Update on the latest religion news


Associated Press

Posted on November 4, 2013 at 9:01 AM

Updated Monday, Nov 4 at 9:00 AM


Supreme Court hears arguments today over legislative prayer

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court, which asks for God's protection before every public session, will hear arguments this Wednesday in a dispute over prayer in the halls of government.

The case involves prayers said at the start of town council meetings in Greece, N.Y., a Rochester suburb.

In 1983, the Supreme Court said that opening prayers, like the ones said each day in Congress, are part of the nation's fabric and don't violate the Constitution. But a federal appeals court ruled that the town crossed the line by letting local ministers open nearly every meeting over an 11-year span with prayers that stressed Christianity.

The Obama administration is siding with the town. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli wrote in his brief that "courts should not parse or evaluate the content of prayer."


223-w-33-(Steve Coleman, AP religion editor, with U.S. Senate Chaplain Barry Black)--The Supreme Court, which asks for God's protection before every public session, will hear arguments this Wednesday in a dispute over prayer in the halls of government. AP Religion Editor Steve Coleman reports. (3 Nov 2013)

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224-a-12-(U.S. Senate Chaplain Barry Black, praying before last Thursday's Senate session)-"throne in prayer"-U.S. Senate Chaplain Barry Black thanked God that he could pray before last Thursday's Senate session. ((cut used in wrap)) (3 Nov 2013)

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221-w-58-(Steve Coleman, AP religion editor, with U.S. Senate Chaplain Barry Black)--Religion Roundup: The Supreme Court weighs the constitutionality of prayers before government meetings this week. AP Religion Editor Steve Coleman reports. (3 Nov 2013)

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Appeals court deals blow to contraceptive mandate

WASHINGTON (AP) — A divided appeals court panel is siding with Ohio business owners who challenged the birth control mandate under the new federal health care law.

The business owners are two brothers who say the mandate to provide contraceptive coverage would make them violate their Roman Catholic beliefs.

The ruling Friday by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is one of many on the birth control issue, which likely will be resolved by the Supreme Court.

The appeals court panel says the mandate limits the right of free exercise of religion.

The brothers are Francis and Philip M. Gilardi. They say they don't want to provide contraceptives like the Plan B pill for their employees. The Gilardis own Freshway Foods and Freshway Logistics of Sidney, Ohio.


West Point hosts first wedding between 2 men

WEST POINT, N.Y. (AP) — Two graduates of West Point are the first men to marry each other at the military academy.

Larry Choate III married Daniel Lennox Saturday afternoon at the U.S. Military Academy's Cadet Chapel.

Both men are out of the Army and both wore tuxedoes for the ceremony. About 20 guests attended, some in uniform.

The 28-year-old Lennox is getting his master's degree in business administration at Harvard University. The 27-year-old Choate, who used to teach Sunday school at the chapel, is applying to Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government.

West Point hosted two same-sex weddings of women in 2012, more than a year after New York legalized gay marriage. But Saturday's wedding was the first between two men at West Point.

Chaplain Cynthia Lindenmeyer officiated.


Palin, Trump to attend Billy Graham's birthday

ASHEVILLE, N.C. (AP) — The Rev. Billy Graham will celebrate his 95th birthday this Thursday with a party in Asheville, N.C., and a national telecast of his pre-recorded evangelistic program "My Hope America."

His son, the Rev. Franklin Graham, says hundreds of thousands of Christians have been praying for friends, neighbors and relatives to join them in watching the broadcast and hear Billy Graham's invitation to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

In Asheville, meanwhile, 800 people are expected to attend the elder Graham's birthday party, including Christian singer Michael W. Smith, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, and real estate mogul Donald Trump.

Franklin Graham says his father will attend, but doesn't plan to speak and won't be able to shake everyone's hand.


225-a-18-(Rev. Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham, in AP interview)-"has just prayed"-The Rev. Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham, says "My Hope America with Billy Graham" can lead many people to Christ. (3 Nov 2013)

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Day of prayer gives thanks for NM, Texas rain

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Religious leaders throughout eastern New Mexico and West Texas are giving thanks for the rain that has helped ease dry conditions across the region.

Hoyt Skabelund is an active church member from Clovis, N.M., who helped organize the first day of prayer in May and Sunday's day of thanks. He calls the rains a "true miracle."

While parts of New Mexico and Texas are still dealing with moderate to severe drought, conditions have improved significantly since the start of the year.

In just three months, exceptional drought — the worst category — has disappeared from New Mexico. The state also marked its second wettest September on record with average precipitation of more than 4 inches.


1 killed, several injured in Ind. church van crash

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Police and fire officials in Indianapolis say one person has been killed and several others injured after a crash involving a church van filled with passengers.

