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tv   Religion Ethics Newsweekly  PBS  October 9, 2011 10:30am-11:00am EDT

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court takes up a key issue. should the government get involved in a religious group's decisions about hiring and firing its ministers? and who should even be considered a minister? also a famous, colorful catholic priest severely hurt in a freak accident gets his wish to say mass once again. and a tiny group of jews observing the ancient jewish practices in the capitol of india. >> major funding for religion and ethics news weekly is
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provided by the lily endowment, a private family foundation dedicated to the founder's interest in religion, community development and education. additional funding provided by mutual of america designing customized individual and group retirement products. that's why we are your retirement company. the estate of william j. carter, the jane henson foundation and corporation for public broadcasting. welcome. i'm bob abernethy. it's good to have you with us. thousands of religious conservatives are gathering in washington this weekend for the annual values voter summit, sponsored by the family research council and others. in addition to the many activists, several lawmakers are also speaking, as are almost all of the leading republican presidential hopefuls. three women share this year's nobel peace prize for their work advancing democracy and women's rights. they are ellen johnson sirleaf,
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the president of liberia and africa's first democratically elected female president. leymah gbowee, also liberian, honored for her work mobilizing christian and muslim women against violence and rape. and tawakul karman, a yemeni activist and journalist who helped organize anti-government protests in her country. she is the first arab woman to receive a nobel peace prize. the u.s. supreme court opened its new term this week, and one of the first cases on the docket was an anti-discrimination dispute that many believe could be the most important church-state case to reach the high court in years. at issue is whether churches and other religious institutions are exempt from the civil rights laws that prevent discrimination in hiring and firing. should there be an exception for ministers? if so, just who is a minister? kim lawton reports.
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>> reporter: the case involves cheryl perich, a fourth-grade teacher at a lutheran church missouri-synod school in michigan who mainly taught secular subjects, but also taught religion and led prayers. she took a leave of absence to get treatment for a sleep disorder. when the school was reluctant to let her return, she threatened to sue for violation of the americans with disabilities act. >> i can't fathom how the constitution would be, would be interpreted in such a way as to deny me my civil rights as an elementary school teacher. i sure hope the court agrees. >> reporter: lawyers for the school said perich was considered a "commissioned minister," and therefore she was covered by a legal doctrine known as the "ministerial exception." that exception says religious groups don't have to follow anti-discrimination laws in employment decisions about their leaders. >> disputes between ministers and their churches, if anything is covered by separation of church and state, this is it. these cases do not belong in the civil courts. >> reporter: for almost 40 years, lower courts have granted houses of worship and
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other religious institutions this exception. the idea is that under the first amendment's religious freedom guarantees, courts should not get involved in a religious institution's decisions about hiring and firing its ministers. but how far should that exception extend? >> luke goodrich is deputy national litigation director at the becket fund for religis liberty, which is representing the church and school in this case. >> our constitution recognizes that the government and the church are separate entities, with separate roles in society, and that they shouldn't be allowed to intrude on each other. so, the church doesn't get to pick government leaders and the government doesn't get to pick church leaders. >> reporter: but some argue that the ministerial exception has been taken too far. barry lynn is executive director of americans united for separation of church and state. he's also both a lawyer and a united church of christ minister. >> unfortunately, i think some religious organizations use this idea of a ministerial exception as a pretext to dismiss people
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on the basis of their color, their gender, their racial background or their disability and that really runs counter to every principle of i think morality, and every principle of our civil rights system. >> reporter: goodrich says the larger religious liberty principle is too important to have juries deciding what was a religious motive for hiring or firing. >> even if a church may not be acting -- may have mixed motives, it is important to allow the church to decide. because you have a lot of cases where there aren't mixed motives and the church makes a purely religious decision. but if you allow juries and courts to second guess that, churches will not be free to make decisions based on their religious beliefs. >> reporter: courts are good at determining whether something is a sincerely held belief. >> we do it with conscientious objectors to war. this is just another red herring added by some religious groups that frankly want, if not
