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Beliefnet News

Doctor Challenges Kansas Abortion Law

posted by Jana Melpolder

Topeka, Kan. – Hoping to end a criminal case against him, a high-profile abortion provider filed a legal challenge Monday to the constitutionality of part of a Kansas law restricting late-term procedures.
Dr. George Tiller, one of the few U.S. physicians performing late-term abortions, faces 19 misdemeanor charges in Sedgwick County District Court.
Attorney General Paul Morrison alleges that the Wichita doctor broke the law by consulting in 2003 on late-term procedures with a physician who had business ties to him. A 1998 law requires two doctors to sign off on some late-term procedures and says those physicians cannot have financial or legal links.
Tiller’s attorneys filed a motion Monday to dismiss the charges, arguing that the requirement is unconstitutional. They say it is vague, places an undue burden on a physician’s right to practice medicine and violates a woman’s right to obtain an abortion as outlined in court decisions.
“There is absolutely no guidance in the state as to what activities constitute legal or financial affiliation – or how a physician might avoid some prosecutor making such a finding,” the attorneys wrote.
One of the attorneys, Dan Monnat, said a hearing on the request is set for July 13.
Morrison spokeswoman Ashley Anstaett said the attorney general had anticipated that Tiller would challenge the law’s constitutionality. “We will defend the constitutionality of the statute,” she said.
The law under which Tiller is charged applies when abortions are performed after the 21st week of pregnancy and the fetus can survive outside the womb.
Two doctors must determine that continuing the pregnancy will lead to the mother’s death or cause “substantial and irreversible” harm to “a major bodily function,” a phrase interpreted to include mental health. The second doctor cannot be “legally or financially affiliated” with the abortion provider.
In 19 such procedures from July 8, 2003, through Nov. 18, 2003, Tiller consulted with Dr. Ann Kristin Neuhaus, according to Morrison’s complaint. The attorney general has said they had a financial relationship, although he hasn’t been more specific.
Neuhaus’ attorney has said Tiller did not pay her. Tiller’s attorneys have said the charges stem from “a difference of opinion” among attorneys about technicalities in the law.

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Battle at Radical Muslim Mosque Kills 9

