BP Ledger, May 16 edition

Baptist Press
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Posted: May 16, 2011 5:52 PM
BP Ledger, May 16 edition
EDITOR'S NOTE: BP Ledger carries items for reader information each Monday from various Southern Baptist-related entities, and news releases of interest from other sources. The items are published as received.

Today's BP Ledger includes items from:

International Christian Concern

Campbellsville University

Hardin-Simmons University

Compass Direct News

U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom

World Congress of Families

Oklahoma Baptist University

Afghan Christian Refugees Face Probable Imprisonment or Death if Deported Back to Homeland

Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern)--International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that seven Afghan Christians and their families who fled their homeland to India and were requesting refugee status were denied their requests by the UN in recent weeks and face deportation back to Afghanistan, where they risk arrest and possible execution for apostasy.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) rejected or closed the applications of seven Afghan Christian families and individuals seeking refugee status in India after fleeing religious persecution in Afghanistan. Among the applicants was Aman, a husband and father of four, who has since received a letter authorizing his deportation from the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs.

Aman and his wife converted to Christianity from Islam eleven years ago, after which Aman studied at Zaraphat Bible College in Rawalpindi, Pakistan before returning to Afghanistan to work with an aid organization in Kabul. He fled the country to India after an Afghan television network broadcast footage of Afghans being baptized and participating in prayer services in May 2010. The broadcast led to protests throughout the country and a government crackdown against Afghan converts to Christianity.

After applying for asylum in India, Aman was told by the Deputy Chief of Mission at the UNCHR office in New Delhi on April 12 that he would be granted refugee status. However, a letter issued on May 6 stated that he had been denied based on failure to meet the criteria set forth in Article 6B of the UNHCR Statute which states that a person can receive refugee status if, " well-founded fear of persecution by reason of his race, religion, nationality or political opinion and is unable or, because of such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of the government of the country of his nationality."

"The UNHCR office brutally closed and rejected some refugee applications of our community," said a leader of the Afghan Christian community in New Delhi. "This is happening after all our efforts to inform and convince the UNHCR office that it is impossible to live as an Afghan Christian in Afghanistan if your Christian identity is revealed to the public and to the Afghan Islamic Republic. Apostasy is considered as a crime, an illegal action and a sin which is punishable by death by the Islamic Sharia Law that is the base of the Afghan Constitution."

"Our community is a persecuted and rejected community," the leader continued. "We left behind all our belongings in Afghanistan just to save our lives by leaving Afghanistan. Here in India, we are receiving no legal and physical protection from the UNHCR office or the Indian Government. We are harassed, attacked, insulted and persecuted by Indian Muslims and thousands of Afghan Muslim refugees in this city."

Aidan Clay, ICC Regional Manager for the Middle East, said, "As seen in the recent cases of Said Musa and Shoaib Assadullah, there are severe penalties under Afghan law, including imprisonment and potential execution, for Afghans who convert from Islam to Christianity. Aman, his family, and others whose applications were denied, will likely face a cruel punishment if they are forced to return to Afghanistan. We urge the UNHCR to reconsider these applications and for the Indian government to offer refuge to persecuted minorities who have fled to India for asylum."

Write or call the UNHCR office in New Delhi to express your concern:

Ms. Montserrat Feixas Vihe

Chief of Mission

UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees)

14 Jor Bagh, New Delhi - 110 003

Fax: 0091 1143530460

Tel: 0091 1143530428 / 0091 1143530424

Applicants Name and Application Number: Aman, HCR/PL/513 - 10C01212

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Long-time Campbellsville University trustee, Dr. J. Chester Badgett, dies at 96

By Joan C. McKinney, news and publications coordinator

CAMPBELLSVILLE, Ky. (Campbellsville University)--One of the senior statesmen of Kentucky and Southern Baptist life, Dr. J. Chester Badgett, has died at the age of 96.

Badgett, who was a member of Campbellsville University's Board of Trustees at his death and for 42 years, died May 10 at 12:38 p.m. at Jewish Hospital in Louisville.

Badgett was honored in 2009 with the naming of the Student Union Building into the Badgett Academic Support Center. He was also the author of the official "History of Campbellsville University 1906-2006" book that was a product of CU's Centennial Celebration.

"On behalf of the entire Campbellsville University family, we extend our heartfelt sympathy to the family of Dr. J. Chester Badgett," Dr. Michael V. Carter, president of Campbellsville University, said.

"Dr. Badgett was one of the 'great generation' of Southern Baptist and Kentucky Baptist leaders, and his more than three decades as the senior pastor of Campbellsville Baptist Church touched the lives of thousands of people across southern Kentucky and beyond," he said.

Carter called Badgett a "stalwart supporter of Campbellsville University" and a "key member of the CU Board of Trustees for many decades."

"His passion for evangelism and missions, advocacy of the Cooperative Program and leadership at all levels of our denomination are legendary across the Southern Baptist Convention and Kentucky Baptist Convention," Carter said.

