Update on the latest religion news

US-IRAN-PASTOR

Senators decry US pastor’s imprisonment in Iran

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senators at a subcommittee hearing have been told that high-level U.S. attention to Iran’s imprisonment of American Pastor Saeed Abedini is helping to keep him alive.

Abedini has been in Iranian custody since September 2012 and was sentenced to eight years in prison for what was termed undermining state security. President Barack Obama has called for the Christian pastor’s release and met with his wife and children in Idaho in January.

At Wednesday’s appropriations subcommittee hearing, Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt expressed amazement that amid nuclear negotiations with Iran, “we couldn’t get one person out of prison that nobody in this country believes should be there.”

A leading advocate for the jailed pastor, attorney Jay Sekulow, agreed that Iran’s release of Abedini would be “a confidence building measure.” But he said Obama’s personal appeal and the congressional hearing are helping keep Abedini alive in one of Iran’s most dangerous prisons.

302-w-34-(Steve Coleman, AP religion editor, with Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Jay Sekulow, chief counsel, American Center for Law and Justice)–Senators at a subcommittee hearing have been told that high-level U.S. attention to Iran’s imprisonment of American Pastor Saeed Abedini is helping keep him alive. AP Religion Editor Steve Coleman reports. (11 Mar 2015)

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304-a-04-(Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, at Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing)-“release the American”-Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, says it would make sense for Iran to release Pastor Saeed Abedini amid nuclear talks with the U.S. ((cut used in wrap)) (11 Mar 2015)

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306-a-08-(Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, at Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing)-“keeps him alive”-Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, says high-level U.S. attention to Pastor Saeed Abedini’s imprisonment could save his life. (11 Mar 2015)

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303-a-06-(Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., at Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing)-“should be there”-Missouri Senator Roy Blunt says it’s surprising that nuclear negotiations between the U.S. and Iran haven’t led to the release of American Pastor Saeed Abedini. ((longer version of cut used in wrap)) (11 Mar 2015)

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305-a-07-(Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, at Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing)-“keep him alive (second reference)”-Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, says President Obama has publicly called for Saeed Abedini’s release from one of Iran’s most dangerous prisons. ((longer version of cut used in wrap)) (11 Mar 2015)

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US-ISLAMIC STATE-NAZIS

Islamic State atrocities are compared to Nazi genocide

WASHINGTON (AP) — Sen. Lindsey Graham is comparing the Islamic State group’s slaughter of Christians and other religious minorities to the Nazi extermination of Jews.

At a congressional hearing on religious persecution, the South Carolina Republican cited the Islamists’ forced conversions, public beheadings and crucifixions.

Graham said, “As the Nazis pursued a master race, these radical Islamic groups are pursuing a master religion.”

Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, agreed that while Islamic State militants may currently lack the ability to conduct a full-scale Holocaust, “they are certainly marking people because of what they believe in for extermination.”

He said Islamic militants are currently waging a “religious genocide” against Christians who have lived in the Middle East for 2,000 years.

Graham said he U.S. must confront and defeat what he called a barbaric evil.

312-w-34-(Steve Coleman, AP religion editor, with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Jay Sekulow, chief counsel, American Center for Law and Justice)–Senator Lindsey Graham is comparing the Islamic State group’s slaughter of Christians and other religious minorities to the Nazi extermination of Jews. AP Religion Editor Steve Coleman reports. (11 Mar 2015)

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313-a-14-(Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., at Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing)-“different religious perspective”-South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham says the Islamic State group is waging a barbaric campaign against religious minorities. (11 Mar 2015)

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314-a-07-(Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., at Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing)-“a master religion”-South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham says today’s Islamist militants are as barbaric as the Nazis. ((cut used in wrap)) (11 Mar 2015)

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315-a-08-(ay Sekulow (SEHK’-yoo-loh), chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, at Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing)-“as the Nazis”-Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, says the Islamic State group is motivated by a vicious ideology. (11 Mar 2015)

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317-a-08-(Jay Sekulow (SEHK’-yoo-loh), chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, at Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing)-“for 2,000 years”-Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, says Christians face extermination in much of the Middle East. (11 Mar 2015)

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316-a-11-(ay Sekulow (SEHK’-yoo-loh), chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, at Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing)-“not bode well”-Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, says today’s Islamic militants lack only the means to conduct a Holocaust. ((longer version of cut used in wrap)) (11 Mar 2015)

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BAPTIST COLLEGE-LESBIAN BISHOP

Pastors, donors rip Baptist school over gay bishop’s invite

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The president of the historically black American Baptist College says some individuals are considering removing financial support after pastors criticized the school’s inclusion of a lesbian bishop in a lecture series.

