Update on the latest religion news


Jewish leader: US-Israel tensions provoke anti-Semitism

WASHINGTON (AP) — A Jewish leader says recent tensions between the U.S. and Israel have contributed to a rise in global anti-Semitism.

Friction between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has grown over policy differences about the creation of a Palestinian state and the U.S.-led international nuclear talks with Iran.

The president of the World Jewish Congress, Ronald Lauder, told a congressional committee Tuesday that when people around the world see “even the best friend of Israel is having problems with them,” it provokes negative attitudes toward Jews.

Lauder said Jews in Europe are increasingly the targets of radical Islamic terrorism like the recent deadly attacks in Paris and Copenhagen.

He warned that unless the U.S. acts decisively to defeat Islamic terrorists in the Middle East and Africa, “the flame of radical Islam could stretch across all of Europe as well.”


257-w-34-(Steve Coleman, AP religion editor, with Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress)–The president of the World Jewish Congress, Ronald Lauder, says recent tensions between the U.S. and Israel have contributed to a rise in global anti-Semitism. AP Religion Editor Steve Coleman reports. (24 Mar 2015)


258-a-09-(Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, testifying at a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing)-“effect on anti-Semitism”-Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, says rising tensions between the U.S. and Israel have increased negative attitudes toward Jews. ((cut used in wrap)) (24 Mar 2015)


259-a-14-(Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, testifying at a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing)-“and more negative”-Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, says global anti-Semitism increases when the U.S. is increasingly at odds with Israel. (24 Mar 2015)


260-a-07-(Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, testifying at a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing)-“Europe as well”-Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, says the U.S. must take decisive action against radical Islam in the Mideast and Africa. (24 Mar 2015)



Judge to Muslim cleric: Answer questions about finances

DETROIT (AP) — A judge has ordered a Detroit-area Muslim cleric to answer questions about his finances as the government seeks to collect nearly $250,000 in restitution in a fraud case.

Ahmad Jebril read the Quran while an attorney represented him in federal court Tuesday. The U.S. Attorney’s Office asked a judge to intervene after Jebril invoked his right to remain silent more than 200 times during a deposition last August.

Judge Gerald Rosen encouraged the government to consider immunity for Jebril. The judge suggests he’ll hold Jebril in contempt of court if he gets immunity and still cites the Fifth Amendment. Jebril declined to comment after the hearing.

He’s been out of prison since 2012. Years earlier, the government said Jebril ran a radical, anti-American website that encouraged followers to kill non-Muslims.


Man charged in parental kidnapping contests cellphone bills

BUFFALO, N.Y (AP) — A Virginia businessman who’s charged with aiding in a Christian mother’s parental kidnapping says prosecutors shouldn’t be allowed to use cellphone bills in their case against him.

Attorneys for Philip Zodhiates (zoh-dee-AH’-tehs) argued to have the bills thrown out Tuesday in federal court in Buffalo, New York. The judge didn’t immediately rule.

Zodhiates is charged with helping Lisa Miller take her daughter out of the country to avoid losing custody to her former same-sex partner, Janet Jenkins. Prosecutors say Miller and Jenkins broke up their civil union in Vermont in 2003 and Miller came to believe that her lesbian relationship was sinful.

Zodhiates, the owner of a Christian marketing business, Response Unlimited, is accused of helping Miller go to Canada via western New York and eventually to Nicaragua. He was indicted in September on charges of conspiracy and international parental kidnapping.


Ala. bill would let adoption agencies turn away gay couples

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama would allow adoption agencies — including those with state contracts — to refuse to place children with same-sex couples on religious grounds, under a bill introduced in the Alabama Legislature.

Republican state Sen. Gerald Allen introduced the bill last week specifying that groups could refuse to participate in adoptions and foster care placements that violate their religious beliefs. The bill would also prohibit the state from refusing to license, or contract with, the groups that deny services to people on religious grounds.

Allen said he brought the bill to protect the faith-based groups, including children’s homes affiliated with Baptist and Catholic churches, in case the U.S. Supreme Court legalizes same-sex marriage nationwide this June.

Opponents said the bill would provide legal cover for discrimination against a diverse array of families seeking to adopt.


Indiana lawmakers send religious objection bill to governor

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A religious rights bill that opponents say could legalize discrimination against gays has cleared the Indiana Senate, positioning the state to become the first to enact such a change this year ahead of an expected U.S. Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage.

The measure would prohibit state and local laws that “substantially burden” the ability of people — including businesses and associations — to follow their religious beliefs. Senators voted 40-10 along party lines to support the Republican-backed bill and advance it to GOP Gov. Mike Pence, who has said he will sign it into law.

Some gay-rights groups say lawmakers in Indiana and other states have proposed the change as a way of essentially granting a state-sanctioned waiver for discrimination.

But supporters argue the bill merely seeks to prevent the government from compelling people to provide services, such as catering or photography, for same-sex weddings or other activities that they find objectionable on religious grounds.


House panel begins debate on divisive religious freedom bill

ATLANTA (AP) — A Georgia House panel has heard hours of testimony on a “religious freedom” bill, one of a series of measures surfacing in at least 13 states that critics say could provide legal cover for discrimination against gays and transgender people.

State Rep. Wendell Willard, chairman of the special subcommittee to the chamber’s Judiciary Committee, said the group will meet again Wednesday for a vote. The full committee would meet Thursday.

He gave some indication that committee members will propose amendments. Proponents have pushed for a House vote without changes to the bill.

