Religious Diversity News

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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.

Sikh Community in Houston Has Tradition of Helping in Local Shelter

Source: The Houston Chronicle

On November 29, 1998, the Houston Chronicle reported on
the tradition that has developed at the Star of Hope shelter in
Houston with the area Sikh community. What started five years ago as
an annual feast prepared by the Sikh community at the shelter has
turned into a monthly event. The Sikh volunteers, who buy, cook and
serve the food, create an Italian-Mexican offering of enchiladas and
lasagna to suit the Texan diet. Hardeep Kaur Singh, one of the
volunteers, stated, “we thought we needed to give back to this
community because we’re flourishing…our guru teaches us to help
those less fortunate.” Mary Smith, a resident at the shelter, stated,
“I really appreciate their efforts, and I hope they continue…it
takes people like this to help you get back on your feet.”

Launching of the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization

Source: The Boston Globe

On November 23, 1998, The Boston Globe reported on the launching of the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization (GBIO). About 4,000 people from many different congregations gathered to discuss working together. “By galvanizing such a broad array of religious congregations, leaders hope to make the GBIO a potent force to tackle vital issues, including the quality of public schools, affordable housing, and fair wages.”

Islamic School in Broward County

Source: Sun-Sentinel

On November 21, 1998, Florida’s Sun-Sentinel reported
that the student body at Nur-Ul-Islam Academy in southwestern Broward
County has quintupled in two years, from 33 to 165 students.
Nur-Ul-Islam, which educates preschool through 10th grade, is the
only Islamic school in Broward County and offers a curriculum of
Arabic, Qur’anic studies, Islamic studies, math, English, and
geography.

The Success of Buddhism in Southern California

Source: Los Angeles Times

On November 14, 1998, the Los Angeles Times published an
article on the growth of Buddhism in Southern California. According
to J. Gordon Melton of the Institute for the Study of Religion at UC
Santa Barbara, Southern California is the only place in the world
where all of the more than 100 types of Buddhism are practiced.
Melton states: “Over the past 10 years, we’ve had a fairly high level
of immigration from Buddhist countries to the Southern California
area…What this means is that 40% of all Buddhists in the U.S. live
in Southern California.” Despite the growing number of immigrants, a
large number of practitioners of Buddhism in Southern California are
non-Asian. Soka Gakkai International, the largest Buddhist
organization in Southern California, has approximately 20,000 members
with a racial breakdown of 41% white, 23.4% Asian, 14.6% black, and
5.7% Latino. Many traditional sects of Buddhism from Korea and Japan
are beginning to decline in the region as succeeding generations from
immigrant families “assimilate and weaken ties to the faith of their
ancestors.” Speaking in reference to the Japanese community in
Southern California, Rev. Noriaki Ito of the Higashi Hongwanji Temple
in Little Tokyo states: “We’re starting to realize, with the
assimilation of the Japanese community almost complete, that we can
no longer depend on the ethnic members to sustain us in the future.”