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News for Religion --Sun Apr 20 05:44:05 EST 1997

  • A RELIGION DIVIDED, WITHIN AND WITHOUT
    JERUSALEM—Behind the cash registers of Motti Buenos' grocery store, a parchment-like sign mounted high on the wall bestows the Jewish priestly blessing on employees and customers below: ``God (New York Times) (*)

  • A SCHISM AMONG JEWS?
    The following editorial will appear in The New York Times, Sunday, April 20:< < (New York Times) (*)

  • SEDER-CRASHING PROPHET A METAPHOR, A MYSTERY
    LOS ANGELES—Jennifer Yeger knows about the guest. She figured the whole thing out four years ago, when she was 10, by outsmarting her parents when she suspected something fishy about one Passover  (*)

  • No headline.
    LOS ANGELES—Jennifer Yeger knows about the guest. She figured the whole thing out four years ago, when she was 10, by outsmarting her parents when she suspected something fishy about one Passover  (*)

  • AN ULSTER PARTY FINDS ITS SEX A LIABILITY
    BELFAST, Northern Ireland—Last month Monica McWilliams was struck in the face with a fist-sized chunk of brick hurled from a Protestant crowd outside a Roman Catholic church in the mostly (New York Times) (*)

  • FRIENDLY LITTLE CITY SPLIT ON BIG ISSUE
    BOERNE, Texas—It started here as a local zoning dispute, then mushroomed into a battle before the United States Supreme Court that some legal scholars are describing as one of the most (New York Times) (*)

  • No headline.
    Bad Science Mars The FBI Crime Lab < Recent events at the FBI suggest that the image of stalwart (New York Times) (*)

  • ZEROUAL ALLY FORMS PARTY AHEAD OF POLL



    A RELIGION DIVIDED, WITHIN AND WITHOUT

    By JOEL GREENBERG<

    c.1997 N.Y. Times News Service<

    JERUSALEM—Behind the cash registers of Motti Buenos' grocery store, a parchment-like sign mounted high on the wall bestows the Jewish priestly blessing on employees and customers below: ``God bless you and keep you.''

    It is not that Buenos is particularly religious. His lifestyle is that of a secular Jew, one who does not observe most rituals. Still, like many secular Israelis, he expresses an attachment to Jewish faith and tradition in his own way. He eats kosher food, for example, and he celebrates the Sabbath dinner.

    What Buenos, 36, feels no attachment to, on the other hand, is Conservative and Reform Judaism, which are seeking official recognition alongside the Orthodox rabbinate in Israel. And his indifference to those branches of Judaism goes a long way to explaining why their struggle has had little resonance here—far less than it has in America, where Reform and Conservative Judaism are very much in the mainstream.

    Here, the religion from which even the secular Jews pick and choose is Orthodox Judaism. The modernized practices of Reform and Conservative Jews, Buenos says, are simply foreign to him.

    ``That's not the religion I know,'' he said, citing the Orthodox education he received as a child. ``It's strange to me that a woman wears a skullcap and is called up to the reading of the Torah. It doesn't seem real, it's not what I was brought up on. After all the years of Jewish exile it seems like a new invention.''

    Buenos' sentiments seem to be shared by most secular Israelis, who have not flocked to join the small Reform and Conservative movements here. Recently, religious parties in parliament have been trying to guarantee Orthodox rabbis the sole authority to perform conversions in Israel. Conservative and Reform Jews across the United States are in an uproar over the bill, but barely 200 Israelis showed up for a protest outside the Parliament building.

    ``It is only an issue here because of relations with Jewish communities around the world,'' said Bobby Brown, the prime minister's adviser on diaspora affairs. ``The American Jewish experience and the Israeli Jewish experience are not identical.''

    The difference between these two experiences is the gulf that separates most Israeli Jews from the non-Orthodox streams of Judaism outside Israel.

    Seen from Israel, the debate over the conversion law appears to be part of a more profound power struggle over who will set the course of Judaism in Israel—Jews abroad or those here.

    Last week, the chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, Rabbi Ismar Schorsch, wrote a letter to Conservative rabbis and Jewish organizations in which he urged the dismantling of Israel's Chief Rabbinate and a halt to donations to groups that oppose recognition of non-Orthodox movements here. But Israelis tend to see Orthodox power differently—uncomfortable perhaps, but a product of their own political bargaining.

    And if the clout of the Orthodox is resented, it is usually not because they are unfair to Conservative and Reform Judaism. The issue instead is how much the state can enforce ritual law. That is why a dispute over the proposed Sabbath closing of a Jerusalem artery that runs through a strictly Orthodox neighborhood has provoked far more controversy here than the conversion bill.

    The Conservative and Reform movements argue that religious pluralism is needed if Israel is to be truly democratic. Jewish weddings and conversions in Israel, they note, are registered only if performed by Orthodox rabbis, and funerals are run by Orthodox burial societies. But while many Israelis may resent the power of the Orthodox, they have not turned toward religious pluralism for relief. They seem content that the synagogues they don't attend remain Orthodox.

