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Keeping the Faith The Newsletter of the Interfaith Working Group
March 2001


Pro-Harassment Court Decision

The Third Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals invalidated the State College Area School District's Anti-Harassment Policy as "unconstitutionally overbroad." Under the policy, "harassment means verbal or physical conduct based on one's actual or perceived race, religion, color, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or other personal characteristics, and which has the purpose or effect of substantially interfering with a student's educational performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment." The plaintiff, a Penn State professor represented by the American Family Association (AFA), believes his children are religiously required to "witness" to sexual minority students that "homosexuality is a sin and is harmful," and that the policy prevented this. The decision and policy are online: vls.law.vill.edu/locator/3d/Feb2001/994081.txt.

Stories appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer and State College Centre Daily Times. The Inquirer quoted the AFA's Bryan J. Brown, who said it was overturned for not distinguishing between "free speech about controversial issues that some may find offensive" and "individualized targeted harassment that disrupts a student's ability to learn" ("witnessing" to specific students about their orientation somehow doesn't qualify). The Centre Daily Times focused on the free speech and religious free exercise aspects, ignoring the problems of those who can now be freely harassed by proselytizing peers, and leaving the odd impression that the AFA has an interest in upholding all forms of free speech. Neither paper had reactions from sexual minority or other minority students, their advocates, or people of faith who disagree with targeting public school students for proselytizing.

An article in the Traditional Values Coalition Message to Pastors and Lay Leaders was headlined: "Professor wins key victory against homosexual agenda," and said that the decision "will have nationwide repercussions as pro-family activists challenge pro-homosexual speech policies on other campuses." It also urges readers to "study this legal victory and work to challenge anti-free speech policies in your own school district." Focus on the Family's CitizenLink story said: "People who promote the biblical truth about homosexuality received a boost recently..." and finished up with quotes from the plaintiff: "If any American institution should teach about our constitutional rights and our sacred First Amendment, it is the public school," and a criticism of the "school board's twisting and bending of the Constitution to fit their own personal political agendas."

Service in Allentown

Nine Unitarian-Universalist, United Church of Christ, Interfaith, Metropolitan Community Church and Mennonite clergy officiated at a commitment service for thirty-three same-gender couples at Bethlehem's Unitarian-Universalist church, according to the Allentown Morning Call.

Focus on the Family

Focus on the Family continues to publish articles attacking pro-GLBT and minority religious groups and individuals. The January 31 issue of CitizenLink, in a report on Duke's decision to allow commitment services for same-gender couples in the chapel, quoted a Duke student: "Where tolerance has gone evil, and where it is now a stronghold of Satan on campuses, is that we now tolerate all forms of morality as being equal." Citizen Magazine featured a story called: "Sex, Lies, and Scripture," in which they attempt to warn readers about Balm in Gilead, SIECUS, the United Church of Christ, the Unitarian Universalist Association, and Pagans. Family News In Focus included three anti-gay-advocacy stories: a story headlined: "Schism Opens in Episcopal Church," in which the Rev. David Moyer of Rosemont's Church of the Good Shepherd calls the Episcopal Church "very sick," and refers to Bishop Charles Bennison as "a real champion of the full homosexual agenda;" a story complaining about an unnamed "gay advocacy video" broadcast to "thousands of schools across the country" by the NEA which quotes a United Church of Christ pastor that "school is not a safe place for any kid who happens to be the least bit different;" and a story in which the Family Research Council's Bob Knight argues against President Bush's appointment of Massachusetts Governor Cellucci to be ambassador to Canada by calling him "morally unfit to serve," and adding that "he may not be homosexual himself, but he has promoted the homosexual agenda and he's done it in a way that should make most Americans angry. He's done it peddling this stuff to children."

UFMCC and the California Council of Churches

The Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches (UFMCC) reports that the Rev. Dr. Gwynne Guibord, Chief Officer of the UFMCC's Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Concerns, has been elected President of the California Council of Churches. The Council represents 1.5 million church members from nineteen Protestant denominations including UFMCC, which was voted into its membership in 1997 and has a mission "to be a prophetic witness to the Gospel by proclaiming justice, equity and fairness in the treatment of all peoples without regard to physical characteristics, ideology, faith or sexual orientation, and to encourage, equip and empower local congregations to live the Gospel by defending the most vulnerable in our society."

Atlanta Baptists

On January 31, the Associated Baptist Press (ABP) reported that the Atlanta Baptist Association had "voted overwhelmingly to defeat a motion to dismiss two homosexual-friendly churches from membership and fellowship in the association." The two churches, Oakhurst and Virginia Highland Baptist, were expelled from the Georgia Baptist Convention [ December, 1999]. A news release from the Atlanta Baptist Association said: "In affirming their continued membership in the association, the association does not condone or support homosexuality. It affirms the long-standing Baptist polity of local church autonomy." The ABP article quoted Robert White of the Georgia Baptist Convention: "The issue that concerns me is that it sends a signal not only to Atlanta and Georgia, but to the nation, that a group of Baptist churches in Atlanta has moved to affirm homosexuality."

An editorial in the Baptist Press (BP) called the decision, "one small step for homosexual-affirming churches and one giant leap for homosexual activists," and claimed that "what the naive do not understand is that homosexual activists do not desire to live and let live. They will not rest easy until every aspect of society bows in submission and validates their lifestyle."

On February 8 the ABP reported that the Georgia Baptist Convention and Southern Baptist Convention North American Mission Board had announced plans to withdraw funding from the Atlanta Baptist Association.

On February 9 The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that two churches were preparing to leave the association.