"During my nearly 12 years as the president of Campbellsville University, Dr. Badgett has been a valued Board member and friend. He led a full life of Christian service in the cause of Jesus Christ, and his legacy remains alive in the lives of the many people he touched through the years."

Two other presidents of Campbellsville University, Dr. W.R. Davenport of Campbellsville and Dr. Kenneth W. Winters of Murray, Ky., also felt the loss of Badgett.

"'... Know that a prince and a great man has fallen today...' While the words were spoken by King David of old Israel on the death of Abner, his trusted army commander, they perfectly befit the passing of our dear friend and brother, Dr. Chester Badgett who has gone from us today," Davenport, president of CU from 1969 to 1988, said.

"In Dr. Badgett, Campbellsville University has lost a stalwart supporter, a devoted trustee, a loyal friend and an uncompromising champion of our cause.

"On more occasions than I can relate during my tenure at the campus, he rose to encourage support for us in ways that few, if any others, could have done.

"He leaves a legacy unmatched by others, not only for our university, but also for Campbellsville Baptist Church and the entire community of Campbellsville and Taylor County."

Davenport said his life "has been enriched by his life, by his influence and by his preaching and teaching. Truly, a prince of God and a great man has passed from among us."

Winters, president of CU from 1988 to 1996, said, "I was saddened to hear of the passing of Dr. J. Chester Badgett. It would be hard to imagine anyone more dedicated to an institution and its mission than that of Dr. Badgett."

Winters said Badgett was "a strong supporter of my time as president of Campbellsville University, and was a strong encouragement to me individually. Our prayers continue for the Badgett family during this time of loss."

In addition to his long-term service as a CU trustee, Badgett served the institution for a while as director of church relations.

At the 2009 ceremony of the naming of the Badgett Academic Support Center, his son, Dr. Thomas Badgett, spoke on behalf of the Badgett family. He recalled that, as a child, family meal discussions consisted of two things: Campbellsville Baptist Church, where his father was a preacher at the time, and CU's campus. He said his family would always pray for the college. "We were nurtured by this campus," he said.

Badgett served as pastor of Campbellsville Baptist Church from 1950 until his retirement in July 1980. He authored "Campbellsville Baptist Church, A Two-Hundred Year History 1791-1991."

Dr. Skip Alexander, pastor of Campbellsville Baptist Church, said he and Badgett has an "unusually close relationship."

"We both started pastoring at the same age and were both graduates of Georgetown College," he said. "We both shared a passion for the lost and a commitment to the Cooperative Program."

He established the Badgett-Jones Scholarship at Campbellsville University in 2003, the year after he became pastor at Campbellsville Baptist Church. He took each of the recipients to meet with Badgett. "That was a living way each semester for us to honor his legacy," Alexander said.

Alexander said Badgett would pray with the students and encourage them. One of the scholarship recipients, Justin Watson of Campbellsville, who received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from CU and who was a pastoral intern at Campbellsville Baptist Church, said Badgett was a "great man who was faithful all the way through to the end of his life."

"One of the things that stood out for me about Dr. Badgett was his heart for missions. He wanted to reach out to those who did not know Christ in the region, country and globally."

Badgett served on the board of New Orleans Theological Seminary and was past president of the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention and the Kentucky Baptist Convention.

He and his wife, the late Ruth W. Cloyd Badgett, who died Nov. 11, 2009, served several churches, in addition to Campbellsville Baptist Church, including: Clear Creek Baptist Church in Woodford County, Little Mount Baptist Church in Spencer County, Utica Baptist Church in Daviess County, Beaver Dam Baptist Church in Ohio County, Kowloon Baptist Church in Hong Kong and Bethel Baptist Church in Caracas, Venezuela.

He was a member of the Taylor County Ministerial Association and was the last surviving charter member of the Campbellsville Kiwanis Club having served as its president.

Badgett was a 1936 graduate of Georgetown College and received his master of theology in 1939 and his Ph.D. in 1946 from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville. He received an honorary doctor of divinity from Campbellsville College in 1980.

Badgett was born in Casey County and graduated from Stanford High School in 1931.

He is survived by two sons and one daughter: Tony Badgett and wife Priscilla, Ruth Ann Badgett Shaw and husband Bob of Frankfort and Dr. Thomas Badgett and wife Rachel of Louisville; five grandchildren: Dr. Joseph Russell Shaw and wife Caroline of Bloomington, Indiana, Jason Robert Shaw and wife Rachel of Frankfort, Jill Badgett Van Tassel and husband Joel of Lexington, Julie Badgett of Richmond, and Dr. Thomas Curry Badgett and wife Jeanne of Kensington, Maryland; seven great-grandchildren: Ian Shaw and Emma Shaw, Merritt Shaw and Sawyier Shaw, Elizabeth (Beppy) Badgett, Eleanor Ruth Badgett, and Lois Curry Badgett; one sister and brother-in-law, Sue Ella and Victor Gehlhausen of Stanford; several nieces and nephews and many other relatives and friends. He was preceded in death by two brothers, Faulkner Badgett and Wesley Badgett.

