Update on the latest religion news


ROCKVILLE, Md. (AP) — Muslim community leaders say they didn’t request and don’t support the decision of Maryland’s largest school district to strip religious labels from next year’s school calendar.

The Montgomery County board of Education voted 7-1 to remove the holiday labels Christmas, Easter, Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah. Schools will still be closed for the Christian and Jewish holidays and students will get the same days off.

The Montgomery County Board of Education stripped the religious designations following a request by Muslims to give equal recognition to the Muslim holy day of Eid al-Adha (eed al-AHD’-hah). It Is a one-day feast celebrated after the month-long observation of Ramadan. It falls on a holiday in 2015 and supporters say next year’s schedule would have required no alteration.

Equality for Eid co-chair Zainab Chaudry (ZAY’-nuhb CHOW’-dree) says her group’s request was supported by other faith groups and that they all oppose what the board did. Chaudry says she’s also concerned that those with anti-Muslim attitudes will blame Muslims, including students, for the board’s decision.


267-a-09-(Zainab Chaudry (ZAY’-uhb CHOW’-dree), co-chair, Equality for EId, in AP interview)-“and Christian communities”-Equality for Eid co-chair Zainab Chaudry says the school board’s decision unfairly hurts all people of faith. (12 Nov 2014)


268-a-07-(Zainab Chaudry (ZAY’-uhb CHOW’-dree), co-chair, Equality for EID)-“than anything else”-Equality for Eid co-chair Zainab Chaudry says the request to have Eid as a holiday in 2015 would have created no need to alter the schedule. (12 Nov 2014)


269-a-07-(Zainab Chaudry (ZAY’-uhb CHOW’-dree), co-chair, Equality for EID)-“ask for this”-Equality for Eid co-chair Zainab Chaudry says her group is concerned it will face a backlash and wants it understood that the blame lies with the board. (12 Nov 2014)



DALLAS (AP) — A Bible ministry headed by noted pastor and author Charles Swindoll is now among the religiously-affiliated groups that have won court approval to prevent fines from being imposed while they challenge the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act.

Swindoll’s Insight for Living Ministries was granted a preliminary injunction by a federal judge in suburban Dallas yesterday.

The ministry was represented by Liberty Institute, a legal advocacy group. Attorney Matthew Kacsmaryk says the court held an expedited hearing and acted quickly because of a Dec. 1 deadline. That’s when IFLM would have been forced to accept mandated prescription coverage or face daily fines for non-compliance.

Kacsmaryk says Swindoll’s ministry has a sincerely-held religious belief that life begins at conception and thus considers the use of certain contraceptive drugs and intrauterine devices as forms of abortion. This case and similar ones are moving through federal appellate courts.


Tennessee Baptist Convention elects first black president

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Baptist Association has elected its first African-American president with the selection of Memphis pastor Michael Ellis. The Commercial Appeal of Memphis reports the election during Tuesday’s annual meeting in the Nashville area was unanimous.

Ellis, pastor of Impact Baptist church near Memphis, calls his election a “great day” for the convention and for the state of Tennessee. The Tennessee Baptist Convention is part of the Southern Baptist Convention, which elected its first black president, Fred Luter, in 2012.

Ellis spent 21 years in the Navy and was ordained in 1991. He started Impact Baptist in 2006.

Ellis and Impact Baptist run Northaven Community Development Corp. The group is renovating homes that had been foreclosed on in hopes of transforming renters into owners.


Accuser angered over Vatican exonerating monsignor

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A man who accused a high-ranking Roman Catholic monsignor in Los Angeles of molestation says he is furious that an internal Vatican tribunal recently exonerated the priest.

The 58-year-old man told The Associated Press that Msgr. Richard Loomis molested him once between 1969 and 1971 when he was a freshman at Pater Noster High School, a Catholic school where Loomis taught. He said he was never contacted by the Vatican and was unaware it had been examining the case for a decade.

The man spoke to the AP only on condition of anonymity because he said he hasn’t told his adult children the allegations. He says he feels like church officials are laughing in his face.

Loomis, who has always said he was innocent, had one case against him settled by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in 2007. He said in a statement emailed to the AP that his exoneration was “vindication not only for me, but for the priesthood.”


Two charged with killing Chattanooga minister

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) — Two people have been charged with killing a Chattanooga minister and dumping his body in a ditch.

According to the Chattanooga Times Free Press (http://bit.ly/1xsOCNe), 26-year-old Steven Kelley and 22-year-old Jordan Craig met with Kenneth Johnson around 9:30 p.m. on Monday, then robbed and killed him. Police discovered the body of the 59-year-old minister in a ditch the next morning.

