Extremists Rampage in Northeast Nigeria as Elections Near
YOLA, Nigeria - Fleeing villagers say Islamic extremists are rampaging through northeastern Nigeria, killing, burning and looting, with no troops protecting them.
More than 40 people have been killed in seven villages this week according to resident Emmanuel Kwache, who said many women and youths were abducted.
The Boko Haram militants, who have declared an Islamic caliphate, are increasing attacks as Nigeria prepares for Feb. 14 elections.
In Washington Tuesday, Nigerian-American attorney Emmanuel Ogebe (oh-GAY'-bay) told Congress that the upcoming election "will likely be a Valentine's Day massacre for the poor Christians of northern Nigeria."
At the House hearing, Director J. Peter Pham of the Atlantic Council's Africa Center said "an unholy tally" of more than 1,000 Christian churches have been destroyed by Boko Haram since the last Nigerian election.
Detroit Pastor Sheffield Acquitted in Domestic Violence Case
DETROIT - A Detroit pastor charged with misdemeanor domestic violence involving his estranged wife has been acquitted.
Court records show a Wayne County jury on Tuesday returned the not guilty verdict in the case of the Rev. Horace Sheffield III. He also was acquitted of interfering with a crime report.
The charges stemmed from a Jan. 10, 2014, incident at the home the couple shared in Detroit. Both said at the time that they were in the midst of a divorce.
Sheffield is pastor of New Destiny Christian Fellowship Church. In a statement, he says he was "portrayed as a physical abuser and even though the charge itself only alleged I removed a cellphone out of someone's hand."
Sheffield last year unsuccessfully sought the U.S. House seat held by Congressman John Conyers.
Md. Diocese Calls for Bishop Who Killed Cyclist to Resign
BALTIMORE - An Episcopal Diocese of Maryland panel is calling for the resignation of a bishop charged with killing a cyclist in Baltimore while driving drunk.
The diocese said in a statement Wednesday that its standing committee, which provides counsel to Diocesan Bishop Eugene Sutton, asked Heather Cook to resign.
As suffragan bishop, Cook is the second-highest bishop in the diocese. The church is investigating her for possible discipline, and she cannot resign her title of bishop during that process. But the standing committee says she should resign from employment with the diocese.
Cook is charged with manslaughter, drunken driving and texting while driving. Cook fatally struck Thomas Palermo with her car on Dec. 27.
Cook's attorney says he and his client are analyzing the resignation request. He declined to comment further.
Nobel Laureate Charles Townes, Laser Co-Creator, Dies at 99
BERKELEY, Calif. - Charles Hard Townes, the co-inventor of the laser and a winner of top prizes in science and religion, has died at the age of 99.
Officials at the University of California, Berkeley, where Townes was a professor emeritus, said he had been in poor health before he died Tuesday.
Townes was one of three scientists to share the 1964 Nobel Prize in physics for research leading to the creation of the laser.
In 1966, he published an article titled "The Convergence of Science and Religion." Over the years, he wrote and spoke often on the subject, and in 2005, he won the Templeton Prize for Progress Toward Research or Discoveries about Spiritual Realities.
Townes said at the time, "Wonderful things in both science and religion come from our efforts based on observations, thoughtful assumptions, faith and logic."
Pope Warns of 'Absentee Fathers' in New Chapter on Family
VATICAN CITY - Pope Francis is urging fathers to be more involved in the lives of their children, warning that many problems adolescents run into can be traced to "absentee fathers" who are physically at home but don't take time to actually be with their kids.
Francis has frequently praised the role mothers play in families, but turned his attention Wednesday to the critical role of fathers. He warned that the absence of a paternal figure for young people can render them essentially "orphans at home."
He said: "Deviant behavior in adolescents can in good part be traced to the lack of an authoritative example and guide in their everyday lives."
Francis acknowledged that his words were "tough" and promised during next week's catechism lesson to speak about "the beauty of fatherhood."
Clergy Speak Out on 'Religious Freedom' Bill Proposed in GA
ATLANTA - Baptist clergy members in Georgia are picking sides over a bill that supporters say protects religious freedom.
Opponents say the bill will lead to discrimination against LGBT people or members of other religious faiths. Both groups held events at the Georgia Capitol on Wednesday.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Sam Teasley, is a Republican from Marietta. Teasley told reporters that he would not tweak the bill's language to specifically prevent corporations from using it. He says the Georgia bill mirrors a federal version.
