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CULTURE DIGEST: Boy Scouts ‘shocked’ over leader’s arrest; court says Bible can’t be used; Americans skipping church

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Boy Scouts of America officials are reacting with astonishment after one of their own pleaded guilty to one count of possessing and distributing child pornography over the Internet.

Douglas S. Smith Jr., 61, directed a national task force aimed at protecting children from sexual abuse but was charged March 21 with a federal child pornography crime.

“We’re shocked and dismayed to learn of this,” Gregg Shields, national spokesman for the Boy Scouts, said March 29. “Smith was employed by the Boy Scouts for 39 years and we had no indication of prior criminal activity.”

Shields added that he has no reason to believe any child pornography activity occurred on Boy Scouts premises, according to The Dallas Morning News. And to his knowledge, none of the photos of children in sexually explicit situations in the case involved Boy Scouts.

Reports indicate the national headquarters Irving, Texas, learned in late February that German and U.S. authorities were investigating Smith, a mid-level Scouts manager, for distributing child pornography over the Internet. Boy Scout officials allowed the authorities to search Smith’s office and computer, and Smith was placed on administrative leave, The Dallas Morning News reported. Soon after, Smith retired.

For the past couple of years, Smith had served as the task force administrator of The Youth Protection Task Force, which meant managing the distribution of literature, video tapes, a website and other resources that teach adults and children how to detect and prevent child abuse. He did not have direct contact with children, Shields said.

Smith’s sentencing in July could entail five to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

The alleged crime is “not the action of the Boy Scouts of America,” Shields said. “This is the action of one individual. It certainly doesn’t represent our values or mission.”

JURY’S BIBLE READING VOIDS DEATH PENALTY — The Colorado Supreme Court has ruled that a lower court was correct in overturning a death sentence for a man who raped and murdered a woman because the jury in his trial read excerpts from the Bible during deliberations.

In 1994, a 29-year-old telephone operator named Robert Harlan kidnapped a casino waitress on her way home from work, according to The Denver Post. He shot and permanently paralyzed a woman who tried to save the waitress, and after raping the waitress at gunpoint for two hours, he shot her in the head.

Jurors in Harlan’s 1995 trial sentenced him to death, but defense lawyers discovered they had consulted the Bible, specifically a passage from Leviticus that commands an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, The Post recounted.

After years of appeals, the state Supreme Court ruled 3-2 March 28 that the citation of a Bible passage unduly influenced deliberations.

Colorado Gov. Bill Owens said the ruling was “demeaning to people of faith.”

“Even the justices who voted to overturn the penalty agreed that moral values and religious beliefs are important and can be part of the debate among jurors,” Owens said in a statement. “I’m disappointed to see that the Court would supersede the will of the jury and the people of Colorado … on such a technicality.”

Tom Minnery, vice president for government and public policy for Focus on the Family, said it is not wrong to use biblical principles to determine whether the death penalty should be imposed.

“Today’s ruling further confirms that the judicial branch of our government is bereft of any moral foundation,” he said in a statement, according to The Post. “It is a sad day when the Bible is banned from a jury room.”

MORE AMERICANS SKIPPING CHURCH — The latest study by The Barna Group identifies a growing trend for spiritual Americans to exercise their faith in places other than church, and George Barna said it would not be surprising if a larger portion of the born-again population shifts “from the ‘churched’ to ‘unchurched’ column of the ledger over the next 10 years.”

Barna found that one out of five unchurched people read the Bible in a typical week, six out of 10 pray to God each week, and 5 percent have shared their faith in Jesus Christ with people who are not professing Christians during the past year. Also, nearly 1 million unchurched adults tithe their income, though the money typically goes to a variety of parachurch ministries rather than a local church.

During a typical month, six out of 10 unchurched adults worship God in a place other than a church service, Barna said. Three out of 10 study the Bible and one out of seven have times of prayer and Bible reading with family members. Four out of 10 seek Christian enrichment through television, radio, magazines or faith-based websites, and one-fourth of unchurched adults claim to have conversations with one or more friends who hold them accountable for carrying out their faith principles.

Overall, Barna concluded that one in three American adults are unchurched.

“To view the plateaued level of the unchurched population as simply an indication of stagnation in religious behavior is naïve,” Barna said. “There are, indeed, millions of unchurched people who want nothing to do with organized religion or spiritual development.

“The more important trend, however, is that a large and growing number of Americans who avoid congregational contact are not rejecting Christianity as much as they are shifting how they interact with God and people in a strategic effort to have a more fulfilling spiritual life,” he said.

For more information about the study, visit www.barna.org.

FUND OPERATOR DIVESTS STARBUCKS STOCK OVER ALCOHOL — An assets manager that helps investors choose companies in keeping with their moral values has opted to divest itself of 375,000 shares of Starbucks Coffee Company after the coffee giant launched an alcoholic drink in conjunction with Jim Beam Brands in February.

The Starbucks Coffee Liqueur, with an alcohol content of 20 percent by volume, is sold in restaurants, bars and liquor stores following successful test marketing in Denver and Austin, Texas, according to the Associated Press. Starbucks coffee shops are not selling the drink because of the need for liquor licenses.

But Pax World Funds, which has a policy of investing in companies that do not derive revenue from the manufacture of tobacco, liquor or gambling products, disagreed with Starbucks’ decision and sent a letter to the company’s CEO asking him to reconsider. The funds operator then decided to cut ties with Starbucks.

“While we continue to admire and respect many aspects of Starbucks’ business and corporate citizenship activities, the company essentially forced our hand in this matter,” Anita Green, vice president of social research for Pax World Funds, said. “We have divested ourselves of these shares reluctantly and only after trying to get the company to reconsider its course of action. In the absence of a reversal by Starbucks, our course of action was clear: Investors in Pax World Funds expect us to do what we say we will do about avoiding companies that produce liquor.”

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  • Erin Curry