* Russian President Boris Yeltsin left for vacation July 18 before signing or vetoing a proposed law that would severely restrict Russia's minority religions. Under the Russian constitution, the president must act on a proposed bill within 14 days of parliamentary approval, which this bill received. Earlier Yeltsin had said he would approve the measure only if "legal experts" declared it in line with the constitution's human rights provisions. It's unclear what will happen next to the measure, which strengthens the role of the Russian Orthodox Church and pledges respect for Islam, Buddhism, Judaism and other unspecified "traditional" religions. The legislation requires other religious groups to register with the government before the end of 1999 and to be in the country at least 15 years before gaining the right to hold property.
* Adriaan Vlok, South Africa's law and order minister during the apartheid era, claims former state president P.W. Botha congratulated him after police bombed the South African Council of Churches' headquarters in Johannesburg in August 1988. Vlok made the accusation in an amnesty application to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which is hearing incidents of gross human rights violations during the apartheid era. He said Botha ordered the headquarters bombed because it had become a "house of evil."
* A church investigation into the history of churches in Eastern Germany under communism has shown that only 80 to 160 pastors and church leaders out of almost 4,000 cooperated with the Stasi, the former East German security police. In 1992 a church historian claimed 1,500 to 3,000 church members in "East and West" Germany cooperated with the Stasi.
* Banjob Kusavadee, a representative of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Thailand, called on a Lutheran World Federation-sponsored international youth conference to start a campaign against sex tourism in their home countries. "Our country is beautiful and so are the people. Please tell tourists they should come to visit our country, not to visit our women," Kusavadee told the delegates representing 77 Lutheran churches worldwide.
* Church World Service, the humanitarian assistance ministry of the National Council of Churches, didn't evacuate its 79 staff members and their families in Cambodia, judging the situation wasn't a threat to their safety. The U.S. government had urged American citizens to leave Cambodia, suspending aid to the country for 30 days to show its displeasure with the seizure of power in July by Second Prime Minster Hun Sen. A July 17 report from CWS said the country was calm and returning to normal, though relief assistance was needed for families left homeless in the coup.
* The U.S. Supreme Court voted 6-3 to overturn the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, saying Congress unconstitutionally usurped power belonging to federal courts and the states when it passed the measure. The 4-year-old law forced government to show a compelling interest before it could interfere with religious practices. The original case involved a church in Boerne, Texas, that wanted to rebuild its 74-year-old sanctuary. It was prevented from doing so by the city because the church is in a historic district and renovations would violate local preservation laws. The church sued the city and won, but the case was appealed to the Supreme Court.
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