Religion Roundup

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Religious Rights Advocates Link Persecution to Terrorism
WASHINGTON - A Nigerian human rights lawyer charges that terrorism has spread because the Obama administration has downplayed religion in its foreign policy.
     Speaking at a congressional hearing, Emmanuel Ogebe characterized the administration's policy toward Boko Haram and the Islamic State group as a "see no jihad, hear no jihad, say no jihad strategy."
     The president has said that Islamic State is a terrorist group, does not represent the Islamic faith and has committed atrocities against Muslims, Christians and religious minorities.
     Under Secretary of State Sarah Sewall said while the group violates all human rights, "the evil that it perpetrates in the name of religion has really raised that issue in a way that we haven't perhaps appreciated."
     Katrina Lantos Swett, who chairs the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, said such "atrocities" pose a growing threat to America's national security.


British Muslims Plead for Hostage Under Threat
LONDON - British Muslim leaders are appealing for the release of a British hostage threatened with beheading by Islamic State extremists in Syria.
     Alan Henning's life was threatened in a video released Saturday that showed him in the hands of the extremists who beheaded British captive David Haines and two American journalists. The group says in the video that Henning will be next if Britain doesn't end its support for U.S. military strikes.
     The Muslim leaders said in a letter published in the Independent newspaper that Henning is a humanitarian aid worker who went to Syria to help victims of the civil war. The religious leaders and community organizers ask the Islamic State group to "show him some mercy."
     They say that under Islamic rules, anyone doing humanitarian work "should be commended and held in the highest esteem" and there is no justification in the Quran for the threat against Henning. The letter is signed by the leader of the Muslim Council of Britain, the chief imams of many major mosques and more than 100 Muslim activists.


Israeli Museum Unveils Ancient Jewish Prayer Book
JERUSALEM - An Israeli museum has unveiled what it says in the oldest known Jewish prayer book in the world, dating back to the 9th century A.D.
     The prayer book, about four inches long and three inches wide, is written in Hebrew, contains about 50 pages, and is still in its original binding. It was donated to the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem by Oklahoma businessman Steve Green, a devout Christian and owner of one of the largest collections of rare biblical artifacts in the world.
     Green's family controls the Hobby Lobby crafts store chain, which won a closely watched U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that grants some employers a religious exemption from covering contraceptives in employee health plans.
     Green told The Associated Press that the book originated in the Middle East and that three experts, working independently, had carbon-dated it to 820 A.D.


Hundreds of Gays Parade Through Jerusalem
JERUSALEM - Hundreds of gays and lesbians and their supporters have marched in Jerusalem's 12th annual Gay Pride parade.
     Israel's gays and lesbians typically enjoy freedoms similar to their counterparts in European countries. Gay soldiers serve openly in the military, and gay musicians and actors are among the country's most popular.
     However, things are different in conservative Jerusalem where there have been clashes between religious and gay activists.
     Jerusalem resident Shirley Gutten says, "The religious people spit at me in the streets, but I get used to it."
     She says Tel Aviv is much more gay-friendly, but she loves Jerusalem and won't "give up on it."


Anti-gay Tenn. Billboard Stirs Religion Debate
PORTLAND, Tenn. - An anti-gay billboard is stirring a debate over bullying and religion in Portland, Tennessee.
     The Tennessean newspaper reports that the message reads: "You shall not lie with a man as with a woman. It is an abomination. - God." The sign says it is "paid for by concerned Christians."
     Portland resident Ronny Monday helped initiate the placement of the billboard. He says the Old Testament message was "necessary" to balance against the message from celebrities and President Barack Obama supporting gay marriage.
     But Shannon Lynch, who has taught religion, ethics and philosophy for 14 years, says she sees the sign as a "form of bullying" that could have negative effects on young people struggling to find their own identity.


Church School Fires Coach Tied to Beating of Gays
PHILADELPHIA - Church officials have fired an assistant coach at a Roman Catholic high school who they say was involved in an encounter in Philadelphia in which two gay men were beaten.
     The identities of the men and women involved in the Sept. 11 beating became known when surveillance video was released and social media users helped connect names to pictures. No arrests have yet been made.
     The Philadelphia Archdiocese said Thursday some in the group were former students of Archbishop Wood High School near Philadelphia.
     They say one worked as an assistant basketball coach. His contract has been terminated. They did not describe his exact role in the assault.
     Archbishop Charles Chaput said in a statement, "Violence against anyone, simply because of who they are, is inexcusable and alien to what it means to be a Christian."


Kennewick Council Prayer Proposal Voted Down
KENNEWICK, Wash. - A proposal to open Kennewick, Washington, City Council meetings with a Christian prayer has been shot down.
     By a 7-1 decision earlier this week, the council voted to not pursue the idea. The lone dissenter, John Trumbo, was the proposal's sponsor.
     The Tri-City Herald reports that Trumbo introduced the proposal at a council meeting earlier this month. It was going to be moved to a committee discussion but was then tabled.
     Councilman Paul Parish made the motion to end the talks. He compared Trumbo's proposal to opening Pandora's box. He says councilmembers already were hearing pushback from people both in and out of the Tri-Cities.
     Parish says if the council would have allowed a Christian prayer, they would have been compelled to allow prayer from other religions. He calls that time-consuming.


Cardinals Debate Marriage Ahead of Crucial Meeting
VATICAN CITY - Five high-ranking cardinals have taken one of Pope Francis' favorite theologians to task over an issue dear to the pope's heart and critical to the Vatican's upcoming two-year study on family issues.
     They have written a book, "Remaining in the Truth of Christ," to rebut German Cardinal Walter Kasper, whom Francis praised in his first Sunday blessing after he was elected pope as "a great theologian."
     Kasper has become the lightning rod for debate because of a speech he gave cardinals in February at Francis' request. In it, Kasper suggested that Catholics who divorce and remarry without an annulment might be allowed in limited cases to receive Communion after a period of penance.
     Conservatives have vehemently opposed Kasper's proposals as contrary to Christ's teaching on the indissolubility of marriage.


Federal Charges for Pair in Amish Kidnapping Case
ALBANY, N.Y. - Federal prosecutors have charged the couple accused of kidnapping two young Amish sisters in northern New York last month with sexual exploitation of children and possession of child pornography.
     The couple- 25-year-old Nicole Vaisey and 39-year-old and Stephen Howells Jr. - have already pleaded not guilty to state kidnapping charges in St. Lawrence County, where the girls were abducted from their family farm stand near the Canadian border. They are being held without bail.
     Based on statements from the couple, authorities say the 7- and 12-year-old girls were shackled and sexually abused before being released the next day in in a community about 20 miles from their home.
     The FBI took the suspects' computer equipment.
     A federal indictment released Thursday in Syracuse says another young girl was also sexually abused.

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