The bill would forbid state government from infringing on a person’s religious beliefs unless the government can prove it has a compelling interest. Supporters said it is closely modeled on a federal religious freedom law passed in 1993, and it received overwhelming support in the state Senate earlier this month.


Arkansas Senate panel backs ‘conscience protection’ measure

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — An effort to prevent Arkansas government from infringing on someone’s religious beliefs has advanced, with a state Senate panel approving a bill that critics have called a thinly veiled endorsement of discrimination against gays and lesbians.

The legislation approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee would ban state and local government from taking action that would burden someone’s religious beliefs unless a “compelling governmental interest” is proven. The bill, if enacted, would strengthen any case of a person suing the government if that person could prove their religious beliefs were infringed upon. The Senate could take up the bill as soon as Wednesday.

The bill’s sponsor said he didn’t view the measure as anti-gay, and said it was aimed at giving Arkansans more protections for their religious beliefs and practices.

The legislation is patterned after the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 19 states have similar laws and several states are currently considering them.


Proposed Ten Commandments display advances to Senate vote

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A day after it stalled before a legislative panel, an effort to allow a privately funded monument to the Ten Commandments near the Arkansas Capitol has advanced to the state Senate for a vote.

The Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee endorsed by a voice vote the proposal to let a private group pay for and build a monument to the commandments on the Capitol grounds.

Republican state Sen. Jason Rapert has said the monument would commemorate the role the Ten Commandments have played in the nation’s legal system. He’s also argued the monument would be constitutional, citing a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court upholding a similar display at the Texas state Capitol — while striking down Ten Commandments displays in two Kentucky courthouses. The court said the key to whether a display is constitutional hinges on whether there is a religious purpose behind it.


West Michigan County votes to keep sign with Bible verse

GEORGETOWN TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) — Commissioners in a western Michigan county have given final approval to the reinstallation of a park sign that quotes the Bible.

The sign from the 1960s carries an excerpt from Psalm 19. It was removed in December from Hager Park in Ottawa County after complaints that public property was being used to promote religion.

The sign says, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth his handiwork.”

The Michigan Association of Civil Rights Activists has threatened legal action.

The sign was installed in 1967 in the 104-acre park, just west of Grand Rapids. The county commissioners tentatively approved the restoration in January and gave it final approval Tuesday. The commission voted to place the sign in a new location within the park.


Council president asks archdiocese to hold off on demolition

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The president of the Philadelphia City Council is calling on the archdiocese of Philadelphia to hold off on plans to demolish a 19th century church until Vatican officials respond to parishioners’ request to intervene.

The archdiocese says it would cost nearly $3.5 million to restore Saint Laurentius church. It was closed a year ago after officials said parts of the building could collapse.

Council president Darrell Clarke said Tuesday that he was disappointed by the demolition decision and had hoped that “all avenues toward preservation of this beautiful and sacred building would first be exhausted.”

Parishioners say the church erected in the late 1880s was the first Polish Roman Catholic church in Philadelphia. They say restoring the structure would cost only $700,000.


Thousands protest woman’s mob killing in Afghan capital

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Thousands of people have marched through the capital of Afghanistan, demanding justice for a woman who was beaten to death by a mob after being falsely accused of burning a Quran.

Men and women of all ages carried banners Tuesday bearing the bloodied face of 27-year-old Farkhunda, a religious scholar killed last week by the mob. Farkhunda, who went by one name like many Afghans, was beaten, run over with a car and burned before her body was thrown into the Kabul River.

The attack last Thursday appeared to have grown out of a dispute between Farkhunda and men who sold amulets at Kabul’s famous Shah-Do Shamshera shrine.

Farkhunda’s family and friends say she had urged women not to waste their money on the amulets. Her father said the men responded by making false accusations that she had torched a Quran, which set off the brutal assault.

President Ashraf Ghani’s wife and First Lady, a Christian of Lebanese background, has pushed for women’s rights but has not spoken publicly about Farkhunda’s killing.


Pastor jailed 1 year for questioning cross removals in China

BEIJING (AP) — A Christian pastor who questioned authorities in eastern China about the forced removal of crosses from the roofs of churches has been sentenced to one year in prison, according to his lawyer.

Pastor Huang Yizi is the first person to be jailed for opposing Zhejiang province’s intense campaign to remove crosses from churches.

Authorities in the province tore down about 400 rooftop crosses last year, saying they violated the building code. Churchgoers and religious rights advocates say the Christian faith is being targeted because its rapid growth unnerves the ruling Communist Party.

Pastor Huang was taken away by police last summer after he brought parishioners to a government building to demand answers about a clash in which security personnel attacked congregation members who had been keeping a night vigil over the cross atop their sanctuary. He also urged church leaders to restore the toppled crosses.


Rome’s homeless to get guided private tour of Sistine Chapel

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Rome’s homeless will be treated to a guided tour of the Sistine Chapel this week.

The Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano says the Vatican will open its museum doors to 150 homeless people Thursday. They’ll enter Vatican City via a side entrance, walk past the Vatican hotel where Francis lives and behind St. Peter’s Basilica to an internal entrance of the Vatican Museums.

The newspaper says they’ll see some galleries en route to Michelangelo’s masterpiece, which will close to the general public early, and then will be invited to dinner.

The visit is being organized by Monsignor Konrad Krajewski, the pope’s chief alms-giver.

Francis has previously provided Rome’s homeless with sleeping bags, showers and shaves.