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Protesters Disrupt First U.S. Senate Prayer By A Hindu

posted by jmcgee

WASHINGTON – A Hindu clergyman made history Thursday by offering the U.S. Senate’s morning prayer, but only after police officers removed three shouting protesters from the visitors’ gallery.
Rajan Zed, director of interfaith relations at a Hindu temple, gave the brief prayer that opens each day’s Senate session. As he stood at the chamber’s podium in a bright orange and burgundy robe, two women and a man began shouting “this is an abomination” and other complaints from the gallery.
Police officers quickly arrested them and charged them with disrupting Congress, a misdemeanor. The male protester told an Associated Press reporter, “we are Christians and patriots” before police handcuffed them and led them away.
For several days, the Mississippi-based American Family Association has urged its members to object to the prayer because Zed would be “seeking the invocation of a non-monotheistic god.”
Zed, the first Hindu to offer the Senate prayer, began: “We meditate on the transcendental glory of the Deity Supreme, who is inside the heart of the Earth, inside the life of the sky and inside the soul of the heaven. May He stimulate and illuminate our minds.”
As the Senate prepared for another day of debate over the Iraq war, Zed closed with, “Peace, peace, peace be unto all.”
Zed, who was born in India, was invited by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat. Speaking in the chamber shortly after the prayer, Reid defended the choice and linked it to the war debate.
“If people have any misunderstanding about Indians and Hindus,” Reid said, “all they have to do is think of Gandhi,” a man “who gave his life for peace.”
“I think it speaks well of our country that someone representing the faith of about a billion people comes here and can speak in communication with our heavenly Father regarding peace,” said Reid, a Mormon and sharp critic of President Bush’s Iraq policies.
Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said the protest “shows the intolerance of many religious right activists. They say they want more religion in the public square, but it’s clear they mean only their religion.”
Police identified the protesters as Ante Nedlko Pavkovic, Katherine Lynn Pavkovic and Christan Renee Sugar. Their ages and hometowns were not available.

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Psychologists to Review Stance On Gays

posted by Jana Melpolder

NEW YORK – The American Psychological Association is embarking on the first review of its 10-year-old policy on counseling gays and lesbians, a step that gay-rights activists hope will end with a denunciation of any attempt by therapists to change sexual orientation.
Such efforts – often called reparative therapy or conversion therapy – are considered futile and harmful by many gay-rights activists. Conservative groups defend the right to offer such treatment, and say people with their viewpoint have been excluded from the review panel.
A six-member task force set up by the APA has its first meeting beginning next Tuesday.
Already, scores of conservative religious leaders and counselors, representing such groups as the Southern Baptist Convention and Focus on the Family, have written a joint letter to the APA, expressing concern that the task force’s proposals would not properly accommodate gays and lesbians whose religious beliefs condemn gay sex.
“We believe that psychologists should assist clients to develop lives that they value, even if that means they decline to identify as homosexual,” said the letter, which requested a meeting between APA leaders and some of the signatories.
APA spokeswoman Rhea Farberman said a decision on when and how to reply to the letter had not yet been made.
The current APA policy, adopted in 1997, opposes any counseling that treats homosexuality as a mental illness, but does not explicitly denounce reparative therapy. The APA has decided to review the policy at a time when gay-rights groups are increasingly critical of such treatment and groups that support it.
Conservatives contend that the review’s outcome is preordained because the task force is dominated by gay-rights supporters.
“We’re concerned,” said Carrie Gordon Earll of Focus on the Family. “The APA does not have a good track record of listening to other views.”
Joseph Nicolosi, a leading proponent of reparative therapy, predicted the task force would propose a ban of the practice – and he vowed to resist such a move. Nicolosi, who was rejected as a task force nominee, is president of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality.
Clinton Anderson, director of the APA’s Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Concerns Office, insisted the panel would base its findings on scientific research, not ideology. He defended the decision to reject certain conservative applicants to the task force.
“We cannot take into account what are fundamentally negative religious perceptions of homosexuality – they don’t fit into our world view,” Anderson said.
One of the counselors denied a seat on the task force was Warren Throckmorton, a psychology professor at Grove City College near Pittsburgh. Though Throckmorton doesn’t advocate a specific form of reparative therapy, he argues that psychologists should respect gay clients’ religious beliefs in cases where the faith teaches that homosexual behavior is wrong.
“We work with clients to pursue their chosen values,” he said. “If they are core, unwavering commitments to their religious belief, therapists should not try to persuade them differently under the guise of science.”
However, one of the task force members, New York City psychiatrist Jack Drescher, said the conservatives don’t acknowledge the harm that might be caused when a gay patient – even voluntarily – undergoes therapy to suppress or change sexual orientation.
“They want a rubber stamp of approval for a form of therapy that’s questionable in its efficacy and they don’t want to deal with the issue of harmful side effects,” said Drescher, who is editor of the Journal of Gay and Lesbian Psychotherapy.
As the APA planned the policy review, it received input from gay-rights groups, including Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.
PFLAG’s executive director, Jody Huckaby, said reparative therapy had been particularly harmful for young gays whose parents insisted on trying to change their sexual orientation. His group contends these efforts can cause depression and suicidal behavior.
Current APA policy stipulates that no therapy should occur without “informed consent” of a gay or lesbian client. Jason Cianciotto of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force said he hoped the APA would declare that no young person could ever be deemed to have given informed consent, and thus no reparative therapy would be approved for minors.
The largest ministry that does counsel gays to change their sexual orientation is Exodus International. Its president, Alan Chambers – who says prayer and therapy enabled him to move away from homosexuality – is among those apprehensive of the APA review.
“I had hoped for more diversity on that panel,” Chambers said. “I see a lot of people who represent the other side – who don’t believe that people like me have a right to self-determination.”
The task force may submit a preliminary report to the APA’s directors in December. Anderson said a final report might be completed by next March.

