Update on the latest religion news

CONGRESS-NETANYAHU’S GIFT

Israeli leader’s gift to House speaker commemorates Jewish deliverance

WASHINGTON (AP) — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office says that when the Israeli leader speaks to a joint session of Congress, he’ll give House Speaker John Boehner a menorah and a copy of the story of Purim, a Jewish holiday being celebrated this week.

Purim commemorates the deliverance of the Jewish people in the ancient Persian Empire where a plot had been formed to destroy them, an account recorded in the Bible’s book of Esther. The gift is symbolic in that Iran has vowed to annihilate Israel and Netanyahu will address the heightened threat if modern Persia develops nuclear weapons.

Boehner plans to give Netanyahu a bust of Winston Churchill, the only other foreign leader to have addressed Congress three separate times.

Sound:

241-v-28-(Steve Coleman, AP religion editor)–Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office says that when the Israeli leader speaks to a joint session of Congress, he’ll give House Speaker John Boehner a menorah and a copy of the story of Purim, a Jewish holiday being celebrated this week. AP Religion Editor Steve Coleman reports. (2 Mar 2015)

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UNITED STATES-ISRAEL-PROTESTERS

Anti-Zionist Jews protest outside AIPAC

WASHINGTON (AP) — Some anti-Zionist Jews have attracted attention outside the pro-Israeli convention in Washington where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke.

The handful of protesters from the group Neturei (neh-TOO’-ray) Karta carried signs denouncing the Israeli leader’s U.S. visit. They also chanted slogans denying the Jewish state’s right to exist.

Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss (yees-ROH’-el DOH’-vid WYS) said the Torah offers no support for the existence of modern Israel. His group maintains that the Jewish state occupies Palestinian land, fueling anti-Semitism.

Attendees entering the convention of AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, engaged in spirited arguments with the anti-Zionist Jews.

Sound:

260-a-15-(Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss, anti-Zionist protester, outside convention of American Israel Public Affairs Committee)-“peace and harmony”-Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss, an anti-Zionist protester, says the modern state of Israel should not exit. ((note length of cut)) (2 Mar 2015)

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259-a-06-(Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss, anti-Zionist protester, outside convention of American Israel Public Affairs Committee)-“Torah for Jews”-Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss, an anti-Zionist protester, says there’s no religious justification for the modern state of Israel. (2 Mar 2015)

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261-r-08-(Anti-Zionist protesters, outside convention of American Israel Public Affairs Committee)–Sound of anti-Zionist protesters, chanting outside convention of AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. (2 Mar 2015)

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US-JEWISH-SITE-SHOOTINGS

Suspect declared ‘Heil Hitler!’ after Jewish site shootings

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — A police officer has testified at a preliminary hearing that a white supremacist suspected of killing three people at two Jewish sites in Kansas declared “Heil Hitler!” after the shootings.

Overland Park police Sgt. Marty Ingram testified Monday that Frazier Glenn Miller also asked how many Jews he had killed after the shootings on April 13, 2014. The hearing will determine whether there is enough evidence to put Miller on trial. Prosecutors plan to seek the death penalty.

The 74-year-old Miller is charged with capital murder in the shootings at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City in Overland Park, Kansas, and at a nearby Jewish retirement home. None of the victims was Jewish.

US-MISSIONARIES RELEASED-VENEZUELA

4 missionaries detained in Venezuela expected home Tuesday

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Four U.S. missionaries released by Venezuelan authorities after being detained and questioned for several days are expected back in North Dakota on Tuesday.

Lead Pastor Bruce Dick at Bethel Evangelical Free Church in Devils Lake says the missionaries have been “decompressing and resting” on the Caribbean island of Aruba, where they went after leaving Venezuela. He called their multiday ordeal “a bit of a shock.”

A spokesman for Sen. John Hoeven says the State Department told him the missionaries were deported for not having the proper visa. Dick says the church is investigating.

It’s unclear whether the missionaries were the Americans that Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was referring to when he said his government had arrested U.S. citizens engaged in espionage.

EBOLA-AMERICANS

Ebola survivor leaves US after recovery to return to Africa

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — An American missionary who survived the Ebola virus is returning to the West African country where she was infected last year.

A spokesman for the North Carolina-based charity SIM said Monday that Nancy Writebol is returning to Liberia with her husband. SIM spokesman George Salloum says David Writebol is taking over as the charity’s country director.

He says the Charlotte couple are due to arrive in Liberia in a couple of weeks after attending a conference in Thailand.

Nancy Writebol last summer became the second American infected with the Ebola virus while working at a hospital SIM supports in the Liberian capital of Monrovia.

She and fellow American Dr. Kent Brantly recovered from the often fatal virus at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.