    ``The Conservative and Reform movements may work for people who were educated in America, but here it's different,'' said Renata Nass, a 43-year-old who said she rarely enters a synagogue. ``For me a synagogue is the Orthodox one where my grandfather used to take me.''

    David Clayman, a Conservative rabbi who heads the Israel office of the American Jewish Congress, says this attitude ``is part of the classical Zionist education of `rejecting the Diaspora,' in which Reform and Conservative Judaism come under the heading of assimilated forms of Jewish survival that are inappropriate to a sovereign Jewish state.''

    The modernizing movements did not spring from Jews in the Arab world or from pre-war Eastern Europe—the sources of many of Israel's early immigrants. ``The Reform and Conservative movements in Israel are a fish out of water,'' said David Landau, a religious affairs writer for the daily Haaretz. ``They grew out of the cultural milieu of the West, which is not where the Israelis' Jewishness was coming from.''

    Israelis ``don't accept arguments by American Jewish activists that religious pluralism is an integral part of democracy, which reflects the reality in America but not the traditional European reality on which the Zionist state was based,'' he said. ``In many countries in Europe you have an established faith and you don't have religious pluralism, and they consider themselves not a whit less democratic than us.''

    Still, court battles have won the Conservative and Reform movements a measure of recognition and financial support from the state, and as more Israelis learn about them, the movements may grow.

    Take, for example, the reaction of Yaacov Levy, an observant Jew who reviews Sabbath services for the militantly secular Jerusalem weekly, Kol Hair.

    A recent visit to Kol Haneshama, a Reform synagogue, was a revelation, he wrote: ``I was astonished to discover that the Reform service is prayer, and that their holies are holy.''

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    A SCHISM AMONG JEWS?

    c. 1997 N.Y. Times News Service=

    The following editorial will appear in The New York Times, Sunday, April 20:< <

    Judaism, like any other religion, has a history of passionately argued theological disputes. But the argument between some Orthodox Jewish groups and non-Orthodox Jews over the role of the chief rabbinate in Israel and what constitutes Judaism itself is unusually corrosive. It is also dismaying to anyone concerned about Israel and the well-being of the Jewish community. History shows that an absolutist approach by religious groups in a pluralistic country endangers the common bonds holding society together. Israel is the last country in the world that can afford an internal religious schism.

    Such a rupture is now threatened because of the drive by some Israeli religious parties to let the chief rabbinate of Israel, which is an instrument of Orthodox Jews, retain exclusive control over marriage, divorce and conversions—and to enlist the power of the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to protect that authority. A parallel threat arises from a recent declaration by the Union of Orthodox Rabbis in the United States—a relatively small group even among Orthodox Jews—that adherents of Reform or Conservative Judaism may be Jews by birth but that ``their religion is not Judaism.''

    The Orthodox group's statement sent shock waves throughout the Jewish community in the United States, where most Jews are either Conservative or Reform. Now the chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, the academic center of the Conservative movement, has fired back, calling for the ``dismantling'' of Israel's chief rabbinate and suggesting that American Jews stop their donations to groups that oppose the recognition of non-Orthodox Jews in Israel.Rabbi Ismar Schorsch, the chancellor, inflamed passions further by suggesting that the Union of Orthodox Rabbis' intolerance was the kind of philosophy that led a fanatical Jew to murder Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995.

    Schorsch's comparison was intemperate itself. Orthodox Jews ought to be entitled to their opinion about other Jews they regard as straying from the faith without being accused of fomenting violence. But the chancellor's overall appeal that there be respect for diversity within a religion was a sensitive response to the problem of religious conflict in many societies, not simply Israel. However passionate or even legitimate are the arguments of theologians on one side or another, Israel is a democracy and a dictatorial approach by one group or another is bound to deepen divisions rather than respect for religious teachings.

    There has always been a tension in Israel between its role as a modern state with civilian authority and the fact that it is also a Jewish state, created expressly for Jews. Under its current setup, the country is less a theocracy than a civil society with an established religion. The chief rabbinate of the Jews has been given the exclusive authority by the state over divorce, marriage, conversions and other matters. Until fairly recently, the chief rabbinate was able to impose its doctrines without making non-Orthodox Jews feel that they were being deprived of their rights. But an influx of Jews from Russia, Ethiopia and other countries—many of whom are adopted or related to Jews through a relative other than the mother—has raised the tensions. Since Jewish law defines Jewishness through matrilineal descent, Israel demands that these new arrivals convert to Judaism if they want to marry or divorce. Two years ago, the Supreme Court in Israel said a non-Orthodox conversion would suffice, but now the government wants a new law saying that only an Orthodox conversion will do.

