Religion Roundup

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Pastors Target Museum bust of Margaret Sanger
WASHINGTON - A conservative black pastors group says a bust of Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger in the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery is more offensive than the Confederate flag and should be removed.
     Sanger was a pioneer of the birth-control movement. She also supported eugenics, an effort to discourage reproduction by groups with undesirable traits.
     Bishop E.W. Jackson of Ministers Taking a Stand says Sanger specifically sought to limit the black population, an accusation for which the evidence is contested.
     But at a news conference outside the museum, Jackson said what he believes is a high incidence of abortion among blacks is evidence of a "disparate impact" suggesting racism.
     Portrait Gallery spokeswoman Bethany Bentley said Wednesday that Sanger's bust will not be removed and that the museum displays images of important Americans, including some with objectionable qualities.


Bike Ride Supports Clerk's Marriage License Decision
MOREHEAD, Ky. - Casey County Clerk Casey Davis has begun a bike ride across Kentucky to bring attention to the plight of Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, who has refused to issue marriage licenses, even after a federal appeals court order upheld a judge's directive to issue the licenses.
     Kim Davis has cited her Christian belief that marriage is only the union of a man and a woman, and has denied licenses to all couples, gay or straight, since the U.S. Supreme Court made gay marriage a constitutional right.
     A statement from The Family Foundation says Casey Davis set off before dawn Thursday in Pikeville and plans to ride to Paducah, a distance of more than 460 miles.
     Although the two are not related by blood, The Family Foundation says they are bonded by religious conviction.
     On Thursday, Kim Davis's office denied a marriage license to a gay couple for the third time.


'Sister Wives' Cite Gay Marriage in Polygamy Case
SALT LAKE CITY - A polygamous family says the landmark Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage shows that laws prohibiting consensual adult relationships are outdated even if the unions are unpopular.
     Kody Brown and his four wives argue in court documents filed Wednesday that their family life chronicled on the reality TV show "Sister Wives" shows that polygamous marriages can be as healthy as monogamous ones.
     The Browns, who belong to a polygamous Mormon sect, are defending a legal victory they won when a federal judge struck down key parts of Utah's law banning polygamy, removing the threat of arrest for plural families.
     Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes is appealing. The state contends the law prevents abuse of women and children and courts have long upheld anti-polygamy laws.
     Unlike the same-sex marriage case, the Browns aren't seeking full legal recognition of polygamous marriages.


Polygamists Ask Judge to Strike Down Bigamy Laws
HELENA, Mont. - A Billings man, his wife and his common-law wife have filed a federal lawsuit that seeks to strike down Montana's bigamy laws and argues the state is unconstitutionally preventing them from legitimizing their polygamous relationship.
     Nathan, Victoria and Christine Collier turned to the courts after Yellowstone County officials denied Nathan and Christine's request for a marriage license in June.
     Nathan and Victoria Collier married in 2000. Nathan and Christine Collier held a religious ceremony in 2007 but did not sign a marriage license.
     The three live together in Billings, have eight children from their own and from past relationships and went public by appearing on the reality cable television show "Sister Wives" in January.
     In their lawsuit, they argue that the Supreme Court's gay marriage ruling means that limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples is inconsistent with the fundamental right to marry.
     They also reference biblical and historical figures who had multiple wives as evidence of polygamy's historical acceptance.


Catholic School Changes Policy on Gay Hiring
PORTLAND, Ore. - A Roman Catholic school in Portland, Oregon, has changed its policy on hiring gay employees following the uproar over its decision to withdraw a job offer to a lesbian.
     The St. Mary's Academy board voted for the reversal Wednesday night, about 24 hours after it became public that the school rescinded the offer to 27-year-old Lauren Brown, a college counselor.
     St. Mary's had also offered Brown six months to not disclose the terms of the settlement and refrain from criticizing the school.
     In an email to parents, St. Mary's president Christina Friedhoff said the school - though still "deeply committed" to its Catholic identity - was immediately adding sexual orientation to its equal employment opportunity policy.
     The position offered to Brown has since been filled, but the school says it will reach out to her and her attorney for a possible reconciliation.


OK High Court: Ten Commandments Must Be Removed
OKLAHOMA CITY - The Oklahoma Supreme Court has ordered a county judge to implement a ruling that said a Ten Commandments monument on the state Capitol grounds is unconstitutional and must be removed.
     The state's highest court issued a mandate to act on its June 30 decision that the monument is a religious symbol and must be removed from the Capitol grounds because it violates a state constitutional ban on using public property for the benefit of religion.
     The 7-2 ruling was reaffirmed last month when the court denied a rehearing sought by Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt.
     The Supreme Court's decision reversed a ruling by Oklahoma County District Judge Thomas Prince, who ruled last year that the privately-funded monument could stay.
     Prince scheduled a Sept. 11 hearing to discuss how the Oklahoma Capitol Preservation Commission will comply with the Supreme Court's order.


