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee this week poses that very question.

House Resolution 254 would endorse three options for character education in the state’s public school system, including Good Choices, a curriculum based on a code of conduct created by Scientology’s founder L. Ron Hubbard.

According to the resolution, the Good Choices program would satisfy the state school code that states “every public school teacher shall teach … respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, trustworthiness, and citizenship, in order to raise pupils’ honesty, kindness, justice, discipline, respect for others and moral courage for the purpose of lessening crime and raising the standard of good character.”

The code of conduct, titled “The Way to Happiness,” offers 21 precepts for a happier life, including many principles that resemble the 10 Commandments, the Golden Rule and advice from Mom.

State Rep. Jerry Mitchell (R-Sterling), a spokesman for the state’s House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee, said he had no problem with the common sense content of the book until he turned to the back page, which listed Hubbard as the author.

The person campaigning for the curriculum also raises eyebrows, he said. Actress Nancy Cartwright, the voice of the mischieveous and ribald Bart Simpson and a Scientologist, will lobby the panel on Wednesday.

The resolution’s sponsor, State Rep. Dan Burke (D-Chicago), said he never intended to promote Scientology. He was assured that the Hubbard attribution simply met a copyright requirement. He also said he couldn’t resist the novely of a celebrity endorsement. After all Simpson is from Springfield of all places.

“We look for an opportunity to lighten it up a bit,” Burke said. “But sometimes all that glitters is not gold. I’m disappointed it’s taken this turn.”

But “levity has turned to consternation,” Mitchell said. The program’s ties to the Church of Scientology risks violating the “strong separation of church and state in our constitution,” he said. He would knock a code of conduct authored by Pope John Paul II as much as the one authored by Hubbard, he said.

"I’m not arguing with their beliefs,” Mitchell said. “When the man’s name is on the back of the book, when you have Nancy Cartwright coming to lobby for it, I can’t separate those people from this program [from whom] kids, through the Internet, may seek out guidance and leadership. I’m not sure the public schools should be in the business of allowing that kind of relationship to be fostered.”

Burke said he and Mitchell have agreed that if the resolution clears the committee on Wednesday an amendment will strip all references to Cartwright’s organization and Hubbard’s book. Even so, the curriculum will still be an option that teachers can choose.

“It’s totally innocuous, basic, good citizenship stuff,” Burke said.

Read More From Chicago Tribune

First Lady Michelle Obama Invites Rapper To White House Has NJ State Troops Outraged

The invitation of rapper Common to the White House this week is drawing the ire of the union representing New Jersey state police.

While even casual hip-hop fans wouldn't characterize him as a controversial rapper, Common found himself under the microscope after First Lady Michelle Obama invited him to the White House for an arts event. In question: the lyrics to "A Song for Assata," about convicted cop-killer and former Black Panther Assata Shakur.

FOX News and Sarah Palin condemned the decision after the Daily Caller published some of Common's lyrics, including some that criticize former President George W. Bush.

For New Jersey police, the outrage centers on "A Song for Assata" lyrics like "Your power and pride is beautiful. May God bless your soul."

Shakur, formerly known as Joanne Chesimard, was convicted for the 1973 slaying of Trooper Werner Foerster on the New Jersey Turnpike. She escaped prison in 1979, and is living in asylum in Cuba.

"The young people who read this stuff, hear this stuff, are getting a very dangerous and deadly message," said David Jones, president of the State Troopers Fraternal Association union.

Known for being more of a brainy poet type than a thug or a gangster, Common seemed to be amused by the dust-up Tuesday, tweeting and retweeting the various news items, such as FOX News' description of him as a "vile rapper."

He also tweeted, "So apparently Sarah Palin and Fox News doesn't like me."

The White House appearance comes during the same week that lawmen from across the nation, including Jones, make their annual trek to Washington to honor their fallen comrades at the National Law Enforcement Memorial.

Sal Maggio, a retired troop commander with the state police, said his colleagues still talk about Shakur and the million dollar bounty the FBI has put on her capture.

"Hopefully someday she'll be caught," Maggio said in reaction to news of this invitation.

Read More From NBC New York

Navy Does An Abrupt About-Face On Same Sex Marriage

Washington (CNN) -- The Navy did an abrupt about-face late Tuesday, suspending earlier guidance that could have allowed same-sex marriages on military bases once the Pentagon scraps its present Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy.

A memorandum from the Chief of Chaplains, Rear Admiral M.L. Tidd, suspended one he issued about a month ago.

"My memorandum of 13 April 2011 is hereby suspended until further notice pending additional legal and policy review and inter-Departmental coordination," Tidd wrote on Tuesday to all Navy chaplains and "religious program specialists."

The green light for gay marriage on military bases prompted a new round of Congressional opposition to ending Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

Before the policy is changed, it must receive a final sign-off from top Pentagon officials that all services have received proper training on the new rules and procedures. And that final approval could be just weeks away.