    Theological arguments are best carried out by theologians, but it is common sense for Israel to live up to its tradition as a place for all Jews. Attempts to delegitimize co-religionists because they do not follow the practices of the most Orthodox adherents may make perfect sense to some people theologically. But a single-minded pursuit of such an authoritarian approach is a recipe for division and discord at a time when Israeli unity is needed more than ever.<

    [Return to Top]


    SEDER-CRASHING PROPHET A METAPHOR, A MYSTERY

    c.1997 Los Angeles Daily News

    LOS ANGELES—Jennifer Yeger knows about the guest. She figured the whole thing out four years ago, when she was 10, by outsmarting her parents when she suspected something fishy about one Passover story.

    According to her parents, an ancient prophet named Elijah stops by their house once a year. According to stories told for hundreds of years, the Biblical figure travels the Earth tonight as Jews celebrate the first night of Passover, slipping through open doors, heralding things to come.

    And to leave his mark, he sips from a glass of wine left for him at each home holding a Seder, the ritual meal marking the first night of the eight-day Jewish holiday, which begins tonight.

    Years ago, when young Yeger left the Seder table to open the door for this mystical guest, she suspected that her parents gulped from Elijah's Cup, fooling her, just as Jewish parents have fooled kids for generations: He came! He drank! He's real!

    ``And then once, when I was 10,'' says the Los Angeles teen, a crafty smile on her face, ``I walked (ITAL) backward (END ITAL) to see if my parents were messing with the glass.''

    They were. The spell was broken, but another was cast. Like many Jews at one of the year's most festive holidays, Yeger learned that the story of Elijah resonates with a deeper faith.

    ``You still have that doubt in your mind,'' she says. ``You still think he (ITAL) might (END ITAL) be there.''

    He's 2,800 years old. He's invisible and symbolic of the coming of a Messiah. He can raise the dead. He's Elijah the prophet, and this week, he's the life of the party.

    About 90 percent of Jews celebrate Passover, which commemorates the Hebrews' liberation from slavery in ancient Egypt and receiving the Ten Commandments from God, making Elijah one of the religion's most popular characters.

    And for many children, he is an accessible—even fun—entry point into the spiritual world.

    ``He's invisible,'' says Nadia Branstrom, 10, a student at Kadima Hebrew Academy in Woodland Hills, 25 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

    ``He never died,'' says another Kadima student. ``He comes when I'm asleep.''

    ``It's like the Tooth Fairy,'' says Matan Weissman, 10. ``Kind of.''

    For many Jews, the adolescent realization that Elijah may not be visiting, that his wine went into the bellies of Mom and Dad, doesn't exactly bring disappointment. It serves as a step in spiritual growth, a subtle segue between ``believing'' in something and ``having faith'' in the workings of God.

    ``I think I'm very lucky because I don't think I ever had much of a bumpy transition between childhood awe and that leap of faith,'' explains Larry Miller, an actor and comedian, currently featured in ``Waiting for Guffman.''

    ``I'm sure there was an adolescent period of I'm-far-too-savvy-to-participate-in-these-silly-rituals, but I really don't remember that.''

    And so, each Jew develops their own relationship with the guest, says Ron Wolfson, vice president of the University of Judaism in Los Angeles. He studies and teaches religious rituals, and has written a book called ``The Art of Jewish Living: The Passover Seder.''

    ``Elijah, too, is the symbol of the Messianic time, the time to come, a time when everything will be OK,'' Wolfson explains. ``The notion that you open the door for Elijah means that you have to work to bring the Messiah. We all have a part in it.''

    Everybody's got an Elijah story, too, he says, some wacky, some old, some irreverent. The guest, present or not, becomes an unpredictable member of the family, and opening the door for him invites an element of surprise and suspense.

    ``I've heard people open the door and a cat walks in,'' Wolfson says. ``I heard about a family that opened the door and a guy from the Census Bureau walked in.''

    The once-angry prophet's visit has even crossed recently into popular culture. The popular Nickeloden cartoon ``Rugrats'' last year created a Passover special episode, a rarity in television. And on ``Saturday Night Live,'' Jerry Seinfeld portrayed a bitter, abrasive, wine-guzzling Elijah who disrupts a stuffy, overdrawn Seder.

    ``You know, I do remember watching the glass and thinking, `He's drinking it now,''' says Arlene Klasky, executive producer of ``Rugrats.'' ``And I'd be hoping that the wine would go down so that I could have believed in that sort of mystical thing.''

    The story of Elijah is almost 3,000 years old. It recounts the prophet (known by his Hebrew name of Eliyahu) wandering the hills of Israel in a loincloth, raging against the Phoenician queen Jezebel and a sect of priests who introduced an idol to the Jewish people, a symbol forbidden by the Commandments.

    Most important of all, Elijah never died, but was airlifted to Heaven in a fiery chariot. This provided an opening for his continued presence on Earth, and rabbis of the past millenniums have worked him into ritual. He has a cup at Passover and a chair at ritual circumcisions.

    X X X<

    [Return to Top]


    c.1997 Los Angeles Daily News

    LOS ANGELES—Jennifer Yeger knows about the guest. She figured the whole thing out four years ago, when she was 10, by outsmarting her parents when she suspected something fishy about one Passover story.

