Thursday, July 13, 2006

Two states of religious freedom

Catholic News Service posted two stories yesterday that will be in our archives for the next 30 days. Each takes a look at religious freedom -- one in Russia and one in England. The state of religious freedom in either country is, depending on how things turn out, heading in separate directions. The once-repressive Russia is now opening more to religious freedom, while England may be one the verge of restricting it under the guise of the homosexual movement (as is happening in other western countries.

Excerpts follow...

Freedom stable for church in Russia, say religious liberty experts

While the Catholic Church still has problems in Russia, the religious freedom situation has stabilized, said officials of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom after returning from a fact-finding trip.

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"The Catholic situation in Russia is rather stable," said Tad Stahnke, commission deputy director for policy.

He described the situation as "half on, half off."

As an example, he cited a Catholic church that had been turned into a library under the Soviet government. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, the new government decided to keep the building as a library but gave Catholics permission to build a new church, he said.

"I went to the construction site. The church was half finished but no one was working on it," said Stahnke.

Kathy Cosman, commission senior policy analyst on Russia, said that there are no new problems in getting visas for foreign Catholic priests and religious to work in Russia, but old problems have not been resolved.

U.K. bishops worry rules to protect gays could hurt adoption agencies

Catholic adoption agencies in Britain could be forced to close if legislators pass regulations to give gays and lesbians more rights, said the bishops of England and Wales.

Church leaders are seeking exemptions to the British government's proposed sexual orientation regulations, designed to make discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation illegal in the same way as discrimination based on race or sex.

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In their submission, the bishops also expressed concern about the implications of the regulations for Catholic schools, which they said would be limited in what they could teach children about the church's moral teaching.

The regulations also would force the church's marriage preparation and guidance agencies to cater to gay couples and would not allow parishes the right to refuse the use of their halls to groups at odds with church teaching. It could also become illegal for Catholic conference and retreat centers to refuse bookings from gay and lesbian groups, and the Catholic press would be unable to refuse certain advertisements, the bishops said.

They said they have "serious misgivings" about the regulations because they make no distinction between "homophobia" and a "conviction, based on religious belief and moral conscience, that homosexual practice is wrong."

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