Episcopal Parishes

Sue Over Suspension

Six conservative Episcopal parishes in Connecticut have filed a federal lawsuit claiming that their civil rights were violated by the local bishop, the church's national leader and others in a dispute that stemmed from the election of the first openly gay Episcopal bishop.

The parishes had asked to be supervised by another bishop because they disagreed with Connecticut Bishop Andrew D. Smith's support of the 2003 confirmation of V. Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire.

The Rev. Mark Hansen, a priest at one of the Connecticut parishes, was suspended by Smith, and five others have been threatened with suspension.

The wide-ranging, 67-page lawsuit filed this week alleges that the priests were fraudulently accused of abandoning the church and denied due process because they were not tried in religious courts.

The plaintiffs also contend that diocesan officials violated state law when they took over St. John's Church of Bristol, Conn., in July and appointed a priest to fill in for Hansen, who was its pastor. Hansen is not a party to the suit.

Diocesan officials said Hansen was suspended for six months because he took an unauthorized sabbatical and St. John's had stopped making payments on a loan for its building. Hansen maintains that he notified Smith about his plans.

The Connecticut diocese and a national spokesman for the Episcopal Church did not respond to requests for comment.

-- The Associated Press

S. Dakota Democrats'

Billboard Stars Jesus

A new billboard in Mitchell, S.D., says, "Jesus Cares for the Poor, so do We." The sponsor isn't a church, but Grassroot Democrats South Dakota, and the sign adds, "Democrats Make America Stronger."

Grassroot Democrats started the billboard campaign in Sioux Falls in May and plans billboards in other South Dakota communities, the Daily Republic of Mitchell reported. The reaction has been "phenomenal," said the group's chairman, Lisa Engels. "We've gotten response from everywhere."

The group is not part of the Democratic Party but shares its tenets.

State Sen. Ed Olson (R-Mitchell) said: "I don't think it's positive for a political party to put it up. . . . I think it's absolutely critical to keep religion out of government."

Roger Berggren, Grassroot Democrats' executive director, said the ads would encourage moderate and liberal Christians.

"To try to say that Democrats are just going to ignore religion is ignoring part of what makes us us," he said. "We just wanted to highlight our moral values and why we feel strongly about being Democrats."

-- The Associated Press