His funeral was May 13 at Campbellsville Baptist Church with burial in Brookside Cemetery. The family requests expressions of sympathy to be donations to the Badgett-Cloyd Scholarship Fund at Campbellsville University, the Annie Armstrong offering, Gideons or Campbellsville Baptist Church and may be made at Parrott and Ramsey Funeral Home in Campbellsville.

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HSU Students' Winning Video Touts Abilene's Treasures For Tourism

By Janlyn Echols Thaxton, HSU Media Relations

ABILENE, Texas (Hardin-Simmons University)--Krisi Johnson says she has found things in Abilene she never expected. When Johnson came to Hardin-Simmons University as a freshman four years ago, the well-traveled daughter of a missionary family had no idea what the university would hold for her, and she certainly didn't expect a medium-sized West Texas town to impact her life quite so completely.

As the senior communication major prepares to graduate from HSU on May 14, she says both the university and the city have made a major impact on her faith, her artistic expression, and her education.

"There is a culture in Abilene I think often goes overlooked. It's that artsy side of Abilene that feels Austinish," says the outgoing Johnson, referring to the capital city of Texas. So when an opportunity came along to show that culture in a video to promote Abilene, Krisi took on the challenge.

Earlier this year, the Abilene Convention and Visitors Bureau announced the Your 24 Video Contest, a search for homemade movies to be used to showcase Abilene and promote tourism. Krisi entered the student division, purposely meant to target Abilene's younger audiences. "I like what ACVB is doing," says Krisi. "I love it that Abilene promotes mom-and-pop shops and restaurants with real local personality. Since I have been here, I've discovered barbeque with a local twist and several new ways to eat a deli sandwich," she throws out as examples.

Krisi says she and another Hardin-Simmons student, senior Treg Hudson, started to bounce some ideas around for the video challenge. "We decided to use our favorite and most-frequented places, although we didn't have enough time in the video to do all of them."

"Art Walk is the number one fun thing for me, what a gem that is! Anyone can just set up a table - what a great environment to display a portfolio," she says with her usual enthusiasm. "The Farmers Market is another way Abilene works to promote mom-and-pop style small businesses."

One of Krisi's passions is her desire to incorporate environmental sustainability into her everyday life. "That's why, in the video, Treg and I wanted to show the Used Book Store on Butternut. The very nature of used books showcases a recycling and reducing message that we as a university and a community should actively work to promote."

Monks Coffee Shop on Cypress is another of those Abilene jewels she treasures. "It's a great place to study and it gives local musicians a venue where they can play. Monk's captures that indie-style," she says, referring to the coffee shop's raw eclectic look and lack of corporate slickness. "That's the feel that gives Abilene its attitude of Austinish culture." She explains that she used that same fresh, unpolished style in the making of her video entry.

Johnson says she came to Hardin-Simmons University on the advice of her youth pastor at First Baptist Church, Saginaw. "When I was looking for a university to attend, I was thinking Boston, Massachusetts. But Kurt Krodle, who is a graduate of ETBU, told me, 'Hardin-Simmons is where you need to be.' At first, I didn't know why I was here, but I have found opportunity and been able to do things at HSU and in Abilene that I couldn't have done in a larger place."

Krisi says she has found serendipity and culture in the city. "At HSU, I found a community of professors who are open-minded, flexible, and challenging. Professors don't tell you what to think - they teach you how to think. They encourage you to ask questions so you can discover what you believe, and why you believe it," she says with determination.

"I came from a Christian home, but my faith journey has developed in the time away from that," she says. "We never had a lot of money as a family, but I never noticed. My parents are with a missionary organization, but in the '70s they toured as musicians with a band in Asia. When I was a kid, we went to Colorado every other summer for missionary work. From those experiences, my parents gave me the travel bug."

Upon graduation, Krisi will put her grassroots longing for travel, her free-spirited pluckiness, and her liberal arts education to the test. "I've saved the money I've earned in mission's work at Pioneer Drive Baptist Church and bought a ticket to Europe. It's the biggest step I've ever taken!"

Even though she will be traveling by herself, she knows lots of other students who will be sprinkled across Europe during the summer, including movie-making partner Treg Hudson, who will be in Prague. She has plans to visit an Abilene friend in Germany, go mountain biking in Idleburg, and plans to go to a monastery in France where 6,000 people from all over the world will converge.

It won't hurt that she also has an extra $500 dollars to spend from her win in the student division of Abilene's CVB's Your 24 Video Contest.

One last thing, in the photo above, Krisi is holding awards won at the Abilene Chapter of the American Advertising Federation. The orange dress, she reveals smartly, came from the costume rack at St. Vincent De Paul's Thrift House. For Krisi, it's a way to actively demonstrate living a lifestyle of reuse and recycle.