    According to her parents, an ancient prophet named Elijah stops by their house once a year. According to stories told for hundreds of years, the biblical figure travels the Earth tonight as Jews celebrate the first night of Passover, slipping through open doors, heralding things to come.

    And to leave his mark, he sips from a glass of wine left for him at each home holding a Seder, the ritual meal marking the first night of the eight-day Jewish holiday, which begins at sundown Monday.

    Years ago, when young Yeger left the Seder table to open the door for this mystical guest, she suspected that her parents gulped from Elijah's cup, fooling her, just as Jewish parents have fooled kids for generations: He came! He drank! He's real!

    ``And then once, when I was 10,'' said the Los Angeles teen, a crafty smile on her face, ``I walked (ITAL)backward(END ITAL) to see if my parents were messing with the glass.''

    They were. The spell was broken, but another was cast. Like many Jews at one of the year's most festive holidays, Yeger learned that the story of Elijah resonates with a deeper faith.

    ``You still have that doubt in your mind,'' she said. ``You still think he (ITAL)might(END ITAL) be there.''

    He's 2,800 years old. He's invisible and symbolic of the coming of a Messiah. He can raise the dead. He's Elijah the prophet, and this week, he's the life of the party.

    About 90 percent of Jews celebrate Passover, which commemorates the Hebrews' liberation from slavery in ancient Egypt and receiving the Ten Commandments from God, making Elijah one of Judaism's most popular characters.

    And for many children, he is an accessible—even fun—entry point into the spiritual world.

    ``He's invisible,'' said Nadia Branstrom, 10, a student at Kadima Hebrew Academy in Woodland Hills, 25 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

    ``He never died,'' said another Kadima student. ``He comes when I'm asleep.''

    ``It's like the Tooth Fairy, kind of,'' said Matan Weissman, 10.

    For many Jews, the adolescent realization that Elijah may not be visiting, that his wine went into the bellies of Mom and Dad, doesn't exactly bring disappointment. It serves as a step in spiritual growth, a subtle segue between believing in something and having faith in the workings of God.

    ``I think I'm very lucky because I don't think I ever had much of a bumpy transition between childhood awe and that leap of faith,'' said Larry Miller, an actor and comedian, featured in ``Waiting for Guffman.''

    ``I'm sure there was an adolescent period of I'm-far-too-savvy-to-participate-in-these-silly-rituals, but I really don't remember that.''

    And so, each Jew develops his own relationship with the guest, said Ron Wolfson, vice president of the University of Judaism in Los Angeles. He studies and teaches religious rituals, and has written a book called ``The Art of Jewish Living: The Passover Seder.''

    ``Elijah, too, is the symbol of the Messianic time, the time to come, a time when everything will be OK,'' Wolfson explains. ``The notion that you open the door for Elijah means that you have to work to bring the Messiah. We all have a part in it.''

    Everybody's got an Elijah story too, he said, some wacky, some old, some irreverent. The guest, present or not, becomes an unpredictable member of the family, and opening the door for him invites an element of surprise and suspense.

    ``I've heard people open the door and a cat walks in,'' Wolfson said. ``I heard about a family that opened the door and a guy from the Census Bureau walked in.''

    The once-angry prophet's visit has even crossed recently into popular culture. The popular Nickelodeon cartoon ``Rugrats'' last year created a Passover special episode, a rarity in television. And on ``Saturday Night Live,'' Jerry Seinfeld portrayed a bitter, abrasive, wine-guzzling Elijah who disrupts a stuffy, overdrawn Seder.

    ``You know, I do remember watching the glass and thinking, he's drinking it now,'' said Arlene Klasky, executive producer of ``Rugrats.'' ``And I'd be hoping that the wine would go down so that I could have believed in that sort of mystical thing.''

    The story of Elijah is almost 3,000 years old. It recounts the prophet (known by his Hebrew name of Eliyahu) wandering the hills of Israel in a loincloth, raging against the Phoenician Queen Jezebel and a sect of priests who introduced an idol to the Jewish people, a symbol forbidden by the Ten Commandments.

    Most important of all, Elijah never died but was lifted to heaven in a fiery chariot. This provided an opening for his continued presence on Earth, and rabbis of the past millenniums have worked him into ritual. He has a cup at Passover and a chair at ritual circumcisions.

    [Return to Top]


    AN ULSTER PARTY FINDS ITS SEX A LIABILITY

    By JAMES F. CLARITY<

    c.1997 N.Y. Times News Service<

    BELFAST, Northern Ireland—Last month Monica McWilliams was struck in the face with a fist-sized chunk of brick hurled from a Protestant crowd outside a Roman Catholic church in the mostly Protestant town of Ballymena, north of Belfast.

    The Protestants had been harassing the Catholics for several months and Ms. McWilliams, one of two delegates to the Northern Irish peace talks from the new Northern Ireland Women's Coalition party, had joined with other women, Protestant and Catholic, in a silent vigil of support for the churchgoers.

