Religion News in Brief

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Posted: Oct 26, 2011 4:38 PM
Religion News in Brief

Rules for Nebraska counselors still mired in gay debate

LINCOLN, Neb. _ A coalition of social workers, psychologists and family therapists demanded Monday that the state adopt rules that would require certain mental health professionals to offer referrals to gay patients if they refuse to treat them because of religious beliefs.

Terry Werner, who heads the Nebraska chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, said such referrals are already required in the code of ethics that governs each profession in the group. But he said the state's Division of Public Health has yet to adopt the same language for so-called licensed independent mental health practitioners, a position the Legislature created in 2007.

The new independent position allows qualified mental health practitioners who serve as counselors, social workers and therapists to diagnose and treat mental illnesses without formal medical supervision. Werner said the proposed regulations have sat untouched by the Division of Public Health since mid-2010.

The coalition has filed a petition demanding that the Department of Health and Human Services advance the rules.

Without such rules, the practitioners have "no formal guidance regarding their profession," the petition states. "Since the Legislature's creation of this category of professionals in 2007, there have been no rules or regulations governing these professionals."

Jim Cunningham, executive director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference, has said psychologists, therapists and other licensed counselors should be able to refuse to treat clients because of religious or moral convictions and not have to refer them to another therapist. Their concern rose largely from an Iowa Supreme Court ruling that allowed same-sex marriage, raising the prospect that gay couples could come to Nebraska therapists for marriage counseling.

Cunningham has said the addition of sexual orientation to anti-discrimination professional ethics requirements makes it unclear whether that's allowed.

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Before-school Bible study group sues Owasso Public Schools for alleged civil rights violations

OWASSO, Okla. (AP) _ A before-school Bible study group has sued Owasso Public Schools, claiming the department censored the group's flyers and handouts.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Tulsa by the Alliance Defense Fund on behalf of Owasso Kids for Christ. It alleges the school unconstitutionally prohibits the group from distributing religious flyers, from taking part in an open house and from using the school's public address system.

The plaintiffs argue that groups such as the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and YMCA are allowed such access.

School Superintendent Clark Ogilvie said on the district's website that the issue is "misconstrued and taken out of context." He said the district doesn't deny religious groups access to the schools _ but said they must follow school policies.

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Attorney: SC school district counseled on church-state separation; Christian rapper returns

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) _ Leaders of a South Carolina school district where a Christian-themed rally was held at a middle school were counseled about the First Amendment's separation of church and state, said an attorney who met with them.

The Christian rapper who performed last month at a daytime rally at New Heights Middle School in Chesterfield County is coming back this week to two high schools for nighttime events, the lawyer said in a letter to a group that complained about the event.

"They say they are committed to following the First Amendment," said Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation. "But it seems they are turning this school district into a worship center."

Public schools do not exclude student religious groups from meeting on school property before or after school hours, but the events are supposed to be student-led and organized.

Attorney David Duff of Columbia sent a letter to the foundation after it complained about a Sept. 1 rally during the school day that featured the Christian rapper who calls himself B-SHOC and youth evangelist Christian Chapman. Duff met with District Superintendent John Williams, school board members and New Heights Middle School principal Larry Stinson.

"I believe that all concerned now have a full understanding of the interplay between the Free Exercise Clause and the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and the principle of separation of church and state in the public school context," Duff wrote. He also said the First Amendment principles would be reviewed when administrators next meet as a group.

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Man gets at least 16 years for central Pa. burglary spree that hit more than 2 dozen churches

LANCASTER, Pa. (AP) _ A central Pennsylvania man has been ordered to spend more than 16 years in prison for burglarizing more than two dozen churches in a little more than two months in 2008.

Michael Scott Wissler, 40, called his burglary spree "inexcusable" at his sentencing hearing Tuesday in Lancaster County Court. He pleaded guilty in September.

Wissler told the court he was trying to support a serious heroin addiction when he committed 44 break-ins over the course of 63 days. More than 30 of the burglaries were at churches, the rest at other businesses.

Wissler was ordered to pay back $72,000 in damage and losses.