Krisi's and Treg's video can be watched by clicking on the link.

http://youtu.be/wNGh6IwT9eI

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'Blasphemy' Laws in Egypt, Sudan Threaten Converts

Statutes stand amid change in Islamic countries with Christian populations.

By Wayne King and Simba Tian

ISTANBUL and NAIROBI (Compass Direct News)--Shifting political winds in the north African countries of Egypt and Sudan will leave their mark on history, but local attitudes ensure one thing remains unchanged: the laws against defaming Islam will stand like granite in a sandstorm.

As Egyptians continue to grapple with a revolution and seek freedoms commonplace in other parts of the world, there is no sign that Egypt's version of an anti-blasphemy law will be changed. And in Sudan, where the non-Islamic south is set to split from the Islamic north on July 9, Christians remaining in the north are more vulnerable than ever to baseless accusations of defaming Islam.

The law in Egypt, in theory meant to discourage people from offending others' religious sensitivities, is instead used to stifle free speech and punish and intimidate those who do not subscribe to the standard, Orthodox version of Sunni Islam practiced by most in Egypt, human rights advocates and religious dissident groups said.

"In general in Egypt, things are in flux, but because these particular issues are so hot button, I would not expect, even with a new regime, any changes in these laws," said Paul Marshall, a senior fellow at the Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute.

Still, Marshall said that after the national demonstrations of Jan. 25-Feb. 11 that led to the ousting of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, there may be changes coming in the way the statutes are applied; there is hope that they won't be used "simply to shut people up."

Crushing Non-Conformity

Article 98(f), known to Egyptian attorneys as the "contempt of religion" charge, states, "Whoever exploits religion in order to promote extremist ideologies by word of mouth, in writing or in any other manner, with a view to stirring up sedition, disparaging or contempt of any divine religion or its adherents, or prejudicing national unity shall be punished with imprisonment between six months and five years or paying a fine of at least 500 Egyptian pounds ."

Strictly speaking, Article 98(f) is not an anti-blasphemy law, but it is used in much the same way as other anti-blasphemy laws throughout the Middle East and the greater Islamic world. Violating this statute is known as having "defamed a heavenly religion." Others have been charged under the statute with "insulting Islam."

Ashraf Thabet, 45, knows all too well about being charged with defaming a heavenly religion. The Port Said import merchant was a committed Muslim most of his life until an economic downturn and a canceled business deal gave him the spare time to investigate Islam more closely. What started as a quest to find deeper meaning within his religion led him to embrace Christianity. As he expressed his struggle and his newfound ideas to others, Thabet found himself on the losing end of a battle with Egypt's State Security Intelligence service (SSI).

During an early morning arrest on March 22, 2010, SSI agents kicked down the door of his apartment, assaulted him in front of his family and dragged him off to prison. Accused of violating Article 98(f), Thabet spent 132 days in solitary confinement but was never brought to court.

Thabet said he believed the SSI left the charges unresolved to harass and pressure him to convert back to Islam. His case, still unresolved, is typical of the way the law is used to punish people not for actually insulting any religion but for choosing a spiritual path not accepted by the government. It is what is known as a "status crime," where one isn't punished for doing something, but rather for being something. Status crimes have been stricken from the legal codes of most countries.

"If you become a Christian, you are likely to be accused of insulting Islam on grounds that you left, and therefore you are saying it's bad," Marshall said.

By comparison, no convert from Christianity to Islam has ever been charged with Article 98(f) for defiling Christianity.

Converts to Christianity aren't alone in falling prey to the law. People in Egypt who follow the Baha'i faith, adherents to the Islamic Shia tradition and numerous other non-Sunnis have all been brought up on defamation charges. In some cases, Sunnis who have expressed non-conformist opinions have been accused of defamation. Several Sunni journalists, bloggers, lawyers, university professors, at least one renowned poet and a Nobel laureate have all been accused of religious defamation - not for actually insulting Islam or any other tradition, but merely for exploring non-orthodox ideas about religion.

"Muslims who hold unorthodox views are held to be insulting Islam or insulting a heavenly religion," Marshall said.

Perhaps the most famous defamation case in Egypt against a Muslim was that of Nasr Hamed Abu Zaid, a Sunni Islamic scholar. Abu Zaid's work dealt with interpreting the Quran in a historical context. Accused by officials at Al-Azhar University of defaming Islam, he was ruled in court to be an apostate. Because a non-Muslim man cannot be married to a Muslim woman, a court issued proceedings to nullify his marriage. In 1995, he fled to the Netherlands with his wife.

Later returning to Egypt, Abu Zaid died in August 2010 in Cairo of a cerebral infection.

"Generically, I would call that a blasphemy case because he wrote about Islam in a way Al-Azhar and others did not like," Marshall said.

According to Azza Taher Matar of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, cases of a Muslim accused of defamation for holding a dissenting view are the most common ones.

"Most cases result from Muslims debating Islam or Islamic history and the Arabic empire," Matar said. "When debates or conflicts heat up, they are usually solved in a political way."