    Her face may have been bruised, Ms. McWilliams said in a recent interview, but her political skin was toughened by the experience.

    ``The rocks they had in their heads were as big as the ones they threw,'' she said of the hard-line Protestants.

    Now the Women's Coalition, founded last year in a challenge to sectarian divisions and traditional male-dominated politics, has announced that it will field three candidates for Northern Ireland seats in the British parliamentary election on May 1.

    Ms. McWilliams, 42, a Catholic and a lecturer in government at Ulster University, recalled that since last May, when she and Pearl Sagar, a Protestant social worker, founded the party and were elected to seats at the peace talks, they have been attacked at negotiation sessions by Protestant Unionist delegates.

    The animosity has been directed not only at their ideas but at them, for violating the custom that men rule politics and women confine themselves to children and kitchen.

    In this predominantly Protestant province, which has seen decades of conflict between Protestant Unionists favoring continued British rule and Catholic Republicans fighting to end it, the Women's Coalition is an even mix of Catholics and Protestants.

    And although women make up 52 percent of the population in Northern Ireland, there are none in the province's delegation to the British Parliament, and only 12 percent of local council seats are held by women.

    Two decades ago, two Northern Irish women, Mairead Corrigan and Betty Williams, gained political prominence and were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their Peace People movement, but the group's influence has faded.

    Ms. McWilliams says she and Ms. Sagar have been subjected to ``ritual humiliation'' at the peace talks by the men of the Democratic Unionist Party, led by the Rev. Ian Paisley and his son, Ian Jr.

    The assertion is supported by the official minutes of the negotiations, which have been suspended until June 3, after the parliamentary election.

    The Unionists have shouted ``Stupid women!'' and ``Traitors!'' at them. Ian Paisley Jr. repeatedly interrupted a speech by Ms. McWilliams with howls of ``Moo, moo, moo.''

    During one session, Peter Robinson, the party's deputy leader, handed a note to his wife, Iris, also a delegate, and she stood up to say of the coalition: ``They're doing their best to destroy anything that smacks of Unionism or Protestantism. Thank God only 7,000 idiots voted for these women.''

    For the first months of the negotiations, female Unionist delegates walked out of the restroom whenever one of the coalition women entered it.

    When a male Unionist exhorted the two coalition women to ``stand by the men of Ulster,'' Ms. McWilliams and Ms. Sagar stood and sang, ``Stand by Your Man.''

    But they were not singing when they announced recently that despite scant money and a membership of only 500, the coalition was competing for three of Northern Ireland's 18 seats in Parliament _ seats now held by Protestant Unionist men.

    As the Ulster idiom has it, the women are ``thrawn,'' or ornery.

    ``The Women's Coalition has earned a lot of respect,'' said Kathleen Stephens, the U.S. consul general in Belfast, ``not only for participating in a well-prepared way, but for the way they handled the suspicion and abuse directed at them.''

    Jeffrey Donaldson, a parliamentary candidate and a ranking official of the Ulster Unionist Party, which did not take part in the abuse, said, ``They are a very, very small party, but they're welcome in the peace process.''

    Still, Ms. McWilliams noted that neither Donaldson's party nor the mainstream Catholic Social Democratic Labor Party of John Hume rose to defend the women when they were being attacked.

    On the other hand, she said, the delegates of the small parties representing Protestant paramilitary organizations, some of them men who had served prison terms for terrorist crimes, were very polite.

    The essence of the coalition's message at the peace talks, Ms. McWilliams said, is that there must be an ``end to gamesmanship, brinkmanship.''

    ``Women are the ones who've had to pick up the pieces after relatives and friends are murdered, blown up,'' she added. ``We're the ones who recognize we have to rise above it—not to let it cripple us. If that means dealing with the enemy, so be it.''

    One of the coalition's candidates, Annie Campbell, 40, a community development professional and Protestant, is running in South Belfast. She said she did not expect to defeat the incumbent, the Rev. Martin Smyth, a former grand master of the Orange Order and one of the most prominent Protestants in the province. Still, she said, ``I want to give him a good run, to bring issues to the political agenda that have been absent.''

    ``We straddle the Catholic-Protestant line,'' Ms. Campbell said. ``What we say is quite different. We've opened a space, an opportunity for people who want to put human rights at the center and have no political agenda.''

    ``Women have really kept families together, kept things from debilitating into a Bosnia situation,'' she added. ``The political arena has been a reflection of the war on the streets. The more huffing and puffing you can do, the less you're prepared to listen, the higher you'll rise in politics in Northern Ireland. We want to demolish that macho myth.''

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    FRIENDLY LITTLE CITY SPLIT ON BIG ISSUE

    By SAM HOWE VERHOVEK=

    c. 1997 N.Y. Times News Service=

    BOERNE, Texas—It started here as a local zoning dispute, then mushroomed into a battle before the United States Supreme Court that some legal scholars are describing as one of the most important in years involving the separation of church and state.

