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Religious Briefs

- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 18, 2007

ACLU targets state's church grants

NEW ORLEANS — The American Civil Liberties Union and its Louisiana affiliate have filed suit in federal court against the governor and state treasurer, challenging taxpayer-financed government grants to two churches.

The gifts at issue — $100,000 to the Stonewall Baptist Church in Bossier City and $20,000 to Shreveport Christian Church — are among 14 appropriations state lawmakers requested for churches in the new state operating budget signed into law last month by Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco.

Charging that earmarking church-related grants in the state budget is unconstitutional and that the purposes of the grants are only vaguely described, the ACLU in late June asked Ms. Blanco to veto them or face a court challenge.

According to the ACLU, the state in certain circumstances can give money to religious organizations for programs that provide nonreligious social services, but the First Amendment bars the government from making direct, unrestricted payments to churches.

"The government cannot simply choose to subsidize its favorite houses of worship with taxpayer dollars," Daniel Mach, director of litigation for the ACLU's Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, said in a statement.

Cardinal: Church response courageous

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — In his first visit to the U.S. since his appointment, the Vatican's top diplomat said the Roman Catholic Church has responded to the U.S. clergy sexual-abuse crisis with "dignity and courage."

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican secretary of state, spoke at a news conference at the annual convention of the Knights of Columbus, the Catholic fraternal organization.

Speaking through an interpreter, Cardinal Bertone called the "business" created in the United States around the clergy-abuse scandal "unbearable," according to a Knights of Columbus transcript.

He added: "I hope that other institutions and social agencies will face this same problem with their members, with an equal degree of courage and realism as the Catholic Church has done." He questioned whether other institutions have financially supported victims and "taken care of the victims and those who are guilty."

Cardinal Bertone was also asked about the role of Catholics in public life, an issue that took on greater significance in the 2004 presidential election and could re-emerge as a factor in the 2008 race.

Council sets date for Islamic holy time

PLAINFIELD, Ind. — Relying on astronomical calculations, a council of Islamic scholars has established Sept. 13 as the beginning of Ramadan in North America, according to the Islamic Society of North America.

It's the second year the Fiqh Council of North America has relied on scientific projections to pin down the start of the most important month on the Islamic calendar.

Before last year, the council followed Muslim tradition in using moon sightings to determine the start of Ramadan, a period of fasting, discipline and self-sacrifice.

The problem: Not everyone agrees on the appearance of the new moon, resulting in a scattershot observance of Ramadan's start.

Switching to astronomic projections was meant to lessen confusion and promote unity. The council's decision is not binding — Muslims last year were urged to follow the lead of their respective mosques and imams, or spiritual leaders.

From wire dispatches and staff reports