Johnson was an associate minister at Mount Canaan Baptist Church and was known for helping people in need. He volunteered with a prison outreach ministry and used his background as an ex-offender to help others turn their lives around.

The suspects told police they met with Johnson to buy drugs, but officers found no evidence of illegal drugs.


Female suicide bomber kills herself in Nigeria

ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — Authorities say a female suicide bomber blew herself up outside the library of a government school in western Nigeria on Wednesday, killing herself and injuring three others.

It was the first such attack in more than two years in the western state of Niger.

Several previous attempts by female bombers have been bungled, leading to suspicion the bombers may be unwilling attackers and might be among hundreds of schoolgirls and young women kidnapped by Nigeria’s home-grown Boko Haram Islamic extremist group in recent years.

Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau has denied any truce with the government and dashed hopes for the release of some 219 mainly Christian schoolgirls kidnapped from the northeastern town of Chibok (CHEE’-bahk) in April.


Israeli move in east Jerusalem draws US concern

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli authorities have given preliminary approval to build 200 homes in a Jewish area of east Jerusalem, a move that threatens to push Israelis and Palestinians deeper into conflict after weeks of unrest over the city’s holiest sites.

A State Department spokeswoman says the U.S. is “deeply concerned” by the decision.

Much of the recent violence has stemmed from tensions surrounding Jerusalem’s hilltop complex that is revered by Muslims and Jews. The collapse of U.S.-brokered peace talks, Israel’s invasion last summer in the Gaza Strip and continued Israeli settlement construction in east Jerusalem have added to the distrust.


Competency tests ordered in Jewish site shootings

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — An avowed white supremacist accused in the fatal shooting of three people at two Jewish sites in Kansas has been ordered to undergo mental testing.

The order, made yesterday, prompted Frazier Glenn Miller to accuse the judge of violating his right to a speedy trial.

Miller, who is 73, is charged with capital murder in the attacks outside a Jewish community center and a nearby retirement home on April 13, the eve of Passover. None of the victims was Jewish.

Miller shouted “heil Hitler” at television cameras as he was arrested after the killings.


Settlement talks fail in Md. public prayer case

BALTIMORE (AP) — The opposing parties in a Maryland public prayer lawsuit say their attempt to negotiate a settlement has failed.

Attorneys for Carroll County and the American Humanist Association filed the status report in a federal court in Baltimore. They remain divided on the correct interpretation of a Supreme Court ruling in May allowing clergy to invoke specific deities in opening prayers at government meetings.

That ruling involved the town of Greece, New York. It didn’t specifically address the Carroll County practice of having opening prayers said by elected commissioners. Some of them prefer overtly Christian prayers.

The plaintiffs contend that Christian prayers said by government officials violate the First Amendment prohibition on state-sponsored religion.


Married Jesus? New book adds fuel to conspiracies

LONDON (AP) — A researcher who has attracted attention and criticism with his revisionist Biblical theories says he has found new evidence that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and that early Christians considered her a deity.

Canadian-Israeli documentary-maker Simcha Jacobovici says an ancient manuscript in the British Library offers a glimpse at an early version of Christianity radically different from the faith practiced today.

Jacobovici spoke at the London launch of the book “The Lost Gospel,” co-authored with York University religious studies Professor Barrie Wilson. In his words, Jacobovici says “Mary Magdalene really got ripped off” in mainstream Christian theology.

But many religious scholars are skeptical about the latest addition to the crowded field of Biblical conspiracy theories.


Florida preacher looks to break speaking record

LEESBURG, Fla. (AP) — This sermon was so long it was possible for listeners at this central Florida church to have a day off and still hear the conclusion.

Cross Mount Dora, Florida, church member David Douglas told the Leesburg Daily Commercial (http://goo.gl/fW1oY3) that Zach Zehnder began presenting the Bible from Genesis to Revelation at 7 a.m. Friday and finished at 12:21 p.m. Sunday. That’s 53 hours and 18 minutes.

The pastor’s speech was streamed live at www.longestspeechever.com . It will be part of the documentation needed for the Guinness Book of World Records. Organizers say the event also raised more than $90,000 for an addiction recovery program.

The former Guinness record holder was Vickrant Mahajan of India, who spoke for 48 hours and 31 minutes.

According to Guinness rules, Zehnder was allowed a five-minute break every hour and could save them up for a longer one.