Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Montana Governor To Tour Oil Spill At YellowStone River

CNN) -- Montana's governor is scheduled to tour polluted areas of the Yellowstone River on Tuesday, days after a pipeline break sent thousands of gallons of oil gushing into the river's rushing waters.

Gov. Brian Schweitzer also will join state disaster response and environmental officials for a media briefing on the spill at noon ET, according to his office.

The crisis began late Friday, when ExxonMobil reported that 750 to 1,000 barrels (32,000 to 42,000 gallons) of oil escaped through a crack in one of its pipelines in the Yellowstone River in Laurel, about 16 miles southwest of Billings. The company said it shut down the line within minutes, but not before toxins had been dumped in the water.

ExxonMobil said Monday night that more than 280 people have converged on the area near Billings, including workers from the Texas-based oil company and the Clean Harbors environmental firm. Schweitzer told CNN the cleanup effort has been "pretty good" thus far, though he criticized the speed and comprehensiveness of the response.

"Not all the assets that we wanted are here, and we're going to find out why," he said.

Lloyd Webber, a Laurel rancher, said the spill left a "pretty heavy" smell of oil hanging over the area.

Schweitzer noted that roughly one year ago, several state, county and local agencies held a "mock pipeline spill" drill on the Yellowstone River. Many of those organizations, including the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department, the state Environmental Quality Department and various Yellowstone County officials, are involved in the current effort in the southern part of the state.

Historically high water levels and rapid currents have made things difficult for those trying to clean up the spill. On Saturday, levels near Billings reached their peak for the season at 13.95 feet, nearly a foot above flood stage, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

While the water conditions helped break up and dilute the oil spill, they also left cleanup workers with fewer options. Duane Winslow, Yellowstone County's emergency services director, said Sunday that crews have been forced to work from onshore for fear of being swept up in the water.

"It's too dangerous to do anything on the river, to put out any sort of boats or anything," Winslow said.

ExxonMobil said late Monday that many areas remained unsafe, adding that it has eight boats ready to go should conditions improve.

In terms of evacuations, flooding has -- and continues to -- affect more people in the region, thanks largely to the residual effects from the melting of massive winter snowpacks. About 200 residents were ordered out Friday night, and then allowed back in the next morning. That's significantly less than the hundreds who have been forced from their homes because of the persistent, far-reaching flooding in the area.

"We haven't seen a lot of issues around here (due to the spill)," said Nathan Hammond, who works at the Yellowstone River Campgrounds in Billings. "But there has been a lot of flooding, that has been a big issue."

Still, ExxonMobil reported in a statement that it had received 94 calls to its community claims line as of Monday night -- 36 of those coming from landowners reporting oil had washed up on their property.

Read More from CNN

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Surge In Support For Faith Based Movies Doesn't Look To Die Down Anytime Soon

— Producers of faith-based movies have a message for Hollywood studios: Make the movies and customers will pay to watch them.

The enormous success of Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" in 2004 shocked Tinseltown when it grossed $611 million worldwide. Despite the huge profit, the production of faith-based movies became stagnant, arguably because of low box office numbers.

Support for such films has picked up in recent years with the success of movies like "Fireproof" in 2008 and now this year's "Jumping the Broom" and "Soul Surfer."

"Fireproof," about a couple's struggle to save their marriage, cost $500,000 to make and earned about $34 million domestically. "Jumping the Broom" focused on forgiveness and the attempt by two families to meld despite their differences. It was made with a budget of a little over $6 million and has taken in about $37 million since it hit theaters in May. "Soul Surfers" cost $18 million to make and has brought in more than $42 million since its release in April.

Backers of faith-based movies say the figures indicate people are turning out for films that reflect their beliefs and they don't expect the support to wane.

Read More from Courier Press.com

Florida School District Drops "God Bless" Ban

Officials in the Santa Rosa County, Fla., School District have agreed to gut an ACLU-inspired consent decree they imposed on students and faculty several years ago and pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees to settle a legal challenge to their decision that banned ordinary phrases such as "God bless" from their campuses.

