CULTURE DIGEST: Pastor jailed, fined for home church; city says it's a zoning issue
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP) -- An Arizona pastor whose at-home worship services and Bible studies regularly drew as many as 80 people has been sentenced to 60 days in jail, ordered to pay a $12,180 fine and given three years of probation.
In a decision upheld on appeal, the Maricopa County Superior Court found Michael Salman guilty of 67 building code violations. Salman contends the case is about religious freedom.
Phoenix city officials said the case centers on compliance with zoning and building code laws designed to protect the public. After he was ordered to host no more than 12 worshippers at a time at his home, Salman gained in 2008 a building permit to attach a 2,000-square-foot private game room to his home but began using the room as Harvest Christian Fellowship Community Church, according to a fact sheet posted on the city's website. The usage violated the building permit, which prohibits any use of the facility other than a private game room.
"The Michael Salman court case is about building safety," the city said. "Due to the regular, reoccurring high vehicular traffic in this quiet residential neighborhood, neighbors repeatedly complained about the public assembly occurring on his property. Because of the multiple, reoccurring complaints, the city investigated the activity and discovered numerous building code violations primarily related to fire safety standards."
Salman has launched a campaign for his freedom, drawing public support and representation from civil liberties attorney John Whitehead, founder of the Rutherford Institute.
"What happened to Michael Salman ... illustrates the absurdity of government officials prosecuting individuals for engaging in religious activity on their private property," Whitehead said in a Rutherford news release. "That Michael Salman and his family and friends are not allowed to gather in private to study the Bible goes against every founding principle of the United States of America."
PENTAGON HOLDS FIRST GAY PRIDE EVENT -- The U.S. military has broken with history, holding its first celebration of homosexuality at the Pentagon.
Jeh Johnson, general counsel of the U.S. Department of Defense, delivered a keynote address before a panel discussion titled "The Value of Open Service and Diversity" June 26.
Johnson co-wrote the report that eventually led to the Obama administration's dismantling last fall of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy which prevented homosexuals from serving openly in the military. Johnson said the CIA held its first gay pride event 12 years ago and that repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell has not affected the military in any tangible way.
"We lifted a real and personal burden from their shoulders. They no longer have to live a lie in the military. They no longer have to teach a child to lie to protect her father's career," Johnson said of homosexual service members. "All of us should applaud the near flawless manner in which the entire military implemented this policy and unconditionally welcomed their brothers and sisters to the table."
Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, said that statement is false.
"There have been signs of discontent with the situation," she said, citing a U.S. Army study on stress and sex crime trends. "The most important thing is, people in the military follow orders, and one is you don't go out and question policy once it's been changed. So there's no vehicle for people in the military to register discomfort with the new LGBT law."
Ron Crews, executive director of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, agreed.
"In fact," he said, "I know some officers who've been ordered by their commanders not to speak to the press, whereas those who have been supportive of the policy are brought out before the press. We have a double standard."
Contrary to the Pentagon event's title, Donnelly said "diversity" actually weakens the military, and that civilian activists are using it as a crucible for social engineering.
"What makes our military strong are the intangibles -- dedication to the mission, selfless service, putting the mission ahead of individual interests," she said. "If you have a faction that says, 'It's about me, me, us, us,' that's inherently divisive. There's no evidence the kind of diversity being talked about there today will be helpful to the military."
MO. GOV. VETOES RELIGIOUS LIBERTY PROTECTION -- Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has vetoed legislation that would protect the religious liberties of employers and employees against the abortion-contraceptive mandate included in the health care reform law supported by the Obama administration.
It appears, however, both houses of the Missouri legislature may be able to achieve the two-thirds majorities to override Nixon's July 12 veto. The Senate approved the bill with a 28-6 vote, while the House of Representatives voted 105-33 for the measure, according to LifeNews.com.
The abortion-contraceptive mandate in the law commonly referred to as "Obamacare" requires all plans to cover contraceptives and sterilizations as preventive services without cost to employees under a federal rule announced in January. The mandate includes coverage of contraceptives that can cause abortions of tiny embryos. The rule regarding that mandate has a religious exemption critics find woefully inadequate and has elicited ardent opposition from church groups and religious freedom advocates.