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Cleric in Radical Pakistan Mosque Killed

posted by Jana Melpolder

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – A radical cleric whose besieged mosque sought to impose strict Islamic morality on the Pakistani capital was killed Tuesday after refusing to respond to troops who demanded his surrender, officials said.
About 50 militants and eight soldiers died when the military stormed the sprawling Red Mosque compound.
Abdul Rashid Ghazi, the public face of the pro-Taliban mosque that challenged the government’s writ in Islamabad, had vowed to die rather than give himself up.
An army official said Ghazi had received bullet wounds and when he was told to surrender, he gave no reply. Commandos then fired another volley of bullets and found Ghazi dead, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to media.
Javed Iqbal Cheema, spokesman for the Interior Ministry, confirmed Ghazi’s death and said the cleric’s body was still lying in the compound, and that “battle hardened” militants were defending themselves.
Officials, who earlier said the military held back on an all-out assault on Ghazi because there were children being held in the basement as hostages, offered no details on who was with him when he died.
“The government is using full force. This is naked aggression,” Ghazi said hours before his death. “My martyrdom is certain now.”
Troops had stormed the sprawling mosque compound in the capital before dawn after efforts to bring a peaceful end to a weeklong standoff with security forces failed.
Ghazi and his brother Abdul Aziz, the mosque’s chief cleric, had been using the mosque as a base to send out radicalized students to enforce their version of Islamic morality, including abducting alleged prostitutes and trying to “re-educate” them at the mosque.
Khalid Pervez, the city’s top administrator, said as many as 50 women were the first to be freed by the militants and had emerged from the complex following the escape of 26 children.
Mohammed Khalid Jamil, a reporter for the local Aaj television network, was among journalists who said they saw dozens of women and girls walking on a road away from the mosque. They were wearing burqas, he said.
A military official who demanded anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press, said the women included the wife and daughter of Abdul Aziz, who was arrested while trying to flee the complex last week.
It was not clear how many noncombatants were being held hostage or were staying behind because they believed in the mosque’s cause. Last week, a number of those who left the mosque, including young women, said their colleagues were there of their own free will and prepared to die.
Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Waheed Arshad said hostages were still being held and that fighting was intense: “We are fighting room by room.” He added that stun grenades were being used to avoid casualties among the hostages.
He said about 50 militants have been killed in Tuesday’s assault, while eight soldiers had died and 29 were wounded.
Abdul Sattar Edhi, head of the private relief agency Edhi Foundation, told reporters that the army had asked him to prepare 400 white shrouds used for covering the dead.
The siege of one of the capital’s most prominent mosques was prompted by clashes last Tuesday between security forces and supporters of the mosque’s hardline clerics. More than 80 people have been killed in the fighting since July 3.
The vigilante anti-vice campaign has proved an embarrassment to President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, a key U.S. ally in its war on terror, and underlined his administration’s failure to control extremist religious schools.
But a major loss of life at the Red Mosque could further turn public opinion against the president, who already faces mounting opposition for his bungled attempts to fire the country’s chief justice.
In Washington, a State Department spokesman, Tom Casey, said the militants were given many warnings before the commandos moved in.
“The government of Pakistan has proceeded in a responsible way,” Casey said. “All governments have a responsibility to preserve order.”
To protest the siege, more than 100 armed tribesmen and religious students near the northwestern town of Batagram temporarily blocked a road that leads to neighboring China, police officials said.
And in the eastern city of Multan, more than 500 Islamic religious school students rallied, chanting “Down with Musharraf” and blocking a main road by burning tires.
The U.S. Embassy recommended that Americans in Pakistan to limit their movement in the area of the northwestern city of Peshawar, warning that “terrorist elements” were threatening attacks on Pakistani government, police and army institutions in retaliation for the Red Mosque siege.
The army raid began about 4 a.m. after a government-backed effort led by ex-premier Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain to try and negotiate a peaceful end to the standoff failed. One cleric in the mediation team, Rehmatullah Khalil, accused Musharraf of sabotaging a draft agreement with the mosque’s chief cleric, which the government denied.
Soon after the mediators left the environs of the mosque, commandos attacked from three directions and quickly cleared the ground floor of the mosque, Arshad said. Some 20 children who rushed toward the advancing troops were brought to safety, he said.
Besides the women, Arshad said about 50 suspected militants, some of them youngsters, have been captured or emerged from the mosque since fighting began Tuesday.
Arshad said the army attack was now focused on the women’s school. He said the entire compound included 75 rooms, large basements and expansive courtyards. About 80 percent of it had been cleared, he said.
An officer, who demanded anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press, said troops had demanded four times that Ghazi surrender, but his followers responded with gunfire. Ghazi said he was ready to die rather than give up, the officer said.
Arshad said the well-trained militants were armed with machine guns, rocket launchers and gasoline bombs and had booby-trapped some areas.
Pakistan’s Religious Affairs Minister Mohammed Ijaz ul-Haq said foreign militants were among those fighting with the mosque defenders, quoting Ghazi.
Ghazi told the private Geo TV network in a telephone interview about two hours after Tuesday’s assault began that his mother had been wounded by gunshot. One of Ghazi’s aides, Abdul Rahman, later said she had died.