Christian Lawyer Arrested in China Cross Crackdown
BEIJING - A well-known Chinese Christian lawyer has been out of contact for almost two days after being taken away by government workers in an eastern province where authorities are under a deadline to remove Christian crosses from church roofs.
     Yang Xingquan, a colleague of Zhang Kai, said Thursday that there has been no word on Zhang, who provides legal counsel for churches resisting the government order.
     Yang said Zhang and his assistant were taken away on Tuesday night from a church in the city of Wenzhou, which is known for its many churches.
     Local Christians said at least 11 pastors and church members had been taken away by police this week, most likely to deter resistance by churches against the cross removal.
     Critics say the government is trying to reduce the visibility of Christianity, which has been growing rapidly in China and may even rival the ruling Communist Party in size.


Man in Jewish Site Deaths: Judge Denying Fair Trial
OLATHE, Kan.  - A man accused of killing three people at two Kansas Jewish sites has been ordered to begin his defense this week, but it's unclear how much evidence he will be allowed to submit.
     Frazier Glenn Miller Jr. is facing a possible death sentence if convicted of capital murder in the 2014 shootings at two sites in Overland Park, Kansas. Johnson County prosecutors rested their case on Thursday morning.
     Miller is representing himself. He told Johnson County judge Thomas Kelly Ryan he wasn't prepared to start his defense and needed the case postponed until Monday. Ryan instead set Miller's defense for Friday morning.
     Ryan warned Miller that he would not be allowed to present evidence about his motives for the shootings.
     Miller has admitted that he killed three people and shot at three others, but has argued that he was compelled to do it because Jewish people are trying to wipe out the white race.


Oklahoma City Pastor Fires Shot at Would-Be Robber
OKLAHOMA CITY - Authorities say a would-be robber who fled an Oklahoma City church after the pastor shot at him has been arrested.
     Police say the pastor caught the suspect trying to rob the Church of the Living God on the city's northeast side on Wednesday and fired a shot at him.
     The suspect ran away after the pastor fired and was later taken into custody after neighbors called police when they saw the suspect hiding on their property.
     No injuries were reported in the incident.


Teacher Priest Seeks to Wear Religious Habit in Class
PARKERSBURG, W.Va. - A Roman Catholic priest who also is a teacher has asked school officials in West Virginia to let him wear his religious habit in the classroom.
     The Rev. George Nedeff is a member of the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity. He recently was hired as a substitute teacher in Wood County.
     The 75-year-old Nedeff tells the Parkersburg News and Sentinel that he believes students might benefit by having a priest in their schools.
     Schools Superintendent John Flint said school officials were considering Nedeff's request.
     West Virginia Department of Education spokeswoman Kristin Anderson says state law doesn't specifically prohibit or allow the wearing of religious vestments in the classroom.
     She says federal law offers conflicting guidance.


ACLU Suing to Block Nevada Education Savings Accounts
CARSON CITY, Nev. - The American Civil Liberties Union says it's filing a lawsuit challenging Nevada's broad new Education Savings Account program.
     The suit announced Thursday asserts that the new law violates a portion of the Nevada Constitution that bans using public funds for sectarian purposes.
     The group says the program will use taxpayer dollars for religious indoctrination at private schools that discriminate in admissions and employment.
     The ACLU is asking for the program to be declared unlawful, and wants the courts to prevent state officials from implementing it further.
     Nevada lawmakers this spring created the program, which allows parents to claim the majority of their child's per-pupil education funds and use it toward private schooling.
     It's considered the nation's broadest school choice program.


Pastor, Wife Accused of Embezzling from Church
HIGH POINT, N.C. - Authorities in High Point, North Carolina, have accused a pastor and his wife of taking money from their church.
     Local media outlets report that 51-year-old George Keith Hall and 52-year-old Leslie Hill Hall are charged with embezzlement of funds by public officers or trustees.
     High Point Police Capt. Mike Kirk said the embezzlement occurred between Jan. 1, 2012 and May 31, 2015, and involved questionable purchases using more than $40,000 of the church's money.
     Police launched an investigation after the church performed an audit earlier this year.
     George Hall is a pastor at The Journey Church in High Point. Kirk said Leslie Hall worked at the church.
     The Halls, who turned themselves in on Tuesday, were jailed under $50,000 bail apiece.


Diocese: Priest Removed for Prior Abuse Allegations
PEORIA, Ill. - An Illinois Catholic priest has been forced to step down from public ministry for past allegations of sexual abuse of a minor.
     The Catholic Diocese of Peoria announced Wednesday that the allegations against the Rev. Terry Cassidy date back nearly three decades.
     Officials say the decision was made after Bishop Daniel Jenky received unanimous advice of the Diocesan Review Commission.
     The 63-year-old Cassidy is the pastor of St. Ann Catholic Church in Peoria. He served 16 churches from 1984 to 2001.
     The diocese says Cassidy won't be allowed to publicly function as a priest, wear clerical clothes or use the titles Father or Reverend.

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