    For some people here in Boerne, a small city in the Texas Hill Country north of San Antonio, it is thrilling to be at the epicenter of a big national issue. But for many more, who take pride in the community's quaint, quiet ambience, it is disconcerting.

    How, they wonder, in a place where neighbors are supposed to get along so well, did the case pitting the local Roman Catholic Church against Boerne ever get so huge?

    ``This has gone way, way, way, way farther than a lot of people would have ever thought possible,'' said Derek Barnes, owner of the Raccoon Saloon on Main Street. ``I know it's up there in Washington as some big issue of religious freedom. But it amazes me they couldn't work this out. We're talking about whether to enlarge a building.''

    The building is St. Peter's Church, a mission-style stone building with twin bell towers, built in 1923 and perched atop a hill on Main Street. It is in a historic district that the city created in 1992, hoping to enhance the town's appeal as a weekend tourist destination.

    The problem, as the Archdiocese of San Antonio sees it, is that the 220-seat sanctuary has become much too small to serve the needs of a growing parish. In fact, the church holds its Sunday Masses in a senior citizens' hall up the street. St. Peter's would like to demolish part of the existing church and build an enlarged sanctuary that could seat more than 700 people.

    The problem as the city of Boerne (pronounced bernie) sees it, however, is that the church is an integral part of the historic district that should be left largely, if not entirely, intact. The historic preservation commission has blocked all renovation plans, and several attempts at a compromise—one that would somehow preserve the picturesque facade while allowing for major alterations behind it—have all bogged down.

    Finally, the church sued the city, invoking the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which Congress passed to expand protections for churches. Under the act, governments must demonstrate a compelling need for enforcement of any laws that ``substantially burden'' religious expression.

    The act has stimulated other lawsuits, among them pending actions by inmates contending that clothing restrictions in state prisons interfered with their right to wear religious apparel.

    But the dispute in Boerne about whether the anti-demolition rulings interfere with the religious rights of St. Peter's parishioners is the first to reach the Supreme Court, the case that will test the validity of the law itself.

    At the court, where a ruling is expected before the end of the current term, perhaps the most profound question is whether Congress went too far in passing the law, which largely seemed to override the court's own previous interpretation of the Constitution. Indeed, when oral arguments were held before the court in February, many justices seemed more interested in the separation between Congress and the court, rather than church and state.

    In Boerne, such legal niceties seem to be lost. With parishioners at St. Peter's paying both sides to fight the case _ their Sunday donations to the church, their tax dollars to the city _ a lot of people are wondering just why the whole thing could not be worked out.< <

    ``In this case, there isn't a winner no matter what happens,'' said J.D. Kidwell, who runs a road-repair business in town. ``It's gotten beyond any kind of reason.''

    Still, an informal survey of people who live or work near the church shows that opinions in the matter are so highly inflamed that perhaps it is not so crazy that the issue wound up where it did.

    For instance, Kidwell, who is not a parishioner at St. Peter's, comes down firmly on the side of the church. ``From what I can see, Father Tony was willing to make concessions,'' he said of the Rev. Tony Cummins, the priest at St. Peter's. ``He's got a parish to serve. But the city's attitude seems to be, not a stone should be touched.''

    But Anita Herndon, who works in a Main Street boutique that sells rocking chairs, feels strongly that the city is right to protect the building, which was inspired by the Mission Concepcion in San Antonio, 30 miles away.

    ``This church just means too many things to too many people in this community,'' she said. ``The ancestors of so many families here dug those rocks out of a field and built that church.''

    The battle does not appear to have become personally bitter. Both Father Cummins and Patrick Heath, a retired Methodist minister who is the mayor of Boerne, expressed regret that, under directives issued by lawyers on both sides, they are no longer able to discuss the issue with each other.

    Judge Lucius Bunton III of federal district court ruled in favor of the city, finding the 1993 law unconstitutional. An appeals panel disagreed and upheld the law, sending the matter, on appeal again, to the Supreme Court.

    ``This case is about a request to tear down a beautiful stone church whose times and memories are graven into the souls of a city,'' reads the brief filed by Boerne.

    But Father Cummins said that the case was about something different: ``All we want to do is to build a place to house all of our people so that they can gather together for worship.''

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    c.1997 N.Y. Times News Service=@

    Bad Science Mars The FBI Crime Lab <

    Recent events at the FBI suggest that the image of stalwart G-men could be in danger of being replaced by the comic cops in the ``Naked Gun'' movies. The latest embarrassment was an inquiry by the Justice Department's Inspector General that found the FBI's high-tech crime lab riddled with bad science.

    The investigation concluded that hundreds of cases—including high-profile prosecutions like the Oklahoma City federal building bombing case—were potentially jeopardized by sloppy practices, exaggerated findings and poorly documented tests.

