Update on the latest religion news


Guards at Air Force base to stop saying ‘have a blessed day’

WARNER ROBINS, Ga. (AP) — Gate guards at an Air Force base in Georgia have been ordered to stop telling visitors to “have a blessed day.”

In an email to The Associated Press, Robins Air Force Base spokesman Roland Leach confirms that the order has been given.

A man who identified himself as “a non-religious member of the military” posted on the Military Religious Freedom Foundation website that Robins personnel have told him to have a blessed day more than a dozen times in recent weeks. He wrote that it suggested that he “should believe a higher power has an influence” on how his day should go.

The organization’s president, Mikey Weinstein, says on the group’s website that he told base officials about non-religious troops’ “outrage” at the greeting and was told that gate guards will now tell visitors to “have a nice day” instead.


224-v-31-(Steve Coleman, AP religion editor)–Gate guards at Robins Air Force Base in Georgia have been ordered to stop telling visitors to “have a blessed day.” AP Religion Editor Steve Coleman reports. (12 Mar 2015)



Philly buses ordered to accept ads featuring Hitler

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Philadelphia’s transit system has been ordered to accept provocative ads that include a 1941 photograph of Adolf Hitler with a former Arab leader after a federal judge ruled in favor of a pro-Israel group’s free-speech lawsuit.

The proposed bus ads carry a tagline saying: “Jew Hatred: It’s in the Quran.”

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority believes the ads violate “minimal civility standards” and will consider an appeal. The Philadelphia Inquirer first reported on Wednesday’s ruling by U.S. District Judge Mitchell Goldberg.

Goldberg concluded that the transit authority’s “anti-disparagement” policy, while well-intentioned, was not clearly defined and therefore potentially discriminatory. He noted that SEPTA has run viewpoint ads on public issues including animal cruelty, birth control, religion and fracking.


Pope finds popularity and dissent at 2-year mark

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis marks his second anniversary today (Friday) riding a wave of popularity that has reinvigorated the Catholic Church in ways not seen since the days of St. John Paul II. But he’s also entering a challenging third year, facing dissent from within on everything from financial reform to family issues.

According to the Pew Research Center, nine out of 10 U.S. Catholics have a favorable view of Francis.

Yet opposition abounds among traditionalist Catholics who cringe at his mercy-over-morals priorities and apparent willingness to entertain pastoral approaches that might not follow Rome’s rulebook.

Cardinal Raymond Burke, removed by Francis as the Vatican’s chief justice, has become their figurehead, saying hypothetically that he would resist the pope if he were to try to change church doctrine.


312-v-35-(Steve Coleman, AP religion editor)–Pope Francis marks his second anniversary today amid widespread praise and some concern over changes he has brought to the church’s image. AP Religion Editor Steve Coleman reports. (12 Mar 2015)



Rev. Willie Barrow, frontline civil rights fighter, dies

CHICAGO (AP) — Longtime civil rights activist the Rev. Willie Barrow has died in Chicago.

For decades, Barrow was on the front lines of the civil rights movement, working for the Rev. Martin Luther King, participating in 1963 March on Washington and in later years working to stem Chicago’s gun violence.

Fellow activist, the Rev. Michael Pfleger, said Barrow died Thursday at a hospital where she was being treated for a blood clot in her lung. She was 90.

In a statement, President Barack Obama says Barrow was “a constant inspiration, a lifelong mentor, and a very dear friend” to him and first lady Michelle Obama.


Mormon missionary from Roy dies while serving in Argentina

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A young woman from Roy, Utah, has died while serving as a Mormon missionary in Argentina.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said Thursday that 19-year-old Brittany Nicole Scadlock died Wednesday. The Deseret News reports that Scadlock’s family says she died from an E. coli infection.

Church spokesman Eric Hawkins says Scadlock began serving her 18-month mission in August 2014. Hawkins says the church is praying for her family as they mourn.

After graduating from Roy High School, Scadlock played college soccer at Western Nebraska.

Hawkins says she is the second missionary to die this year. Last year, 10 missionaries died while serving.

There are currently 82,000 Mormon missionaries serving nationwide.


Alabama House approves ‘religious freedom’ bill

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The Alabama House has approved legislation saying no one can require a judge, minister or church to perform a wedding they don’t want to perform, a measure widely seen as targeting same-sex marriages.

The bill also gives civil immunity to churches, ministers and religious-affiliated organizations if they refuse to host or recognize a wedding.

Democratic Rep. Chris England said that language could lead to discrimination, because it would allow religious-affiliated organizations to deny recognition to gay marriages.