Some critics of the Navy's now stalled gay marriage plan have said it would violate federal law under the Defense of Marriage Act.

Navy plan to allow same-sex marriage on bases draws opposition

CNN confirmed the new memo with a Navy spokeswoman, who said the Navy will continue its overall training on how to comply with the repeal of the policy that now bans gays and lesbians from serving openly in the U.S. military.

"The training continues as planned," Lt. Alana Garas told CNN.

"Legal counsel determined that a more thorough review was required," he said on the issues of same-sex marriages, use of military facilities and the participation of Navy chaplains.

Read More from CNN

It remains unclear what same-sex policies the other services might be considering or adopt.

Surgeons Attach Boy's Leg Backwards

Treatment Center Allows Alcoholics To Drink

Hillard, OH takes a stand against Westboro Church-Raises Money for Wounded Vets

After years of vile tirades outside the funerals of fallen soldiers and other uncalled for pickets, Americans are getting their own back on some of the nation’s most disliked people.

When two women and a man from Westboro Baptist church took their stance outside Hilliard Darby High School in Ohio on Tuesday, they found themselves surrounded by 100 counter-demonstrators.

Taking their cue from the fundamentalist church’s protests, the counter-demonstrators brandished brightly colored placards with large slogans printed across the front.

But instead of the offensive “Thank God for dead soldiers” and “God hates you” messages of the Westboro church members, these placards carried positive messages.

One stated simply “God is love!” while another said “God hates bigots.”

They also shouted “Get out,” making it clear that the Westboro protest was not welcome in their town.

Students and local residents also used the Westboro demonstration as an opportunity to show their support for U.S. troops by organizing a bake sale to benefit wounded veterans.

Read more at Christian Post

What Facebook Page is more engaging than Sports, Bieber, Gaga? "Jesus Daily" is the "Most Engaging Page on Facebook!"

So what’s more engaging than Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, Twilight, and apparently the Los Angeles Lakers?

Jesus Daily, to be exact.

Taking the top spots in All Facebook’s – the unofficial Facebook resource page – weekly rankings, religious pages continue to dominate and infiltrate the charts.

Pages like “Jesus Daily” and “The Bible” fall above American pop stars and much beloved sports teams as the “Most Engaging Pages,” demonstrating that religious faith is still much a part of the culture today, regardless of what many believe or rather, don’t believe.

With over 5,108,270 fans and 2,127,067 interactions, “Jesus Daily” maintains the number one spot for a second week in a row, with “The Bible” close behind at second, moving up rapidly on the list, recording over 7,015,719 fans and 1,119,413 interactions.

The goals of both pages are similar, with the former challenging others to “strive to follow Jesus daily by contemplating His sayings daily,” and the latter hoping to see the Word of God shared across Facebook.

Read more at ChristianPost

Q&A: ChinaAid's Bob Fu on 'how little religious freedom China has'

Posted on May 10, 2011 | by Michael Foust WASHINGTON (BP)--Leaders from dozens of Chinese house churches are petitioning the Chinese government for more religious freedom in an act that observers call unprecedented.

The text of the petition is not yet public, but ChinaAid -- a U.S.-based group that monitors freedom in the country -- said the petition, which could endanger the leaders, would be the "first such move in 60 years of communist rule of China." Interest in the petition was sparked by the government's ongoing high-profile crackdown against Shouwang Church, an unregistered Beijing congregation that has seen hundreds of its members placed either under house or detained by police since April.

Churches in China must register with the government to be legal, but such registration results in restrictions on their religious freedom -- including limits on evangelism and Sunday Schools. The Chinese government has prevented Shouwang from meeting in recent weeks, blocking all congregational attempts to gather either indoors or outdoors. The clash between the government and Shouwang has drawn international attention, including segments on CNN and the BBC.

Most estimates say the Chinese house church movement is significantly larger than the registered church membership.

Baptist Press spoke with Bob Fu, ChinaAid founder and president, about Shouwang, the recent house church crackdown, and the desire for churches to go underground. Following is a partial transcript:

BP: Shouwang has been meeting for many years. Why is China just now cracking down on the church?

BOB FU: The church has been targeted since 2008. Ironically, they had been trying to register with the government, and of course the government wants them to join the government-sanctioned church organization, the Three-Self Patriotic Church. But the government denied their registration attempt. They were tolerated until 2008. In December 2010, there was a government operation, Operation Deterrence -- it was a special operation targeting independent house churches. Of course, Shouwang church had purchased a building for about $4 million in December 2009 but has not been able to get the key to the building; the government had been trying every way to sabotage their rental arrangements in different facilities. Their last rental facility was a restaurant that was pressured to not continue working with the church. So Shouwang Church has really been forced to move outdoors.

