Christian Alliance's

Launch Delayed

Founding leaders of Christian Churches Together in the USA, which seeks to create a wider coalition than existing church alliances, decided to cancel the launch of the new organization that was planned for September at Washington National Cathedral.

The group, meeting this month in Los Altos, Calif., said the delay would allow further "productive and positive conversation with churches and organizations actively considering joining."

The chief concern is the lack of participation from major black Protestant denominations, said the Rev. Larry Pickens, ecumenical executive with the United Methodist Church. Pickens said this was one reason his church's bishops approved only provisional membership in May.

Christian Churches Together has worked since 2001 toward an alliance that for the first time would involve evangelical Protestants and Roman Catholics in a U.S. ecumenical organization. The alliance also involves white "mainline," black and Orthodox denominations affiliated with the National Council of Churches.

The U.S. Catholic bishops approved membership in the body in November.

To date, 31 denominations and national Christian groups are committed to the plan.

-- Associated Press

Zoning Code Spurs Suit

The federal government has sued the Rockland County village of Airmont, N.Y., alleging that the town's zoning code violates the religious freedom of Hasidic Jews by prohibiting boarding schools.

The government contends that Congregation Mischknois Lavier Jakov uses boarding schools to "minimize outside influences and to intensify the religious learning experience," so the rule prevents something "their faith mandates."

A previous lawsuit filed by the government, in 1991, alleged that Airmont excluded Orthodox Jews by prohibiting prayer services in homes. The village was forced to amend its zoning code.

U.S. Attorney David Kelley said Monday that "zoning regulations that burden religious exercise and discriminate on the basis of religion cannot be tolerated."

The government is requesting that the ban on boarding schools be declared a violation of the Fair Housing Act and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act; that the zoning code be amended; and that the village be assessed an unspecified financial penalty.

-- Associated Press

Abuse Policies Backed

The Presbyterian Church (USA) has officially approved 11 new policies on clergy sexual abuse, marking a shift from focusing on the accused to protecting innocent victims, church leaders said.

The denomination approved 11 amendments related to the policies last summer. But to become church law, the reforms needed to be ratified by a majority of the church's 173 regional bodies, called presbyteries.

As of June 8, at least 120 presbyteries had approved the amendments, and they will become church law July 3, according to Presbyterian News Service.

"Out of fear of possible damage to those accused, our system has, at times, not allowed justice to be pursued for victims and survivors of abuse," said the Rev. Paul Masquelier, the chairman of a task force that drafted the amendments.

The reforms were sparked by a 2002 report that documented abuse by the late Rev. William Pruitt against at least 22 children at a missionary school in the Congo between 1945 and 1985. Pruitt died before he could be charged.

Church officials say they continue to hear from victims who thought they had no chance of finding justice.

The new laws, among other things, require church personnel to report allegations of abuse to civil authorities; give accusers and survivors a chance to participate in church disciplinary procedures; require disclosure of "out of church" legal settlements; and give presbyteries the right to place accused clergy on administrative leave.

Previous policy allowed clergy accused of abuse to remain in their jobs during an investigation.

"Accusers and survivors of abuse are now stakeholders in the disciplinary process," said the Rev. Mark Tammen, director of the church's Department of Constitutional Services.

"We have flipped from being more concerned with protecting the rights of the accused," Tammen said.

-- Religion News Service