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Court upholds guilty verdict against popular Egyptian comedian for defaming Islam

CAIRO (AP) _ An Egyptian court upheld a conviction against one of the Arab world's most famous comedians, sentencing him to jail for offending Islam in some of his most popular films.

The case against Adel Imam and others like it have raised concerns among some Egyptians that ultraconservative Muslims who made gains in recent elections after Hosni Mubarak's ouster last year are trying to foist their religious views on the entire country. Critics say the trend threatens to curb Egypt's vibrant film industry and freedom of speech.

Imam was sentenced Tuesday to three months in jail and fined around $170 for insulting Islam in roles he played in movies such as "The Terrorist", in which he acted the role of a wanted terrorist who found refuge with a middle class, moderate family, and the film "Terrorism and Kabab."

The actor was also found guilty for his 2007 role in "Morgan Ahmed Morgan," in which Imam played a corrupt businessman who tries to buy a university diploma. The film included a scene parodying bearded Muslim men wearing traditional Islamic clothing.

The case is one of many brought by conservative lawyers in recent months seeking to punish individuals they deem as having offended Islam.

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Maine gay marriage opponents unite

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) _ The Christian Civic League of Maine and the National Organization for Marriage say they've combined forces to defeat the same-sex marriage referendum proposal on next November's ballot.

The chairman of Protect Marriage Maine, Rev. Bob Emrich, says it will organize groups of different faiths as well as people with no faith traditions at all in opposition to the ballot initiative. Maine voters defeated a gay marriage proposal that was on the 2009 ballot.

Christian Civic League Executive Director Carroll Conley says his group was not a major player in the 2009 campaign, but he believes it can play a major role in the campaign this year.

Paperwork creating Protect Marriage Maine was filed Friday.

Pro-gay marriage activists from 16 organizations have formed the Maine Freedom to Marry Coalition.

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Sri Lanka to demolish mosque and Hindu temple following protest by Buddhist monks

DAMBULLA, Sri Lanka (AP) _ Sri Lankan officials have decided to demolish a mosque and a Hindu temple under pressure from Buddhist monks who demanded their removal from a Buddhist sacred area.

Ruling party lawmaker Lakshman Perera said Monday that the places of worship and other buildings will be relocated to sites outside the designated sacred zone within six months.

Thousands of Buddhist monks and lay supporters stormed the mosque in the central Sri Lankan town of Dambulla on Friday, saying it was constructed illegally. They forced their way into the building and damaged some furniture, dispersing only after officials promised a solution on Monday.

Mohamed Saleemdeen, a board member of the mosque, denied it was an illegal building and said it had been there long before the area was declared a sacred zone about 20 years ago.

Buddhism is Sri Lanka's state religion and monks are powerful in political and social affairs.

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Methodists to weigh gay issues again at General Conference

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) _ Delegates to the General Conference of the United Methodist Church that starts today in Tampa, Fla., will consider again whether to change the denomination's position on homosexuality.

The church's public policy arm will ask the nearly 1,000 delegates to remove two statements from the denomination's Social Principles that declare sex should only be between a husband and wife and that "homosexuality is incompatible with church teaching."

The General Conference, which meets every four years, also may consider lifting bans on gay clergy and on performing same-sex weddings or civil unions in United Methodist churches.

Mark Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, which opposes changing the Principles. He believes the proposed changes could be rejected _ as they have at previous conferences _ because the church includes a growing number of Africans who support traditional doctrines on marriage and sexuality.

Others who support the changes say this year's conversation is much more substantive and diverse than in previous years.

Ann Craig is a New York United Methodist and media coordinator for the Love Your Neighbor coalition, which includes several racially diverse groups.

"Whether we change our policies this time or the next time, they are going to change," she said. "Understanding and acceptance is growing across the world and across the church."

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Cops: Oklahoma ministry head dies amid abuse probe

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ Police in Oklahoma are investigating whether the executive director of an international Christian ministry killed himself amid allegations he'd molested a 10-year-old girl.

Bartlesville Police Capt. Jay Hastings confirmed the investigation into Tom White's death.

White had been reported missing last Tuesday. Hastings says that's the same day police received a report about the alleged molestation.

The 64-year-old White was the executive director for The Voice of the Martyrs, which says it provides medical supplies, food and clothing to persecuted Christians worldwide. Police found White's body at the organization's Bartlesville headquarters Wednesday.

Authorities say employees discovered a letter in White's vehicle indicating he was "suicidal or possibly fleeing to avoid investigation."

The ministry says in a statement that White "appears to have chosen to take his own life."

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NY shrine to new saint turns down tourism grant

AURIESVILLE, N.Y. (AP) _ A Roman Catholic shrine in New York's Mohawk Valley has turned down a tourism grant after questions were raised about church-state separation.

The Montgomery County Board of Supervisors awarded the $750 grant in February to the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs in Auriesville. Officials believe 5,000 people will come to the shrine when Kateri Tekakwitha is canonized as a saint on Oct. 21. She was a Mohawk Indian who lived nearby.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State claimed the grant violated the First Amendment.

A local official proposed a resolution saying the grant would only be used for sectarian purposes. But shrine spokesman Beth Lynch said the new conditions made it impossible to take the money.

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