Local/National Faith Briefs

GriefShare support group meets Mondays

GriefShare support group meets at 6 p.m. every Monday in the gathering area at Holy Redeemer Church. The program allows people to begin any week. For questions, call Dorothy 401-0601, Gerri 530-1418 or Jason 829-9487.

Court says Jackson County Christian-only prayer is illegal

DETROIT (AP) — A Michigan county’s tradition of Christian-only prayers at public meetings violates the U.S. Constitution by promoting one faith over others, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday.

In a 2-1 decision, the court ruled in favor of a resident who was offended after he began attending Jackson County Board of Commissioners meetings in 2013 to discuss environmental issues. One commissioner called Peter Bormuth a “nitwit,” and his lawsuit was panned as an attack on Jesus Christ.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said prayer invocations at public meetings can be legal. But in Jackson County, the court noted that only commissioners offered a prayer, not audience members, and the prayer was always Christian, not from other faiths.

“There is no distinction between the government and the prayer-giver: They are one and the same. The prayers, in Bormuth’s words, are literally ‘government speech,'” said judges Karen Nelson Moore and Jane Branstetter Stranch.

They said the exclusion of non-Christian prayers puts Christianity “in a privileged position” and “advances one faith over others.”

The court reversed a decision by U.S. District Judge Marianne Battani in Detroit, who said Bormuth was being “hypersensitive.”

“I’m very pleased. I can’t wait to read the decision,” said Bormuth, 61, a non-lawyer who has represented himself during more than three years of litigation. “One of the greatest gifts we were given by our Founding Fathers was the separation of church and state and religious freedom.”

In his lawsuit, Bormuth, a pagan, said he felt compelled to stand and participate in religion in order to speak to elected officials at meetings. He believes his criticism likely cost him appointments on a county solid waste committee and a public works board.

James “Steve” Shotwell Jr., chairman of the county board, declined to comment on the decision. County Administrator Mike Overton said an invocation is offered at monthly meetings.

“Each commissioner does whatever they feel is appropriate,” he said. “I haven’t seen anything other than a Christian prayer or a moment of silence. We aren’t trying to proselytize or anything like that.”

In dissent, Judge Richard Griffin said the court’s majority opinion misapplied U.S. Supreme Court decisions on public prayer. He also said Jackson County commissioners are not required to give people of other faiths an opportunity for an invocation.

Construction halted on mosque with too-tall minarets

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — After exceeding a city height limit, builders of a mosque on New Haven’s outskirts are wrestling with how to cut 24 feet from its soaring, crescent-topped minarets.

In a clash between government and religion, the city has halted all construction on the building until the mosque figures out what to do about the 81-foot towers.

The steel and fiberglass minarets were sent in prefabricated sections from Turkey. A building permit was issued for a height of 57 feet, and by the time they were built last year and the discrepancy was discovered, the builders had moved on to other parts of the mosque, which is owned by the Turkish-American Religious Foundation.

The mosque, built to accommodate a growing Turkish Muslim community, sits across a busy road from an industrial park with a daycare center to one side and homes on another.

A city alder, Gerald Antunes, said some neighbors raised concerns about the height of the structure when the plans for the mosque were first presented five or six years ago. He discussed the height issue last week at a community management meeting.

“If it was a couple of feet, I would say, ‘Let’s try to work something out.’ You’re talking almost a two-story building too high,” he said. “They need to come down to the authorized height.”

In addition to going over the height allowed by the permit, the structure exceeds 60 feet and therefore would need inspection and approval from a third-party engineer, city spokesman Laurence Grotheer said. He said he was unaware of any complaints made to the city about the height.

“It’s strictly a matter of compliance with the plans submitted and the permit issued,” he said.

Minarets are slender towers traditionally used to call the faithful to prayer.

The leader of the congregation, Heydar Elevulu, told the New Haven Independent it has been a headache for him trying to address the issue with the city and the Turkish government, which is involved through the Turkish-American Religious Foundation. He told the newspaper that taking down the minarets would “touch the religion,” and he has raised the issue with the mayor in hopes of finding another solution.

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