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Wheaton College to Name Scholarship After Ex-Professor
CHICAGO - A suburban Chicago Christian college will create a scholarship named for a former political science professor who asserted Christians and Muslims worship the same God.
     The Daily Herald reports that Wheaton College officials made the announcement Wednesday in Chicago with Larycia Hawkins. The school was moving to fire her until it announced Saturday that it and Hawkins reached a confidential agreement to part ways. The endowed scholarship will be for peace and conflict studies.
     Hawkins also wore a hijab, the headscarf worn by some Muslim women, to counter what she called "vitriolic" rhetoric against Muslims.
     Meanwhile in Wheaton on Wednesday about two dozen Hawkins supporters announced they were launching a fast. Hawkins tearfully praised her students and said they demonstrated "embodied solidarity."


Texas Attorney General Faces Ethics Probe Over Gay Marriage
AUSTIN, Texas - Already indicted on felony securities fraud charges, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton will face an ethics investigation for advising local officials they could refuse to issue same-sex marriage licenses on religious grounds.
     The U.S. Supreme Court ruled gay marriage legal in June. A month later, a complaint filed and co-signed by more than 200 attorneys said Paxton's stance encouraged officials to violate the U.S. Constitution and break their oaths of office.
     The complaint was initially dismissed by the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel of the State Bar of Texas, but an appeals board appointed by the state Supreme Court reinstated it Feb. 2, saying the complaint alleges a "possible violation" of professional conduct rules.
     The appeals board's decision to reinstate the case does not mean Paxton violated professional ethics, but requires him to respond to the complaint as part of the investigation.

 
House Committee Hears Testimony on Pastor Protection Act
COLUMBUS, Ohio - An Ohio House committee has heard from supporters of a bill that would let churches refuse to perform same-sex marriages.
     The Pastor Protection Act was introduced in the House three weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark decision allowing same-sex marriage last year.
     The Columbus Dispatch reports that 22 people spoke in favor before a House committee on Tuesday.
     Ernie Sanders, pastor of the Doers of the World Baptist Church, called the Supreme Court's ruling "tyranny and treason against God and country." He said the country is "suffering a severe mental illness of Biblical illiteracy."
     The bill's sponsor, Republican A. Nino Vitale, says it's not an issue of discrimination; it's about protecting pastors.

 
'In God We Trust' Motto Approved by Klamath County Officials
KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. - Oregon's Klamath County commissioners have voted to place an "In God We Trust" sign in their meeting room after receiving public input.
     The Herald and News reports that commissioners made their decision Tuesday. A majority of residents who spoke during the commissioners' meeting were in favor of the sign and more than 100 sent emails voicing their support.
     Residents against the "In God We Trust" motto have said the sign would violate separation of church and state. Supporters have argued the sign is a representation of the country's religious history and appropriate to display in a government building.
     The sign will be funded by donations and crafted by a local metalworker.
 
 
Sponsor Delays Hearing on Protecting Gay Marriage Objectors
ATLANTA - A powerful Georgia Senate committee has delayed a hearing on a bill allowing religious adoption agencies, schools, government workers and others to refuse services to same-sex couples without being penalized.
     The bill's sponsor, Republican state Sen. Greg Kirk, asked for more time during Wednesday's Senate Rules committee meeting. The panel was scheduled to discuss the measure.
     The Rules committee also decides which bills receive a full Senate vote.
     Kirk has said his bill would not allow public employees to avoid duties of their job, including clerks who issue marriage licenses. Gay-rights advocates oppose the bill, saying it sanctions discrimination.
     The proposal is one of at least eight measures filed by Georgia lawmakers this year following the U.S. Supreme Court's decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide.

 
Defense Begins Case in Trial Against Polygamous Towns
PHOENIX - The mayor of a polygamous town in Utah which is accused of acting as an arm of a polygamous church says he has never discriminated based on religion.
     Hildale Mayor Philip Barlow made the statement during a day of testimony in a federal civil rights trial against his town and neighboring Colorado City, Arizona. Lawyers for both cities are fighting allegations made by the U.S. Justice Department that the cities discriminate against people who aren't members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints by denying them housing, water services and police protection.
     Police officers are accused of failing to investigate crimes against nonbelievers and assisting church leader Warren Jeffs while he was a fugitive on charges of arranging marriages between girls and older men.
     The communities deny the allegations and say the government is discriminating against them based on their religion.
 
