Rabbi leader encourages political neutrality
CINCINNATI — American rabbis should exercise moral leadership this election year by spotlighting issues such as the Iraq War, the need for universal health care and the growing problem of anti-Semitism around the world, a Jewish leader urged an assembly here.
Rabbi Peter Knobel, president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, issued the call at the organization’s convention but cautioned that rabbis should remain “politically neutral.”
The conference is comprised of an estimated 1,800 rabbis of Reform Judaism, the largest branch of the faith in the U.S.
Knobel, the spiritual leader of Beth Emeth Congregation in Evanston, Ill., also highlighted bringing peace to the Middle East and bridging divides separating whites and blacks.
“Often religion is decried as irrelevant,” Knobel said. “Quite the contrary. Our moral voices should be heard by all.”
Knobel decried the Iraq War “as killing and maiming thousands, alienating the Muslim world and wasting resources which would make for a safer, more secure and just world.”
The road to Middle East peace, he said, is “paved with compromise, courage and danger.”
New Mormon Tabernacle Choir director named
SALT LAKE CITY — A composer, arranger, guest conductor and former Brigham Young University music professor has been named the new music director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
MackWilberg replaces Craig Jessop, who abruptly resigned last month from one of the most treasured institutions of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or the Mormon Church.
Wilberg was the associate director under Jessop and served as interim director after Jessop stepped down after eight years in the position. He said he wanted to teach and spend more time with his family.
“It’s a bit of a pressure cooker, but the best kind,” Wilberg said of directing the choir.
As music director, Wilberg will oversee musical and creative aspects of the choir, the Orchestra at Temple Square, the Temple Square Chorale and the Bells on Temple Square, including selecting repertoire for concerts, recordings and tours. He will also oversee the creative direction for the church’s weekly “Music and the Spoken Word” broadcast.
Jessop conducted the choir and Utah Symphony at the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, working with world-renowned artists Sting and Yo-Yo Ma.
Under Jessop, the choir launched a private record label in 2003 and released more than 10 albums. Several of those topped Billboard’s Classical Music chart.
Mac Christensen, president of the choir, said that before Jessop became director in 1999, choir tours didn’t draw huge crowds. Now, he said, they can “fill an NBA arena with more than 14,000 people. Last year alone we had a million request for tickets to the Christmas concert.”
School district sued over religious drawing
MADISON, Wis. — A high school student has filed a federal lawsuit alleging his art teacher censored his drawing because it featured a cross and a biblical reference.
The lawsuit alleges other Tomah High School students were allowed to draw “demonic” images and asks a judge to declare a class policy prohibiting religion in art unconstitutional.
“We hear so much today about tolerance,” said David Cortman, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal advocacy group representing the student. “But where is the tolerance for religious beliefs?”
Tomah School District Business Manager Greg Gaarder said the district hadn’t seen the lawsuit and declined to comment.
The student, a senior identified in the lawsuit by the initials A.P., drew a cross and the words “John 3:16 A sign of peace” in his drawing of a landscape, according to the lawsuit.
His teacher asked him to remove the reference to the Bible, saying students were making remarks about it, the suit said. He refused, and she gave him a zero on the project.
The teacher showed the student a policy for the class that prohibited any violence, blood, sexual connotations or religious beliefs in artwork. The boy tore the policy up, was kicked out of class, and later received two detentions for his actions, the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit also alleges school officials allow other religious items and artwork to be displayed on campus. A.P. suffered unequal treatment because of his religion even though student expression is protected by the First Amendment, according to the lawsuit.
Judge stops Ten Commandments display
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A federal judge has permanently barred a Kentucky county from using the Ten Commandments as part of a “Foundations of American Law and Government” display.
U.S. District Judge Joseph H. McKinley said the Grayson County display has the “effect of endorsing religion.” McKinley’s ruling upholds a preliminary injunction issued in 2002 that resulted in county officials taking down the Ten Commandments, but leaving the frame on display.
No public money was used to set up the display in the county courthouse in Leitchfield, about 75 miles southwest of Louisville.
The Rev. Chester Shartzer put up the display, without a public ceremony or public prayer. Two Grayson County residents and the American Civil Liberties Union sued in 2001.
The display originally included the full text of the Mayflower Compact, the full text of the Declaration of Independence, the Ten Commandments, the full text of the Magna Carta, the Star Spangled Banner, the National Motto together with the Preamble to the Kentucky Constitution, the Bill of Rights, a picture of Lady Justice together with an explanation of the significance of each of the documents.
McKinley found that the intent of the display was religious, not educational, in part because it came after the county failed to put up only a Ten Commandments display and Grayson County Fiscal Court members discussed what to put with the Ten Commandments to avoid objections from the ACLU.