Human rights advocates say it is nearly impossible to find out how many people are charged under the defamation statute in Egypt. It is not pandemic, but it is certainly not uncommon. Matar said her group is not defending any defamation cases.

Unequal Enforcement

Another aspect of the law is that it is enforced unequally and in a way that is seemingly meant to protect the sensitivities of the majority from the minority, but not the other way around. In effect, the majority is given free rein to insult or even vilify religious minorities in the country.

While Judaism and Christianity are considered "revealed" religions under the Quran, no other religious traditions are, and therefore the defamation statute offers them no protection under the law. Using the Baha'i and Zoroastrian traditions as examples, Marshall said they are "not regarded as heavenly religions, so you may insult them all you want."

Even the protections that in theory are extended to Judaism and Christianity are tenuous at best. Anti-Semitism is rife in Egypt. People insult Judaism and its adherents in the media and in the public arena "everyday and every way in Egypt" without anyone being called to task under 98(f), according to Marshall.

"The law is in principle insulting any one of those religions. In practice, you can insult Judaism all you want, even on state media," he said.

On a few rare occasions, the state has intervened when media professionals have insulted Christianity on television, but by and large, people "defame" Christianity and its core ideas in the public sphere with no recrimination.

"You can hear it on loudspeakers in the street," Marshall said. "You will find it on school television programs. You will find it in school textbooks. You will find that in books issued by government ministries."

After a church bombing in Alexandria last New Year's Eve, when at least 22 people were killed, Coptic Christians complained that it is commonplace in Alexandria for imams to launch into anti-Christian tirades during Friday afternoon prayers. In several instances in southern Egypt, rioters have attacked Christian-held businesses on prompting from imams during Friday prayers. In Egypt, imams' salaries are paid for in part by government-approved Islamic institutions.

No Public Outcry

Outside of human rights groups and a few religious groups, there has been no large outcry to reform the law.

According to a survey conducted in 2009 by WorldPublicOpinion.org, 71 percent of Egyptians agreed with the statement, "The government should have the right to fine or imprison people who publically criticize a religion because such criticism could defame the religion." WorldPublicOpinion.org is run by the Program on International Policy Attitudes by the University of Maryland.

Part of the reason the laws are unlikely to change is that Article 2 of the Egyptian Constitution states, "Islam is the Religion of the State. Arabic is its official language, and the principal source of legislation is Islamic Jurisprudence."

Although the Egyptian Constitution also has laws enshrining freedom of religion and expression, Article 2 supersedes those laws, rendering them ineffective. There has been widespread pressure from Coptic and secular groups to do away with Article 2, but the recent national referendum to reform the constitution did not include any language to strike the article.

The referendum passed with 77 percent voting in favor of its reforms; defamation laws remained intact.

Offense of the Cross

In Sudan's Sunni Muslim-majority north, where apostasy (leaving Islam) is punishable by death, the maximum sentence for violating the country's blasphemy law is milder than Egypt's maximum of five years in prison, but potentially more painful.

Violation of Section 125 of the Sudanese Criminal Act, which prohibits "insulting religion, inciting hatred and showing contempt for religious beliefs," is punishable by imprisonment of one year, a fine, and 40 lashes.

As in Egypt, the law can be used as a pretext for taking legal action against anyone who leaves Islam, since conversion to Christianity itself can be interpreted as "insulting" or "showing contempt" for Islam.

"This article is being used by the police to crush any person who leaves Islam for Christianity," said one Sudanese convert to Christianity.

One Sudanese lawyer, a Muslim, said the law is seen as protective.

"The importance of this section is that it helps protect Islamic religion from being insulted, and it also discourages those who do not want to respect other religions," said Nasour Badr in Khartoum.

The Christian convert said that sentiment can be easily manipulated.

"This article is important to Muslims in Sudan since it gives the right to any Muslim to file cases against converts from Muslim backgrounds and other Christians as well," he said. "The law can also be used by the government to arrest individuals who may oppose the government."

Christians remaining in the north are particularly vulnerable, and the U.S. Department of State's latest International Religious Freedom Report describes Khartoum as having a "significant Christian population," due in part to migration during the long civil war.

"The Roman Catholic Church of Sudan and the Episcopal Churches of Sudan estimate they have 6 million and 5 million baptized followers, respectively, although active churchgoers are far fewer," the report notes, adding that there are also small but long-established groups of Orthodox Christians in Khartoum and in other northern cities, including Coptic Orthodox and Greek Orthodox communities.

"There are also Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox communities, largely made up of refugees and migrants, in Khartoum and the east," according to the report.

While convictions may be rare, Christian converts from Islam said they continue to be victims of Sudan's blasphemy law.

"In many cases this law continues to be used by the police to harass everyone who tries to express his or her belief in public," said another convert from Islam on condition of anonymity.

He said police arrested one such convert in downtown Khartoum in 2009; not until the convert arrived at the police station did he find out, to his surprise, that authorities were opening a case against him under Article 125 for offense against any religious belief.