posted by Jana Melpolder

Islamabad, Pakistan – Security forces clashed with Islamic students outside a radical mosque in the Pakistani capital Tuesday, triggering gunfire that killed nine people, including four of the militant students, a senior official said.
The students later pelted two government buildings, including the Ministry of Environment, with rocks and set them ablaze, and torched a dozen cars in the ministry’s lot.
The battle marked a major escalation in a six-month standoff at the Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, whose clerics have challenged the military-led government by mounting a vigilante anti-vice campaign in Islamabad.
At nightfall, the city’s top security official, Khalid Pervez, said a ceasefire had been reached with the militants.
“They can’t be allowed to sort of have a state within the state and assume powers. Of course this can’t be allowed,” said Pervez.
Deputy Interior Minister Zafar Warriach said the dead included four students, three civilians, one soldier and a journalist. However, clerics at the mosque claimed that 10 of their supporters died, according to a lawmaker sent to mediate.
The minister said 148 were injured, most of them by tear gas fired by security forces.
“The government is considering all options,” he said when asked what steps would be taken to defuse the stand-off. He said no decision has been taken on imposing a national state of emergency, but did not elaborate.
Meanwhile in the western city of Quetta, a stronghold of Islamist parties, about 200 seminary students and members of a radical group staged a demonstration in support of the Lal Masjid militants.
Marching in a street, they burned tires and chanted “Death to America” and “Death to Bush-Pervez,” a reference to Pakistan President Gen. Pervez Musharraf.
Trouble began when student followers of the mosque, including young men with guns and dozens of women wearing black burqas, rushed toward a nearby police checkpoint early Tuesday afternoon.
Police and paramilitary Rangers fired tear gas and, as the students retreated, an Associated Press photographer saw at least four male students, some of them masked, fire shots toward security forces about 200 meters (yards) away.
Gunfire was also heard from the police position.
A man used the mosque’s loudspeakers to order suicide bombers to get into position.
“They have attacked our mosque, the time for sacrifice has come,” the man said.
Calling it an “unfortunate incident,” Warriach said about 120 people from the mosque had tried to occupy a nearby government building and security forces reacted to control the situation. He did not elaborate on what the forces actually did.
Hours later, dozens of students were patrolling the area around the mosque, and sporadic shots were still heard.
Security forces, some riding in armored vehicles, cordoned off the area with barbed wire and checkpoints and continued to fire tear gas at the demonstrators from a distance. Shops in the area, about four kilometers (2.5 miles) from the government district, were shuttered.
Shah Abdul Aziz, a lawmaker for a hard-line religious party who rushed to the mosque to mediate, emerged to say that a cease-fire had been agreed – only for the shooting to continue after he left.
Aziz said the mosque’s leaders claimed that 10 of their supporters had died, including two female students.
“This matter can be resolved through dialogue. Force is not the solution,” Aziz said.
Some of the students carried gas masks and several were seen with gasoline-filled bottles and Molotov cocktails. About a dozen were armed with guns, including AK-47 assault rifles.
Abdul Rashid Ghazi, the mosque’s deputy leader, said the Rangers sparked the trouble by erecting barricades near the mosque.
“The government is to be blamed for it,” he said.
When asked about the presence of armed students at his mosque, Ghazi said they “are our guards.”
Earlier, doctors said two policemen were among the dead but Warriach did not include any police casualties in his count.
Witnesses said a newspaper reporter and a cameraman were caught in the crossfire and taken to a hospital with bullet wounds. It was not immediately clear whether one of these was the journalist reported dead by Warriach.
Authorities have been at loggerheads with the mosque for months over a land dispute and after its followers began a campaign to impose a Taliban-style version of Islamic law in the capital.
Students have carried out a string of kidnappings of police officers and alleged prostitutes, including several Chinese nationals, and have threatened suicide attacks if security forces intervene.
Critics have lambasted the government for negotiating with the clerics instead of arresting them, and blamed President Gen. Pervez Musharraf for the creeping “Talibanization” of Pakistan.
Hundreds of police and paramilitary Rangers have taken up position near the mosque in recent days in what officials have said is an effort to contain their activities.
Musharraf said last week that he was ready to raid the mosque, but warned that militants linked to al-Qaida had slipped inside and that the media would blame any bloodbath on the government.

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ACLU Files Suit Over Jesus Icon in Courthouse

posted by jmcgee

SLIDELL, La. (RNS) A portrait of Jesus Christ that hangs in the lobby of Slidell City Court violates the separation of church and state, according to a a federal lawsuit that was filed Tuesday (July 3) by the Louisiana American Civil Liberties Union.
The organization filed the suit in U.S. District Court in New Orleans after court officials decided to reject the ACLU’s deadline and leave the portrait in place.
Vincent Booth, acting executive director and board president for the ACLU chapter, said after filing the suit that he thinks the portrait, along with lettering beneath that says, “To know peace, obey these laws,” violates laws upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
City Court Judge Jim Lamz, who is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, said Saturday he consulted with a constitutional scholar at the University of Michigan before concluding that the display’s constitutionality remains an open legal question.
Lamz declined to comment further Tuesday, saying through a spokeswoman that he is forbidden to speak about pending litigation. He referred questions to Mike Johnson, an attorney for the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian organization that has agreed to represent the city court for free.
Johnson, who is based in Shreveport, did not return a call for comment, but he did release a statement.
“The ideas expressed in this painting aren’t specific to any one faith, and they certainly don’t establish a single state religion,” he said in the statement. “The reason Americans enjoy equal justice is because we are all created equal, endowed by (our) creator with certain unalienable rights. This painting is a clear reflection of the ideas in the Declaration of Independence.”
The ACLU is representing an anonymous complainant who said he has come into “direct and unwelcome contact” with the display, and he expects to do so again to fulfill legal obligations at the court. The display hangs in the court’s lobby, which has only one main entrance for visitors, according to the lawsuit.
The display has been in place since the courthouse opened in 1997 and has been maintained with taxpayer money, the lawsuit says. The display endorses the Christian faith, or specifically the Eastern Orthodox sect of Christianity, to the detriment of all other Christian denominations and all non-Christian religions, according to the suit.

