Religion News in Brief

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - A constitutional proposal designed to protect religious school vouchers and other state-funded faith-based programs from legal attack is being revived by the Florida Legislature two years after the state Supreme Court took a similar measure off the ballot.

House and Senate committees Tuesday approved identical versions of the proposed state constitutional amendment on straight party-line votes - Republicans in favor and Democrats against. One more committee hearing is set in each chamber before floor votes can be taken.

The proposal would repeal a ban on taxpayer financial aid to churches, sects and other religious institutions similar to provisions in most state constitutions across the nation.

It would go a step farther than the previous proposal by prohibiting any other kind of ban on individuals, organizations or other entities "participating in any public program because of religion."

Each chamber would have to vote at least 60 percent in favor to get it on the November ballot. It then would need 60 percent voter approval.

Supporters include former Gov. Jeb Bush's Foundation for Florida's Future, the Florida Catholic Conference and Florida Chamber of Commerce. They argue it would support for religious freedom.

Opponents, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, Florida Education Association, Florida PTA and Anti-Defamation League, contend it would open the public purse to parochial schools and other religious organizationsat the expense of public schools. It would include those that discriminate in hiring and espouse bigotry and racism, they said.


Health care overhaul exempts Amish from insurance mandates

GOSHEN, Ind. (AP) - The new federal requirements requiring most people to have health insurance has left room for the Amish - and other religious groups - to maintain their beliefs when it comes to health care.

The landmark health care legislation passed last month will extend coverage to 32 million uninsured Americans. Most people would be required to buy insurance for the first time or face penalties if they refuse.

But a provision in the legislation exempts members of churches that have conscientious objections to private or public insurance. That includes the roughly 239,000 Amish in the United States, about 40,000 of whom live in Indiana.

The Amish traditionally don't vote and have a long-established practice of not participating in government-run programs such as Social Security and Medicare.

"They believe the church has the responsibility, actually the divine responsibility, to provide for its own members. In a sense, God is holding them accountable for taking care of their elderly, their disabled, people who might be out of work," said Steven Nolt, a history professor at Goshen College who studies the Amish and Mennonites.

Lawmakers whose states or districts include large Amish populations pushed for the carve-out to ensure the Amish wouldn't be fined for not participating in the new health insurance mandates.

The exemption does not extend to the employer mandate, which calls for fines of $2,000 per full-time worker each year starting in 2014 if they don't offer insurance. But most Amish businesses would not be affected because they have fewer than 50 employees.


Tax issues raised for Hawaii Catholic retreat centers used by outsiders for conferences

HONOLULU (AP) - Two tax-exempt Roman Catholic organizations say they are unaware of any violations of laws or regulations in their running of retreats at two centers on Oahu.

The city and state are looking into whether the Roman Catholic Church in Hawaii and the Sisters of Sacred Hearts are paying appropriate taxes on the operations.

The religious groups use the centers for internal purposes, including housing for religious personnel and staff offices. But for years, both also have rented meeting and lodging space on the properties to outside organizations for short retreats or conferences.

The church runs St. Stephen Diocesan Center on a 22-acre parcel it owns in Kaneohe. The Sacred Hearts religious institute operates St. Anthony Retreat Center on a 112-acre parcel it owns in Kalihi Valley.


SC judge makes preliminary ruling against church in lawsuit over oversight of college

GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) - A South Carolina judge has blocked the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church's effort to replace nearly half the trustees at Erskine College.

Judge Eugene Griffith said the college's accreditation could be threatened and the school could be harmed if the church carried out its plan to create a new board and approve new bylaws on how Erskine is governed. Three trustees targeted for ouster and the Erskine alumni association have sued over the church's plan.

The judge's April 9th ruling came in the form of a preliminary injunction to maintain the 30-member board while the case is in court.

The dispute arose after a review by a church-appointed commission. The panel concluded that the board had failed to provide proper oversight for the liberal arts college in Abbeville County. The comission also said some professors had created a "culture of intimidation" in which some students felt they were ridiculed because of their religious beliefs.

The Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church established Erskine College in 1839. The school states is mission as providing a liberal arts education in a Christ-centered environment "where learning and biblical truth are integrated to develop the whole person."

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