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CULTURE DIGEST: Religious restrictions have increased in the United States, study says

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP) — Religious restrictions have increased in the United States and 15 other countries, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religious & Public Life.

The study, based on 2009-10 data, judged countries based on a Government Restrictions Index and a Social Hostilities Index, the Pew Center reported.

One a scale of zero to 10, with 10 indicating the most restrictive, the United States ranked 3.4 on the social scale and 2.7 on the government scale, compared to 2 and 1.6 on the respective scales in the previous study released in 2011. While the new study judges a one-year period, the 2011 study graded a two-year period.

The scores put the United States in the moderate ranking in both the social and government categories, according to Pew.

Brian Grim, a researcher in the study, said the results for the United States were unexpected.

“These were surprising findings because the U.S. (and Switzerland) are not countries where we’ve typically seen these levels of hostilities,” Grim said, according to CNN.

The study’s timeframe doesn’t take into account recent events that would have given the United States a poorer score, including a “number of reports involving people who were prevented from wearing religious attire, like beards, in the judicial settings and prison,” Grim said.

In judging the countries, Pew Forum researchers reportedly combed through 19 respected public sources of information, including reports by the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, the Council of the European Union, the United Kingdom’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Human Rights Watch, the International Crisis Group, Freedom House and Amnesty International.

Other countries that have seen an increase in religious hostilities and restrictions, among the 197 Pew studied, are Angola, Brunei, Chad, Germany, Greece, Guinea, Japan, Kenya, Lebanon, Liberia, Republic of Macedonia, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Ukraine and the United Kingdom.

None of the countries in the study earned a zero, the best score possible.

EVANGELISM TRAINING AVAILABLE FROM BILLY GRAHAM — Practical evangelism training is available online now from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, drawing from Graham’s sermons and other resources from his 60 years of evangelistic outreach.

The School of Evangelism Online provides, in four courses of three lessons each, practical strategies for proclamation evangelism — with an emphasis on evangelistic preaching — and for preparing churches for follow-up with new believers, BGEA said.

Franklin Graham, BGEA’s president, said the online school was created to help people carry out the Great Commission.

“Our goal is not just to give you more knowledge but to move you into action,” Graham said.

In lesson one, for example, students examine “the content of the Gospel” by studying 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 with Will Graham, noting the three main points of the Apostle Paul’s summary of the Gospel.

Students then take notes as they watch a Billy Graham sermon on the subject, and they download and read five chapters of Graham’s book “Peace with God” and J.I. Packer’s “The Content of the Gospel,” among other assignments.

At the end of each lesson, students must pass a quiz and they’re encouraged to discuss the lesson online with other participants as well as put into practice what they’ve learned by sharing the Gospel with someone.

The online training, which costs $99 for all four courses, is available at www.billygrahamonlinetraining.org.

ILL. COURT SUPPORTS PRO-LIFE PHARMACISTS — An Illinois appeals court has granted a victory to pro-life pharmacists who object to providing drugs that can cause abortions.

The Illinois Fourth District Appellate Court upheld Sept. 21 a 2011 lower court injunction that blocked the state from enforcing a rule requiring pharmacists to fill all prescriptions, including those for Plan B and other “morning-after” pills.

The latest decision means the pharmacies owned by Luke Vander Bleek and Glenn Kosirog are free to refuse to dispense the drugs, also known as emergency contraceptives. Plan B and other “morning-after” pills work to restrict ovulation in a female, but they also can act after conception, thereby causing an abortion. This secondary mechanism of the drug blocks implantation of a tiny embryo in the uterine wall.

“This decision is a great victory for religious freedom,” said Mark Rienzi, Becket Fund for Religious Liberty senior counsel who helped represent the pharmacists. “The government shouldn’t kick business owners out of the market because it dislikes their religious beliefs.”

Vander Bleek and Kosirog challenged a 2005 rule mandating pharmacists fill all prescriptions, saying it violated their religious and conscience rights.

The “morning-after” pill is basically a heavier dose of birth control pills. Under the regimen, a woman takes a pill within 72 hours of sexual intercourse and another dose 12 hours later. Other “morning-after” pills, such as Plan B One-step, can be taken in a single dose within 72 hours.

FALL 40 DAYS CAMPAIGN BEGINS WITH RECORD NUMBER OF SITES — The latest 40 Days for Life campaign started Sept. 26 at a record 316 locations.

The 40-day effort — which focuses on peaceful, pro-life prayer vigils outside abortion clinics — will take place through Nov. 4 in 49 states, the District of Columbia and seven Canadian provinces, as well as Australia, England, Spain and Uganda.

The outreach, which began in Texas in 2004 and went national in 2007, has recorded the following during its semi-annual campaigns:

— 5,928 babies are reported to have been spared from abortion.

— 69 abortion clinic workers have left their jobs.

— 24 abortion centers have closed after 40 Days for Life campaigns.

— About 525,000 volunteers have participated.

— Volunteers from about 14,000 congregations have taken part.

The campaigns consist of 40 days of prayer and fasting to end abortion, as well as community outreach and the prayer vigils outside clinics.

BRITISH MOTHER JAILED FOR ABORTING BABY AT 39 WEEKS — A British mother has received an eight-year prison sentence for aborting her son a week before the due date.

A judge handed down the sentence Sept. 17 to Sarah Catt, 35, who allegedly took a drug to cause an abortion, according to The Daily Telegraph. Catt said her baby was stillborn and she buried him, but she has never revealed the burial site. In July, she pleaded guilty to “administering a poison with intent to procure a miscarriage,” the British newspaper reported.

The legal limit for abortion in Great Britain is 24 weeks.

“What you have done is rob an apparently healthy child, vulnerable and [defenseless], of the life he was about to commence,” the Leeds Crown Court judge said, according to The Telegraph.

Murder would have been the charge had she killed her son a few days later after birth, the judge told Catt.

“The child in the womb was so near to birth, in my judgment all right-thinking people would think this offense more serious than unintentional manslaughter,” he said.

The judge said Catt’s husband was unaware of the pregnancy, which apparently was the result of an adulterous relationship. The Catts have two children at home, and she aborted another baby with her husband’s approval, The Telegraph reported.

SWEDES PERFORM FIRST MOTHER-TO-DAUGHTER WOMB TRANSPLANTS — Surgeons have performed womb transplants from mothers to daughters for the first time.

Ten Swedish surgeons helped transplant uteri from two women to their daughters Sept. 15-16 in Stockholm, according to CNN. Both daughters, who were not identified, underwent in vitro fertilization before receiving the transplants, and the embryos created by the procedures were frozen. No embryo will be implanted in either woman’s womb for at least a year.

“So far, the procedures have been a success, but the final proof of success will be the birth of a healthy child,” surgeon Michal Olausson told CNN.

One of the transplant recipients was born without a uterus, while the other had hers removed as a result of cervical cancer, CNN reported.

A womb transplant from a dead donor took place last year in Turkey, but there has been no report of the recipient becoming pregnant, Olausson said.
Compiled by Tom Strode, Erin Roach and Diana Chandler of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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