The vetoed bill would protect employers or employees from being required to purchase health insurance that covers abortion, contraception or sterilization if doing so would conflict with their "religious beliefs or moral convictions," LifeNews reported.
In his veto message, Nixon said the state already has a law protecting religious freedom in such cases. He also said he opposes a provision in the new bill empowering insurance companies to deny contraceptive coverage to women and "override the rights and beliefs of employees and employers."
Pam Fichter, president of Missouri Right to Life, said in a written statement she is "sincerely disappointed that Governor Nixon has chosen to give away our religious liberties to Washington politicians."
The bill "would have sent a clear message that pro-life Missourians oppose participating in the taking of innocent human lives against our religious beliefs," she said. "Governor Nixon joins the Obama Administration in attacking our religious liberty by supporting the [Department of Health and Human Services] mandate forcing all Missourians to pay for insurance that includes abortion coverage even if doing so is a violation of our religious beliefs."
Nixon, a Democrat, is running for re-election this year.
TEEN'S DEATH PUTS FOCUS ON ASSISTED REPRODUCTION -- Sushma Pandey was only 17 when she died in Mumbai, India, after having donated eggs for at least the third time in 18 months.
Nearly two years later, her death is bringing attention to India's unregulated assisted reproduction industry, The Indian Express reported July 12.
Pandey died Aug. 10, 2010, two days after she had gone to a hospital, Rotunda -- The Centre for Human Reproduction, apparently to donate eggs. Police investigations showed she also had gone to the center as an egg donor in February 2009, October 2009 and possibly February 2010, according to The Express.
An examination after her death showed she had six injection marks, an abrasion, four contusions and a blood clot in the head, The Express reported. The likely cause of death "was shock, possibly due to such multiple injuries," according to the Bombay High Court. "The histopathological report showed some congestion in ovaries and uterus."
The High Court rebuked police for not investigating the hospital, according to The Express. Police are waiting on a doctors committee report to determine what steps they may take against the hospital.
"What happened to Sushma Pandey is happening to women every day, all over the world. The infertility industry knows the seriousness of the health risks, yet objects to any oversight, to long-term studies, and to regulation, simply because it will compromise their profits," said Jennifer Lahl, president of the Center for Bioethics and Culture and producer of the video documentary "Eggsploitation."
Women must receive injections of a strong drug to undergo ovarian hyperstimulation before donating their eggs for use in in vitro fertilization. The eggs are extracted by a 12-inch needle inserted into each ovary. Among the possible risks for donors are ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, infertility and kidney disease, critics say.
'DEATH PATHWAY' MAY BE USED TO CUT COSTS -- British hospitals may be placing thousands of terminally ill patients on a "death pathway" to save money, elder care experts have warned.
In a letter to The Daily Telegraph, six doctors -- in alliance with the Medical Ethics Alliance, a Christian organization -- issued the warning about the Liverpool Care Pathway, the newspaper reported July 8. The pathway, which empowers healthcare providers to withdraw medication and fluids from patients in their final days, is used in as much as 29 percent of hospital deaths.
Natural death is a less painful manner of dying than the withholding of fluids and drugs, the doctors said in their letter. There is no "scientific way of diagnosing imminent death," they said, according to The Telegraph. "It is essentially a prediction, and it is possible that other considerations may come into reaching such a decision, not excluding the availability of resources."
One of the six doctors -- retired geriatrics specialist Gillian Craig -- told the newspaper, "If you are cynical about it, as I am, you can see it as a cost-cutting measure, if you don't want your beds to be filled with old people."
The pathway "is not about saving money," a Department of Health spokesperson told The Telegraph. "It is an established and respected tool that is recommended by [the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence] and has overwhelming support from clinicians at home and abroad."
Compiled by Tom Strode and Diana Chandler of Baptist Press and by World News Service. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).