"He was falsely accused of insulting Islam, even though at the time of his arrest he was speaking only about his faith in Jesus," the Christian said of the other arrested convert. "The police were angry with that move, so they arrested him and jailed him for few hours before they released him for lack of enough evidence against him. He was basically arrested because of his faith."

While one church leader noted that Article 125 is "a weapon in the hand of the government to file accusations against Christians," Christians are not the only ones vulnerable within the Sudanese population. In November 2007, a British teacher was jailed in Khartoum under the article for insulting Islam by letting her class of 7-year-olds name a teddy bear Muhammad as part of a school project.

Gillian Gibbons, 54, was charged under Section 125 and convicted on one of three counts, "insulting religion," on Nov. 29, 2007. She was sentenced to 15 days in prison and deportation.

She had suggested to her students that they name their teddy bear, the new class mascot, "Faris," but 20 of the 23 children decided they wanted to name it "Muhammad," after one of the class's most popular boys.

Most Sunni Muslims forbid any depiction of Muhammad. An office assistant at the school, Sara Khawad, had filed the complaint and was the primary witness in the prosecution.

The day after her sentencing, some 10,000 protestors in Khartoum demanded death for Gibbons after imams denounced her during Friday prayers. Ultimately, after intervention from British officials, she was granted a presidential pardon and released into the security of the British embassy in Khartoum.

In December 2007, the section was used against two Egyptian booksellers, Abdelfatah Al Sadani and Maharous Mahammad Abdelazeem, both 30. They were sentenced to six months in prison because they sold a book that the court deemed an insult to Aisha, one of Muhammad's wives.

The U.S. Department of State's International Religious Freedom Report 2010 notes that while Sudan's Interim National Constitution provides for freedom of religion throughout the country, it establishes sharia (Islamic law) as a source of legislation in the north. The official laws and policies of the Government of National Unity favor Islam in the north, while the constitution, laws and policies of Southern Sudan provide for freedom of religion "contributed to the generally free practice of religion."

The South has no penalties for apostasy or defaming religion, and evangelism is common. And while the State Department report notes that laws against blasphemy and defaming Islam in the north were rarely enforced last year, the threat they pose can be enough to restrict freedom of speech and freedom of religion - especially for converts.

"Those who leave Islam know they may be victims of this article," a source in Khartoum told Compass.

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Cyprus: USCIRF Concerned Over Demolition of 200-Year-Old Church in Northern Cyprus

WASHINGTON, D.C. (USCIRF)--The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) expressed its concern over the demolition of the 200-year-old Greek Orthodox Chapel of Saint Thekla in the village of Vokolida, in the area of the Republic of Cyprus under the control of the Turkish troops and administered by Turkish Cypriot authorities. The church was demolished on May 2, 2011. USCIRF calls on local Turkish Cypriot authorities to commit to rebuild the church.

"Local Turkish Cypriot authorities have generally failed to take adequate measures to protect religious places of worship from vandals and looters." said USCIRF Chair, Leonard Leo. "Allowing the demolition of the Saint Thekla chapel exemplifies the ongoing disrespect and violations by Turkish troops and local Turkish Cypriot authorities for the religious freedom and heritage of Greek Orthodox and other religious minority communities in the northern part of Cyprus," continued Mr. Leo.

A USCIRF delegation travelled to northern Cyprus in February 2011 and saw firsthand the decrepit state of numerous Christian Orthodox churches caused by a prohibition on religious minority groups against repairing their places of worship.

The bulldozer operator and an employee of the construction company, Exsen, have been arrested, and the "special advisor for foreign affairs" to Turkish Cypriot leader Dervi? Ero?lu, Kudret Özersay, has condemned the demolition. Reportedly, the Turkish Cypriot authorities' "department of antiquities and museums" was directed to reconstruct the chapel.

Mr. Leo concluded, "While USCIRF welcomes these actions, local Turkish Cypriot authorities must take proactive steps to protect the hundreds of other churches in northern Cyprus, including those that are in disrepair and are on the verge of collapsing. Also, local Turkish Cypriot authorities should ensure the expeditious reconstruction of the church, in consultation with the Church of Cyprus and in accordance with traditional religious and cultural architecture, as appropriate for a Greek Orthodox Church, as well as appropriately sanction the construction company.

Finally, the Turkish military and local Turkish Cypriot authorities should eliminate restrictions on the access and use of their religious sites and places of worship in the north; this means putting an end to ongoing limitations imposed by requirements to submit written applications by minority religious communities and their religious leaders."

