Update on the latest religion news

RELIGIOUS OBJECTIONS

Critics fear impact of Indiana religious rights law

WASHINGTON (AP) — Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act doesn’t mention gays or lesbians, but critics say it could legalize discrimination.

Sarah Warbelow, legal director for the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group, says under the Indiana law “people will be able to use their religious beliefs as a defense if they’re sued for discrimination by another individual.”

The measure, which takes effect July 1, prohibits state and local laws that “substantially burden” a person’s ability to follow his or her religious beliefs unless the government can show that it has a compelling interest and that the action is the least restrictive means of achieving it.

The definition of “person” includes institutions, businesses and associations, and Warbelow says they don’t have to be faith-based to make religious objections.

Republican legislative leaders in Indiana say the law may be tweaked to make it clear that it doesn’t allow discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Sound:

252-a-08-(Sarah Warbelow, legal director of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group, in telephone news conference)-“by another individual”-Sarah Warbelow, legal director of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group, says the Indiana law gives people of faith a defense against discrimination claims. (30 Mar 2015)

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254-a-11-(Sarah Warbelow, legal director of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group, in telephone news conference)-“for LGBT people”-Sarah Warbelow, legal director of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group, says local gay rights ordinances will be undermined by Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act. (30 Mar 2015)

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255-a-20-(Sarah Warbelow, legal director of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group, in telephone news conference)-“by President Clinton”-Sarah Warbelow, legal director of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group, says a similar federal law has been in effect since 1993 and has been upheld by courts. ((note length of cut)) (30 Mar 2015)

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253-a-12-(Sarah Warbelow, legal director of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group, in telephone news conference)-“those religious beliefs”-Sarah Warbelow, legal director of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group, says the Indiana law lets businesses as well as individuals claim religious objections. (30 Mar 2015)

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248-c-14-(Steve Coleman, AP religion editor, with Sarah Warbelow, legal director of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group)-“upheld by courts”-AP Religion Editor Steve Coleman reports that Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act takes effect July first. (30 Mar 2015)

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247-w-34-(Steve Coleman, AP religion editor, with Sarah Warbelow, legal director of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group)–Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act doesn’t mention gays or lesbians, but critics say it could legalize discrimination. AP Religion Editor Steve Coleman reports. (30 Mar 2015)

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221-a-14-(Mayor Greg Ballard, R-Indianapolis, at news conference)-“and visit Indiana”-Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard says he’s asking the state government to expand civil right protections to include sexual orientation. (30 Mar 2015)

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220-a-10-(Mayor Greg Ballard, R-Indianapolis, at news conference)-“at our statehouse”-Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard says he and the city council are uniting against a new state law that is seen as fostering discrimination against gays and lesbians. (30 Mar 2015)

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219-a-15-(Mayor Greg Ballard, R-Indianapolis, at news conference)-“without a fight”-Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard says the state’s new religious objection law is a problem for a city built by recruiting diverse talent, including gays and lesbians. (30 Mar 2015)

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222-a-10-(Mayor Greg Ballard, R-Indianapolis, at news conference)-“Indy welcomes all”-Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard says he wants visitors to know that his city values diversity. (30 Mar 2015)

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COLLEGES-RELIGIOUS GROUPS

ACLU criticizes Kansas bill on religious student groups

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The executive director of the Kansas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union says religious student groups shouldn’t get public funds if they have discriminatory membership and leadership requirements.

A bill which has been passed by the Kansas Senate and is now under consideration by a House committee would prevent universities and colleges from denying benefits to student organizations that require their members to comply with the groups’ “sincerely held religious beliefs” or “sincere religious standards.”

Universities and colleges generally allow recognized student organizations greater access to publicizing their events and give them funding derived from fees that all students pay as well as the free use of campus facilities. Representatives of Christian student organizations testified that they should be able to set standards for belief and behavior without losing campus recognition and benefits.

GOOD FRIDAY LAWSUIT-AGREEMENT

Court order allows teachers to observe Good Friday

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Public school teachers in Cranston, Rhode Island, will be allowed to observe Good Friday despite objections from the city’s school department.

A court order issued Friday says teachers may take the day off as long as they submit a request no later than April 1. The order says the school department can neither discipline teachers for requesting the day off nor deduct their pay.

About 200 teachers contacted their union earlier this month to report that they were being prevented from observing Good Friday. They filed a lawsuit March 16.

Attorney Kevin Daley says the order temporarily allows the teachers to observe Good Friday. He says a full hearing will determine whether the teachers can observe the holiday going forward.

SUPREME COURT-CHURCH SCHOOL SPACE

High court rejects church appeal over use of public school

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court has again rejected an appeal from a small evangelical church in the Bronx seeking to overturn New York City’s ban on after-hours religious worship services at public schools.

The justices did not comment Monday in siding with the city’s Department of Education against the Bronx Household of Faith. The Supreme Court had twice previously rejected the church’s appeal in a lawsuit spanning 18 years.

The city said it risked blurring church-state separation if it allowed worship services in public schools, although New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has been more supportive of allowing faith groups to use the city’s schools than was his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg.

About 60 groups had been allowed to worship in public buildings.

Sound:

232-v-32-(Steve Coleman, AP religion editor)–The Supreme Court has again rejected an appeal from a small evangelical church in the Bronx seeking to overturn New York City’s ban on after-hours worship services at public schools. AP Religion Editor Steve Coleman reports. (30 Mar 2015)

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SUPREME COURT-CHILD ABUSE

Supreme Court won’t hear pastor’s appeal of abuse conviction

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court has turned away an appeal from a Wisconsin pastor convicted of conspiracy to commit child abuse for advocating the use of wooden rods to spank children.

