News Briefs

United Nations Commission Votes Against U.S. And For Human Rights Abusers

       GENEVA, Switzerland (EP) - For the first time since its inception in the 1940s, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) will not include a representative from the U.S.

       According to a release from the UNCHR, the United States did not receive enough votes from the body's member nations for another term of service on the Commission.

       During a press briefing May 8, the White House expressed regret at the UNCHR decision and concern that the Commission's decision will weaken its investigation and prosecution of human rights abuses worldwide.

        "The real losers here are people around the world...whose human rights need to be protected," said spokesman Ari Fleischer. "They're the ones affected by this vote. It's not the United States."

       Current members of the international human rights organization include some nations that are notorious for human rights abuses within their borders. Those nations include China, Pakistan, Sudan, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, and Vietnam. The U.S. government, along with international human rights groups, have condemned these nations as active persecutors of religious groups.

       According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), the membership of these nations, and the loss of a representative from the U.S., has severely damaged the commission's credibility. "It is clearly ironic to have the international community's foremost body examining human rights include on its membership states which...deny respect for basic principles of human rights, and even refuse to co-operate with the United Nations and the Commission's own mandates on human rights."

       According to CSW, the U.S. was the only member of the commission representing the appalling civil rights violations in Sudan. Since the 1980s, over 2 million people have died in Sudan's civil war between the Muslim north and the Christian and animist south. Millions more are homeless, starving or enslaved. According to documented reports, the northern military routinely bombs civilian villages, hospitals and humanitarian aid centers in the south.

       With the U.S. gone, the commission will employ a "cloak of silence" around these issues and others, says CSW. "It is disturbing to see repeated occurrences of states with egregious human rights records prevaricating and blocking consideration of genuine human rights issues. Many of the States most active in the Commission are not legitimately elected or representative of their nations, but are successful in blocking effective action on human rights."

Aussie Anti-Porn Crusade Cinches Win Over Playboy
by Ed Vitagliano

        (AgapePress) - The Australian Federation for the Family has ended a 17-year campaign against Playboy magazine in that country with an unprecedented and complete victory: the Australian version of the magazine has closed its doors.

       AFF, which is affiliated, with American Family Association, began the battle against Playboy in 1983. Founders Jack and Margaret Sonneman have never doubted they could prevail against the infamous Playboy. "When we began, many tried to convince us that we could not succeed," Sonneman said. "We chose not to believe them. We chose to believe God."

       The fight against Playboy was won in a succession of smaller steps. For example, AFF targeted advertisers who would be more subject to consumer disapproval, and all the advertisers eventually canceled their contracts with the magazine.

       AFF's activities against Australian porn in general also hurt Playboy. The ministry successfully lobbied legislators to raise the age in which girls could appear nude in pornography - from 16 to 18 years old. AFF also convinced legislators to pass laws restricting children's access to porn in the stores, which sell such materials.

       Jack Sonneman said AFF's next target will be Australian Penthouse, the Down-Under version of the U.S. porn rag. He said that, over the last two decades, Penthouse circulation has dropped from 400,000 to 78,000.

        "Over the years we have declared this [fight against porn] a 'winnable war' and we are winning it a battle at a time," Sonneman said. "We will continue this war until all our children are safe from porn."

Homosexual Policeman Avoids Molestation Charges

        (AgapePress) The Clark County District Attorney's Office is under fire by a legal watchdog group, which is accusing the D.A.'s office of making a political decision not to prosecute a homosexual Las Vegas police officer for molesting a teenage boy. Last month, the U.S. Justice Foundation wrote a letter to Clark County D.A. Stewart Bell, urging him to prosecute narcotics detective Vinten Hartung for allegedly luring a teenage boy into a sexual relationship. Last year, officials with the D.A.'s office said prosecuting Hartung would be perceived as discrimination against a class of people, which would violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution. Hartung resigned from the Las Vegas Police Force shortly after the case gained national publicity. The former detective is being investigated on two lesser charges of stalking and furnishing alcohol to a minor.

Police Ordered to Pay Damages, Apologize for Arresting Missionary
by Allie Martin

        (AgapePress) - A Wisconsin city has agreed to pay damages and court costs to a missionary who was arrested for preaching in a public park.

       In September 2000, Greg Breneman was witnessing in a public park in downtown Portage, Wisconsin, when two police officers approached him and ordered him to stop. Breneman refused and told officers he had a constitutional right to witness in the park. He was then arrested, handcuffed, and taken to jail. He then filed a lawsuit against the city.

       Now a federal judge has ruled in Breneman's favor. The judge's consent decree has led the city to repeal its disorderly conduct ordinance, issue a written apology in the local newspaper, purge police records of the arrest, and pay damages and attorneys costs for Breneman.

       Mat Staver, president of Florida-based Liberty Counsel, says the ruling sends a clear message.

        "I think it shows that when you stand up for Christ, good things can happen. The city police department thought that they would intimidate these individuals into leaving the park and not returning. They were not intimidated, and they stood for their rights, and now the city backed down."

        "It's rare that you get a city police department to apologize in a local newspaper, but was in fact part of this agreement because of the egregious situation that occurred."

       Staver emphasizes that religious speech is still protected by the Constitution.

        "Any public park is what is called a 'traditional public forum,' and these forums are protected by the First Amendment," the attorney says. "In any public park you can preach, you can hand out literature, you can witness and you can share your faith. You don't need permission from the government, and clearly the government cannot prohibit you from sharing your faith and talking or handing out literature, including the Bible, in a public park."

       The city has also dismissed a criminal case against Breneman.

