News Update-July 2013

Gov. Perry Signs Sweeping Abortion Restrictions in Texas
Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed sweeping new abortion restrictions on July 18 that could shutter most of the clinics in the state, Fox News reports.

More than 100 Republican lawmakers attended the signing ceremony, along with a small band of protesters dressed in black and holding a sign that read "Shame." The legislation had sparked weeks of protests at the state Capitol.

The new law bans abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy, dictates when abortion-inducing drugs can be taken, and also requires abortion clinic doctors to have hospital admitting privileges and restricts abortions to surgical centers. Only five of Texas' 42 abortion clinics currently meet the new requirements. The law will take effect in October, and clinics will have a year to upgrade their facilities or shut down.

Perry said the new law "builds upon our commitment to protecting life in the state of Texas." He and other top Republican politicians in the state made passing the law a top priority to please supporters before the primary election in March. They failed to pass the bill last month on the last day of a special legislative session because of a Democratic state senator's lengthy filibuster and a raucous crowd, but they were successful last week after Perry called a second special session for that reason.

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Christians in Sudan Face Increased Hostility
Despite a promise by the Sudanese government to grant its minority Christian population religious freedom, church leaders there said they are beset by increased restrictions and hostility in the wake of the South Sudan's independence.

In 2011, South Sudan, a mostly Christian region, split from the predominantly Muslim and Arab north, in a process strongly supported by the international community and churches in the West. The two regions had fought a two-decade long civil war that ended in 2005, following the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. The pact granted the South Sudanese a referendum after a six-year interim period and independence six months later. In the referendum, the people of South Sudan chose separation.

But while the separation is praised as good for political reasons, several churches in Khartoum, the northern capital, have been destroyed and others closed down along with affiliated schools and orphanages. Christians in Sudan are facing increased arrests, detention and deportation with church-associated centers being raided and foreign missionaries kicked out, according to the leaders.

"The situation of Christians and the church is very difficult at the moment," said Roman Catholic Auxiliary Bishop Daniel Adwok of the Khartoum Archdiocese. After the secession, President Omar al-Bashir promised a country governed by an Islamic constitution where Islam is the official religion. On July 7, Bashir declared the constitution would serve as "a role model for all people who have aspirations to apply religion in all aspects of their lives."

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Queen Approves Same-Sex "Marriage" Bill in England, Wales
England and Wales became the 16th and 17th countries in the world to recognize gay "marriage" after Queen Elizabeth II gave "royal assent" to a same-sex "marriage" bill.

Under the new law, homosexuals will be able to join together in civil ceremonies or in church services-although the bill states that no religious denomination will be forced to carry out such services.

Cheers, laughter and clapping broke out in the House of Commons when Speaker John Bercow announced the bill had been approved.

The bill's passage saw many angry exchanges. It had the full support of Prime Minister David Cameron, despite the consternation of many in his own Conservative Party. The leaders of two other main parties, the Liberal Democrats and New Labour, also backed it. But some political commentators predict Cameron's gay-friendly attitudes will cost him at the next election in 2015.

The Roman Catholic Church fought the bill and the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales swiftly issued a statement of its displeasure: "With this new legislation, marriage has now become an institution in which openness to children, and with it the responsibility on fathers and mothers to remain together to care for children born into their family unit, are no longer central."

Religion Today Summaries

Syrian Christian Girls Describe Daily Life of Fear, Violence
"It's scary. We hear a lot of bad stories about what is happening around us. On the streets there are soldiers everywhere. We see smoke from fighting and hear bombings all the time."

Those are the words of Youmna *, 13, a Christian girl who lives in Damascus, Syria, with her sister Nashita*, 10.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, approximately 100,000 people have been killed in the civil war between government forces and rebels. The death total includes 5,000 children under the age of 16. The conflict began on March 2011.

"One day I was going to school by bus when we heard a shooting nearby," says Youmna. "So we all dived down, hiding under our seats, waiting until the shooting was over. Another day when we were at school there was an airplane very close by, threatening to bomb our school. We all had to go into the basement and stay away from the glass."

Nashita adds: "My classmates and I were all very scared. Kids around me were crying and shouting at the teachers because they were so afraid. Some called their fathers crying to them that they wanted to go home."

Nashita says almost all her friends have left Syria. "My best friend Lunah* went to Egypt. I miss her so much. We talk on the phone, but it's not the same."

The United Nations office of the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict says it has received verified reports "that Syrian children are killed or injured in indiscriminate bombings, shot by snipers, used as human shields or victims of terror attacks."

Religion Today Summaries
* Names changed for safety

Marriage Supporters: Court Set Dangerous Precedent
The U.S. Supreme Court on June 26 essentially legalized gay marriage in California after ruling that defenders of Proposition 8, the voter-approved amendment defining marriage as being between a man and woman, had no legal standing to defend it. Backers of Prop 8 say the court has set a dangerous precedent that in effect neutralizes the will of the people who vote, CBN News reports.

"The definition of marriage should be left to the people. When the people validly enact a law to limit marriage to one man and one woman, it should be the people who decide whether that law should be reversed," said attorney Robert Tyler of Advocates for Faith and Freedom.

Karen Kenney of the San Fernando Valley Patriots called Wednesday's ruling a new kind of tyranny in which the courts advocate social justice over social structure and social traditions and standards. Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute, said: "If someone doesn't like a proposition that has passed in the state of California, arguably, all they would have to do, is find one judge, one federal judge to declare it unconstitutional, and then to get a wink and nod from the attorney general and the governor, and it's over. I think that's a terrible, terrible situation to have for the voters-to have their votes count-and to have their votes respected in a proper system."

July 21 marked the end of the 25 day window before the Supreme Court's ruling became official, so gay "marriages" may resume in California at any time. If supporters of Proposition 8 ask for a re-hearing, then gay marriages may still be barred beyond the 25-day period.

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