Gay couples began marrying in some Alabama counties on Feb. 9 after a federal judge ruled the state’s gay marriage ban was unconstitutional.

The same-sex weddings came to a halt last week at the direction of the Alabama Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments April 28 over whether gay and lesbian couples have a constitutional right to marry everywhere in the country or if states can ban such unions. A ruling is expected in June.


Utah lawmakers OK bill letting clerks refuse same-sex couples

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A bill that protects Utah’s LGBT residents while also ensuring religious rights became law amid a cheering crowd that contained both clergy and gay rights activists.

Gov. Gary Herbert signed the bill Thursday during a public ceremony at the state Capitol. The legislation earned an endorsement from the Mormon church as well as the approval of Equality Utah, an LGBT rights group.

The compromise between the two groups makes it illegal to discriminate against people based on sexual orientation or gender identity in the areas of housing and employment, but it provides exemptions for religious organizations and their affiliates, like schools and hospitals.

An endorsement from the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints helped the legislation speed through the statehouse after being unveiled last week.


Lawmaker refiles previously dropped religious freedom bill

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A Republican lawmaker has refiled a proposed constitutional amendment that was scrapped earlier this week by a GOP colleague under pressure from Texas businesses.

Fort Worth Rep. Matt Krause’s proposal would keep government and homeowners associations from burdening a person’s free exercise of religion.

Krause filed the legislation Wednesday. That was two days after Dallas Rep. Jason Villalba said he wouldn’t seek a hearing for his identical, original proposal due to opposition from the Texas Association of Business.

New Braunfels Sen. Donna Campbell has filed similar legislation in the Legislature’s upper chamber.

Krause said Thursday he wanted to refile the proposal before Friday’s bill-filing deadline. He said, “I honestly don’t see how it hurts the business community.”

Villalba said he wished Krause “good luck,” but doubts the bill has support.


Jury finds against Sacramento diocese in hazing scandal

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A jury has found the Catholic Diocese of Sacramento wrongfully fired and retaliated against a high school football coach who reported sexual hazing among his student athletes.

The Sacramento Bee says jurors awarded Christopher Cerbone $900,000 in damages, and that the figure could grow as the jury resumes deliberations in the punitive phase of the trial. His lawyers have suggested a figure of $4.5 million for their client.

Cerbone coached St. Patrick-St. Vincent High School in Vallejo in 2012, when he said he found out about the hazing misbehavior and reported it to officials. In January 2013 the school expelled five players and fired Cerbone. He sued, claiming wrongful termination.

A lawyer for the diocese said in court Wednesday that he acknowledges the verdict and argued for a lower punitive award.


Workers topple steeple of historic Muscatine church

MUSCATINE, Iowa (AP) — Crews have pulled down a steeple as demolition continues on a church that had stood in Muscatine, Iowa, for more than a century.

The Muscatine Journal reports that workers used heavy equipment to pull down the steeple of St. Mary’s Catholic Church, which was built in 1876.

Concerns about the strength of the church’s floor led to the decision to close the building and consolidate the parish with St. Mathias Catholic Church.

Before the demolition, parishioners saved three bells that were installed 13 years after the church was built. They also salvaged windows, lights and other material.


Some kids in refugee camp in Chad learn Quran at whip’s lash

CAMP ZAFAYE, Chad (AP) — In Chad, children in a camp for Muslim refugees who fled sectarian violence in the Central African Republic learn the Quran the hard way.

About 30 young girls and boys, sitting on chairs on separate sides of the makeshift classroom, loudly recite verses of the Quran. The teacher, in his late teens, walks among the pupils, holding a leather whip by its wooden handle. The girls all wear head scarves.

A pupil who doesn’t recite the holy words loud enough is punished by a lash. A mistake is punished by a lash. A moment of inattention gets a lash.

The devout parents send their children to the madrassa despite the corporal punishment.

UNICEF, which maintains a presence in the camp, says violence against children is unacceptable and it will investigate.


IS accepts Boko Haram allegiance pledge

BEIRUT (AP) — The spokesman for Islamic State militants says the extremist group has accepted the pledge of allegiance by West Africa’s Boko Haram group.

In an audio recording released by the Islamic State’s media arm Thursday, Abu Mohammad al-Adnani says said the pledge of allegiance means that the caliphate has now spread to West Africa.

The recording was released a few days after an audio recording from Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group.

Boko Haram in August followed the lead of IS in declaring an Islamic caliphate in northeast Nigeria that grew to cover an area the size of Belgium. The Islamic State had declared a caliphate in vast swaths of territory that it controls in Iraq and Syria.