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themselves, others to be able to discriminate on any basis. >> reporter: one of the most difficult questions is determining who is a minister. is it only those who have been ordained? what about ministers of music, or online ministers or teachers at religious schools? >> unfortunately, judge-made law, some very strange judge made law, suggests that this is a very broad idea, that it encompasses virtually all of the employees of a ministry, of a religious body, if the religious body says you are all really ministers and thereby precludes them from filing civil rights lawsuits. >> reporter: many religious groups say it shouldn't be up to the government to decide what duties are ministerial in nature. >> the becket fund's position in this case is that the court should look at whether the employee performs important religious functions. and that includes teaching religion, leading prayer and leading worship. if the person at issue is responsible for proclaiming the
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church's message throughout the world, that would bring them within the "ministerial exception" because the church needs to be able to choose who's going to carry its message to the world. >> reporter: the obama administration is taking a hard line in the case. to the dismay of many religious groups, the justice department urged the court to reject the ministerial exception all together, saying the first amendment doesn't offer such special protection. >> it's very troubling that the united states government wants 40 years of law protecting this vital religious liberty, this vital component of separation of church and state, they want it repealed by the court. >> reporter: if the high court keeps a ministerial exception, the justice department argued that it should be limited to employees who perform "exclusively religious functions." religious groups say that definition is unworkable because virtually all ministers do a variety of tasks that on their surface may not appear to be religious. >> even the archbishop has secular responsibilities, whether it's managing personnel
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or managing the finances. even the pastor of your local churches has secular responsibilities. a lot of pastors help take care of the building, mow the laws on the weekends. so nobody does only religious activities. >> reporter: lynn supports keeping a ministerial exception, but says it should be narrowly defined. >> the way this could be looked at is a very narrow exception for pastors and for other people who have primarily religious functions, while other people who at best might give a prayer occasionally over cookies and milk at a religious school will not be considered a minister, and if they are fired for the wrong reason, on the basis of gender, on the basis of disability, on the basis of race, they can get into a courtroom. >> reporter: on the other side, nearly a hundred diverse religious groups filed briefs supporting the church's right to choose its own ministers. >> all of us, even those of us
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who are deeply committed to civil rights, to protect of disability rights, to preventing retaliation for claims, believe strongly that church autonomy and the ministerial exception are indispensible to religious freedom. >> reporter: the us conference of catholic bishops, the church of jesus christ of latter-day saints, the episcopal presiding bishop and the union of orthodox jewish congregations joined together on one of the briefs. they said, "when the dispute is between the church and the church member who seeks to serve in ministry, there is no occasion-no justification whatsoever- for the state to become involved." >> reporter: lower courts have been wrestling over the ministerial exception for decades, but this is the first time the supreme court has taken up the issue. a ruling is expected by early next year. i'm kim lawton in washington. # >> the supreme court declined to hear another case involving the hiring rights of the christian relief organization world vision. three former employees sued the organization after being fired for not agreeing with its statement of faith.
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lower courts ruled that as a religious organization world vision can hire and fire people based on religion. since the supreme court refused to hear the case, those earlier decisions stand. there has been an international outcry over the imprisonment and threat of execution of a christian pastor in iran. the white house, state department and several religious leaders and groups have called for the release of youcef nadarkhani who reportedly faces a death sentence for converting to christianity and refusing to renounce his new faith. some iranian news reports now say he is facing the death penalty for rape, extortion, and for being a zionist, not for his religion. for the past three years, one of the most brilliant, vibrant and controversial priests in the catholic church
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has been almost unable to speak. he is father andrew greeley of chicago, a highly respected sociologist, a writer of steamy novels and an outspoken critic of many church policies. judy valente has the story of what happened to father greeley and how his relatives and friends helped him to do again the one thing he most wanted to be able to do. >> reporter: he is one of the best known priests in america, a respected sociologist, researcher, and commentator, and vels.. dofof father john cusick has known father greeley for 40 years. >> when the history of the american catholic church is written in america, i don't know if you're going to find a more significant name or a more impacting name on church than andrew greeley. >> reporter: he was one of the first priests to criticize the church's position on birth control. he called for better preaching from the pulpit, a grr outreach to young people, and greater humility among the