BOKO HARAM-BEHEADINGS

Boko Haram video shows 2 beheaded men accused of spying

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (AP) — The latest video from Nigeria’s Boko Haram Islamic extremist group shows the bodies of two beheaded men accused of spying, and copies some of the hallmarks of propaganda from the Islamic State group.

The SITE intelligence group said the video was posted Monday on Twitter by Boko Haram’s new media arm. The video is much slicker than previous ones and SITE said it borrows certain elements from IS productions, such as the sound of a beating heart and heavy breathing immediately before the execution.

The video does not show the actual beheadings but the two bodies after the executions, with heads on the chests.

Boko Haram has said in social media messages last month that it is considering swearing allegiance to IS.

GAY RIGHTS-RELIGIOUS RIGHTS

Bill expected soon on LGBT discrimination, religious rights

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah lawmakers are expected to unveil a compromise bill that protects LGBT individuals against discrimination in housing and employment while also protecting religious rights.

State Sen. Stuart Adams, a Republican who has helped lead negotiations on the issue, told reporters Monday that closed-door negotiations have been positive and he hopes to see something soon. He declined to name what sticking points may have come up during the talks.

Supporters of gay rights have unsuccessfully pushed for a statewide non-discrimination law for years.

After the Mormon church issued a nationwide call for laws that balance both sides of the issue, advocates said they expected to find a solution this year that includes religious protections called for by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

SWINGER’S CLUB CONTROVERSY

Churches unite to oppose relocation of swinger’s club

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Congregations from nearly a dozen churches have united to oppose plans for a swinger’s club to relocate near a Christian school in Nashville.

Media reports say they came together Sunday afternoon at Goodpasture Christian School for a communitywide prayer meeting in advance of a Metro Council meeting Tuesday where the issue is set to be discussed.

The Social Club is seeking to move from its current location to property that is adjacent to Goodpasture Christian School. The controversy created by the proposal prompted officials to consider banning private clubs from properties that are zoned for office use.

Pastor Sandy McClain of Mt. Calvary Madison Church says the church will bus people to the council meeting to express support for the ban.

Meanwhile, the club’s attorney, Larry Roberts, said there would be a legal challenge if the ban is approved.

MINISTER MAIDENS-ARREST

Former sect member: Woman with cult leader was part of group

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A former member of a small religious sect says the woman arrested with its leader in Brazil was part of the group when it was based in Minnesota.

Brazilian authorities on Saturday announced the arrest of self-professed minister Victor Arden Barnard, leader of the River Road Fellowship, who was on the most-wanted list of the U.S. Marshals Service. He was being held pending extradition.

Barnard was charged in Minnesota last April with 59 counts of criminal sexual conduct for allegedly having sexual relationships with two girls he had inducted into his “Maidens Group” at the fellowship’s former compound near Finlayson.

Ex-member Jeff Sjolander (SHO’-land-er) of Duluth says the woman arrested with Barnard had been one of the “maidens” in Finlayson, so he wasn’t surprised they were together in Brazil.

OBIT-REV BILL BICHSEL

Rev. Bill Bichsel, 86, longtime peace protester

TACOMA, Wash. (AP) — The Rev. Bill Bichsel (BIX’-ul), a Jesuit priest who was arrested dozens of times at anti-military protests, has died at the age of 86.

A longtime friend told The News Tribune of Tacoma, Washington, that Bichsel had a history of heart problems and was in a coma when he died Saturday in hospice care at the Catholic community home where he lived.

Bichsel protested Trident submarines and nuclear missiles at the Navy’s Bangor submarine base. He chained himself to the doors of the federal courthouse in Tacoma after the U.S invasion of Iraq. And he repeatedly protested at the Army’s School of the Americas in Georgia.

Bichsel estimated he was arrested 45 times. He was convicted more than a half-dozen times and spent more than two years in jails and prisons.

AMISH ATTACKS-RESENTENCING

Sentences reduced for Amish jailed in hair-chopping attacks

CLEVELAND (AP) — Sentences have been reduced for the leader of a breakaway Amish group and seven of his imprisoned followers who chopped off the hair and beards of Amish people with whom they disagreed.

Prosecutors say the victims were awakened in the middle of the night in 2011, restrained and forcibly disfigured in a way that was meant to destroy an important symbol of their beliefs.

Sixteen men and women, including group leader Samuel Mullet Sr., were resentenced Monday for convictions on their remaining charges after an appeals court last year dismissed hate crimes convictions.

Mullet’s 15-year sentence was reduced to 10 years, nine months. Sentences for four men who received seven years were cut to five years. Sentences for three men who got five years were lowered to three years, seven months. The other eight, including six women, have served their sentences. Mullet is bishop of an Amish community in eastern Ohio.

Prosecutors argued that the original sentences should have remained intact because of the religious nature of the defendants’ crimes.