Religion Briefs for Aug. 16

Published 12:00 pm Friday, August 15, 2008

Cambodia reasserts claim over border temples

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Cambodia reasserted its claim Tuesday over ancient border temples that also are claimed by Thailand ahead of talks on lingering territorial disputes.

The foreign ministers of the two countries are to meet Monday in Thailand to try to defuse military standoffs along their shared border — first near the 11th century Preah Vihear temple and then at the 13th century Ta Moan Thom temple.

The two countries share about 500 miles of land border, which has not been fully demarcated.

The dispute surrounding the Preah Vihear temple escalated last month after UNESCO approved Cambodia’s application to have it named a World Heritage Site. Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej had backed the bid, sparking demonstrations by anti-government protesters who claimed the temple’s new status would undermine Thailand’s claim to the surrounding area.

The dispute has continued despite two rounds of talks since last month.


Church leaders ask Mo. gov. to commute death sentence

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Several religious leaders have asked Gov. Matt Blunt to grant clemency for a man scheduled to be executed later this month.

Dennis Skillicorn is scheduled to be executed Aug. 27, in Missouri’s first execution since 2005. Skillicorn was convicted of killing Richard Drummond in Lafayette County in 1994.

In a letter sent Tuesday to Blunt, the religious leaders argued that Skillicorn “has turned his life around, becoming a model of rehabilitation and service to others.” They asked Blunt to reduce the sentence to a life prison term without the possibility for parole.

The clemency request was signed by Roman Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran, Baptist, Quaker and Church of the Brethren leaders.


Cincinnati archdiocese sets rules on priests’ interaction with children

CINCINNATI (AP) — Priests should not kiss, tickle or wrestle children, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati says in its most detailed list yet of behaviors deemed inappropriate for staff members.

The newest version of the Decree on Child Protection also prohibits bear hugs, lap-sitting and piggy-back rides, among other interactions between its clergy and children. Handshakes, high-fives, shoulder-to-shoulder hugs and pats on the back are still acceptable.

The archdiocese updates the rules every five years. The latest version, released this month, also mandates background checks for contractors working with children.

Victim advocates who have criticized the archdiocese for its response to past abuse cases say they support the new measures as a step toward better protection of children.



Malaysian politicians ponder whether to banish debate on religious issues behind closed doors

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysian politicians are wrangling about whether to forbid sensitive debates on religious disputes in this Muslim-majority nation.

The controversy widened Aug. 10 after protesters forced the halt of a conference on Islamic conversions. Police told the Bar Council association of lawyers to abort the forum after more than 300 demonstrators rallied outside the conference hall and threatened to storm the event.

The conference was supposed to be a rare public platform to examine how some Malaysian families are caught in legal conflicts if one spouse in a marriage converts to Islam.

Zulkifli Noordin, an opposition member of Parliament, said the protest was a warning to “the Bar Council specifically and non-Muslims in general not to challenge the rights of Muslims.”


Court upholds Ark. prison grooming policy

LITTLE ROCK (AP) — Prison officials did not violate an inmate’s rights when they disciplined him for refusing to cut his hair and beard, which he said would go against his religious beliefs based on the Old Testament, a federal appeals panel has ruled.

Michael Fegans sued over the Arkansas Department of Correction’s policy that says male prisoners must keep their hair trimmed above their ears and keep their facial hair trimmed. Fegans, a follower of the Assemblies of Yahweh, was at times placed in administrative segregation, with occasional stays in punitive isolation or solitary confinement. He claims the punishments prevented him from earning good time, which would have reduced his sentence.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the prison’s grooming policy is “reasonably related” to the state’s safety and security interests. Long hair or shaggy beards can allow inmates to hide contraband or disguise their appearance, presenting safety issues, the court noted.

Fegans, who was imprisoned on a robbery conviction, also sued the department for not serving him kosher meals. The 8th Circuit agreed with a trial judge’s award of $1,500 to Fegans.