Religion Roundup

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Afterlife Accounts Dropped from Baptist Bookstores
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention has stopped selling popular accounts of the afterlife like "Heaven is for Real" and "90 Minutes in Heaven" at its national chain of Lifeway Christian Bookstores.
     Last summer, Southern Baptists at their annual convention warned that such books and films can lead people astray with "personal testimonies that cannot be corroborated" and sometimes conflict with Scripture.
     They overwhelmingly passed a resolution declaring "the sufficiency of biblical revelation over subjective experiential" accounts of heaven and hell.
     Lifeway spokesman Marty King says that resolution was taken into consideration and Lifeway stopped ordering personal afterlife accounts last summer. Now, he says, "the remaining heaven visitation items have been removed from our stores and website and will not be replenished." 

 
Student Who Led Racist Chant Meets Black Leaders
OKLAHOMA CITY - A former University of Oklahoma fraternity member caught on video leading a racist chant said Wednesday he's deeply sorry for his role in the incident and upset and embarrassed that he failed to stop it.
     Flanked by several black Oklahoma City community leaders, including pastors and civil rights activists, Levi Pettit apologized and asked for forgiveness following a meeting he had with civic leaders at Fairview Missionary Baptist Church on Oklahoma City's predominantly black northeast side.
     Pettit and several other members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity at the university were caught on video engaging in the chant that referenced lynching and used a racial slur to describe how African-Americans would never become members.
     Fairview Pastor John A. Reed said the Easter season is a time to forgive, just as Jesus forgave those who crucified him.
  
 
Groups Eye Ind. Pullout over Religious Objections Bill
INDIANAPOLIS - Organizers of a large church gathering and a gamers' convention say they're considering moving events from Indianapolis over a bill that critics say could legalize discrimination against gays.
     Leaders of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) wrote Wednesday to Indiana Gov. Mike Pence urging him to veto the proposal prohibiting laws that "substantially burden" the ability of people to follow their religious beliefs. Church leaders say they're reconsidering plans to hold their 6,000-person General Assembly in Indianapolis in 2017 because of concerns that some members might face legally sanctioned bias.
     The Gen Con gamers convention's CEO said similar concerns could affect decisions on whether to continue holding its annual 50,000-person event in Indianapolis.
     Supporters of the bill say it would prevent the government from forcing people to provide services for activities such as same-sex weddings that they consider objectionable.
     The governor's office says Pence intends to sign the bill into law.
 
 
Republican Proposes 'Religious Freedom' Referendum
HELENA, Mont. - A Republican lawmaker has proposed asking voters if they want additional religious protections in the Montana Constitution.
     State Rep. Carl Glimm says he brought House Bill 615 before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday to prioritize people's personal beliefs above job descriptions. He gave examples such as a county clerk who doesn't want to issue a same-sex marriage license or a pharmacist who didn't want to dispense birth control pills or emergency contraceptives.
     The proposal would exempt people from state laws that would burden their freedom to exercise religion.
     Former Montana Supreme Court Justice James Nelson and other opponents argue that codifying the religious protections would open the floodgates for individuals, corporations and churches to object to any state law they say violates their religion.
 
 
Ark. Senate OKs 10 Commandments Monument
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - The Arkansas Senate has voted to allow a display of the Ten Commandments near the state Capitol, with the lawmaker behind the idea calling the monument a nod to history.
     The bill approved by a 27-3 vote Wednesday would allow a privately funded monument to the commandments to be built on the Capitol grounds, with its design and location approved by the secretary of state. The measure now heads to the Arkansas House.
     Republican state Sen. Jason Rapert has said the monument would commemorate the role the Ten Commandments have played in the nation's legal system. Opponents have said the monument would amount to a state endorsement of religion and would be unconstitutional.
 
 
Ruling in SC Episcopal Spat Appealed to State High Court
CHARLESTON, S.C. - The Episcopal Church is appealing a state judge's ruling that churches in eastern South Carolina that broke with the denomination own the diocesan name, symbols and a half billion dollars in property.
     Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein ruled in January in favor of the Diocese of South Carolina. The conservative diocese and many of its congregations split with the national church in 2012 over theological differences.
     The national church and about 30 congregations remaining with it announced that they have asked the state Supreme Court to hear their appeal of the judge's ruling.
     Attorneys are asking the Supreme Court to consider the case immediately, without the matter first going to the state Court of Appeals.
 