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Ohio Vouchers Help Buttress Schools Even as Church Downsizes

posted by Jana Melpolder

CLEVELAND — Across Northeast Ohio, population shifts from older neighborhoods to the suburbs could mean the closing, merger or consolidation of about one in six schools operated by the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland.
But in Cleveland proper, Catholic schools have found a guardian angel in state taxpayers, who provided more than $16 million in tuition vouchers for more than 5,500 city children to attend parochial schools this past school year.
Five years after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Cleveland voucher program as a way to assist poor children in failing schools, the once-controversial program has found bipartisan safe harbor in the state budget.
Budget proposals from Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat, and the Republican-controlled legislature all provided money to continue the 11-year-old initiative, which gives parents a taxpayer-supported voucher to spend toward tuition at participating private schools.
Even as the Cleveland diocese evaluates its 231 parishes with an eye toward closing or merging about 20 percent of them, the voucher program is supporting some of its 144 schools, including 34 located in Cleveland, which was ranked the poorest big city in America according to Census data.
At Holy Name Elementary in Cleveland’s South Broadway neighborhood, more than 90 percent of students receive vouchers. In at least seven other Catholic elementary schools, more than 80 percent of the students use public dollars to attend.
“Catholic schools are closing by the dozens in large cities all over the country,” said Clint Bolick, director of constitutional litigation at the Goldwater Institute, a libertarian-leaning think tank based in Phoenix. “That’s a tragedy for low-income kids. To the extent that vouchers have helped Catholic schools stay open in Cleveland and Milwaukee and elsewhere, that’s a godsend for children.”
But Bolick dismisses the notion that the voucher program is a subsidy for Catholic schools. The schools actually took on more of a financial burden by accepting voucher students and covering the full cost of educating them, he said.
Margaret Lyons, superintendent of the Cleveland diocese’s schools, has a similar view. She declined to be interviewed but responded in writing to questions from a reporter.
“Vouchers have little impact except in so far as they support enrollment,” she wrote. “Positive enrollments stabilize a school.
However, vouchers do not cover the costs, so schools still need to find resources to supplement vouchers.”
Critics of school vouchers contend the program — especially in concert with the newer charter school program — drains badly needed money from Cleveland public schools. Money to support the program comes from a state fund aimed at aiding high-poverty districts.
Last year, about 30 percent of Cleveland students — 11,500 in charter schools and 12,000 in Catholic and other schools — attended private schools while the public system enrolled about 53,000.
Vouchers recast the urban school problem as a consumer challenge in which discerning parents are rewarded for “escaping” the system, rather than for working together to improve it, said Jan Resseger, minister for public education for the Cleveland-based United Church of Christ.
“The Cleveland voucher program and the newer charter program have made it harder for us to understand our collective obligation across the region to ensure opportunity for society’s most vulnerable children,”
Resseger said.
But the voucher program remains popular with parents who receive the assistance. Tony Kaloger, a Cleveland father who currently has one child in school on a voucher, said his only disappointment is that the program hasn’t expanded more since the 2002 court ruling.
Kaloger said all parents should be able to choose where their children go to school. That’s especially true for parents in Cleveland, where more than 1,000 seniors failed to graduate this spring because they flunked one or more parts of a state graduation test, he said.
“We’re disappointed in the fact that it hasn’t grown and been made available to more people,” Kaloger said. “For us, personally, it worked out fine. But being an advocate for the program, your hope is that it will also help others.”
Vouchers have been expanded statewide, but the ones outside Cleveland are limited to children attending low-performing public schools. That means suburban Catholic schools in communities with a high-functioning public system won’t be able to share in the extra enrollment that vouchers bring.
In Cleveland’s Catholic schools, half the children are non-Catholic.
Will providing vouchers for them while closing suburban parish schools create tension among Catholic parishioners?
“Tension isn’t the word I would use,” said Lyons, the diocese’s superintendent. “Catholics are taught they are responsible for those who are less fortunate. That being said, when financial crunches become personal, certainly, parents may sense a loss.”

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