Police Lt. Christopher Bailey says the driver of the van was pronounced dead at the scene Sunday night.

Bailey says 11 passengers sustained minor injuries requiring hospital treatment. He says a 7-year-old girl was transported in serious condition, but her injuries do not appear life-threatening.

He says the van carrying 18 people was heading back to the Jesus House of Prayer Temple shortly before 8 p.m. when it traveled westbound through a green light at an intersection. He says a northbound car did not stop and hit the van.

Bailey says the car driver fled on foot, but was caught a few blocks away.


In midst of Syrian war, giant Jesus statue arises

BEIRUT (AP) — A giant statue of Jesus has been erected in Syria amid an apparent truce among factions in the country's civil war.

The bronze statue is 40 feet tall and stands on a base that brings its height to more than 100 feet, but its safety is by no means guaranteed. It stands among villages where some fighters, linked to al-Qaida, have little sympathy for Christians. In rebel-controlled parts of Syria, churches have been vandalized and priests have been abducted.

It took three days to raise the new statue of Jesus. Photos provided by organizers show it being hauled in two pieces by farm tractors, then lifted into place by a crane. Smaller statues of Adam and Eve stand nearby.

Russians have been a driving force behind the project. Orthodox churches in Russia and Syria have close ties.


Indians mark their biggest festival with fireworks

NEW DELHI (AP) — Hindus have been celebrating Diwali, their festival of lights, with fireworks displays across India.

They also handed out sweets, exchanged greetings with friends and relatives, and adorned their homes with glowing lanterns and oil lamps as they celebrated the triumph of good over evil.

Diwali marks the return home of the Hindu god Rama from a 14-year exile after killing the demon Ravana, who had abducted his wife, Sita, according to the ancient Hindu epic Ramayana.

Diwali also is celebrated by Hindus in other parts of the world, including Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Nepal and Malaysia.

In Washington, first lady Michelle Obama will host a White House Diwali celebration on Tuesday.


128-r-09-(fireworks, as part of Diwali celebration)--Sound of fireworks exploding as Hindus in New Delhi celebrate Diwali, the festival of lights. (3 Nov 2013)

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Paula Abdul connects to Jewish roots in Israel

JERUSALEM (AP) — Paula Abdul, the former "American Idol" and "The X-Factor" judge, is on her first trip to Israel, where she's connecting to her Jewish roots and planning on holding a belated Bat Mitzvah — the Jewish coming of age ceremony girls typically have at age 12 or 13.

The 51-year-old Abdul says, "Beyond being Jewish, I've always found myself to be very much in tune with spirituality."

An official guest of Israel's ministry of tourism, Abdul has been touring the country and visiting holy sites, museums and markets in Jerusalem. Israeli President Shimon Peres also hosted her.

Abdul said it's "the most magnificent trip I've ever taken ... magical and emotional."


227-a-06-(Israeli President Shimon Peres with American entertainer Paula Abdul, at news conference)-"look forward. Absolutely"-Israeli President Shimon Peres congratulates American entertainer Paula Abdul on her planned Bat Mitzvah. (3 Nov 2013)

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226-a-13-(Paula Abdul, American entertainer and TV personality, in AP interview)-"with, with spirituality"-Paula Abdul, American entertainer and TV personality, says her visit to Israel has been a religious pilgrimage. (3 Nov 2013)

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Nigeria: 24 die in church stampede over politics

LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — A stampede at an all-night church vigil in Nigeria has killed 24 people and injured 17, according to Red Cross and government officials.

A police official says the stampede occurred before dawn Saturday at an All Saints' Day open-air vigil organized by a Catholic church in southeastern Nigeria.

Dr. Peter Katchy of the local Red Cross chapter said they had a mobile clinic and small emergency station on the grounds because more than 100,000 people had gathered for popular healing sessions by a local priest.

According to Klatchy, people said the stampede was triggered by someone crying "Fire! Fire!"

Newspaper and TV reports blamed politicking for the Nov. 18 elections. They quoted witnesses as saying a false warning of a fire was made to try to end a speech being made by a Nigerian state governor.


Nigeria: Suspected militants attack wedding convoy

YOLA, Nigeria (AP) — Suspected Islamic militants have attacked a wedding convoy in northeast Nigeria, the latest in a storm of violence in the region as government troops battle religious extremists bent on turning Africa's most populous nation into an Islamic state.

Authorities on Sunday gave conflicting accounts of the death toll, ranging from five to as many as 30, including the groom.

A military spokesman says the attack took place Saturday on a highway that runs alongside forests that are a known hideout of Islamic extremists from the Boko Haram network.

Nigeria's 160 million people are divided almost equally between the mainly Muslim north and the predominantly Christian south.