Officials in the Santa Rosa County, Fla., School District have agreed to gut an ACLU-inspired consent decree they imposed on students and faculty several years ago and pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees to settle a legal challenge to their decision that banned ordinary phrases such as "God bless" from their campuses.

Word of the settlement was announced yesterday by the nonprofit Liberty Counsel, which represented faculty and students in the district after the ACLU decree was adopted several years ago.

The restrictions were so draconian that employee Michelle Winkler in 2009 was charged with contempt after her husband, who is not employed by the district, offered a meal prayer at a private event in a neighboring county.

During testimony in the case, she also described how she and a co-worker, who recently had lost a child, had to hide in a closet to pray.

Further, former Pace High School Principal Frank Lay, now retired, and Athletic Director Robert Freeman were tried for contempt after the ACLU demanded that they be punished. Freeman had been accused of offering a blessing for a lunch for some 20 adult booster club members.

While the battle over their own rights were raging in court, members of the 2009 graduating class at Pace expressed their objections to the ACLU restrictions on statements of religious faith by rising up en masse at their ceremony and reciting the Lord's Prayer.

The consent decree that led to criminal indictments against school employees for prayer and banned 'God Bless' will now be gutted and revised, according to the announcement from Liberty Counsel.

"The amended consent decree will restore dozens of constitutional religious freedoms that were previously denied. In addition, Liberty Counsel and Christian Educators Association International will be awarded $265,000 in attorneys' fees and costs from an insurance provider, not the taxpayers, to compensate them for the litigation caused by the ACLU and the district," Liberty Counsel reported.

"We are pleased that freedom has been restored to Santa Rose County," said Mathew D. Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel and dean of Liberty University School of Law. "It is appropriate to celebrate these restored freedoms as America celebrates Independence Day. From the beginning we contended that this consent decree went too far and swallowed up the rights of teachers, staff, students and members of the community. The Constitution is not some relic that can be discarded at will."

Staver told WND that the school's policy prompted the Florida legislature to adopt a law that will prevent school districts from adopting any agreements that infringe on the rights of their students or employees without written permission from those parties.

Wild Goose "Christian" Festival Caters To Gays, Tattooed, and Liberals

Economist.com---AT LEAST 25 Christian music festivals are held each summer in America, but they have never catered for theological liberals. Until this year, that is, when the Wild Goose Festival—named after a Celtic symbol for the Holy Spirit—kicked off on June 23rd on 72 wooded acres in eastern North Carolina, not so far from the intellectual hub of Raleigh-Durham.

The idea, seven years in the making, was based on Britain’s Greenbelt Festival in Cheltenham, which draws 20,000 people a year. About 1,500 people came to the American version, which explicitly pitched its appeal to artists and musicians, nonconformists, post-Christians, non-Christians, disaffected evangelicals and a liberal evangelical subset known as the “emergent” church.

Instead of Bible studies, there were labyrinth walks. Instead of praise-and-worship music, there was hymn-singing in a beer garden and a bluegrass liturgy presided over by a tattooed female Lutheran minister. Visitors were greeted with buckets of water in which to baptise themselves, and tubs of mud to remind them that “dust thou art”. (In Britain, the mud is usually underfoot.) Lecture topics ranged from sex trafficking and social justice to authority in the church and interfaith relations. Visitors could learn from Tom Prasada-Rao, a singer, how to chant “Om” and “Hallelujah Hare Krishna”, or hear Paul Fromberg, a pastor from San Francisco, talking about his 2005 wedding to another man. “God is changing the church through the bodies of gay men,” Mr Fromberg told a packed session on human sexuality. Also under discussion was “religious multiple belonging”—in other words, belonging to a clutch of different faiths at once.

