- The Washington Times - Friday, December 22, 2006

Egyptian court ruling on Bahais hit by U.S.

The State Department has condemned an Egyptian court ruling that denies Bahais the right to have their faith recognized on official identification documents.

Rejecting a lower court decision favorable to Bahais, the Supreme Administrative Court ruled that the Egyptian constitution recognizes only Islam, Christianity and Judaism.

“It is certainly a ruling that flies in the face of stated Egyptian commitments to freedom of expression, freedom of religion,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Monday. “We would hope that the Egyptian government would take steps that would allow people of the Bahai faith to obtain these identification cards.”

The cards of Bahais have a line through the section for the person’s religion.

The dispute directly affects only the country’s Bahais, 2,000 or so of the more than 72 million Egyptians. Civil rights advocates in Egypt, however, said it’s evidence that the court ignores all existing protections of religious freedom.

Islam is the official religion of Egypt, but it is considered by the constitution to be “a source” of Egyptian law, not “the source.”

The Bahai faith is a monotheistic religion founded in the 1860s by Baha’u’llah, a Persian nobleman who the Bahais consider a prophet. Baha’u’llah taught that all religions represent progressive stages in the revelation of God’s will, leading to the unity of all peoples and faiths.

Mr. McCormack said the inability of Bahais to obtain completed identity cards causes them serious problems.

“We would urge the Egyptian government really to address this issue. It’s really a fundamental issue of religious freedom,” he said.

Groups pick stories on Islam as year’s top

Developments in world Islam were picked as the top religion stories of the year in separate tallies by the Religion Newswriters Association and Catholic News Service.

The top two stories chosen by the RNA were the violent reaction to publications of cartoons of the prophet Muhammad in Denmark and elsewhere, and the speech by Pope Benedict XVI that quoted a Byzantine emperor who disparaged Muhammad’s teachings.

The pope said the quote did not reflect his personal opinion and said he regretted that the speech caused offense.

Catholic News Service took votes from Roman Catholic editors nationwide who said Islam, immigration and the situation in Iraq were the top religious news themes of the year.

As the top newsmaker of the year, the Religion Newswriters chose the Amish who responded to the Oct. 2 fatal schoolhouse shooting in their Pennsylvania community with forgiveness for the gunman’s family.

S.C. district’s policies ruled unconstitutional

RICHMOND — A South Carolina school district’s policies denying a religious club the free use of meeting space violate the First Amendment, a federal appeals court ruled.

A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Dec. 15 that the policies gave administrators at Anderson School District Five too much leeway in deciding which groups would have to pay for use of school property.

The panel ordered the district to refund $1,545 that the Child Evangelism Fellowship of South Carolina paid over two years to rent meeting space for its “Good News Clubs.” The nondenominational clubs, open to children ages 5-12, conducted Bible lessons and other religious activities.

The policy included a phrase allowing the district to “waive any or all charges as determined to be in the district’s best interest.” The policy was later amended to eliminate the “best interest” provision but continued waiving the fee for groups with a long history of meeting on school property for free.

CEF sued after school officials refused its requests for a fee waiver. U.S. District Judge Henry M. Herlong Jr. dismissed the lawsuit, ruling that the district had applied the “best interest” provision in a viewpoint-neutral fashion.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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