A group of Baptist pastors calls the invitation to Bishop Yvette Flunder of Oakland, California, to be a speaker and worship leader next week “irresponsible, scandalous, non-biblical, and certainly displeasing to God.” The pastors ask school President Forrest E. Harris in a news release to disinvite Flunder, who is affiliated with the United Church of Christ and is married to another woman, her partner of 30 years.

The pastors group and the college in Nashville, Tennessee, are affiliated with the historically black National Baptist Convention USA.

In a phone interview, Harris said, “We will not tolerate intolerance.” He added that he hopes donors will continue to support the school.

PARADE PROTEST

Catholic groups withdraw from Norfolk parade to protest gov

NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — Several Catholic organizations have withdrawn from the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day parade in Norfolk, Virginia, to protest the selection of Gov. Terry McAuliffe as grand marshal.

At least six schools and a church won’t participate in Saturday’s parade, which is organized by the local Knights of Columbus council. WAVY-TV says they oppose the governor’s appearance because of his support for legal abortion and same-sex marriage.

McAuliffe spokesman Brian Coy said the governor is a lifelong Catholic who takes his faith seriously. But McAuliffe has vowed to block efforts to limit abortion. He also is the first Virginia governor to preside over a same-sex wedding.

Father Dan Beeman, pastor of Holy Trinity Church, says his parish won’t support or participate in the parade. In a letter to parishioners obtained by WAVY, Beeman says, “Governor McAuliffe stands contrary to the Catholic Church in not one but many essential teachings of the Church in the political arena.”

GAY MARRIAGE-MINISTERS

Oklahoma Senate OKs bill for clergy to refuse gay marriage

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Legislation that protects members of the clergy who refuse to solemnize a same-sex marriage has been approved by the Oklahoma Senate.

Senators voted 39-6 for the measure Wednesday and sent it to the state House, which has passed a similar bill.

The measure by Republican Sen. Dan Newberry of Tulsa protects clergy and others authorized to perform marriage ceremonies from being required to perform those duties if it conflicts with their religious beliefs. It would also shield churches from being required to participate in other ceremonies that might conflict with their religious beliefs.

A federal judge last year struck down Oklahoma’s ban on same-sex marriage.

STUDENT GROUPS-RELIGION

Kansas Senate bill would protect student religious groups

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A bill approved by a Kansas Senate committee would prevent public colleges from acting against student religious groups for allowing only believers to be leaders or requiring members to follow a code of conduct.

The Judiciary Committee’s endorsement Wednesday sends the measure to the full Senate for debate.

Committee Chairman and Independence Republican Jeff King said the bill is a response to a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2010. The ruling allowed universities to adopt anti-bias policies requiring such groups to accept anyone, regardless of whether they follow a group’s beliefs.

The bill would prevent state universities and colleges from denying recognition or benefits to groups that don’t have such policies.

The measure is opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

FILM-SCIENTOLOGY DOCUMENTARY

‘Going Clear’ documentary unites voices against Scientology

NEW YORK (AP) — A film that opens in theaters this weekend is the highest-profile expose yet of Scientology, the religion founded by science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard.

The documentary “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief” features the stories of eight former church members.

It paints a disturbing portrait of Scientology, claiming physical abuse happens regularly, that the church drives wedges between families by labeling non-Scientologist spouses and parents “suppressive persons” and that the Internal Revenue Service deemed the church a tax-exempt religion in 1993 only because of an avalanche of lawsuits.

Former Scientologists are seen in the film as sensible, curious people who only learn of the church’s more idiosyncratic beliefs and practices after years of indoctrination.

The church has mounted a publicity campaign against the film, dismissing its sources as “bitter, vengeful apostates.”

LIBERIA-EBOLA

Liberia holds church service for Ebola victims

MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) — Liberians have held a church service for Ebola victims to mark the country’s Decoration Day, a holiday normally set aside for people to clean up and re-decorate the graves of their lost relatives.

More than 4,100 people have died in in Liberia since the outbreak began about a year ago in West Africa. The vast majority of those victims were cremated, so Wednesday’s gathering at a Presbyterian church in the capital, Monrovia, was held to remember those without graves.

Nearly 20 barrels of ashes from about 3,000 victims will eventually be buried on a plot bought by the government as a cemetery for Ebola victims.

With its last Ebola case being declared cured on March 5, and the last patient discharged, Liberia is now counting 42 days until April 16 when, if no new cases are reported within that period, the country can be declared Ebola-free. Sierra Leone and Guinea are still struggling to contain the outbreak.

VATICAN-HOLY THURSDAY

Pope to wash feet of male, female detainees at Rome prison

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis will perform the pre-Easter foot-washing ritual at Rome’s main prison this year.