 
Jailed Church Official Wins Latest Child-Endangerment Appeal
PHILADELPHIA - A Roman Catholic church official could again seek bail after a Pennsylvania appeals court refused to review a ruling that throws out his child-endangerment conviction.
     Monsignor William Lynn has been in and out of prison as appeals courts have split on the validity of his 2012 conviction.
     The 65-year-old Lynn is the first U.S. church supervisor ever charged over his role in the alleged cover-up of priest sexual abuse. The jury found he endangered an altar boy by moving a known pedophile priest to the boy's parish.
     Lynn has served more than two years of a three-to-six-year sentence.
     The state Superior Court on Wednesday said it won't review a December decision that overturned the conviction.
     Defense lawyer Thomas Bergstrom says he will likely seek bail. Prosecutors will consider another appeal.
 
 
Judge Rules Against Chicago Archdiocese in Sex Abuse Case
CHICAGO - A judge has breathed new life into a priest sexual abuse case that has dogged the Archdiocese of Chicago for a decade.
     Cook County Circuit Judge Clare McWilliams ruled Tuesday that those who were sexual abuse victims of former priest Daniel McCormack after September 2000 can seek punitive damages from the archdiocese if their lawsuits proceed to trial.
     McWilliams found it reasonably likely that victims' attorneys could prove the archdiocese "showed utter indifference" to children's safety because it ordained McCormack despite knowing he'd engaged in sexual misconduct.
     McCormack pleaded guilty in 2007 to abusing five children and was sentenced to five years in prison.
     In a statement, the archdiocese said it was "disappointed in the ruling" and would respond to it in court.
 
 
City Lawsuit Alleges Nebraska Mosque Violating Zoning Rules
LEXINGTON, Neb. - The city of Lexington, Nebraska, has sued a local mosque, saying it's been violating city zoning ordinances.
     The lawsuit against the Islamic Center was filed Friday. The center wants to renovate the property it occupies and an adjacent building. The city says a certificate of occupancy hasn't been obtained and a conditional use permit is required before the property can be used as a house of worship.
     On Wednesday the American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska told the city of Lexington that its City Council violated the religious rights of Muslim residents by voting Dec. 22 to deny a permit to expand the Islamic Center. The ACLU of Nebraska says the permit denial also violates federal law.
     The Islamic Center's attorney says his clients are disappointed by the city's action and lawsuit.
 
 
Pope on Ash Wednesday: Let's Share, Be More Sensitive
VATICAN CITY - Pope Francis has smudged ashes on the bowed heads of prelates, nuns and ordinary Catholics during Ash Wednesday Mass in St. Peter's Basilica. The ritual marks the start of Lent, a period of penitence, prayer and self-sacrifice as Catholics prepare for Easter.
     The ashes symbolize mortality.
     In his homily, Francis described Lent as a good time "to train ourselves to be more sensitive and merciful" to others. He added that Lent presents an occasion to practice simplicity and sharing.
     The pope has proclaimed this year as a Holy Year of Mercy. He says people are hurt by the "evil they commit and suffer" and need to experience forgiveness.
     Since becoming pontiff in 2013, Francis has sought to make the church appear less severe and judgmental.

 
Christian, Muslim Leaders in Cyprus Support Peace Talks
NICOSIA, Cyprus - Christian and Muslim leaders in Cyprus have reiterated their full support for ongoing talks aimed at reunifying the ethnically-split country, saying their united stand for peace serves as a strong example of cooperation in a region where conflict is often fueled by religion.
     Greek Orthodox Christian Archbishop Chrysostomos, Muslim Grand Mufti Talip Atalay, Maronite Christian Archbishop Youssef Soueif and representatives from the Latin Catholic and Armenian Christian churches say they're united in their support of the ongoing peace negotiations that are seen as the best chance at peace in decades.
     The leaders made the remarks Wednesday after a meeting with U.N. envoy Espen Barth Eide, who praised them for their "strong leadership and strong will."
     Cyprus was split in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup aiming at union with Greece.

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