 
Gas Line Hit in Effort to Set Up Easter Crosses
HOUSTON - Some Houston-area church members using a backhoe to dig and set up crosses for Easter hit a gas line and prompted an emergency stay-indoors order.
     Fire department officials in the Sheldon area lifted the shelter-in-place order early Wednesday as the natural gas line break was fixed.
     Nobody was hurt in Tuesday night's accident as members of St. Dominic Catholic Church began digging to put down crosses for Easter on April 5. Authorities say parishioners were using the heavy equipment to dig in front of the church when they accidentally ruptured the gas line.
     Dozens of residents were ordered to remain in their homes during the incident.
 
 
Pope Meets Relatives of Britons Slain by ISIS
VATICAN CITY - Relatives of two British hostages killed by the Islamic State group have met Pope Francis as part of efforts to unite people of different faiths to oppose religious extremism.
     Michael Haines, whose brother David was killed in September, and Barbara Henning, whose husband Alan was killed the following month, were brought up to greet Francis on the steps of St. Peter's Basilica after his rain-soaked general audience Wednesday.
     Usually such access is reserved for visiting prelates.
     Michael Haines said the moment "took my breath away." In a telephone interview with The Associated Press, he said the pope "said he was going to pray for me to continue the work that we're doing on unity and tolerance and bringing our communities together."
 
 
Iran Film Portrays Muhammad, Draws Criticism
ALLAHYAR, Iran - In a Persian replica of Mecca, built at the cost of millions of dollars, an Iranian film company is attempting to offer the world a glimpse of Muhammad despite traditional taboos against it.
     The movie "Muhammad, Messenger of God" is stirring controversy even before it's widely released, largely from predominantly Sunni Arab countries. Sunni Islam, the religion's dominant branch, widely rejects any depictions of its prophet, but the Shiite Islam practiced in Iran doesn't.
     The more than three-hour film focuses on Muhammad's childhood, never showing his face.
     So far, the movie appears to have the support of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's current supreme leader, who attended an inauguration of the film's set in 2012.
     Producers plan to ultimately release the film in Arabic, Persian and English, with showings across Iran and abroad in the summer.
 
 
Buddhist Leader Shares Stories with Immigrant Students
REDLANDS, Calif. - One of the world's most prominent Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leaders has met with immigrant students in California, telling them how he fled the country of his birth.
     The 29-year-old Karmapa is seen as a possible successor to the Dalai Lama. He left Tibet in 2000 and has since been living at a monastery in India. He is the current head of the 900-year-old Karma Kaguy school of Tibetan Buddhism.
     On Tuesday, the Karmapa visited the University of Redlands as part of his two-month visit to the United States. He met with 15 students who listened to him speak and shared their own stories of immigration.
     Students from the university traveled to India in 2011 and in 2013 to study with the Karmapa.
 
 
Islamic School Chief Pleads Not Guilty to Sex Abuse
ROLLING MEADOWS, Ill. - The head of a suburban Chicago Islamic school has pleaded not guilty to eight criminal counts alleging he sexually abused an employee.
     Seventy-five-year-old Mohammad Abdullah Saleem entered the plea Wednesday before a Cook County judge. The founder of the Institute of Islamic Education in Elgin was indicted on charges including aggravated criminal sexual abuse, aggravated battery of a school employee and unlawful restraint.
     If convicted, Saleem could face up to five years in prison. He's free on $250,000 bond.
     The Arlington Heights Daily Herald says Saleem's 22-year-old accuser has claimed he repeatedly hugged, touched and massaged her against her will in her school office.
     Saleem's attorney said after the hearing that prosecutors "purportedly have DNA evidence gathered at the alleged scene," but that doesn't mean he's guilty.

 
Woman Flashed, Abused Boys at Bar Mitzvah
PHOENIX - An Arizona woman has been arrested for allegedly exposing her newly augmented breasts to adults and children and performing a sex act on a teenage boy at a bar mitzvah.
     Scottsdale police say 32-year-old Lindsey Radomski is being held on suspicion of sexual conduct with a minor, sexual abuse, felony indecent exposure and misdemeanor exposure. Bond was set at $10,000 at Radomski's initial court appearance Wednesday.
     Police say Radomski was a guest at a home bar mitzvah Saturday and reportedly flashed her revamped breasts to adults.
     After most of the guests went home or were asleep early Sunday, Radomski allegedly invited seven boys ages 11 to 15 into a bedroom, allowed them to touch her breasts and performed a sex act on a 15-year-old.

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