Religious Diversity News

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Winter Solstice Celebrants Arrested

Source: The New York Times

On December 23, 1998 the New York Times reported that 33 participants in a
Winter Solstice celebration were charged with trespassing. The Staten
Island beach is technically closed after dusk, and the ritual fire
was seen as problematic. “Ms. Henes, 53, said she had held at least
15 solstice ceremonies on South Beach and never run into a problem
before. ‘In the past,’ she said, ‘sometimes the Fire Department has
come because someone has seen the fire, and we say, look, this is our
religion, and they have been very respectful and let us finish the
ceremony.'” (NYT, December 22, 1998, Section B, Page 5, Column
1, Metropolitan Desk) The next day, the paper reported that the ACLU
was asking the City to drop all charges before the court date,
scheduled for January 25. The executive director of the ACLU, Norman
Siegel commented, “‘What the city should be doing is accommodating
these diverse religious, cultural and political events that help make
up the zaniness of New York City. But instead of enhancing them, they
are making it a crime.'”

Muslims in the U.S. Military

Source: The Washington Post

On December 21, 1998, the Washington Post published an
article entitled, “Military, Muslim Life Meld on U.S. Bases.” The
article noted the increased recognition and visibility of Islam in
the Armed Forces, including “appointing three Muslim chaplains,
beginning with the Army in 1993; drafting about a dozen others into
chaplain training programs; offering pork-free field rations;
allowing Muslims to leave duty stations to attend prayers on Friday
… ; facilitating travel to Mecca for Muslim personnel making the
hajj, or pilgrimage, to that holy city; and according Islamic symbols
parity with those of other religions.”

Ramadan Reflections

Source: The Atlanta Journal and Constitution

On December 19, 1998, The Atlanta Journal and Constitution
published an article on Ramadan and the Muslim community in Atlanta.
The Islamic Circle of North America in Marietta, GA reports that
there are about 50,000 Muslims, representing 100 countries, living
and working in metro Atlanta. There are 12 mosques in metro Atlanta,
including centers in downtown Atlanta, Marietta, Norcross, and
Roswell.

Hanukkah – Menorah Lightings

Source: The Washington Post

On December 14, 1998, the Washington Post reported that
the National Menorah on the Ellipse in Washington, D.C. was lit at
nightfall on Sunday, December 13th. The National Menorah stands 30
feet in height, the maximum allowable under Jewish Law, and in front
of the National Christmas Tree.

First Hindu Temple in Baltimore Area

Source: The Baltimore Sun

On December 12, 1998, The Baltimore Sun reported on the
dedication of the $2.3 million Greater Baltimore Temple, the first
Hindu Temple in the Baltimore region, in Finksburg, MD. With more
than 1,000 people expected to participate in the 3-day dedication
events, the Greater Baltimore Temple will be the worship center for
approximately 1,600 Hindu families in metro Baltimore and southern
Pennsylvania. The 14,000 square-foot building includes a temple hall,
a library, and a community center with space for 350 people.

American Muslim Council Praises Military on Ramadan Accommodation

Source: American Muslim Council

http://www.amconline.org/medias/Release/messages/81.html

On December 9, 1998, the American Muslim Council issued a press
release expressing their appreciation for the “efforts of the US
Military in providing greater understanding and accommodation for
Muslims in the Service during Ramadan and `Id al Fitr.” The statement
continued, “The Armed Forces Chaplains Board has issued notification
that during Ramadan, Muslims in the Service may be released from duty
at least half-an-hour before sunset to help them break their fast.
The memorandum has also suggested to exempt Muslims from rigorous
daily physical and field training during the month. Furthermore, the
memorandum has recommended liberal leave policy to allow Service
Members and Department of Defense civilians to celebrate `Id al
Fitr.” For more information about the AMC, visit
website.

Creche Controversies

Source: No source given.

In Somerset, MA, a 60-year tradition of a creche on the front lawn of the Somerset Town Hall was ruled unconstitutional because it violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment. On December 1st, 1998, the Boston Globe reported on the federal ruling by US District Court Judge Richard G. Stearns in Boston (December 1, 1998, Boston Globe, Metro/Region, Pg. B1). Stearns ruled this particular creche presentation unconstitutional because it offered “no superabundance of secular symbols to dilute the religious message of the creche.” On December 12th, 1998, the Globe reported that Somerset unveiled a new holiday display, complete with a menorah, two reindeer nibbling on a Christmas tree, Frosty the Snowman, a lit-up sign that reads “Season’s Greetings,” an 18-foot Santa Claus, and a creche to try and conform with the ruling (December 12, 1998, Boston Globe, Metro/Region, p. A1). Gil Lawrence Amancio, the New England regional director for American Atheists Inc. who brought the case to court, stated that the new display is a “confusing hodgepodge of stuff.” Despite the new display, the town is appealing the ruling.

Creche Controversies

Source: Newsday

On December 7, 1998, Newsday reported that a fire destroyed the Nativity scene of the Village of Massapequa Park on December 4th. Steven Zimmerman, assistant chief of the Massapequa Fire Department, stated that “we don’t know exactly what caused the fire, but it does seem suspicious.”

Hanukkah – Menorah Lightings

Source: The New York Times

On December 5, 1998, the New York Times reported that the
American Friends of Lubavitch, a Hasidic Jewish sect headquartered in
Crown Heights, Brooklyn, has set up a website – www.chanukah98.com
to broadcast simultaneously the lighting of menorahs in Jerusalem,
Moscow, New York, and Paris at 3:15pm (Eastern time) on Sunday,
December 13th.

Burmese Buddhist Community Blocked From Building a Worship Center in California

Source: Tricycle: The Buddhist Review

In the Winter 1998 issue of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review,
an article reported on the struggle by the Myanmar Buddhist Society
of America to establish a monastery and worship center in Chino,
CA. In January of 1998, Chino City officials said that they would
not grant a sewer connection to the proposed worship center because it
would produce unmanageable traffic volumes for the small community.
In a public hearing in April, the planning commission concluded that the
concern over increased traffic was exaggerated and recommended that
the proposed plan for the worship center be approved. In July, at the urging of a
coalition of Chino residents, a building permit was denied to the
Buddhist Society. The citizen’s group, while decrying any notion of
bias against Buddhism, argued that the monastery’s presence might
“result in the dilution of both community values and property
values.” The Myanmar Buddhist Society has now filed a state lawsuit
against Chino, alleging violation of First Amendment rights under the
1998 Religious Liberty Protection Act, which allows land use
legislation that substantially burdens religious exercise only if it
meets a compelling interest test.