Religious Diversity News

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Synagogue Arson in California

Source: Los Angeles Times

On June 19, 1999, the Los Angeles Times reported that
three Sacramento synagogues were set on fire about 35 minutes apart
on the morning of June 18th. Flyers were left at the synagogue
linking Jews and the “Jewsmedia” with profiting from the war in
Kosovo through Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who recently
discovered her Jewish ancestry. Abraham H. Foxman, national director
of the Anti-Defamation League, called the arsons, “clearly the worst
such attacks in years.” Sacramento has been the scene of previous
hate crimes, with a firebombing outside Congregation B’nai Israel six
years ago and a black church burned to the ground three years ago.
Within hours of the attacks, the FBI and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol,
Tobacco, and Firearms were mobilized to join the investigation with
local police.

Synagogue Arson in California

Source: Sacramento Bee

On June 19, 1999, the Sacramento Bee reported on the
efforts by area temples to help the three congregations. Area
congregations have donated prayer books, Torahs, and sanctuary space.
Marc Carrel, chairman of the Jewish Community Relations Council,
stated: “Any incident against one house of worship is an act of
violence against the whole community. Every Sacramentan should be
outraged.” Mosaic Law Congregation, a Conservative synagogue, opened
its doors to Congregation Beth Shalom to have Shabbat services and a
Bat Mitzvah ceremony and offered a Torah to the Orthodox Knesset
Israel Torah Center.

Interfaith Efforts

Source: The Boston Herald

On June 18, 1999, The Boston Herald published an article
on the nonprofit Boston Justice Ministries, which is a coalition of
eleven area churches and synagogues who have worked over the past
year to help free women from violent domestic situations while
honoring their beliefs. Rev. Anne Marie Hunter, a United Methodist
minister who founded Boston Justice Ministries, stated: “There were
too many women of faith that I was hearing from that were staying in
abusive relationships because of their faith. Also, I was hearing
about people’s faith being used as a club against them.” Sermons,
workshops, and even meetings with local law-enforcement agencies have
taken place in the eleven congregations to help with the problem.
Donna Cabey, a lay participant from Berea Seventh Day Adventist
Church in Dorchester, stated: “God does not call any of us to live in
violent situations. And we all have the responsibility to make our
homes peaceful, healthy homes.”

Hindu Temple of Kentucky

Source: The Courier-Journal

On June 16, 1999, The Courier-Journal reported that there
will be five days of ceremonies and celebrations from June 16-20 to
dedicate the new Hindu Temple of Kentucky in eastern Jefferson
County. The new building, which took 12 years and $1.2 million to
construct, consists of 6 large and 7 small interior temples. The
first Hindu Temple of Kentucky, which opened in 1989, is adjacent to
the new complex and will be used for social gatherings. About 80
percent of the 400 Indian families who live in the Louisville area
are Hindu, and approximately 100 of those families belong to the
Hindu Temple of Kentucky.

Controversy over Conversion to Judaism

Source: The New York Times

On June 13, 1999, a The New York Times published an
article on issues of conversion in the Jewish religion. Gary A. Tobin,
president of the Institute for Jewish and Community Research in San
Francisco, advocates “a positive, welcoming approach to non-Jews
becoming Jews.” Approximately 180,000, or 3 percent, of the American
Jewish population are converts, who are mostly married or engaged to
Jews. Tobin believes that reaching out to non-Jews asserts the
American Jewish position in a democratic, religiously pluralistic
society: “We’re strong enough and secure enough that we can think
about growth.” Jack Wertheimer, provost and professor of American
Jewish history at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York,
objects to an open campaign for converting non-Jews: “There is a deep
concern about this kind of approach among people in all sectors of
American Judaism” because he feels that major efforts to convert are
“an expression of panic, a real lack of faith” in “traditional
methods of transmitting Jewish identity.”

Interfaith Efforts

Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

On June 13, 1999, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported
that the Racine Interfaith Coalition in Racine, Wisconsin collected
107 guns in a weekend “buy-back” on June 5-6, which was designed to
make streets safer. The Coalition raised close to $20,000 for the
buy-back to provide $50 and $100 gift certificates for the Regency
Mall in Wisconsin to those who returned the guns. The persons
returning the guns were asked no questions; seven illegal weapons
were among the 107.

Controversy over Religious Rights of Pagans in the Military

Source: The Houston Chronicle

On June 11, 1999, The Freedom Forum Online offered an Associated Press article reporting that Religious groups urge Christians to boycott Army over Wiccans. The Houston Chronicle published a similar article stating that “conservative Christian organizations this week called for a nationwide boycott of the Army, demanding it reverse its policy of accommodating soliders with alternative religious beliefs.”

Interfaith Efforts

Source: Sacramento Bee

On June 9, 1999, the Sacramento Bee reported that a
coalition of religious leaders in the Northern California
Interreligious Conference and the California Council of Churches have
produced a report entitled, “Welfare Reform: Public Policy and
Theological Reflections,” which aims to spell out needed changes in
CalWORKS, the California program that seeks to trim the welfare load
by 80 percent. The report contains findings based on conversations of
clergy and public policy specialists with social service providers,
religious leaders, welfare recipients, and others who are taking part
in the welfare-to-work program.

Controversy over Religious Rights of Pagans in the Military

Source: The Washington Post

On June 8, 1999, The Washington Post published an article
on the current situation of Wiccans in the military. The first Wiccan
group to be recognized by the military was the Fort Hood Open Circle,
which was formed two years ago at the largest military post in the
nation, Fort Hood, Texas. Since then, groups have formed on military
bases in Louisiana, Alaska, Okinawa, and Florida. The group in Fort
Hood drew public attention in March 1999, when they invited a
photographer to witness their spring ceremony and photos were printed
in the Austin American Statesman. The photos drew the ire of
politicians, especially Representative Robert Barr of Georgia, who
wrote, “Please stop this nonsense now,” to the commanding officer of
at Fort Hood. Many are disturbed by tolerance of minority religions
in the military, specifically “off-beat” religions like Wicca. Marcy
Palmer, the Fort Hood high priestess, stated that the military has
not been as bad as the outside world “Most people think of
(soldiers) as mindless robots who kill babies. But we see
more discrimination in the civilian world. The military is actually
more sensitive.” The Wiccans in Fort Hood have been granted a
campsite to use as their sacred space, which has helped a great deal
in allowing Wiccans to be more open about their religion. Sgt.
Campanaro, a Fort Hood Wiccan, stated: “I keep meeting people I never
knew were Wiccans. I’ve never seen so many out in one place.”

Steven Seagal Speaks in Minnesota

Source: Star Tribune

On June 6, 1999, the Star Tribune reported that Steven
Seagal spoke at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul to an audience of
600 on June 4th, 1999 to raise money for schools in Tibet and for the
Minneapolis Shambhala Center, which is part of an international
network that promotes Buddhist teachings. Seagal, a devout Buddhist
who was controversially dubbed an incarnate lama in 1997, is
currently on hiatus from Hollywood in order to devote more time to
his “compulsive teaching sprees.”