Further, as reported in USCIRF 2011 Annual Report, access to religious places of worship within and outside Turkish military bases and zones in northern Cyprus is seriously limited by the Turkish military and local Turkish Cypriot authorities. Religious minority communities and their religious leaders must submit applications through the UN and be given permission by local Turkish Cypriot authorities to administer religious services, including Divine Liturgies, at most churches in northern Cyprus. As recently as April 2011, the Bishop Christoforos of Karpasia was prohibited from administering the Easter liturgy at the Holy Temple of Saint Synesi?s in Rizokarpaso village. Also, the Bishop Porfyrios of Neapolis and Father Savvas Hadjionas were prohibited from celebrating the April 25th Divine Liturgy at the Holy Temple of Saint George at the Vatili village. The two bishops and the priest had submitted applications through the UN, in full accordance and in ample time, for local Turkish Cypriot authorities to review and approve their applications. However, the applications were denied without explanation.

USCIRF's 2011 Annual Report also recommended that the U.S. government should:

* urge the Turkish government to allow religious communities living in the Republic of Cyprus and religious minority communities living in northern Cyprus access to (including rights to restore, maintain, and utilize) religious sites, places of worship, and cemeteries that are located within the borders of Turkish military bases and zones in northern Cyprus;

* urge the Turkish government and/or Turkish Cypriot authorities to abandon all restrictions on the access and use of churches and other places of worship, including requiring applications for permission to hold religious services;

* urge the Turkish Cypriot authorities and Turkish military to return all religious places of worship and cemeteries to their rightful owners; cease any ongoing desecration and destruction of Greek Orthodox, Maronite, Armenian Orthodox, and Jewish religious properties; and cease using any such religious sites as stables, military storage sites, vehicle repair shops, and public entertainment venues or any other non-religious purpose;

* urge the Turkish government and/or the Turkish Cypriot authorities to permit the restoration of St. Andreas monastery and other churches located in northern Cyprus;

* urge the Turkish government and/or the Turkish Cypriot authorities to return Christian religious iconography and other religious art that is in the hands of Turkish Cypriot authorities and that remain in churches to their rightful owners; and

* urge the Turkish Cypriot authorities to provide a full list of catalogued religious artifacts and to allow access by UNESCO authorities, if UNESCO deems it appropriate and necessary to review such materials under possession of the Turkish Cypriot authorities and/or Turkish military.

USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government commission. USCIRF Commissioners are appointed by the President and the leadership of both political parties in the Senate and the House of Representatives. USCIRF's principal responsibilities are to review the facts and circumstances of violations of religious freedom internationally and to make policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State and Congress.

To interview a USCIRF Commissioner, contact Tom Carter, Communications Director at tcarter@uscirf.gov or (202) 523-3257.

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World Congress of Families Calls Hungary's Pro-Life/Pro-Marriage Constitution -- A Triumph for Human Rights and the Family

ROCKFORD, Ill., (World Congress of Families)--World Congress of Families Managing Director Larry Jacobs called Hungary's new Constitution "a triumph for human rights and the family."

The Constitution, signed by Hungarian President Pal Schmitt late last month, states in Article 2 that "The life of the fetus will be protected from conception." It also defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

Jacobs noted: "The Constitution's drafters were right to invoke St. Stephen, Hungary's patron saint. As King Stephen, it was he who firmly established Christianity in the nation This Constitution reflects the Judeo-Christian principles on which Western civilization is based, including the sanctity of life and the natural family."

The WCF Managing Director further observed that Hungary's new Constitution is in keeping with the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), which dictates that "the family in the fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State" and gives men and women "the right to marry and found a family."

With a fertility rate of only 1.4 (average number of children per woman) -- and a rate of 2.1 needed just to replace current population -- it's clearly in Hungary's national interest to protect the lives of all of its citizens, including unborn children. Every abortion brings Hungary that much closer to national extinction.

Jacobs urged the people of Hungary to "stand firm in their commitment to life and the family, in what's sure to be a relentless onslaught from the anti-family left -- European Union and United Nations bureaucrats, as well as the organized pro-abortion and homosexual 'rights' movements." Jacobs told the Hungarian people, "Justice, history and natural law are on your side."

World Congress of Families is sponsoring the first international conference to deal with the worldwide decline in birthrates, the "Moscow Demographic Summit: Family and the Future of Humankind," June 29-30. Click here (www.worldcongress.ru) for more information.

To learn more about World Congress of Families, click here: www.worldcongress.org. To schedule an interview with Larry Jacobs contact Don Feder at dfeder@rcn.com or call 508-405-1337.

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Board Approves OBU Academic Reorganization

SHAWNEE, Okla. (Oklahoma Baptist University)--Reorganization of Oklahoma Baptist University academic units highlighted the May meeting of OBU trustees on Friday, May 13, in Shawnee.

The board ratified a reorganization proposal from the OBU administration which included elevating two academic schools to "college" status, dividing the OBU College of Arts and Sciences into two separate colleges, and creating a new college for theology and ministry.

The action creates the James E. Hurley College of Science and Mathematics and the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. The two units replace the College of Arts and Sciences.

The reorganization also creates the new Herschel H. Hobbs College of Theology and Ministry. The college incorporates six divisions into one administrative framework: the Joe L. Ingram School of Christian Studies, the Department of Biblical and Theological Studies, the Department of Christian and Cross-Cultural Ministry, and the Department of Philosophy; the Avery T. Willis Center for Global Outreach, and the Don Kammerdiener Center for Missiological Research.

