Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Evangelical Zealots Lay Down the Law...But Aggrieve the Spririt



As a follow-up to our last editorial concerning the right-wing religious ....shenanigans... in Odessa high schools, which is drawing national attention, we came across two relevant articles we'd like to share. Both deal with the decade-long "surge" of zealotry and attempted spiritual abuse by evangelical Christians, noted as well in our article on the historically flawed evangelical "Bible Class" of generally poor scholastic religious quality being fed to gullible youth in Odessa by religious control freaks on the school board.

The first is by TruthOut.org's Jason Leopold, reporting on a lawsuit recently filed against the Pentagon claiming both a First Amendment violation of a soldier's right to freedom from the imposition of state sponsored religion and his Constitutional guarantee not to be subject to a religious litmus test for participation in and promotion within the military. The lawsuit asserts that the military not only encourages evangelical Christianity but also often harasses and discriminates against those who do not toe the party line on religion in the military.

Pentagon Sued Over Mandatory Christianity
By Jason Leopold
t r u t h o u t | Report

Tuesday 18 September 2007

A military watchdog organization filed a lawsuit in federal court Tuesday against the Pentagon, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and a US Army major, on behalf of an Army soldier stationed in Iraq. The suit charges the Pentagon with widespread constitutional violations by allegedly trying to force the soldier to embrace evangelical Christianity and then retaliating against him when he refused.

The complaint, filed in US District Court in Kansas City, by the nonprofit Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), on behalf of Jeremy Hall, an Army specialist currently on active duty in Speicher, Iraq, alleges that Hall's First Amendment rights were violated beginning last Thanksgiving when, because of his atheist beliefs, he declined to participate in a Christian prayer ceremony commemorating the holiday.....

The second article features a complaint by Jewish Prison Chaplains alleging that prisoners are being force fed a tasteless diet of evangelical Christianity and that Jewish inmates, in particular, are finding themselves the focus of evangelical zealotry in trying to convert them, amounting to a disregard of their faith.

PRISONS

As budgets shrink, evangelicals expand state prison ministries

Evangelical Christians are moving in a big way into cash-strapped state prisons to supplement and, in some cases, replace existing chaplain services. Their work is supported by private donations and encouraged by the government's emphasis on faith-based social services. Correctional officials say they are grateful for the free or low-cost help. But many people challenge the fairness and legality of giving one religious group unusual access to prisoners.

State budget crises are forcing states to search for ways to cut prison costs. Their choices include allowing privately sponsored evangelical prison ministries to replace chaplains at lower costs or for free, dropping below the national standard of one chaplain per 500 prisoners, or replacing the paid chaplains with volunteers. Colorado recently replaced all the chaplains in its state prisons with an evangelical Christian prison ministry that offered services for free. In Texas, lawmakers cut 62 state prison chaplain positions in 2003, a 40 percent reduction. In Georgia, legislators are considering a proposal to replace state-funded chaplains with volunteers.

Evangelical prison ministries say that they are answering Jesus' call to visit the imprisoned and recognizing the power of faith to transform troubled inmates into productive citizens. But critics say evangelicals have a conflict: Their faith tells them to win converts, but the law requires prisons - and those who work there - to respect and even encourage the inmates' own religious beliefs, whatever they are. Some inmates, professional chaplains and non-Christian religious leaders accuse evangelical Christians of barring prisoner access to non-evangelical ministers and of forcing inmates to endure evangelizing. Some prison programs grant special privileges for those who profess Christian beliefs....
The chaplains' complaint above was reiterated last week when the New York Times reported that the Bureau of Prisons is currently purging all books of a religious nature within their chaplaincy libraries that do not appear on their self-written approved list [cf. our article below]. The directive was aimed at Muslims, whom they fear are vulnerable to Islamist recruitment, but it is having even more profound effects on the Jewish and mainstream Christian denominations due to the fact that the policy leans heavily in the direction of "popularist and Calvinist evangelical" fundamentalism.

Fortunately, there is good news:

A First for Jewish Inmates in a Texas Prison: High Holy Days Plus Sukkot

HOUSTON, TEXAS -- (September 19, 2007)
Rebecca Rosenthal
W
hile religious books are being purged from federal prison libraries, a Texas state prison hosted a prayer service, complete with two Chabad rabbis and a Torah scroll on Rosh Hashanah.

Twenty-five men, clad in the white pajamas that are Stringfellow Unit’s uniforms, raised their voices in prayer, humming along when words were unfamiliar. Afterward, D.G., a Jewish inmate, sent a letter from his cell in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) to Chabad of Houston’s associate director Rabbi Dovid Goldstein with his thanks.

“A thousand blessings to you and your family. It was without a doubt the best Rosh Hashanah in history since we were incarcerated.”

While many prisons allow inmates to gather for prayer services, allowing rabbis in to lead holiday services and serve holiday meals is out of the ordinary. Stringfellow’s brass went a step further by allowing the rabbis to sleep over in a spare room of the guardhouse.

Enthusiasm for accommodating religious needs has gained momentum since the creation of a Jewish Enhanced Unit on premises in 2005. Kosher food and pastoral care are part of life in the Jewish unit. They gather for services and Rabbi Goldstein’s weekly Torah class, based on Chabad’s Jewish Learning Institute (JLI) curriculum. Volunteers from Houston make the 45 minutes to Rosharon to give the inmates Challah before Shabbat......continues at Chabad Lubavitch Global Network.


Yom Kippur will be celebrated this Saturday, September 22, 2007.

-progress

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