Southern Baptists see 9th year of membership decline
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Southern Baptist Convention says it lost more than 200,000 members in 2015.
It's the ninth straight year of decline for the nation's largest Protestant denomination, which also saw baptisms drop by more than 10,000 in 2015.
According to denomination statistics released on Tuesday, membership stands at 15.3 million, down from 15.5 million in 2014. Baptisms fell to just a little more than 295,000. Baptisms are an important measure for the denomination because of its strong commitment to evangelism.
The denomination reported an increase in overall giving and in the number of Southern Baptist Churches.
But Executive Committee President and CEO Frank Page refused to put a positive spin on the declines, exclaiming in a news release, "God help us all! In a world that is desperate for the message of Christ, we continue to be less diligent in sharing the Good News."
Groups claim Branstad's Bible proclamation is illegal
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Three groups say a proclamation signed by Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad that encourages people to participate in a statewide Bible-reading marathon is illegal.
The Des Moines Register reports that two of the groups, the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, say they are considering litigation. They claim the proclamation violates the U.S. Constitution by promoting Christianity.
The Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers also opposed the governor's action. Branstad signed the proclamation in April.
The prayer events are organized by Christian groups and are planned at courthouses in all 99 counties in Iowa from June 30 until July 3.
First Liberty Institute, a legal group focused on protecting religious freedom, has offered to defend Branstad if a lawsuit is filed.
West Texas county to remove cross decals from patrol cars
ALPINE, Texas (AP) — Decals of crosses will be removed from a West Texas county's patrol vehicles to settle a lawsuit filed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
The Wisconsin-based foundation sued March 2, saying the crosses displayed on Brewster County vehicles represented a government endorsement of Christianity in violation of the First Amendment's prohibition against government favoring one religion over another.
Gov. Greg Abbott disagreed, saying the "crosses neither establish a religion nor threaten any person's ability to worship God, or decline to worship God."
But leaders of the rural county on the Mexican border agreed to ban political, religious, commercial and personal symbols from government vehicles and pay about $22,000 for the foundation's legal fees and court costs.
Baltimore police: 1 relative shoots another after funeral
BALTIMORE (AP) — Baltimore police say one family member shot and injured another at a meal in a church hall after the funeral of their relative.
Police spokesman T.J. Smith said at a news conference that the shooting occurred Tuesday in a hall near the New Song Community Church in west Baltimore. He says family members had gathered at the hall after the funeral of 22-year-old Antonio Addison, who was killed May 25.
Smith says the two men got into an argument in a vestibule just inside the hall, when one man shot the other in the abdomen. Smith says the victim was taken to a hospital and is expected to survive.
Smith expressed frustration about the incident, calling the shooting "senseless" and "ridiculous."
November trial for man charged in church attack
CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — A federal judge says jurors will be picked this fall in the trial of a white man accused of killing nine members of a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina.
Judge Richard Gergel set Nov. 7 as the day to begin selecting jurors for the federal trial of Dylann Roof. His trial could start about two weeks later.
Roof faces numerous federal counts, including hate crimes, in the June 17 shootings at Emanuel AME Church. He attended Tuesday's hearing.
Defense attorneys and federal prosecutors said they felt they had enough time to prepare their case. The trial is estimated to last up to six weeks.
Roof's state trial on murder charges is scheduled for January. Prosecutors in both jurisdictions are seeking the death penalty.
Thai police find tiger slaughter house in temple probe
BANGKOK (AP) — Police investigating Thailand's Tiger Temple have found what they believe was a slaughterhouse and tiger holding facility used in a suspected animal trafficking network.
The discovery Tuesday is the latest in a growing scandal surrounding the Buddhist temple, which was a popular tourist attraction that charged admission for visitors to take photos with the tigers.
Police Col. Montri Pancharoen said officers, acting on a tip, raided a home about 30 miles from the temple in western Thailand and found four live tigers, a dozen empty cages and what appeared to be a slaughterhouse.
Last week, authorities removed more than 137 live tigers from the temple and found 40 dead tiger cubs in a freezer and 20 more preserved in jars.