A Moscow ruling bans the Jehovah’s Witnesses, after a six-year court battle over the group’s legal registration under Russia’s 1997 law on religion. Fred Weir, of The Christian Science Monitor explains what the ban means for the group’s 10,000-member Moscow community. They are forbidden to rent premises, print literature, or officially assemble, and were ordered by the court to “‘terminate their activity,’ which could subject members to fines or arrest simply for gathering in a private home or discussing their faith with friends…The group has angered a succession of Russian governments by its refusal to celebrate national holidays or perform military service. Its tough intracommunity discipline and an assertive style of proselytizing new converts has also irritated authorities.”

9:30 am: Sarcelles, France, home to an estimated 15,000 Jews, is the focus of painful debate about the future of Jews in France, reports The Christian Science Monitor’s Peter Ford. An increase in anti-Semitic incidents has promted not just fear, but an Israeli campaign to bring new French immigrants to the Jewish state. “‘There is no future for Jews in France,’ laments Daniel Haik, one of the synagogue’s administrators. ‘We suffered one ethnic cleansing when we were forced to leave Tunisia and we are on the verge of another.'” Last week an official of the Jewish Agency, a quasigovernmental Israeli body encouraging Jews to immigrate, termed the agency’s focus on France as the ‘Sarcelles First’ plan–a play on Israel’s “Gaza First” plan to withdraw all settlers from that territory.

8:54 am: The Wisconsin Freedom From Religion Foundation brought a lawsuit on Thursday against the Bush administration over the president’s faith-based initiatives, alleging that the program illegally favors religious organizations over secular ones when distributing federal contracts, and is, in effect, promoting religion. Read more.

8:45 am: “‘The contention that the present scandal is isolated to this era is completely debunked by the Roman Catholic Church’s own documents,'” Father Thomas P. Doyle toldWilliam Lobdell of the L.A. Times. After scouring ancient Vatican records and forgotten Latin texts, Doyle and former monks Richard Sipe and Patrick Wall claim that the church has recognized the problem of abuse by priests for at least 1,700 years and has failed to address it successfully. The three have authored a 375-page report, “Canonical History of Clerical Sexual Abuse,” and are currently looking for a publisher.