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clergy. he promoted a more active role for lay people. eileen durkin is greeley's niece. >> he would write and write and write, and it was a part of his life. it couldn't be separated from him. it wasn't a chore for him. it just flowed out of him. many people were touched by his stories and by his image of god as a god of love and a god of compassion and a god of forgiveness and a god especially of passion. >> reporter: in november 2008, greeley stepped out of a taxi in this chicago suburb after a speaking engagement. his coat caught in the door, and as the taxi pulled away he was thrown to the pavement and suffered a traumatic brain injury. the prolific author who had written on so many subjects would write no more. >> he's suffering. anyone who has had a traumatic brain injury to the extent that
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my uncle has, anyone who is a vibrant, intelligent, brilliant person who is now reduced to 24-hour care is suffering. >> reporter: father james martin is an editor at the national catholic magazine america. >> the mystery of suffering really does remain a mystery. there is no satisfactory answer to the question. it has bedeviled theologians and saints and scholars over millennia. >> his attention span is certainly not what it used to be. he's very slow. i mean, i think medical people have said it takes him a lot longer to process things. >> seeing his suffering has not necessarily affected my faith, because i know of his faith. for 80 years up until his accident i observed his faith,
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and i certainly heard about his faith because he shared so much of it and wrote about so much of it. >> reporter: father greeley's steamy novels won him both fans and critics. he wasn't afraid to depict the sexual side of priests in his fiction and often included provocative sex scenes. >> he would say all the other things he did as a sociologist, as a novelist, as a commentator were just his way of being a priest. >> he would always stir things up, and people would be yelling and screaming and saying, how can he say that? how could he write that? and ten years later they're saying it and they're writing it. >> certainly the whole sexual abuse crisis in the church -- he was writing about that and identifying that long before it came out in most of the press in america. >> reporter: father greeley warned of clergy sex abuse on national tv nearly a decade before the scope of the scandal became known. >> i don't think the vatican cares. i mean they recently ordered the bishop of pittsburgh to reassign a priest he had removed because he was a child molester, and so
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the vatican doesn't get it. >> reporter: he has said that one of the church's biggest problems is the status of women. >> the church just has not been able to cope with the demands for fairness and equality from women, so they're very, very angry. for a long time, the bishops could console themselves, and i think some still do, that these are just your radical feminists. but the radical feminists include their sisters and their nieces and their mothers and all the women in their lives. they just don't like the way the church treats them. >> he could drive the vatican crazy, and i'm sure the vatican could drive him crazy. >> the vatican is cut off from the rest of the church. it doesn't understand. there's no reason why it should, given its structure. it doesn't understand what's going on in the mind of the ordinary lay people or the ordinary priests. >> when push came to shove, he said i'm not leaving and you can't throw me out, and that was typical greeley in his prime. >> reporter: at a mass celebrating his 50th anniversary
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in the priesthood, greeley, who said he had wanted to be a priest ever since the second grade, reflected on the controversies he had sparked. >> he said i'm sorry for anything that i have done to people, and i'm not sorry for what i did in the name of people, in the name of helping people, in the name of challenging people, but i'm sorry for any relationships that were hurt. >> reporter: after the accident family and friends wondered, would he ever again be able to say the mass, which meant so much to him? >> he has always written about the centrality of the eucharist in the catholic faith. we've reached out to his priest friends and tried to make arrangements for them to come to his home and to celebrate mass with him. >> reporter: last year, with his family around him, greeley helped celebrate easter mass at the home of his niece, eileen. >> in the name of the father -- >> i'm sad because such a brilliant mind and such a voice in the catholic church has been
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silenced by an accident. >> when we suffer we are often made more vulnerable, and in our vulnerability god can break in more. but, you know, it's up to us whether or not we accept those invitations to new ways of encountering god. but certainly andrew greeley is a deeply spiritual person, and i'm sure he is finding god in new ways in this terrible experience. >> does he have moments of grace, times when he flourishes? yes, definitely, when he interacts with his family and with his friends, when he is still able to be a priest. >> by the spirit that lives within us, through our lord jesus christ -- >> he is disabled, but he has been a witness to us in his attempts to celebrate the mass. he is communicating in ways that have always been his priestly function.