The justices had no comment on their order Monday rejecting Philip Caminiti’s appeal of his 2012 conviction for urging church members to use so-called “rod discipline” on babies and toddlers.

Caminiti argued that prosecutors violated his religious freedom and the rights of parents to decide how to discipline their children.

The Wisconsin state appeals court ruled last year that a jury could have reasonably inferred that Caminiti’s teachings produced lawless action. The lower court said the state has a compelling interest in preventing child abuse.

Sound:

218-v-32-(Steve Coleman, AP religion editor)–The Supreme Court has turned away an appeal from a Wisconsin pastor convicted of conspiracy to commit child abuse for advocating the use of wooden rods to spank children. AP Religion Editor Steve Coleman reports. (30 Mar 2015)

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FLORIDA-FATAL VAN CRASH

Highway Patrol: 8 dead, 10 injured when Florida van crashes

MOORE HAVEN, Fla. (AP) — The Florida Highway Patrol says eight people died and 10 were injured when an overloaded van from a church ran through a stop sign, crossed four lanes of a rural highway and nosedived into shallow waters of a canal in Florida.

The crash happened around 12:30 a.m. Monday in Glades County west of Lake Okeechobee.

Lt. Gregory Bueno says the van was heading back to Fort Pierce after a weekend convention in Fort Myers. There were 18 people on the van. The Highway Patrol says it had a 15-seat capacity. The driver and seven passengers died.

Bueno said it was not foggy in the area when the crash occurred.

The injured victims were taken to four area hospitals. Among them was a 4-year-old. Officials say the child was not in a car seat.

Sound:

264-r-04-(Sound of excerpt of 911 call, received by Florida Highway Patrol Church after a van crashed into a ditch)-“is hurt himself”-Sound of excerpt of 911 call received by Florida Highway Patrol after a van crashed into a ditch. (30 Mar 2015)

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263-r-09-(Sound of excerpt of 911 call, received by Florida Highway Patrol Church after a van crashed into a ditch)–Sound of excerpt of 911 call received by Florida Highway Patrol after a van crashed into a ditch. (30 Mar 2015)

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241-w-36-(Tim Maguire, AP correspondent, with Florida highway patrol Lt. Greg Bueno)–Eight people are dead in the crash of a church van in Florida. AP correspondent Tim Maguire reports. (30 Mar 2015)

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235-a-02-(Nicolas Alexis, injured van crash survivor, in AP interview)-“van lost control”-Nicolas Alexis says he remembers the few seconds before the van crashed. ((note cut length)) (30 Mar 2015)

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237-a-06-(Nicolas Alexis, injured van crash survivor, in AP interview)-“don’t feel anything”-Nicolas Alexis, who suffered rib fractures and lacerations in the van crash, says he couldn’t tell how bad his injuries were at first. (30 Mar 2015)

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236-a-11-(Nicolas Alexis, injured van crash survivor, in AP interview)-“bleeding so bad”-Nicolas Alexis says the three men he was sitting near were killed, but he was able to pull one person out of the van. (30 Mar 2015)

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229-a-10-(Lt. Greg Bueno, Florida Highway Patrol, in AP interview)-“of U.S. 27”-Florida Highway Patrol spokesman Lt. Greg Bueno says van was on the way back from a church event. (30 Mar 2015)

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HEADSTONE KILLS MAN

Man decorating family grave is killed by falling headstone

THROOP, Pa. (AP) — Police say a Pennsylvania man who was decorating a relative’s grave for Easter has been killed after a headstone fell on him.

Police say 74-year-old Stephan Woytack and his wife were decorating the grave when he was struck in the head Monday at Saint Joseph’s Cemetery in Throop, about 5 miles from downtown Scranton.

A cemetery caretaker told WNEP-TV that the Scranton couple visits the grave several times a year and ties a cross to it each year.

Caretaker Ed Kubilus said the bases of headstones often sink when the ground thaws, making them susceptible to tipping over.

STEVIE’S SURPRISE

Stevie Wonder surprises Minneapolis Baptist church

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The congregation at New Salem Baptist Church in Minneapolis was surprised by a famous visitor during Sunday’s service.

There in the front pew was singer, songwriter and musician Stevie Wonder, who was in town for a performance at the Target Center. The Rev. Jerry McAfee knows Wonder and invited him to the Sunday service. Church members cheered when Wonder rose to sing a favorite hymn, “I Won’t Complain.”

WCCO-TV says Wonder is known for speaking out against violence during stops on his concert tours, specifically in the African-American community.

Toward the end of the service there was another surprise. Wonder said he would donate $10,000 to the church.

BOSNIA-POPE’S CHAIR

Muslim family carves chair for Pope Francis Bosnia mass

ZAVIDOVICI, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Salem Hajdarovac didn’t sleep for a whole week when he heard that his workshop had been granted the honor of carving a special chair that Pope Francis will sit on during his visit to Bosnia.

Hajdarovac and his son Edin, both devote Muslims, started working on the chair on Monday in their little workshop in the central Bosnian town of Zavidovici.

They have put all other orders on hold to produce the perfect chair by June 6, when the pontiff will hold a mass in Sarajevo aimed at boosting efforts toward brotherhood in the country ravaged by war two decades ago.

Many Bosnians, including Muslims, Catholics and Christian Serb Orthodox, see Francis as a worthy successor of John Paul II, who is perceived as a champion of inter-faith cooperation and peace.