There are two circumstances that made the government take the radical action like they did in April this year. Number one, Shouwang played an instrumental role in organizing the 200 delegates to the Lausanne [Congress on Global Evangelization in South Africa]. I think, for the first time, the government really saw the independent house churches trying to be on the international stage. That really made the government extremely nervous. Number two was the Jasmine Revolution [in North Africa/the Middle East].

BP: So you think the Chinese government is afraid that what happened in Egypt and other countries could happen to China?

BOB FU: They're very, very afraid. The Chinese security forces have been on high alert because of what's happening in Tunisia, Egypt. They are really in panic and in a paranoid mood.

BP: How is the Chinese government's mindset different from a Western mindset? Why are they so suspicious of Christianity?

BOB FU: Historically, Christianity has always been suspected as a Western force, as a Western religion. In the Chinese government's propaganda, it's always been associated with the free world. Of course, the most rapid-growing religion in China is Christianity, especially in the past 60 years. The growth is really astonishing. Some estimate there are 70 to 130 million Christians. Since the Tiananmen massacre 22 years ago, there has been a major revival of the house churches in the cities, especially among the Chinese intellectuals. The Christian worldview and values really, I think, made the Chinese government afraid. The Christian worldview is contradictory to the materialistic worldview. Also, the [house church's] enormous manifestation of care, love to the society, to the needy -- you would think these are the things that the Chinese government also wanted. Almost half of the volunteers and the rescue workers to the 2008 earthquake were Chinese house church members. That became a scary thing to the Chinese leadership. They actually started a campaign to keep out these volunteers from the earthquake area. Some were even put in prison.

BP: They were put in prison?

BOB FU: Yes, for doing good. Of course, when the house churches were helping, they also spread the Gospel. So the government was very scared. Some Christians were detained.

BP: Help our readers understand another key issue: Why would a church not want to be a government-recognized registered church?

BOB FU: Fundamentally, the number one reason is focused on who is the head of the church? Is it the Communist Party, the Chinese government or Jesus Christ alone? The Three-Self Patriotic Movement is nothing but a political organization with a religious uniform. All the leaders are appointed by the Communist Party, the United Front Work Department, and the State Administration for Religious Affairs, and they are salaried. And many of the leaders are also Communist Party members. Secondly, once you join the government-sanctioned church, you lose pretty much all the freedom of evangelism. There are lots of limitations and rules that will forbid you to do any evangelism outside of the four walls of the church building. You can't baptize anybody under 18 years old, you're forbidden to have a Sunday School. There are fundamental differences.

BP: Why would the Chinese government restrict Sunday Schools?

BOB FU: This is part of the clash with the Communist Party, because they view those under 18 years old as the successors of socialism.... For children, Sunday School is certainly a forbidden policy.

BP: So in a registered church, a Sunday morning worship service would just be a worship service?

BOB FU: Yes, just a worship service.

BP: ChinaAid says the Chinese government may take new measures against the church. What would those measures be?

BOB FU: We heard form a reliable internal government source, and it collaborated with other sources -- apparently the government is planning to take a radical escalation to make some formal arrests on these Shouwang Church leaders.

BP: And we are talking about possible prison time?

BOB FU: Yes.

BP: Is this the most high-profile church-state confrontation you can remember?

BOB FU: In the city setting, it is the most visible. There have been major clashes between house church groups -- most of them in rural areas.

BP: A lot of these members have been placed under house arrest. What does that mean, and is it only on Sunday mornings?

BOB FU: For the five church leaders -- two pastors and three elders -- they have been under house arrest since April 9, which means they don't have any freedom of movement to get out of the house. There was one occasion two weeks ago [involving a church family] when one little baby fell from the seventh floor of a building and died, so [Senior] Pastor Jin Tianming begged the guards outside his house, and he was escorted by two guards to pray for the baby's parents in the hospital. For the rest of the members, most of them are not allowed to get out of their homes from Saturday night until Monday morning, and some are prevented from going home from Friday to Monday or Tuesday.

BP: And people are having their jobs threatened for their participation?

BOB FU: Yes, some lost their jobs, some lost their apartments.

BP: Is this serving to educate the public around the world about the lack of religious freedom in China?

BOB FU: Absolutely. This case basically highlights a very moderate church. When Shouwang Church wanted to register, they received lots of criticism, because some house churches do not want to have anything to do with the government. So Shouwang walked an extra mile to register, and now they are being targeted. It will help the free world to see how little religious freedom China has.

BP: What else would you want our readers to know?

BOB FU: I think we should urge the churches in the free world, especially the American churches, to really speak up for this church. We need more churches to speak up, because this church is facing danger. If we are silent, that will be a real mistake. I really do want to make that appeal.
Michael Foust is associate editor of BP. For more information about ChinaAid, visit Join Baptist Press' Facebook page or Twitter feed to comment on this and other articles. Visit or Press.