    A recent string of lapses have helped dim the reputation of Director Louis Freeh, including the botched interview with Richard Jewell, a suspect in the bombing at the Olympics, and the agency's willingness to turn over hundreds of personal files to the White House.—DAVID JOHNSTON

    Tending Flock in Sarajevo

    In 1994, when Sarajevo was at war, Pope John Paul II was dissuaded from making a trip there for security reasons. Last week he made it, even though the city is still grappling with a tenuous peace that has made his job more difficult. Despite security provided by NATO helicopters, tanks and soldiers, local police found 23 landmines along the pope's motorcade route.

    The 76-year-old pontiff's main goal was to bring a message of forgiveness, not an easy one for any of Bosnia's groups—Muslims, Catholic Croats or Orthodox Serbs—to accept. But as the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, he also saw it as his duty to bolster his sectarian community in Bosnia, at a time when tensions between Catholics and Muslims are particularly strained.

    As Catholics came out to greet him waving Croatian nationalist flags, it seemed his attempts to strike a balance had failed. But many non- Catholic Bosnians said they were grateful for his visit, one of the few by a major international figure to their devastated city.—CELESTINE BOHLEN

    A Missing Attack Jet <

    For the past two weeks the Air Force has thrown its highest technology at a military mystery: what happened to Capt. Craig Button after his A-10 Thunderbolt disappeared from radar over the Colorado Rockies on April 2?

    Spy satellites provided infrared images; U-2 and SR-71 high altitude planes yielded radar, and C-130 cargo planes and helicopters flew over using binoculars.

    On the ground, metal detectors were wielded and seismic sensors were studied for traces of an impact of the plane, last seen carrying four 500-pound bombs.

    With search costs approaching the $1 million mark, the plane was not found by the weekend.

    Searchers speculated last week that if the plane crashed, it probably disintegrated into a thousand pieces. They said chances are the wreckage will found the old way: a hunter stumbling over strange pieces of metal, many autumns hence.—JAMES BROOKE

    New Role, New Ambassador <

    Felix Rohatyn has made a name for himself as an investment banker, as a donor to Democratic politicians and causes, as the man who helped New York City skirt bankruptcy in the 1970s. President Clinton has now offered him a new role: ambassador to France.

    If confirmed by the Senate, Rohatyn, 68, would replace Pamela Harriman, doyenne of the Democratic Party, who died in February. Rohatyn, who speaks French and lived in France as a boy, appears to be one of several nominees Clinton has finally tapped for diplomatic posts in important countries like Russia, Germany and Japan.

    The selection process, always arduous, has been prolonged by the allegations that campaign contributions affected the administration's foreign policy. Rohatyn's nomination could well become a test of whether the tradition of rewarding donors with plum ambassadorships will emerge from the furor unscathed.—STEVEN LEE MYERS

    An Angel for the Speaker

    Bob Dole and House Republicans have not had the best of relations lately, especially since they called him a traitor for wanting to keep the government open in the budget winter of 1995-96, and openly said he was running a lousy campaign for president last fall.

    But Dole bailed them out last week by promising to loan House Speaker Newt Gingrich $300,000 for the fine he agreed to pay the House last December for ethics violations. Dole and his friends apparently helped persuade the speaker's wife, Marianne, to put up family assets as collateral for the loan, whose generous terms do not require repayment before 2005.—ADAM CLYMER

    Criticism Either Way

    Janet Reno is not the first attorney general to find herself in an uncomfortable squeeze between partisan politics and criminal law. ``I'm damned if I do and damned if I don't,'' the somewhat exasperated attorney general said last week after she rejected Republican demands to appoint an independent prosecutor to investigate how Democrats raised millions of dollars to re-elect President Clinton .

    Her decision infuriated Republicans like House Speaker Newt Gingrich who compared her to John Mitchell, President Richard Nixon's attorney general during Watergate, who went to prison for obstructing the Watergate investigation.

    Her refusal to seek an outside prosecutor represented a change for Reno, who in the past has been criticized by Democrats for being too quick to refer cases to outside prosecutors.—DAVID JOHNSTON

    HIV Weapon

    Scientists say they have discovered the precise mechanism by which HIV, the AIDS virus, penetrates cell membranes. That could lead drug designers to develop some means of blocking that mechanism, which is sort of a spring-loaded harpoon.

    Meanwhile, a small Midwestern insurance company is offering something new: life insurance to people who are HIV positive. It was regarded as a step toward recognizing that contracting the AIDS virus may no longer mean certain death. Policies for coverage of up to $250,000 were being sold in Illinois by Guarantee Trust Life Insurance Co., in Glenview, Ill.

    Publish or Suppress? <

    Freedom to publish is the linchpin of academia. But a case in which Knoll Pharmaceuticals suppressed a scientist's report for several years has deeply embarrassed the University of California at San Francisco and shown that academic institutions do not always stand up for faculty members.

    The study involved this country's third most commonly prescribed drug, Synthroid, a hormone replacement taken daily. To the surprise of Knoll, which paid for the study, and the researcher, Dr. Betty J. Dong, Synthroid was no more effective than less expensive generic versions known as levothyroxine.

