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Landmark victory for religious freedom in US Supreme Court ruling

Washington (CWNews): In a landmark January 11 decision, the Supreme Court of the United States of America (US) ruled that religious bodies should set their own standards for hiring ministers, free from government interference. 

The unanimous decision in the case of Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church vs EEOC was described by Douglas Laycock, who successfully argued the case before the high court, as a “huge win for religious liberty.” 

The case was the result of a discrimination lawsuit, filed by a woman who claimed that she had been wrongly dismissed by the Michigan Lutheran congregation. 

The Supreme Court ruled the congregation was exempt from such an anti-discrimination suit and indicated that the First Amendment to the US Constitution, in its guarantee of religious freedom, means that a religious body should “be free to choose those who will guide it on its way.” 

Writing for the court, chief justice, John Roberts, explained that the government’s interest in preventing discrimination is important. “But so too is the interest of religious groups in choosing who will preach their beliefs, teach their faith and carry out their mission.” 

The case upholds the legal tradition of the ministerial exception—the understanding that secular courts should not judge the standards by which religious bodies select their own ministers. Left unsettled was the related question of which employees of religious institutions may accurately be described as ministers rather than ordinary employees. 

The Obama administration, arguing for the plaintiff in the case, took an aggressive stand in favour of government intervention in the affairs of religious bodies. On justice, Stephen Breyer had observed that this seemed to allow for a discrimination case against the Catholic Church, for excluding women from priestly ordination. 


Commission condemns bulldozing of Church-run centre in Lahore 

BANGALORE (CNS): “We are shocked by the brazen manner (in which) the government carried out (this) illegal operation,” said Father Emmanuel Yousaf Mani of the demolition of a Church centre on prime property in Lahore, Pakistan, and its annexation by the government.

The director of the National Commission for Justice and Peace said on January 10, “This is illegal grabbing of the church land by the government. Tomorrow, we will move the court against this and stage (a) massive demonstration to demand return of our land.” 

The compound hosted a Caritas-run shelter for the homeless, a vocational school for girls, a convent and a chapel. 

In a statement, the commission said the demolition, overseen by police, began at 6.00am, with bulldozers destroying buildings on the two-acre plot. 

“We had no notice or warning for this illegal action,” said Father Yousaf. 

The government claims the land had been handed over to it; Church officials say there was stay on action against the property. 


Vistors to Vatican Museums top five million 

VATICAN CITY (CNS): In 2011, for the first time, the number of visitors to the Vatican Museums topped five million. 

Antonio Paolucci, director of the museums, said breaking the threshold poses serious problems as well as challenges in the areas of access and education. 

“Five million visitors means 10 million hands that touch or can touch and 10 million feet that, day after day, wear out the multicoloured stone (floors) and the most famous archaeological mosaics in the world,” he said. 

Writing in L’Osservatore Romano, Paolucci said the total number of visitors in 2011 was just under 5.1 million. In 2010, the museums reported having almost 4.7 million people enter its doors. The standard price of admission to the museums is E15, or about $147. The museums extended their opening hours in 2011 and added more special Friday night openings. 

He said that with the growing number of visitors,  security is a growing concern and not just to ensure that people keep their hands off the art. The sheer number of visitors means there will be “an unknown, but certainly significant, percentage” of people with serious problems, who could pose a danger to themselves or others. He added that even best behaved cause damage because “they bring with themselves humidity and dust” which have a negative impact on the frescoes, stucco and mosaic tiles in the floors. 

Paolucci said the 2011 record moves the Vatican Museums into the category of the largest and most visited museums in the world, among them, the Louvre in Paris, which attracts more than eight million visitors each year; the British Museum in London, which had an estimated 5.8 million last year and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which reported more than 5.6 million in 2011.

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