Faith Digest

Panel has human rights concerns about Vietnam, Pakistan and Turkmenistan.

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Panel cites 11 religious freedom offenders. A federal watchdog panel announced 11 countries should be named “countries of particular concern” for their records on religious freedom, including three not currently on the State Department’s list. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom urged the inclusion of Vietnam—removed from the State Department’s list in 2006—along with Pakistan and Turkmenistan. The other countries recommended for the designation of “countries of particular concern” are Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan, which have been on the State Department’s list since 2006. The commission also cited countries on its “Watch List” that require monitoring because of religious freedom violations permitted or implemented by the governments—Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, Indonesia and Nigeria.

Have a Bible question? Ask a Pole. Americans are more likely than Europeans to own and read a Bible, but Poles are most likely to have a basic knowledge of Scripture, according to a Vatican report. The statistics are among preliminary findings of a study of Bible reading in the United States and eight European countries conducted by an Italian market research firm in preparation for an international synod of Catholic bishops. More than 90 percent of American households contain at least one copy of the Bible, the highest level among the countries studied, according to the study. Three out of four Americans had read at least one passage of Scripture over the previous year, compared to only one out of four Spaniards, who ranked last in that respect. Not surprisingly, exposure paid off in familiarity with the book. When asked seven basic questions about the Bible’s contents and authorship, 17 percent of Americans were able to answer all correctly, compared to an average of 15 percent in all the countries studied. But Poles took the prize for biblical knowledge, with 20 percent earning perfect scores on the test. The lowest rank went to the Russians, only 7 percent of whom were able to answer all the questions right.

Televangelist Copeland seeks IRS review. Kenneth Copeland Ministries, one of the ministries that has refused to cooperate fully with a financial investigation by Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, has invited the Internal Revenue Service to conduct an inquiry of its own instead. Grassley’s office reported four of the six ministries he has been investigating are cooperating with requests to provide him with financial information. Creflo Dollar Ministries in College Park, Ga., has refused to submit financial records. Grassley, the panel’s top-ranking Republican, and committee Chairman Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., had asked ministries that weren’t cooperating fully to submit materials by March 31. Jill Gerber, a spokeswoman for the Senate Finance Committee, said both Copeland’s and Dollar’s ministries continue to decline to send the requested information. “As for the Copeland request for an audit from the IRS, Sen. Grassley has always said that the IRS enforces existing law, while Congress evaluates the adequacy of existing law,” she said. “The two functions are completely different.”

Hotel offers variety of spiritual texts. Overnight guests at one Nashville, Tenn., hotel who crave religious reading material may turn to something other than a Gideon Bible. The Hotel Preston recently started offering a “spiritual menu” to its guests, including the Quran, the Bhagavad Gita and additional versions of the Bible other than the Gideon-provided King James Version. Five boutique hotels in the Portland, Ore.-based Provenance chain have introduced the new offerings in the last few months, with the Nashville property starting them most recently. Researchers for the American Hotel & Lodging Association have found an increasing percentage of hotels provide religious materials in their rooms. In 1998, 79 percent of hotels surveyed said they carried such materials; that figured jumped to 95 percent in 2006.

Casting Crowns singer reaps Dove Awards. Casting Crowns lead singer Mark Hall and his group reaped a total of seven Dove Awards at the annual Gospel Music Association ceremony. Among his four individual awards, Hall was honored for co-writing the Song of the Year, “East to West.” Casting Crowns was honored three times, including as Group of the Year. TobyMac was named Artist of the Year, a title he claimed in 1996 as a member of dcTalk. His latest solo album, Portable Sounds, debuted at No. 10 on Billboard’s Top 200 albums chart. He was honored in two other categories for his work on that album.

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