The Vatican said Wednesday that inmates from the Rebibbia prison and a nearby women’s facility will participate in the Holy Thursday service, which is meant to show Francis’ willingness to serve others as Jesus did.

Francis’ decision in 2013 to wash the feet of women and Muslim inmates at a juvenile detention center helped define his rule-breaking papacy just two weeks after his election. It riled traditionalist Catholics, who pointed to the Vatican’s own regulations that the ritual be performed only on men since Jesus’ 12 apostles were men.

Last year, Francis traveled to a center for the elderly and disabled for the service.

PARTY CHURCH-TAX EXEMPTION

Church with naked paint parties loses tax-exempt status

PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (AP) — A Florida church that hosted naked paint parties and slumber-party Sundays featuring the “sexiest ladies on the beach” has lost its tax-exempt status.

The News Herald of Panama City says The Life Center: A Spiritual Community has been operating a seven-day-a-week party called Amnesia: The Tabernacle since Feb. 28.

A sign on the door says events are alcohol and drug free, but Sheriff Frank McKeithen calls the party atmosphere a “blatant slap in the face” to taxpayers. He says church officials are “trying to get around the laws.”

Patrons are charged a “donation” of $20 at the door. On the walls inside are T-shirts emblazoned with obscene gestures and signs that say “I hate being sober.”

This led Property Appraiser Dan Sowell to change the tax exempt status.

AMISH ATTACKS-RESENTENCING

Amish sect leader to appeal new sentence for beard cutting

CLEVELAND (AP) — The leader of a breakaway Amish community in eastern Ohio plans to appeal his new federal sentence for the forced cutting of beards and hair of Amish people with whom he and others disagreed.

A judge this month resentenced 69-year-old Samuel Mullet Sr. and 15 others from the Bergholz, Ohio, Amish community after an appellate court last year dismissed hate crime convictions against them, but left other charges intact. Mullet’s original 15-year sentence was reduced to 10 years and nine months.

A notice of appeal was filed Monday.

Attorney Wendy Overmyer says the new appeal will argue that the judge used incorrect calculations for Mullet’s latest sentence and wrongly ruled against Mullet’s motion to dismiss all the charges against him. Mullet has been in custody since November 2011.

SEX ABUSE-CLERGY

Minnesota priest who molested boys removed from priesthood

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Pope Francis has removed from the priesthood a former St. Paul priest who pleaded guilty in Minnesota to molesting two boys.

Archbishop John Nienstedt of the St. Paul-Minneapolis Archdiocese announced the Vatican’s action against Curtis Wehmeyer (WAY’-my-ur) on Wednesday.

Nienstedt says Wehmeyer has been made aware of the pope’s decision, and that all priests and parishes in the archdiocese have been notified.

Wehmeyer is serving a five-year prison term for sexually abusing the boys and possessing child pornography. He served as pastor at the Parish of the Blessed Sacrament on St. Paul’s east side.

In November, the 50-year-old Wehmeyer was charged with having sexual contact with a teenager while the boy was unconscious in Chippewa County. No plea has been entered in that case yet, according to online court records.

ARCHDIOCESE-SEXUAL ABUSE CLAIM

Archdiocese investigates 30-year-old sexual abuse claim

DUBUQUE, Iowa (AP) — The Archdiocese of Dubuque is investigating a sexual abuse claim against a former Iowa pastor 30 years after the alleged abuse occurred.

The Telegraph Herald reports that the claim, made last year against a former Dubuque pastor, alleges the man sexually abused a minor in 1985. Efforts by The Telegraph Herald to reach the man for comment Wednesday were unsuccessful.

Director of communications John Robbins says the accuser’s attorney brought the allegation to the Dubuque County Attorney’s Office. He says criminal investigation isn’t expected because of the statute of limitations.

The former pastor, now working at a Florida parish, has been placed on administrative leave during the investigation.

Reports show that in 2013, the Archdiocese of Dubuque paid $5.2 million to settle sexual abuse claims with 26 people.

BRITAIN-TEMPLETON PRIZE

Templeton Prize awarded to founder of L’Arche communities

LONDON (AP) — This year’s Templeton Prize for affirming “life’s spiritual dimension” has been awarded to Jean Vanier, the visionary founder of a network of communities in which people with disabilities live in solidarity and community with non-disabled people.

The 86-year-old Vanier started his work by welcoming two intellectually disabled men into his home in France in 1964.

Working on the premise that the weak enable the strong to see their own vulnerabilities, Vanier expanded the concept into 147 residential communities in 35 countries.

Vanier said Wednesday his goal was to bring together “those caught up in the world of success and normality and those who are in need.”

The prize is valued at $1.7 million.

Previous winners include Mother Teresa of Calcutta, the Dalai Lama and retired South African archbishop Desmond Tutu.