    The bitter dispute over the suppression ended last week. The Journal of the American Medical Association published the same paper that the university forced Dr. Dong to withdraw more than two years ago when it said it would not defend her team of researchers if the drug company sued. But the study's impact on medical practice is uncertain.—LAWRENCE K. ALTMAN

    A Theory Upended <

    Time travelers and Big Bang theorists, please stand by.

    Scientists have taken measurements and propose for the first time that the universe has an ``up'' and a ``down.''

    Before this newest theory, space was considered uniform: north and south, up and down, were nonexistent. This has been a major tenet of modern cosmology, backed by Einstein's theory of relativity.

    Now comes a challenge that could compel scientists to double-check aspects of relativity and some key ideas about the birth of the universe. The finding also raises questions about whether the speed of light is really constant.

    Two physicists, Borge Nodland of the University of Rochester and John Ralston of the University of Kansas, made the startling discovery that the radio waves emanating from 160 distant galaxies rotate as they move through space, in a subtle corkscrew pattern unlike anything seen before.

    More surprisingly, the magnitude of these rotations appears to depend on the angle at which the radio waves move in relation to a kind of axis of orientation running through space. This axis defines a direction of space that somehow determines how light travels through the universe.

    Which direction you call ``up'' and which ``down'' is, however, still arbitrary.

    The Power of Baby Talk

    The number of words a baby hears in the first year of life and the tone in which they are spoken affect fundamental circuits in the human brain, researchers have found. A child's ability to think rationally, solve problems and reason abstractly appear to be established in infancy—long before babies understand what is being said to them.

    A study carried out at the University of Iowa illustrates the power of spoken words on brain development. The researchers, Betty Hart and Todd Risley, visited the homes of 42 families with new babies for two and half years, recording, for an hour a month, every word spoken. The parents' tone of voice—encouraging, scolding, warm or commanding—was noted along with each utterance.

    As reported in their recent book, ``Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children,'' the researchers found that the children of professional parents heard, on average, 2,100 words per hour, whereas children of working-class parents heard 1,200 words and children of parents on welfare heard about 600 words per hour.

    The cumulative effect of this chatter was staggering. After one year, the children of professional parents had heard 11 million words whereas the children from working-class homes heard 6 million and welfare children heard only 3 million words—a varying input that had a profound effect on each child's abilities to think conceptually by age 4.

    The first three years are unique in the lives of humans because infants are so utterly dependent on adults for all their nurture and language, Dr. Hart said. By age 4, the best that can be expected from education or intervention programs is to keep less advantaged children from falling even further behind, she said. _ SANDRA BLAKESLEE>

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    (c) FINANCIAL TIMES, SYNDICATION DAILY NEWS SERVICE.

    ZEROUAL ALLY FORMS PARTY AHEAD OF POLL

    By Roula Khalaf in London

    An ally of Algerian President Liamine Zeroual yesterday announced the formation of a political party ahead of legislative elections in May or June.

    Mr Abdelkader Bensalah, who heads the government-appointed National Transitional Council (CNT), said his new party, the National Democratic Rally, would draw support from union, veteran, peasant and women's associations. These organisations supported Mr Zeroual in 1995 presidential elections.

    Mr Bensalah stepped in to head the party after the murder last month of Mr Abdelhak Benhamouda, leader of Algeria's main union. Mr Benhamouda, also a Zeroual ally, had made public his plans to start a new party.

    The emergence of a ``presidential'' party is a clear sign of the disintegration of the National Liberation Front (FLN), the former ruling party which went into opposition in 1992, when elections the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) were about to win were cancelled by the army.

    The National Democratic Rally, by drawing on pro-Zeroual associations, aims to strip the FLN of much of its support.

    The FLN is already split between the pro-government leadership and the more respected anti-government reformist wing.

    The new party is also designed as a counter-weight to Hamas, the legal Islamist party which the government assumes will attract many former FIS supporters. The FIS, banned since 1992, is excluded from the upcoming elections.

    Hamas, considered a moderate Islamist party, has maintained an often cozy relationship with the army-backed government and is expected to emerge as a leading contender in the elections. Hamas' candidate won 25 per cent of the vote in the 1995 presidential elections, on the strength of FIS support.

    Hamas and Nahda, the other legal Islamist party, have been given two months to conform to Algeria's new laws, which aim to ban the use of religion in politics. The parties will have to strip any mention of religion from their titles and political programmes.

    After November's constitutional amendments diluted the powers of the next parliament, the CNT last week adopted a more restrictive law governing political parties and backed a voting system based on proportional representation.

    The measures are aimed at preventing a repeat of the first round of legislative elections in 1991 which saw the FIS poised to control the national assembly under the majority voting system. The army's cancellation of the second round of polling plunged the country into a cycle of violence which has claimed more than 50,000 lives.

    As the elections approach, the government has stepped up its campaign to root out Islamic militants. Criticised by Algerians for failing to prevent the recent wave of massacres and blasts blamed on FIS splinter groups, the army offensive has already led to 200 militants being killed this month, according to press reports.

    FINANCIAL TIMES

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