Religion news in brief

AP News
Posted: May 23, 2014 12:30 PM
Religion news in brief

Israeli police detain extremists before pope visit

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel's national police force says it has issued restraining orders against several Jewish extremists who had planned to "disrupt" the upcoming visit of Pope Francis.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said Wednesday that a "number of right-wing activists" have been restrained for their intention to carry out "provocative and illegal acts" during the three-day visit to the Holy Land. The order restricts them from Jerusalem's Old City, where Francis will visit, and orders them to stay away from the pope, Rosenfeld said.

In recent weeks, vandals have scribbled anti-Arab and anti-Christian graffiti on Christian holy sites and properties, including a Roman Catholic visitor's center outside the Old City.

In addition to churches and monasteries, vandals have also targeted mosques, dovish Israeli groups and even Israeli military bases.

A tiny fringe group of radical Israeli settlers are believed to be behind the spate of attacks meant to protest what they perceive as the Israeli government's pro-Palestinian policies and in retaliation for Palestinian attacks.

The pope is set to visit Jordan, the West Bank and Israel during a three-day visit beginning Saturday.


School board members met privately on Bible class

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Emails to school board members and school administrators in a district that approved a Bible-based curriculum show that they broke into small groups for meetings with the program's chief backer to circumvent a law requiring government bodies to meet in public.

The emails obtained by The Associated Press show that the April 14 meetings with Steve Green and other members of the Museum of the Bible curriculum team, the president of the Hobby Lobby arts and crafts store chain, occurred just hours before the Mustang School Board approved the course as an elective.

The Mustang superintendent acknowledged insisting on separate presentations at the direction of Green and his public relations representatives. Sean McDaniel said having parents or media there could have been "confusing and awkward."


UK summons Sudanese diplomat over death sentence

LONDON (AP) — The British government has summoned a senior Sudanese diplomat to express its anger at the death sentence handed to a Christian woman who refused to renounce her faith.

Meriam Ibrahim, whose father was Muslim but whose mother was an Orthodox Christian from Ethiopia, was convicted of apostasy on May 15 for marrying a Christian, and given four days to repent and escape death. She was sentenced after that period expired.

Human rights groups and Western governments have condemned the sentencing of the 26-year-old, who is eight months pregnant.

Britain's Foreign Office said Monday it had summoned Sudan's charge d'affaires, Bukhari Afandi, and urged him to try to overturn the sentence.

Sudan's penal code criminalizes the conversion of Muslims to other religions, which is punishable by death.


Judge dismisses atheists' challenge to IRS

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — A federal judge in Kentucky has dismissed a lawsuit brought by an atheist group challenging tax exemptions for churches and religious groups in the federal tax code.

U.S. District Judge William O. Bertelsman ruled that American Atheists Inc. was speculating about being potentially injured by the tax code or treated differently from other organizations because it's never sought to be classified as a religious organization and the attendant tax benefits.

The New Jersey-based American Atheists sued the IRS in federal court in northern Kentucky in 2013 saying the tax-exempt status granted to religious organizations is discriminatory and should be ruled unconstitutional.

Bertelsman found that the regulations for tax-exempt organizations don't favor any group over another.

American Atheists President Dave Silverman says the organization will appeal.


Group decries Iowa funding for Bible-themed park

SIOUX CITY, Iowa (AP) — A national group says Iowa shouldn't fund a planned Christian-themed park in Sioux City and should take back a $140,000 grant.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, of Madison, Wisconsin, said in a letter to Iowa officials last week that giving grant money to The Shepherd's Garden violates the U.S. and Iowa constitutions.

Iowa Economic Development Authority spokeswoman Tina Hoffman says state money from the Vision Iowa grant would pay only for green space at the park and not for any of the project's religious elements.

Garrett Smith is a member of The Shepherd's Garden board of directors and says the project is Christian in focus but nondenominational. He says the group didn't seek state funding for the park's religious elements, specifically to avoid any issues about public funding for religion.