OBU President David W. Whitlock, in his state-of-the-university address to the board, said the structure change creating the College of Science and Mathematics will allow better representation within the academic structure, and a better-defined existence for OBU's "highly renowned science and mathematics programs."

The Hurley College of Science and Mathematics is named for Dr. James E. Hurley, who served on the OBU faculty from 1962-98. The noted biology professor was inducted into the Oklahoma Higher Education Hall of Fame in 2003. Hurley died in 2004.

The Hobbs College is named for Dr. Herschel H. Hobbs, longtime Southern Baptist pastor and denominational statesman, Hobbs was a prolific author, noted preacher, and radio program host. He was pastor of the First Baptist Church of Oklahoma City from 1949-72. He died in 1995.

Dr. Whitlock said the Hobbs College of Theology and Ministry will give a clearer structure for the programs within the college. The action brings the long-standing Joe L. Ingram School of Christian Service into a comprehensive academic unit which includes the Avery T. Willis Center for Global Outreach and the Don Kammerdiener Center for Missiological Research.

"These centers started in 2005 as parts of OBU's Campus Ministry programs, with dotted lines to the academic side of our house," Whitlock said. "By approving the proposal, we benefit from a new academic emphasis for these global outreach enterprises."

The overall reorganization resulted in seven major academic divisions: the Warren M. Angell College of Fine Arts, the James E. Hurley College of Science and Mathematics, the College of Nursing, the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, the Herschell H. Hobbs College of Theology and Ministry; the Paul Dickinson College of Business, and the OBU Graduate School.

The board meeting began with the presentation of an address written by the late Dr. Alan Day, former vice chairman of the board of trustees, who died in a motorcycle accident on Feb. 16, 2011. Day, longtime pastor of the First Baptist Church of Edmond, was scheduled to present the address during Founders' Day at OBU during the spring semester.

Dr. Stan Norman, OBU provost and executive vice president for campus life, read the address to the full board.

"Oklahoma Baptist University was founded by people committed to a specific vision and a sacred mission animated by deep convictions," Day wrote. He noted three "foundational principles" in the address: that OBU is a "child of the Baptist churches of Oklahoma;" that "a consistent Christian worldview will be embraced and advocated" in every area of the university; and that OBU "exists as an extension of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ."

Day concluded that "life and cultural transformation through the serious search for and engagement with the truth has been the mission of OBU from the beginning."

"As I stand here this morning, I want to reiterate the challenge which poured out of every pause in that address," Whitlock said in his remarks to the board. He noted that Day stressed OBU founders believed the "universe is saturated with purpose."

"If that is true for a universe where man can choose to live apart from God, how much more does it apply to a Christian liberal arts university where we are seeking to live by the Spirit?" Whitlock said. "Alan understood the kind of contribution a Christian university can make in the world today."

Trustees unanimously passed a "resolution of appreciation for the life of R. Alan Day" during the meeting, noting Day was a "tireless supporter of OBU" and "a faithful churchman committed to Christian higher education."

In other action, trustees approved the university's strategic objectives for the 2011-12 academic year. The annual objectives correspond to seven major objectives listed in OBU 2020, the institution's long-range strategic plan.

The board ratified promotions for four faculty members. Dr. Jerry Faught, who joined the faculty in 2001, was promoted from associate professor of religion to professor of religion. Dr. Nathan Malmberg, who joined the faculty in 2005, was promoted from associate professor of biochemistry to professor of biochemistry. Dr. Kristen Stauffer Todd, who joined the faculty in 1999, was promoted from associate professor of music and humanities to professor of music and humanities. Dr. Karen Youmans, who joined the faculty in 1999, was promoted from associate professor of English to professor of English.

Board members also approved contracts for seven new faculty members. New faculty include Tawa Anderson, assistant professor of philosophy; Dr. R. Bruce Carlton, professor of applied ministry; Mary Chung, assistant professor of piano; Dr. Elena Foulis, assistant professor of Spanish; Dr. Sam Freas, professor of kinesiology and leisure studies; Christian Timothy George, assistant professor of religion; and Dr. Randolph Burge Johnson, assistant professor of music theory.

Dr. Reagan Bradford Sr., chair of the 33-member board, moderated the meeting. Bradford, who resides in Edmond, is a medical research physician.

Located in Shawnee, Okla., OBU offers 10 bachelor's degrees with 84 fields of study. The Christian liberal arts university has an overall enrollment of 1,777, with students from 38 states and 19 other countries. OBU has been rated as one of the top 10 comprehensive colleges in the West by U.S. News and World Report for 19 consecutive years and has been Oklahoma's highest rated comprehensive college in the U.S. News rankings for 17 consecutive years. For 2011, Forbes.com ranked OBU as the top university in Oklahoma.

Copyright (c) 2011 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net