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CULTURE DIGEST: Church won't sue over state's denial of outside baptism permit; ...
Posted on Sep 2, 2011 | by John Evans

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OLYMPIA, Wash. (BP) -- A church in Washington state has decided not to pursue legal action after the state denied it permission to hold a baptism on the state capitol's grounds.

According to the Olympian daily newspaper, the issue arose when Reality Church in Olympia applied for permission to hold a picnic at state-owned Heritage Park, which sits on the grounds of the capitol. Among the list of event-related activities the church submitted was a baptism. The state Department of General Administration (GA) allowed the picnic but denied permission for the baptism.

GA spokesman Steve Valandra told Fox News Radio that the state constitution "does not allow public grounds or funds to be used for religious ceremonies so we got advice from our attorney general's office and we denied their permit for the baptism."

The church cried foul, and in response to the state's decision, the American Center for Law & Justice (ACLJ) filed an appeal on behalf of the church, which the state rejected.

The Washington state constitution states in Article One that "No public money shall be appropriated or applied to any religious worship, exercise or instruction, or the support of any religious establishment."

According to Fox News, GA acting director Jane Rushford wrote that the baptism would be an act of religious worship, which could not be performed on state property.

Pastor Paul Jones of Reality Church told the Olympian the state was being inconsistent by allowing other religious practices, including weddings, on the capitol grounds. ACLJ attorney Jordan Sekulow told Fox News Radio the state was suppressing free speech rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

"So now you've got a state saying this is too much religious activity so it's not really speech anymore," Sekulow said. "This violates the U.S. Constitution."

But the Olympian reported that the church held its picnic and baptism at a new location and decided not to pursue legal action against the state. Jones told the Olympian such action would be "inconsistent with our mission as a church family," and he and the church "don't have an agenda to push."

GOOGLE NONPROFIT PROGRAM OFF-LIMITS TO CHURCHES -- A Google program with tools to help nonprofits is out of reach for churches and faith-based organizations.

"Google for Nonprofits" bundles a number of free or discounted resources designed to aid nonprofits, including Google Earth Outreach, a souped-up YouTube channel and the ability to get as much as $10,000 a month in advertising on Google AdWords.

But guidelines for the program exclude certain types of potential clients, including places of worship, schools, political groups and organizations that evangelize or use religion as a factor in hiring.

Brian Young, IT director for Living Hope Baptist Church in Bowling Green, Ky., told Christianity Today he planned to use a number of facets of the service, including its office software, distributing and streaming video, mapping for service projects and missionaries and Google AdWords. But his July 12 application for Google for Nonprofits was rejected the next day, and the church decided to pay $2,500 for a year for Gmail and Google's office software instead.

"There were so many things for nonprofits that were going to benefit us," Young told Christianity Today. "We just wanted to use them."

Christianity Today reported that prior to Google for Nonprofits, Google offered some of its individual resources for free or at discounted rates to entities that don't qualify under the new guidelines, such as churches and faith-based groups. Google spokesperson Parag Chokshi told Christianity Today in an email that such organizations that previously used Google tools will be "grandfathered in."

Notre Dame Law School professor Lloyd Mayer told Christianity Today that corporations often place restrictions on who can qualify for their philanthropic programs and bar faith-based groups from participating. He said Google is trying to avoid causes that might alienate some customers.

FAITH TRENDS IN DECLINE, BARNA REPORTS -- General faith trends over the past two decades in America are largely negative, according to the Barna Group.

The Christian research organization has released the first six parts of its annual "State of the Church" tracking study, which looks at changes in 14 religious attributes since 1991. Part One, released on July 26, examines general faith trends among Americans, with a summary on the Barna Group's website showing most traditional measures of religiosity decreasing. Among them:

-- Adult church attendance has declined 9 points, from 49 percent in 1991 to 40 percent today

-- About 15 percent of adults attend Sunday School, a drop of 8 percentage points over the past two decades.

-- Bible reading outside of church during a typical week declined 5 percentage points to 40 percent.

-- Only 22 percent of adults volunteer at their church during a typical week, down 8 percentage points from 1991.

-- The percentage of adults categorized as unchurched (who have not attended a religious event at a church besides such ceremonies as weddings and funerals in the past six months) has risen from 24 percent in 1991 to 37 percent today, more than a third of the U.S. population.

-- The percentage of people who believe that God is "the all-knowing, all-powerful and perfect Creator of the universe who still rules the world today," fell five points, putting the total at 77 percent of Americans.

-- Only 43 percent of Americans believe "the Bible is totally accurate in all of the principles it teaches," a decline of 10 percentage points from 1991.

The summary, which polled 1,005 randomly selected adults in 1991 and 1,621 in 2011, also indicated one upswing: More adults today can be classified as born-again Christians (who believe they will "experience eternal salvation based on their commitment to Jesus Christ, personal confession of sins, and acceptance of Christ as their savior ...") than in 1991, an increase of seven percentage points to 48 percent.

"Overall, the picture is not pretty though it falls somewhat short of disaster," George Barna commented in his blog. "If existing tendencies continue, then we will likely see an increase in the numbers of people who do not accept a conventional definition of God's character and those who reject the accuracy of the principles taught in the scriptures."

To view the summaries of all currently released parts of the "State of the Church" survey, visit http://www.barna.org/faith-spirituality/504-barna-examines-trends-in-14-religious-factors-over-20-years-1991-to-2011.

STUDY EXAMINES EDUCATION & CHURCH ATTENDANCE -- A new study says white Americans who didn't attend college are dropping out of church faster than those with more education.

According to an article by HealthDay News published in U.S. News & World Report, researchers looked at data from the General Social Survey and the National Survey of Family Growth to determine how many adults age 25 to 44 attended monthly religious services in the 1970s and the past decade. The researchers said they focused on whites because the religiosity of blacks and Latinos doesn't vary as much based on education and income.

They found that while attendance at religious services has declined among all white adults since the 1970s, those without college degrees have abandoned religious service at more than twice the rate of college graduates.

HealthDay News reported that the researchers found that in the 1970s, 38 percent of whites without a high school diploma attended religious services versus 23 percent today, a 15 percent drop. Attendance among whites with a diploma but no college degree dropped from 50 percent to 37 percent, a 13 point fall, and attendance among college-educated whites only decreased 5 percentage points, from 51 percent to 46 percent.

"While we recognize that not everyone wishes to worship, and that religious diversity can be valuable, we also think that the existence of a large group of less-educated Americans that is increasingly disconnected from religious institutions is troubling for our society," Andrew Cherlin, the study's coauthor and a professor of sociology and public policy at the Johns Hopkins University, told QMI Agency, a Canadian press agency. "It reinforces the social marginalization of less educated Americans who are also increasingly disconnected from the institutions of marriage and work."
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John Evans is a writer based in Houston.
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