90 Minutes in Elevator Lead to Fulfilling of Great Commission
by Allie Martin

        (AgapePress) - A Kansas teenager who found herself stuck in a crowded elevator made the most of the situation by witnessing to a South African airline pilot - and seeing him accept Christ as Savior.

       Eighteen-year-old Jenny Bressel was attending an evangelism conference in Omaha with her youth group from First Baptist Church of Salina, Kansas, when she became trapped in an elevator for nearly 90 minutes with several of her friends and six strangers. Among the strangers was an airline pilot named Alex from South Africa. Bressel struck up a conversation with Alex, who had begun talking with the teens about their faith in Christ.         "I asked him what he thought that it took for a person to get into heaven, and he said that he had no clue," Bressel says.

       Eventually, Bressel presented the plan of salvation by grace through faith alone in Jesus Christ. "He accepted it with open arms and he prayed to receive Christ that night," she says. "I was scared but I felt God telling me to share the gospel with this guy, and that it would be good in the end."

       The elevator doors opened soon after the pilot prayed to receive Christ. Bressel, who keeps in contact with Alex by e-mail, encourages all Christians to take every opportunity to share Christ with strangers.

A Friendlier Justice Department

        (AgapePress) According to one Christian attorney, President George W. Bush is helping establish a new attitude in Washington regarding religion and people of faith. American Center for Law and Justice director Jay Sekulow says this new character of government is obvious. "The change I the Department of Justice [under John Ashcroft] is significant. It's been great. I think we're having a chance to really establish again the preeminence of the rule of law," he says. Sekulow says the Bush Administration's effort in confirming Ashcroft as Attorney General demonstrated the importance of character to the people of the nation.

Know God, Know Peace

        (AgepaPress) A Christian author says that by studying the ministry of Jesus Christ, Christians can be set free from the stress and complexity of their lives. According to Richard Swenson, a clear understanding of God is necessary to feel a sense of peace in life. Speaking at a recent lecture series at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Swenson said there is going to be an enormous amount of attrition in the kingdom of God because people are so tied up with what he calls "the cultural treadmill." Thirty-six percent of Americans say they are rushed all the time, and 30 million American men describe their lives as "stressed out." Swenson says overload can be avoided if one seeks first the kingdom of God. The author notes that 'ministry' for Jesus was the person standing in front of Him at the time.

Cable System Pioneer Standing Firm - No 'Adult' Channels
by Robin Burchfield and Jody Brown

        (AgapePress) The founder of one of the nation's biggest cable companies is sparking controversy in the Los Angeles area by refusing to carry adult channels.

       Adelphia Communications has about 1.3 million customers in and around Los Angeles, and is the only one of the nation's eight large cable companies that lacks adult programming. Adelphia entered the L.A. cable market in 1999 and immediately dropped the only adult channel on the system. Seventy-six-year-old founder John Rigas tells the Los Angeles Times that he is carrying the torch for cable pioneers who long shunned adult programming as an unnecessary evil.

       After acquiring Century Communications Corp. in 1999, Rigas pulled the plug on Spice, an adult programming channel owned by Playboy Enterprises. In hopes of convincing Rigas to reconsider, Spice's chief executive, Christie Hefner, twice flew to central Pennsylvania last fall. The Adelphia head says Hefner tried to make the point that adult programming is "more acceptable now" and that Adelphia was "bucking the trend." Rigas' response? "We are not changing our position."

       Looking at the financial aspect, Adelphia could be giving up some $12 million a year in revenue, a fact that does not sway Rigas. He says he is just not comfortable airing programming that conflicts with his moral code, which he says is an outgrowth of his small-town upbringing.

       As far as the controversy surrounding the move, Rigas says the company has done the same thing in other places and it has never been a "big deal." He says they have had letters from all over the country thanking them for taking that kind of stand.

       Rigas is one of the last cable pioneers that has seen industry consolidation make billionaires of fellow entrepreneurs who have sold out. But Rigas is firmly entrenched as Adelphia's leader and vows never to part with his beloved cable systems. In fact, he is grooming his three middle-aged sons to succeed him in what has become a $7-billion empire that includes the NHL's Buffalo Sabres hockey team.


Supreme Court News

        (EP) - The Court rejected a Cincinnati city attorney's effort to abolish Dec. 25 as a legal holiday. "I think it is terribly unjust to force non-Christians to observe a Christian holy day," said Rick Ganulin, a 49-year-old nonobservant Jew. The Court rejected Ganulin's appeal April 16, ending more than two years of effort on his part to end government recognition of Christmas. The case drew national attention in 1999 when U.S. District Judge Susan Diott rejected Ganulin's claims with a ruling that included nine stanzas of humorous poetry making light of his claim.

Say No To China

        (AgapePress) ...One newspaper columnist says the Olympics should just say "No" to Beijing. Jeff Jacoby, nationally syndicated columnist with The Boston Globe, says the International Olympic Committee might want to consider some things before handing the 2008 Olympic Games to the communist Chinese. The Olympic Charter states the highest aim of the Games is "encouraging the establishment of a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity." According to Jacoby, China just doesn't fit the bill. Jacoby says the Chinese are proposing that Olympic competition be held in and around Tiananmen Square - the spot where the People's Liberation Army killed as many as 2,000 student demonstrators in June 1989. Jacoby contends that this, along with other human and religious rights violations committed by the communist nation, should preclude China from even being considered to host the 2008 Olympics.

Firestarter Found Guilty

       YORKTOWN, Ind. (EP) - Jay Scott Ballinger, a self-described "missionary of Lucifer," pleaded guilty April 13 to setting five Georgia church fires, including one that killed a firefighter. Ballinger is already serving a 42 1/2-year sentence for a string of church fires in eight states, and has been ordered to pay $3.6 million in damages.