Several disillusioned evangelical leaders attended. One was Jay Bakker, son of Jim and Tammy Bakker of the defunct-Praise-the-Lord-TV-network fame, who gave meandering talks on growing up fundamentalist. Frank Schaeffer, who has made a career out of criticising his evangelical parents Francis and Edith Schaeffer, called the Bible “Bronze-Age mythology” and confessed he had a “conflicted ambivalence” about abortion.

“We’re a laboratory for justice, spirituality and art in the way of Jesus,” explained Gareth Higgins, the festival director and a peace activist from Belfast who has worked with Greenbelt and now lives in North Carolina. He and other organisers managed, miraculously, to recruit 150 musicians and speakers, none of whom charged for their services. They hope that the emergent cohort will rise from the ashes of an evangelicalism ruined by right-wing politics. As 78-year-old Phyllis Tickle, author of several books on emergent Christianity, put it, “We’re at the start of a 500-year upheaval in culture and the church.”

Most evangelicals do not view the emergents so kindly. The few conservatives at the festival privately complained that the panels were stacked with liberals and that issues dear to them, such as abortion, were neglected. Greenbelt has often met similar criticism in recent years.

Mainline Protestants, however, seemed delighted by the festival, and may well latch on to the emergents to shore up their shrinking numbers. Buoyed by their success, Wild Goose’s organisers are planning to repeat the festival next year in the same bucolic place.

Read More From Economist.com

Really?! Michigan Prisoner Sues State Over Prison's Porn Ban

A Michigan inmate is suing Gov. Rick Snyder and the state over his prison's ban on pornographic materials, claiming he is being subjected to cruel and unusual punishment, the Detroit News reported.

In a handwritten lawsuit filed June 10 in US District Court in Detroit, Kyle Richards said the porn ban has "been used as a method of 'psychological warfare' against prisoners, in order to both destroy the morale of inmates and break the spirit of individuals."

The Macomb County jail where Richards is imprisoned does not allow inmates to possess porn, the newspaper reported.

However, instead of suing the county Richards has sued the state, which does allow inmates in state prisons to possess pornography -- with the exception of material depicting simulated rape, bestiality and sadomasochism, a Department of Corrections spokesman said.

Richards, 21, has been in jail since January and pleaded guilty to charges of bank robbery on Thursday. He will be sentenced in August.

Rev. Robert Schuller Kicked Out Of Crystal Catherdral Ministries

Robert A. Schuller, left, poses for a photo with his father,
Robert H. Schuller, outside the Crystal Cathedral.

The Rev. Robert H. Schuller has been ousted from Crystal Cathedral Ministries, the Ocean County Register reports.

Schuller, 84, who began his ministry in an Orange, Calif., drive-in theater more than 50 years ago, was voted off the board of the Crystal Ministries, which has been plagued by financial problems and familial discord, according to the paper.

Schuller’s son, who was forced from the board three years ago, says his father wanted to enlarge the board, a move that did not sit well with others.

"It's a very sad day and unfortunately, I know how that feels," the younger Schuller said.

According to the paper, the church's financial travails, including a significant drop in donations and dwindling membership, culminated in its filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The church still owes about $7.5 million to unsecured creditors, many of whom are vendors for the cathedral's "Glory of Christmas" pageant. According to a reorganization plan filed by the church last month, they have an offer from Irvine, Calif., developer, Greenlaw Partners LLC, to buy the core buildings for $46 million.

Robert H. Schuller has been at odds with his daughters over how they have chosen to run the church. The cathedral recently switched over from a traditional worship format to a Gospel-style choir -- much to the chagrin of many long-time members. Sheila Schuller Coleman also required choir members to sign a covenant acknowledging Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior and the belief that marriage should be between a man and a woman.

The older Schuller publicly lashed out at the contract saying everyone is welcome in the church. Phillip Johnson, the architect who constructed the cathedral's iconic glass sanctuary, was an openly gay man.

Click to read more about Rev. Schuller’s ouster from the Ocean County Register