Diversity a la Booth
Cherie Booth, wife of British P.M. Tony Blair, has intervened in the case of a 15-year old Muslim girl who was prevented from wearing a burqa to school. Booth claims the school violated the student’s homan rights, and is seeking a declaration that the school acted unlawfully. “‘I say our policy is to respect diversity,'” said Booth, “‘and it is not for a public authority to judge which beliefs are more valid than others.'” When asked whether a school must accomodate a student who wanted to cover her face though, Booth qualified her call for diversity by saying the Human Rights Convention only protects freedom of though, conscience and religion, not cultural beliefs.
Sharia Law Review in Canada
On Monday, former Canadian attorney general Marion Boyd released a report on the 1991 Arbitration Act, which allows religious groups to arbitrate civil disputes, and under which a Canadian Muslim group plans to implement a form of sharia law. In her review, Boyd argued that amendments to the act would prevent abuse of women, but the opposition group International Campaign To Stop Sharia Law in Canada, has promised court battles and a possible Charter of Rights challenge to any province that accepts Boyd’s proposals. The groups’ lawyers are preparing studies of recent arbitration cases to highlight how immigrant women will be victimized by the supposedly consensual operation of sharia law over family matters.
Playwright in Hiding
Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, author of the play that has caused violent protests among Sikhs in England, has reportedly gone into hiding after receiving threats of kidnapping and murder.
Gay Target
Christian conservative groups like Concerned Women for America, the American Family Association and the Christian Defense Coalition say they’ve found the culprit behind Target’s decision to bar Salvation Army bell-ringers. Fortuitously for them, it’s not some ambiguous corporate policy, or capitalism itself, but a more familiar enemy: homosexuals. That’s right, according to groups organizing the catchily-named Target boycott, “Operation Teach-Scrooge-a-Lesson,” gay-rights groups pressured Target to drop the Salvation Army kettles because the organization refuses to give domestic-partner benefits to its employees. LGBT rights groups have denied any lobbying efforts, and Target has consistently maintained the decision was made to be fair to the other charities requesting permission to solicit as well.
Year of Christ Archaeology
After a hard year’s work, finding John’s baptismal cave and the skull of the pharaoh’s eldest son, archaeologists haved earned a drink. So far, all they’ve found are shards from large stone jars at a location which might be Cana, the biblical site of Jesus’ first miracle, turning water into wine.
No Jews Christians Homosexuals Irish Need Apply
A little-noticed case with big implications: “Finding Title VII’s exemption for religious institutions ‘is not limited to facilities where prayer takes place,'” writes The Legal Intelligencer, “a magistrate judge has dismissed a suit against a Jewish community center brought by an evangelical Christian who claims she was fired because she attended a ‘Jews for Jesus’ concert.” Christianity Today‘s Ted Olsen says this is “good news” for evangelicals, who can use this precedent to fight for “faith-based” hiring (and firing) in publicly-funded religious organizations — i.e., the Salvation Army can fire gay employees and still get government cheese. Or an evangelical soup kitchen with federal funding can refuse to hire a Unitarian. Or a Muslim homeless shelter financed with gov’t cash can stick to a no-Christians staff.

How far does it go? Nobody knows. U.S. Magistrate Judge Jacob P. Hart ruled that any organization having religion among its primary purposes may be exempt from equal opportunity employment rules under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. In the case at hand, that category included an “essentially secular” Jewish community center, in which Hart found a “pervasive Jewish orientation.”

Two interesting problems arise from that conclusion. The first is that of the old debate between Jewishness and Judaism. For instance, I used to work for an explicitly secular Jewish organization. Would it have been entitled to hire only Jews? How about hiring only secular Jews? There’s a pretty slippery slope here, and at the bottom lies a white power church in Idaho seeking federal funds for its own “faith-based” initiative.

The other problem is that of this ruling’s vague definition of organization. How about the bank recently described in the New York Times Magazine’s cover story on Christian workplaces? Would they be entitled to hire and fire on religious grounds?

Bottom line: This isn’t “good news,” as Christianity Today hopes, nor is it really bad news: It’s a story waiting to be more fully reported.

Taking the Christmas Out of Christianity
And then there are the Christians who don’t believe in Christmas at all… Donna Gehrke-White of Knight Ridder Newspapers adds a log to the What Is Christmas About? fire with a story on the Florida Sunset Church of Christ, the leaders of which decided not to celebrate Christmas more than 100 years ago, as early Christians never documented Christ’s birthday, and there was no reference to it in the Bible. She also notes 4th Century debates over the holiday and a Puritan Christmas-ban which imposed fines on Christmas celebrants.
23% of Brits to Blame

British Bishop Jonathan Gledhill insisted in his Christmas message that England was not a multi-faith country, but still a solidly Christian one, with 72% of recent respondents to a UK census identifying themselves as Christian, and only 5% as belonging to “other religions.” Gledhill also noted that, as “other religions” were only 5% of the country, incidents of people not using the word “Christmas” couldn’t be blamed on people of other faiths. Presumably, they should be blamed on the other, unspecified 23%.