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Churches Seek Insurance Relief

posted by jmcgee

ORLANDO, Fla. — Wesley United Methodist Church is a congregation of
a few hundred members in Marco Island, Fla. It is an active congregation
with ministries to the homeless, students and the elderly, and every
year it sends missionaries to Guatemala.
The congregation enjoys a prime location less than two miles from
Florida’s Gulf Coast and pays for it — $47,000 this year alone on
property insurance, which is about half what it would pay on the open
market.
With help from a statewide insurance plan of the United Methodist
Church, the congregation is able to invest more in local ministries and
outreach, said Ernie Stevens, chairman of the congregation’s finance
committee.
“Everybody is subject to something, tornadoes or floods or
hurricanes or mudslides or all these things that we hear happening to
people. So if we can share each other’s burdens,” he said, “it would be
a very beneficial thing for all of us.”
Across Florida, hurricanes have pushed property insurance rates
sky-high, forcing some homeowners from their homes and prompting new
legislation that aims to reduce rates. Churches have not been immune to
the burden, but United Methodist congregations are finding relief in a
plan that spreads risk among churches statewide, making insurance
available to coastal congregations like Wesley and alleviating costs for
all.
Now United Methodist leaders are joining with Catholics, Lutherans,
Presbyterians, Seventh-day Adventists and others to explore whether such
a plan could work nationwide.
The idea is actually fairly simple — the likelihood of a
catastrophic event devastating such a large area is not as great, so
when hurricane-prone churches share risk with churches in
earthquake-prone and tornado-prone regions, premiums go down.
“When we first met last year, I was astonished. I thought we would
all be talking about wind storm damage,” said Mickey Wilson, treasurer
of the Methodists’ statewide conference. “It’s just as difficult for
someone within a certain distance of the Missouri River to get
insurance. … It’s not just about wind storms. It’s about all sorts of
other catastrophes.”
The conversation began after the Catholic Church confronted its sex
scandals, said Peter Persuitti, managing director of Arthur J. Gallagher
& Co., an Itasca, Ill.-based insurance brokerage and consulting firm
specializing in religious organizations. Churches are unique and
misunderstood by some insurers, he said. They are nonprofits serving
communities on small budgets but are very accountable to their
communities.
“If I (as an insurer) think I’m underwriting a bad risk I will
charge more,” he said.
Eventually denominations began creating their own insurance
companies. Seven years ago, denominational leaders met to discuss common
issues. After Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and so many others swept across
the Southeast in 2005, these leaders began exploring the idea of
spreading risk, Persuitti said.
He explains it this way: If you could choose between insuring
churches in Florida and insuring churches in Florida, California and the
Midwest, you would choose the latter. That’s spreading risk.
Insurance rates have surged in recent years all across Florida. Now
Florida Gov. Charlie Crist is pushing the idea of a national catastrophe
fund. Policyholders nationwide would pay into a pool that would help
cover costs no matter where a disaster occurred — a hurricane in
Louisiana, an earthquake in California or a tornado in Oklahoma, for
example. A similar fund already exists for floods.
The idea has gained some traction as disasters in recent years have
devastated areas well beyond Florida. Hurricane season started June 1,
and forecasters are predicting an above-average season, part of a
decades-long upswing in activity.
In Florida, the United Methodist Church insures all its
congregations through a plan that spreads risk statewide. Rather than
let congregations seek insurance on their own, the denomination’s
Florida Annual Conference takes all its congregations to market for a
$20 million annual fee. The fee is up from $4 million three years ago,
and the rest of the conference budget is only $12 million. But Wilson,
the treasurer of the statewide conference, said some churches couldn’t
get insurance on their own.
“It’s affected our ability to minister. It’s affected our ability to
do outreach,” he said of the climbing costs. “Having the entire nation
come into this would be just huge.”

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