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CULTURE DIGEST: Jeb Bush urges kids to read ‘Narnia’; Denver vote to legalize marijuana possession has roadblock

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–It seems Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is a C.S. Lewis fan. Just as the film version of Lewis’ “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” is set for release in theaters, Bush is urging school children to read the book as part of his “Just Read, Florida!” initiative.

Bush launched the statewide reading program in 2001 with the goal of every child reading at or above grade level by the year 2012, and a Lewis quote was even chosen as the motto: “We read to know we are not alone.”

“The opportunity to inspire the love of reading in a child is a great honor and an extraordinary responsibility,” Bush said.

According to the Just Read, Florida! website, “The book, ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ by C.S. Lewis was first published over fifty years ago. The story introduces readers to four English schoolchildren who find their way through the back of a wardrobe into the magic land of Narnia. They assist Aslan, the golden lion, to triumph over the White Witch, who has cursed the land with eternal winter.”

This year, Florida’s department of education is sponsoring age-appropriate contests for public school students based on the book with categories that include acting out scenes from the story or choosing which character one would like to be and telling why.

But not everyone is pleased with the plan. Americans United for Separation of Church and State sent a letter to Bush asking that he add an alternative, nonreligious book to the contest and that future contest feature only nonreligious books.

Barry Lynn, president of Americans United, said the state’s sponsorship of the contest “creates the appearance of a governmental endorsement of the book’s religious message, in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”

In his letter to Bush, Lynn cited Lewis, who said that he hoped his “Chronicles of Narnia” books, of which the The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was the first written, would “make it easier for children to accept Christianity when they met it later in life.”

Responding to Lynn’s objection, attorneys for the Alliance Defense Fund are offering free legal representation to any Florida schools threatened with lawsuits for participating in the governor’s reading contest.

“The governor’s campaign is clearly designed to promote reading in conjunction with a much-anticipated film; it is not designed to promote religion,” ADF senior counsel Gary McCaleb said in a release Nov. 7. “ADF will defend any school district in the nation that gets sued by AUSCS, the ACLU or any other group for having students read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, as long as the school allows students to opt out of reading it if they or their parents don’t want to.”

The film opens in theaters nationwide Dec. 9, and Disney-MGM Studios in Orlando has announced the simultaneous opening of a new attraction called “Journey into Narnia: Creating The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” The 15-minute walk-through attraction begins with visitors stepping into a giant wardrobe for a behind-the-scenes look at the movie, according to the Orlando Sentinel newspaper.

CHINA DIVORCE RATE SKYROCKETS — Western influences have made their way into the culture of some of China’s most prosperous provinces, and divorce is among the most popular new practices there, according to a report in The New York Times last month.

While divorce was once synonymous with guilt and shame in China, The Times said many younger urban women are now counting it as a civil right — a way to get back at their adulterous husbands. One government study found that women had initiated 70 percent of divorce applications in Guangdong Province, where the number of divorces increased by 52 percent last year, The Times reported.

As good jobs enable more Chinese women to be independent, they are no longer remaining in marriages where wealthy businessmen husbands keep their lovers in “concubine villages.” Infidelity has long been tolerated in China, but changing social values have brought new views on divorce there.

“Several of my friends have gotten divorced,” Cai Shaohong, 29, herself a divorcee, told The Times. “My friends think divorce is normal, not an unthinkable thing.”

Mirroring the United States and other Western nations, China now has divorce lawyers, divorce counselors, prenuptial agreements and private detective agencies that photograph cheating spouses in the act, The Times said.

A survey in Guangdong found that work pressure contributed to 60 percent of divorces while adultery accounted for 30 percent, The Times noted. A psychotherapist there told The Times 80 percent of people who come to him for marital counseling complain of adultery.

“There are more choices now in sex,” he said. “The change in traditional family values has led to more affairs.”

And the process of getting a divorce in China has changed from a long and tenuous task to one that can take as little as 10 minutes.

China’s divorce rate is about 19 percent, nearly five times what it was in 1979. While that is dramatically less than the U.S. divorce rate commonly pegged at 50 percent, observers say China is fast moving toward a similar rate.

DENVER VOTES TO LEGALIZE MARIJUANA — Even though Denver voters have approved an initiative that will make it legal for anyone 21 or older to possess 1 ounce or less of marijuana, local police say the ballot initiative is trumped by a state law banning the possession of marijuana, and they’ll continue to enforce the higher statute.

Although the Nov. 1 made Denver the first U.S. city to legalize adult marijuana possession, nearly all drug prosecutions in Denver are already brought under state law, officials said, so police will continue to make arrests as usual.

The Denver measure did not address the still-illegal act of smoking marijuana in public.

Mason Tvert, a 23-year-old Phoenix native and recent graduate of the University of Richmond in Virginia, led the effort to pass the initiative, calling the drug the “safer alternative” and complaining that alcohol is responsible for more deadly violence, car wrecks and abuse, according to the Rocky Mountain News.

“This is something that is going to spread across the country because people are starting to open their eyes to look beyond 70 years of marijuana prohibition propaganda,” he said.

However, Barrett Duke, vice president for public policy with the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told Baptist Press in previous discussions about marijuana that it is a gateway drug likely to lead to more harmful substance abuse. “[A]s any former or current drug user knows, marijuana is only the starting point,” he said. “It is the gateway that has led to the destruction of the lives and futures of millions of people who moved on to other drugs in search of greater highs.”

In 2003, voters in Seattle asked police to make possession of small amounts of marijuana the lowest priority, the Mountain News said, and the number of people prosecuted for possession there has decreased dramatically. And last year in Oakland, Calif., voters there also asked that marijuana be a low priority for police arrests. But police continue to make arrests because state law demands it.

UMC BISHOPS: ‘HOMOSEXUALITY IS NOT A BARRIER’ — Homosexuality is not an obstacle to membership in the United Methodist Church, the denomination’s leaders declared Nov. 2 in response to a Judicial Council ruling that a local pastor could decide to deny membership based on sexual practice.

“While pastors have the responsibility to discern readiness for membership, homosexuality is not a barrier,” the bishops said in a pastoral letter to the people of the United Methodist Church, according to the United Methodist News Service.

The Judicial Council ruled in late October that pastors in the denomination do have the power to decide who becomes a member of a local church after a Virginia pastor was placed on involuntary leave of absence for refusing to allow an unrepentant homosexual man to move his membership to the church.

“We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends,” the bishops said in their letter, which was unanimously adopted in closed session. “We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.”

One bishop made clear the denomination’s thoughts on homosexual members.

“I don’t think it’s going too far to say the council is of one mind that gay and lesbian people can be members of the United Methodist Church,” Bishop Janice Riggle Huie of Texas told the news service.

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  • Erin Curry