Call Us On It

Accurately representing the interests of ninety-nine religious organizations, congregations and clergy from sixteen different traditions is not easy. We try hard, but we only stand a chance is if you tell us when we get things wrong. Helping us do a better job is as supportive as time, money, and thank-yous, and we appreciate it.

Letterhead Addition

Welcome to the Rev. Cynthia Jarvis, Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill! To be listed on the letterhead, please call 215-235-3050 or you may send email to iwg@iwgonline.org. We will call to confirm your request or answer any questions.

Marriage Protests

On February 14, Marriage Equality California held rallies and protests at marriage license bureaus (same-gender couples applied for and were denied marriage licenses) in Eureka, Beverly Hills, Sacramento, and San Francisco, with between fifty and eighty people at each location. The next California protests are scheduled for April 16. Marriage Equality organizations have also been formed in New Jersey and New York.

Presbyterian Church (USA)

In the Presbyterian Church (USA), all of the presbyteries are voting either to adopt or reject Amendment O, which would ban same-sex union ceremonies, but is worded in such a way that it could be used to ban any pro-GLBT event. Many observers are comparing this vote to the 1997 vote on "Amendment B" (banning ordination for non-celibate unmarried individuals) since that was the most recent GLBT-related measure to pass.

Philadelphia Presbytery voted not to adopt the same-sex union ban, 221-218. As of February 28, fifty-two presbyteries had voted for the amendment, while seventy-four voted against it. One-hundred twenty-six presbyteries have voted so far, which is almost three-fourths of the total. Eighty-seven presbyteries must vote yes for it to pass. Twenty-one presbyteries that voted for the ordination ban voted against the same-sex union ban, while only four presbyteries had flipped the other way, and one-hundred voted the same as they did in 1997.

On January 24, the PCUSA News Service said that the vote would be close, and that "'Presbyterians Together', an offshoot of the conservative Presbyterian Coalition, published a 60-page booklet, 'Amendment O Resources'...funded by The Presbyterian Layman, [including] essays on the proposed amendment and related issues, sample speeches for use by presbytery commissioners, talking points to use in debates, timetables for churches to use in making their positions known in the church and public media, an outline for a prayer vigil, and a curriculum outline for a Sunday School class." On February 9 the PCUSA News Service reported that the amendment was "likely to pass or fail by the skin of its teeth."

Soulforce Tampa held a vigil outside the Tampa Bay Presbytery's February 24 meeting where the amendment was debated. Tampa Bay Presbytery voted for Amendment O, 140-100. They voted for the ordination ban by 188-82.

UU Church in Sudbury, MA

The AP and Boston Globe reported on the drawing of swastikas on two church signs with rainbow triangles at the Unitarian-Universalist First Parish of Sudbury on Holocaust Memorial Day, and the theft of a rainbow flag at the same church. The Metrowest Daily News interviewed Roman Catholic, Jewish, Presbyterian and Swedenborgian clergy opposed to the vandalism, including the Rev. Michael Bova Conti of Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church, who said, "...something like this shouldn't happen in a civilized society." Rev. Conti also encouraged his parishioners to attend a vigil against hate organized by the Sudbury Clergy Association, and sent a letter of solidarity to First Parish. The article closed with a quote from Rabbi Liza Stern of Congregation Beth El: "It underscores how important it is to be supportive. One day I'm the victim, the next day you're the victim. We all need to be tuned in and responsive when anything happens to any of us....You can't think 'It's not about me.'" The Boston Globe reported that nearly one thousand people attended the vigil.

Faith-Based Initiatives

A wide variety of faith-based and other organizations have expressed reservations and problems with the notion of a federal Office of Faith-Based Initiatives. The Associated Baptist Press quoted Phil Strickland, director of the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission: "Government funding will neuter the passion for churches to support their own ministries. Churches will find little passion for giving or serving when they become government contractors." Baptist Joint Committee Administrator Wanda Henry said: "...charitable choice threatens to make religion the servant of the state, rather than its conscience." Lutheran Services in America (self-described as the nation's largest non-profit) issued a press release quoting president and CEO Joanne Negstat: "...without follow-up and funding that continues government's partnership with organizations such as ours, too many people will continue to go without food or a home." Rev. Steven Baines of Equal Partners in Faith said the initiative "shows an arrogant insensitivity to our constitutionally-protected right to religious freedom." A United Methodist News Service story noted that "the church's 2000 Book of Resolutions says that public funds should be used only in the best interests of the whole society." The Washington Post reported that Pat Robertson, appearing on the 700 Club, "warned that such groups as the Unification Church, the Hare Krishnas and the Church of Scientology 'could all become financial beneficiaries of the proposal to expand eligibility for government grants to religious charities.'"

Americans United released a list of ten reasons they oppose the plan:
  • The plan violates the separation of church and state.
  • Federally funded employment discrimination is unfair.
  • Religion could be forced on those in need of assistance.
  • The plan opens the door to federal regulation of religion.
  • The vitality of our faith communities will be hurt.
  • The plan pits faith groups against each other.
  • Some religions will be favored over others.
  • There's no proof that religious groups will offer better care than secular groups.
  • Both liberals and conservatives are concerned about the plan.
  • If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

    National Religious Leadership Roundtable

    The National Religious Leadership Roundtable, coconvened by Equal Partners in Faith and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, held its sixth semi-annual meeting at Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, DC. Major topics of discussion included anti-Semitism in interfaith organizing and the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives. Co-coordinator Chris Purdom represented the IWG at the meeting, which concluded his two year term on the Steering Committee.

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