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CULTURE DIGEST: Sen. attempts to remove Bibles from chapel; Rick Warren to write ‘Ladies’ Home Journal’ column

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A Democratic state senator ordered his staff to remove a cross, Bibles and hymnals from the nondenominational chapel in the rotunda of the North Carolina legislative building, saying the Christian emphasis was inappropriate in a public building used by people of different faiths.

But a higher-ranking senator reversed Sen. Tony Rand’s decision Feb. 3 after Republican lawmakers complained.

“The cross and the Bible are going back in the chapel,” Norma Mills, chief of staff for Senate President Marc Basnight, said, according to The Charlotte News & Observer.

In recent years, a group of lawmakers began holding weekly services in the chapel, bringing with them privately donated Bibles, hymnals and a cross, which they left in the room. Rand was not opposed to such services, but he said worshipers should take their items with them when they leave to avoid offending lawmakers of other religions.

“If they want to bring [such items] to their services, they’re welcome to do that,” Rand said. “It should retain its nondenominational character. It’s not a church. It’s a public place for whoever wants to communicate with one’s maker.”

Charles Haynes, a senior scholar at the First Amendment Center in Arlington, Va., told The News & Observer that Rand was probably correct in banning the permanent display of religious material.

“Not only is it probably the sensitive thing to do to keep the chapel available to all, but it may also be the First Amendment thing to do,” Haynes said. “To have it displayed does send a message that this is a particular place for a particular religion. I think [Rand] is giving good advice, although it is not a popular thing to say in North Carolina.”

RICK WARREN TEAMS WITH ‘LADIES’ HOME JOURNAL’ — Rick Warren, author of the best-seller “The Purpose-Driven Life,” has signed on with Ladies’ Home Journal to provide an exclusive monthly column called “Purpose.”

The column, which debuted in the February issue, will address topics of spirituality and the search for meaning among American women and their families.

“Rick clearly has touched a chord in the country today and is able to address, in a very down to earth and universal way, people’s yearning to enhance their experience of spirituality in their daily lives,” said Diane Salvatore, the magazine’s editor in chief. “Since our 13 million readers are already enjoying our Inner Life coverage, which explores mastery of their emotional life, teaming up with Rick was a natural fit.”

Warren said he welcomes the chance to contribute to a periodical that has meant so much to his family.

“Four generations of women in my life — my grandmother, mother, wife and daughter — have enjoyed Ladies’ Home Journal, so I’m thrilled to write for it,” he said. “There is a growing spiritual hunger in our culture, and I admire Ladies’ Home Journal for their foresight and commitment to address every aspect of a woman’s life, including the spiritual dimension.”

Warren was recognized this month as one of Time magazine’s 25 “Most Influential Evangelicals in America.”

SLAIN IRAQI VOTERS REGARDED AS MARTYRS — Naim Rahim Yacoubi, 37, was so excited about the Iraqi elections that he got up at dawn on voting day, put on a new robe he had made for the special occasion and handed out pastries and tea to friends.

He voted at the local primary school at 8:30 that morning, and he was so impressed by the dedication of the election workers that he went home to get tea for them, The New York Times reported Feb. 2.

But just after he had served tea to the election workers, Yacoubi was struck by a bomb and killed on his way home. A friend, Shukur Jasim, stared at the purple ink stain on Yacoubi’s right index finger and said, “You can see the finger with which he voted. He’s a martyr now.”

The Times said Shiite Arabs who died in the bombings on the day of Iraq’s first free election in 50 years were taken to the cemetery in Najaf, the holy city, for burials considered fitting of their sacrifices. And the official cause of death on Yacoubi’s death certificate reads, “Explosion on the day of elections.”

Survivors who were waiting in lines when bombs exploded typically did not flee, according to The Times. Instead, they resolutely kept their place in line to cast their votes as policemen swept away pieces of flesh.

In another display of resolve, a 14-year police veteran in Baghdad’s Mansour neighborhood gave his life to save Iraqi voters. Abdul Amir al-Shuwayli, 29, spotted a suicide bomber approaching an election line. Shuwayli yelled, “Let me save the people. Let me save my friends,” according to USA Today Feb. 2. He threw his arms around the bomber and pushed him back about 50 feet into an intersection before the belt of explosives detonated and killed them both.

“Suicide bombers are not the only ones willing to give up their lives,” police captain Firaz Mohammed Ali told USA Today. “We have some people who are ready to die as well.”

Shuwayli was the third of eight adult children, a Shiite Arab and a news junkie who was enthralled with coverage of Iraq’s progress toward democracy, USA Today said. Iraq’s interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi eulogized Shuwayli as a martyr and a “real hero of our nation.”

VA. EPISCOPALIANS COULD SECEDE — A state senator in Virginia is proposing a bill that would allow Episcopal churches to secede from their denomination but keep their property if they disagree with the 2003 election of openly homosexual Bishop V. Gene Robinson.

Republican William Mims, a conservative Episcopalian, introduced a bill calling for Virginia to let such congregations pull out of the Episcopal Church USA without forfeiting some of the most valuable church properties in the nation, which are held in trust by the national church, according to USA Today Feb. 2.

In the past, courts have avoided the issue by claiming they cannot get involved in the governance of a religious denomination, but Diane Knippers, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, told USA Today that is a shame.

“I’m sympathetic to the legislation…. We don’t want the government intruding in internal church matters,” but the national church has already violated the trust of the local parishes and leaves them no choice, she said.

“I argue, ‘Let them go.’ Be generous. Our churches are facing church-splitting conflicts,” Knippers said. “Do we have a winner-take-all mentality?”

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  • Erin Curry