Republican state Sen. Josh McKoon plans a similar bill. He says other lawmakers can propose specific anti-discrimination bills if they choose.
It's not clear how much support the bill has with General Assembly leaders. Republican House Speaker David Ralston has said he's not sure the bill is necessary.
Lawmaker Threatens to Out 'Hypocrites' on Gay Marriage
MONTGOMERY, Alabama - Alabama's only openly gay legislator is threatening to expose politicians' extramarital affairs if they don't stop calling gay marriage immoral.
Democratic Rep. Patricia Todd said she was furious and disappointed by comments made after a federal judge struck down the state's gay-marriage ban last week. Judge Callie Granade put her order on hold for 14 days to let the state appeal.
Republican House Speaker Mike Hubbard called the judge's ruling outrageous and said Alabama would defend the state's "Christian conservative values."
Todd said that was one of many statements that upset her, although she hasn't accused Hubbard of immoral behavior.
Meanwhile, Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore is urging state probate judges not to give marriage licenses to gay couples if the 14-day stay expires. In a letter to Gov. Robert Bentley, Moore denounced the federal judge's ruling as judicial tyranny and said it's nonbinding on Alabama courts.
Moore was removed as chief justice in 2003 when he refused to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the state judicial building. He was re-elected in 2012.
NAACP-Led Protests Resume at North Carolina Legislature
RALEIGH, N.C. - North Carolina's NAACP leader is challenging new rules concerning public assembly in the State Legislative Building.
About 75 people - many of them Christian, Muslim and Jewish clergy - gathered at a church in downtown Raleigh before marching to the Legislature Wednesday. At the church, they discussed issues in their open letter to lawmakers, including reversing what they see as restrictive voting policies, expanding Medicaid and raising the minimum wage.
In the Rotunda between the House and Senate chambers, the religious leaders gave speeches highlighting those issues and led prayers for more than an hour.
North Carolina NAACP President William Barber then turned attention to new rules on public assembly by asking the group to follow him around the circular space. A law enforcement official stopped Barber near the House chamber.
A tense exchange ended with Barber suggesting NAACP lawyers would take up the issue. The group left the rotunda without any arrests.
Insurance Man Gives $20M to Pittsburgh Theological Seminary
PITTSBURGH - An insurance agent has left more than $20 million in his will to Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, the largest gift in the facility's history.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports the Presbyterian seminary announced the gift from Robert Thomson on Tuesday.
Thomson died Sept. 22 at age 94. Before that, he spent more than 50 years at his Thomson & Sproull Insurance agency and was actively involved at Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh. Thomson was the church's treasurer and served as an usher.
William Carl, president of the seminary, said the gift came as a surprise and is the largest gift to the seminary "from anyone, living or deceased, in the over 220-year history of the school. It's pretty amazing."
House Panel Passes bill for Amish Exemption on Photo IDs
INDIANAPOLIS - Indiana House committee members have passed a bill allowing a religious exemption from photographs on state identification cards.
The Roads and Transportation Committee approved the bill Wednesday that would allow the Bureau of Motor Vehicles to issue a photo-less ID to applicants who have sincere religious objections to having their pictures taken. Instead a digital image using facial recognition technology would be kept on record.
Bill author Rep. Robert Morris of Fort Wayne says Indiana's large Amish population can't access outside businesses like banks and pharmacies without some kind of state identification. The bill would help remedy the issue.
Opponents feared an increase in the use of false or fake IDs, and that businesses would be unable to determine the IDs' authenticity.
NY Picks Kiryas Joel to Lead Review of Annexation Request
ALBANY, N.Y. - New York's environmental commissioner has chosen a Hasidic Jewish village to lead the review of a request to annex roughly 500 acres of adjacent land.
Commissioner Joe Martens' decision means Kiryas Joel will oversee the state-mandated environmental impact review on a politically controversial request to annex land from Monroe, about 50 miles north of New York City.
Leaders of the densely settled enclave of ultra-Orthodox Satmar Hasidic Jews say the village of 22,000 is bursting at the seams and needs more land to accommodate its quickly growing population.
Local opponents of the annexation request say they fear more congestion in the suburban area. They opposed Kiryas Joel's request for lead agency status in the State Environmental Quality Review process, claiming the review would not be thorough or fair.
Martens said the long-awaited decision was made after a thorough review.
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