BC-US-REL–Religion Briefs,1103

Religion News in Brief

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By The Associated Press

Israel’s high court says government must fund conversion classes for Reform Jews

JERUSALEM (AP) – Israel’s Supreme Court ordered the government to allot funds to classes for Reform Jewish conversions, in a small step toward recognition of the liberal stream of Judaism.

The ruling Tuesday followed a petition by the Israel Reform Movement, a liberal branch of Judaism that has long been engrossed in a power struggle with the Orthodox in Israel.

Only the Orthodox branch, which accepts Jewish law as obligatory, enjoys full government recognition and the financial support that comes with it. Reform and Conservative Jewish movements are prominent in the United States and other countries but are tiny in Israel.

Less than half of Israel’s Jews define themselves as Orthodox; many others describe themselves as traditional. The liberal streams believe large numbers of those Israelis would join their movements if they were recognized.

The high court said in its ruling that the funding was a matter of religious freedom.

“Pluralism is the basic, essential component in democracy,” the court wrote, “and variety is the expression of democracy in practice.”

About 2,000 Israelis convert to Judaism each year, mostly new immigrants who were granted citizenship because of their Jewish heritage but who weren’t raised in the Jewish religion or culture, said Einat Hurvitz, legal director for the Israel Reform Movement.

The Israeli government allocates more than $5 million annually to yearlong state-run Orthodox conversion classes, Hurvitz said. Tuesday’s ruling requires that the government equally divide an additional $250,000, used for private conversion classes, between Orthodox and Reform groups.

“This ruling is a strong statement that there’s more than one way to be Jewish and more than one path to Judaism,” said Anat Hoffman, executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center, the legal arm of the Israel Reform Movement.


Italy recovers lost Byzantine frescoes from Greece

ROME (AP) – Italian cultural authorities said Tuesday they had recovered two precious Byzantine-era frescoes ripped from a church in southern Italy by looters 27 years ago. The frescoes were found in the home of a shipping heiress on a remote Greek island.

The art squad of the Carabinieri paramilitary police showed off the delicate frescoes and other artifacts recovered by Italy as part of its crackdown on illicit antiquities trafficking. In all, police say they recovered more than $4 million worth of stolen statues, busts and ancient pots.

Police say the frescoes were discovered as part of investigations into Marion True, a former curator of the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. True is on trial in Rome with art dealer Robert Hecht, accused of knowingly acquiring dozens of allegedly looted ancient artifacts. Both deny wrongdoing.

The frescoes, which date from the 11th to the 13th centuries and depict saints, were found in the home of Greek shipping heiress Despoina Papadimitriou. She is the sister of the late Christo Michailidis, a London-based art dealer who supplied Greek, Roman and Etruscan antiquities to the Getty. She has not been charged with any wrongdoing in Italy in relation to the looted art.

With True on trial in Rome, Greek authorities began their own investigations into illicit trafficking in antiquities. They searched Papadimitriou’s sprawling villa on the island of Schoinoussa in 2006 and showed Italian investigators photos of what they found, the carabinieri said. Authorities confirmed that the two frescoes had come from the Grotta delle Formelle chapel in Caserta, in southern Italy, which had been looted in April 1982.

Police also displayed some of the 251 artifacts worth millions of dollars discovered in another investigation into looted antiquities found in Switzerland.

The goods were handed over to Italian authorities by two Lebanese brothers who operated a Geneva antiquities gallery. Police said they hoped that such a gesture would be repeated by anyone who had illicit antiquities in their possession.

PBS vote on membership policies could affect KBYU

PROVO, Utah (AP) – The Public Broadcasting Service is reviewing membership policies on the religious content of its affiliates, a move that could affect station KBYU, which frequently runs devotionals from Brigham Young University and other programs related to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Jan McNamara, director of corporate communications for PBS, said the Station Services Committee of the PBS board is reviewing policies for its members, specifically the mandate that stations must provide a nonsectarian, nonpolitical and noncommercial educational service.

“This is language that has been in our core membership policies at least since 1985,” McNamara said.

No review has been done since 1997, so a re-examination was needed, McNamara said. Member stations are submitting feedback, and after the committee makes a recommendation on membership policies, a vote will be taken on June 16.

McNamara said it is unclear whether a station could lose its PBS affiliation because of religious programming.

But she noted the PBS board is made up mostly of member stations’ general managers, who understand how stations run, so the six to 10 PBS affiliates that run religious broadcasts may not be at serious risk of losing affiliation.

BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins said officials are confident the station will continue to offer “educational and uplifting” programming. BYU is owned by the Mormon church.

The university acquired a license in 1965 to operate the station. Derek Marquis, managing director of BYU Broadcasting, said in a statement that it is appropriate for PBS to review membership criteria, especially as technology changes.

Gov. Brad Henry signs bill to allow Ten Commandments monument on state Capitol grounds

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – Gov. Brad Henry has signed a bill to permit a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the state Capitol.

Henry took the action Monday, rejecting arguments that the display violated the state and U.S. constitutions barring government favoring a religion.

Rep. Mike Ritze introduced the bill and said he would use family funds to pay for the $10,000 cost of the monument.

Ritze and GOP Sen. Randy Brogdon, the bill’s Senate sponsor, argued the monument would honor the historical significance of the Ten Commandments and not it religious aspects.

“The monument will simply re-emphasize the history and heritage of our country’s legal system,” Ritze said in a statement. The lawmakers said the bill was modeled on a Texas law that had been tested in the U.S. Supreme Court.

But civil liberties groups argued that the Texas monument had been in a park for 40 years with 17 other structures and 21 historical markers.

The American Civil Liberties Union is considering challenging the state legislation.

AP-ES-05-20-09 1200EDT

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