A convicted-murderer-turned-Pentecostal-preacher is the subject of a lawsuit aimed at restoring what he believes is his right to preach to fellow inmates.
Howard Thompson Jr. was ordained a Pentecostal minister at the New Jersey State Prison (NJSP) eight years ago. He preached weekly worship services at the maximum-security facility until prison officials issued a blanket ban last year on all preaching by inmates, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which filed the federal lawsuit on behalf of Thompson on Wednesday.
The NJSP administrator and the commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Corrections are both named in the suit.
"Prisoners do not forfeit their fundamental right to religious liberty at the prison gate," said Daniel Mach, legal director for the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief. "The prison's absolute ban on inmate preaching clearly violates the law and Mr. Thompson's right to practice his faith."
As a preacher at Sunday services, a teacher in weekly Bible studies, and the founder of the prison choir, Thompson's religious activities have reportedly never caused any security incidents since he was incarcerated in 1986 for robbery and murder. The prison's chaplaincy staff has supported Thompson's preaching since the 1990s when he was asked to fill in for a sick chaplain.
"I have a religious calling to minister to my fellow inmates, and I've done so honestly, effectively and without incident for years," Thompson said. "All I want is to have my religious liberty restored and to be able to continue working with men who want to renew their lives through the study and practice of their faith."
Last year, an ACLU-backed lawsuit challenging similar restrictions on prisoner preaching in Rhode Island successfully overturned a statewide ban.
"Ours is a country where people are free to express their religious viewpoints without having to fear repercussions," said Edward Barocas, legal director of the ACLU of New Jersey. "The New Jersey State Prison may not deny its prisoners their most basic constitutional rights." [charismamag.com, 12/5/08]
Oxford University Press' latest edition of its Junior Dictionary includes some culturally relevant additions such as MP3 player, blog and biodegradable. But it's the ones these words are replacing that have academics and clergy alike up in arms.
For its new release the British publisher omitted words such as minister, chapel, sin, altar, disciple and devil, as well as dozens of terms it believed were outdated because of their predominantly rural use. By nature of the product, the dictionary is restricted in size (10,000 words), meaning words are regularly being culled and replaced. The latest round of edits, according to Oxford representatives, reflect a modern, multifaith, multicultural society.
"When you look back at older versions of dictionaries, there were lots of examples of flowers for instance," said Vineeta Gupta, head of children's dictionaries at Oxford University Press. "That was because many children lived in semirural environments and saw the seasons. Nowadays, the environment has changed. We are also much more multicultural. People don't go to church as often as before. Our understanding of religion is within multiculturalism, which is why some words such as Pentecost or Whitsun would have been in 20 years ago but not now."
Such reasoning isn't working for many in the academic world, who were equally concerned about the loss of British heritage as with the spirituality of future generations. "We have a certain Christian narrative which has given meaning to us over the last 2,000 years. To say it is all relative and replaceable is questionable," said professor Alan Smithers, the director of the centre for education and employment at Buckingham University. "The word selections are a very interesting reflection of the way childhood is going, moving away from our spiritual background and the natural world and toward the world that information technology creates for us." [telegraph.co.uk, 12/8/08]
According to a random sampling of more than 1,200 adult respondents
across the country, one of every five households has decreased its
giving to churches or religious organizations in recent months.
Nonprofits have been hit the hardest, with almost one-third of all
adults (31 percent) donating less to such groups. Among individuals
cutting back on their giving, almost one in five reduced it by as much
as 20 percent. Seventeen percent slashed their giving in half, while 11
percent decreased what they gave away by more than half. Worse still, a
whopping 22 percent have stopped giving altogether.
Not surprisingly, those hit hardest by the economic downturn—and subsequently giving less to churches—are households making less than $20,000, as well as the 43 percent of families struggling with "serious financial debt."
Among those surveyed who attend church, more than one-third said their church had specifically addressed the economic turmoil. A larger percentage of churches (39 percent among Protestant churches) had offered financial counseling to those struggling, while about half (52 percent) had created opportunities for congregants to receive such material assistance as food or clothing.
"Most nonprofits and churches count on the fourth quarter of the year to produce at least one-third of their annual income," said researcher George Barna. "[But] the giving patterns we're witnessing suggest that churches, alone, will receive some $3 billion to $5 billion dollars less than expected during this fourth quarter. The average church can expect to see its revenues dip about 4 to 6 percent lower than would have been expected without the economic turmoil. We anticipate that other nonprofit organizations will be hit even harder." What are churches to do with such a bleak outlook? Beyond the obvious answers of prayer and a greater reliance on God, Barna suggested a shift in financial projections and planning. "With a large share of congregants expecting the nation's economic woes to drag on for several years, it would be wise for churches and nonprofits to reconfigure their financial models and plan to spend more cautiously over the coming two or three quarters," he explained. "Even if a congregation continues to grow numerically, this is not a good time to use dated financial projections and models. People's attitudes about generosity have been altered, as shown by their immediate donation behavior. We anticipate that a greater percentage of churchgoers will decrease both their giving levels and frequency over the next year or so. This is a time for church leaders to demonstrate restraint and wisdom in their financial decisions." [barna.org, 12/1/08]
Though the massive initiative is estimated to cost Wycliffe nearly $1
billion over the next 10 years, the recent unexpected donation, which
was earmarked specifically for the campaign, could give the project the
kind of kick-start it needs for setting out to achieve its goal.
"People without a written language need one," wrote the anonymous donor. "Literacy is a key to helping people work their way out of poverty and to resist oppression by others. Children who first learn to read in their own language are more likely to become literate and to stay in school than those who first learn in a different language."
Bob Creson, president of Orlando, Fla.-headquartered Wycliffe USA, praised the generous donor for taking what he said was "a bold step of faith" that would help the organization reach "more than 200 million people in Bibleless language communities with the life-changing message of the gospel."
Wycliffe works with thousands worldwide in translating what professionals call "the world's most effective missionary"—the Bible. Aside from learning to speak, write and eventually translate the native tongues of remote villagers worldwide, Bible translators stress the important communal side effects of maintaining a Bible-translation program, such as literacy, water-purifying systems, and AIDS and human rights education. [charismamag.com, 11/26/08]