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>> can you bless them now? >> the priest is still there. all those years of being a priest, all those years of blessing, they're still there. they're still connecting, and we don't know what it all means, but we know that he's blessing, and we know that he is blessed, and he's blessing us, and it means a lot. >> though the public life of andrew greeley has come to an end, father andrew greeley endures. >> the lord be with you. >> and also with you. >> almighty god bless you, father, son, and holy spirit. >> amen. >> reporter: for "religion and ethics" newsweekly, this is judy valente in chicago. civil rights leader, reverend fred shuttlesworth died this week at the age of 89. he was a leading force against segregation in birmingham
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alabama. shuttlesworth survived a mob attack and the bombing of his church and home. he was also one of the founding members of the southern christian leadership conference, alongside dr. martin luther king, jr. the washington national cathedral announced plans this week to reopen on november 12th. the cathedral has been closed since august after an earthquake caused significant damage to the building. some of the cathedral's spires were toppled and several gargoyles fell and shattered. cracks in the flying buttresses were also reported. officials say they need 25 million dollars for repairs and other expenses. as jews this week observed yom kippur, the day of atonement correspondent fred de sam lazaro sent us a story about what may be the world's smallest jewish community. it's in new delhi, the capitol of india, where a handful of jewish families clings to the traditions followed by their
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forebears there for 2000 years. >> reporter: in an ancient, crowded land, with wide religious diversity, judaism has a tiny footprint. in new delhi, it's in this quiet enclave. >> reporter: a small group of worshippers gathers here every friday, a mix of foreigners and indians. in india's religious ancient mosaic, judaism isn't a newcomer. its roots go back only two millennia. >> bene israel are the oldest jewish community. landed, they were shipwrecked, and they came to india about 2,000 years ago. >> reporter: there were at least two subsequent mini waves that brought jews to india, people fleeing the inquisition and people who came during british colonial days, as traders. there were perhaps 30,000 jews across the country but many moved to israel after its formation in 1948. >> and now we have only 5,000 jews all over india and in
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delhi we have only 5,6 indian jewish families. we are like a drop in the ocean. >> reporter: ezekiel malekar is the keeper of delhi's tiny synagogue, built in 1956 on land donated by the indian government. >> a lawyer and retired civil servant, he's not an ordained rabbi but for three decades, malekar has volunteered to lead this congregation, reconciling its ancient rituals and traditions with the practical modern realities. >> in order to read this portion of the torah you require a quorum of ten men, what we call in hebrew minyam, so here we take into consideration the presence of women also. some people don't like it, especially those who are very orthodox, when they come to the synagogue, but i say that we are such a small community that if i
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have these practices i won't even be able to conduct the services in the synagogue. >> reporter: the majority of india's remaining jews live in the commercial capital mumbai. it was in that city during the 2008 terrorist attacks that six people were killed at a jewish community center that mainly served israelis and western visitors and businesspeople. since then the delhi synagogue has also come under 24-hour protection from the indian government. the first time jews here have ever faced the specter of violence. >> jews have been living in india for the 2000 years and without anti-semitism and persecution and therefore i have always said that india is our motherland. i am an indian first and a jew second. when mr. shimon peres came here -- >> reporter: that's the president of israel. >> the president of israel. i was asked by the bbc and the
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media, what is your feeling about israel and india? and i said that israel is in my heart but india is in my blood. >> reporter: but those who call themselves indian and jewish are fewer and fewer. one of malekar's sad tasks is to tend the cemetery whose census now exceeds the congregation in the synagogue next door. >> this is the last place, where we go to the divine. >> reporter: on a happier note, malekar will soon preside over his daughter, shulamit's wedding, which will be a historic event in delhi's jewish community. >> i don't remember even after 1956 there has been a single wedding in the synagogue. >> at 66, malekar will finally witness a marriage here between two indian jews, leaving only the worry about who from the handful of young congregants might be willing to take over from him. for "religion and ethics newsweekly" this is fred de sam lazaro in new delhi.
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on our calendar this coming week, the seven-day jewish festival of sukkot, the feast of tabernacles. jews recall their ancestors' 40 years of wandering in the desert by building a fragile structure called a sukk-ah, which many jews use for prayers and meals. in south africa, there were spirited celebrations this week for the 80th birthday of retired anglican archbishop and nobel peace prize winner desmond tutu. finally, the 2011 nobel prize in physics went this week to three americans who in 1997 discovered that the universe is expanding faster than had been thought. writing about that in "the new york times," professor robert kirschner of harvard also reminded us of some other amazing things, known and unknown. according to kirschner, all the stuff there is, galaxies, stars, people, everything, make up only
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5 percent of the material universe. 25 percent is what is called dark matter and 70 percent is a mysterious dark energy. thus, according to kirshner, 70% of the universe remains a mystery that has not been described or understood. yet. that's our program for now. i'm bob abernethy. next week, we begin a two-part series on aggressive treatment and the enormous costs of end-of-life hospital care. you can follow us on twitter and facebook, find us on youtube, and watch us anytime, anywhere on smart phones and iphones. you can comment on all of our stories and share them. audio and video podcasts are also available. join us at pbs.org. as we leave you, scenes from
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desmond tutu's 80th birthday party in south africa.
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