Budget foes, unsatisfied, to fast through Easter

WASHINGTON -- The congressional budget compromise reached last week did not go far enough for some progressive Christian leaders who have vowed to continue their liquid-only fast in hopes of a “better budget.”

Sojourners founder Jim Wallis and Ambassador Tony Hall, executive director of the Alliance to End Hunger, say the poor stand to lose the most in the $38.5 billion in budget cuts, and plan to continue protesting by fasting through Easter.

“This compromise represents the interests of all those who make big campaign contributions but betrays the poor and vulnerable,” Wallis said, referring to the 11th-hour compromise brokered Friday night April 8.

Ill.pharmacists don't have to give morning-after pill

Pharmacists with religious objections to “morning-after” emergency contraceptives cannot be compelled to sell the product, an Illinois Circuit Judge ruled Tuesday.

The Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act was passed in 1998 to shield health care workers from going against their own beliefs. In 2005, then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich issued a ruling to force “pharmacies to fill prescriptions without making moral judgments.”

Two pharmacists, Luke VanderBleek and Glenn Kosirog, sued for the right to not dispense the pills.

Circuit Judge John Belz wrote that the 1998 law “was designed to forbid the government from doing what it aims to do here: coercing individuals or entities to provide healthcare services that violate their belief.”

Attorney Mark Rienzi, who represented the pharmacists with the help of the American Center for Law and Justice, called the ruling “a very good thing.”

“The judge’s decision makes clear that religious people don’t have to give up their religion, don’t have to check their conscience at the door, to enter the health care profession,” Rienzi said.

U.S. Catholics lead other Christians on gay rights

While the Vatican and U.S. bishops maintain a hard-line stand against most gay rights causes, American Catholics are more supportive of gay rights than other U.S. Christians, according to new research released March 22.

A report by Washington-based Public Religion Research Institute found that 74 percent of Catholics favor legal recognition for same-sex relationships, either through civil unions (31 percent) or civil marriage (43 percent).

That figure is higher than the 64 percent of all Americans, 67 percent of mainline Protestants, 48 percent of black Protestants and 40 percent of evangelicals.

Less than one-quarter (22 percent) of Catholics want no legal recognition of same-sex partnerships, while a majority (56 percent) believes that same-sex adult relationships are not sinful.

The analysis was based on polling conducted by PRRI and the Pew Research Center last fall. In almost every category, Catholics scored 5 to 6 percentage points higher on supporting gay rights than other U.S. churches.

Neither Jews (who are generally among the most supportive of gay rights issues) nor Muslims were included in the data because of their small sample size.

U.N. marks 'Interfaith Harmony Week'

The United Nations kicked off the first "World Interfaith Harmony Week" on Tuesday to promote dialogue and civility among the world’s religions.

The observances are meant to reaffirm that “mutual understanding and interreligious dialogue constitute important dimensions of a culture of peace,” according to a resolution passed by the U.N. General Assembly.

The resolution establishes the annual events during the first week ofFebruary each year.

The observances have garnered support from international leaders including King Albert of Belgium and Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad.

The three goals of the “World Interfaith Harmony Week” are to coordinate efforts of positive work; to use places of worship to foster peace; and to encourage religious clergy to declare support for peace.

As many as 44 separate events were scheduled around the world on Wednesday (Feb. 2), according to the World Interfaith Harmony website.