A court in northern China has sentenced five leaders of an unauthorized Protestant church to prison terms of up to seven years on charges including illegal assembly, rights groups reported.
The sentences are among the harshest in recent years for members of house churches _ congregations that refuse to register and accept the authority of the government's Religious Affairs Bureau.
Arrests stemmed from a Sept. 13 raid by police and hired security guards on sunrise services held by the 50,000-member Linfen Fushan Church in Linfen, northern Shanxi province, according to a Nov. 26 report from rights groups and the advocacy Web site Boxun.com.
Those sentenced by the Linfen Intermediate Court included the church's pastor Wang Xiaoguang and his wife Yang Rongli, who both received the maximum sentence. Yang was apparently targeted for her efforts to petition local authorities on Wang's behalf, Boxun said. Others were given sentences of between three and four-and-a-half-years, it said.
The trial was called at the last minute and the court permitted only one family member of each defendant to attend, the reports said. Local authorities had previously refused to allow lawyers to meet with the accused.
The reports said the five were convicted on two charges: "illegal land occupation" and "assembling a crowd to disrupt public order." No other details were given. Monitoring groups frequently cite such charges as evidence of government harassment of nonofficial churches.
Descendants of late Boston cardinal fight agreement to move remains to suburban school
BOSTON (AP) _ Descendants of a Boston Roman Catholic cardinal are fighting a plan to move his remains from land once owned by the Archdiocese of Boston to a suburban school he founded.
Twenty-two members of Cardinal William O'Connell's family have signed a court filing objecting to the "irreparable damage to the mortal remains of the cardinal" if the move occurs.
The Catholic church sold the land to Boston College, in part to pay for settlements with victims of clergy sex abuse.
The archdiocese is obligated to relocate the remains as part of the sales agreement. The archdiocese will lose $2 million to Boston College if it fails to remove the cardinal and the mausoleum in which he was entombed.
The plan is to bury the remains at a Catholic school in Needham he founded in 1941. O'Connell died in 1944.
Inmate wins appeal of New Jersey ban on preaching; claimed it violated religious freedom
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) _ A New Jersey convict won a settlement that allows him to preach at services inside the prison.
Howard Thompson Jr. is an inmate at the New Jersey State Prison and an ordained Pentecostal minister. He had been conducting weekly worship services until prison officials issued a 2007 ban on inmate preaching.
The American Civil Liberties Union said Tuesday that it had filed a federal lawsuit on his behalf seeking to lift the ban on the grounds that it restricted his religious freedom.
The settlement applies only to Thompson. The 45-year-old is serving a sentence of 30 years to life for felony murder and robbery.
Iraq: Liquor ban lifted in southern province Basra
BAGHDAD (AP) _ Officials in the southern province of Basra say they are lifting a four-month-old ban on alcohol.
The spokesman for the Basra provincial council, Hashim Aleibi, says the decision Tuesday came after opponents argued the ban violated rights for personal freedoms and denied non-Muslims the ability to buy and consume liquor.
The liquor ban took effect in August in the mostly Shiite Basra region, which includes Iraq's second-largest city. In October, alcohol also was outlawed in the province of Najaf, which has some of the holiest Shiite sites in Iraq.
Drinking liquor violates Islamic law. Alcohol is available in most Iraqi cities in stores generally owned by Christians. But some liquor stores have been attacked.
Christian group to pay off $10K in strangers' parking tickets
BOISE, Idaho (AP) _ A Christian group will once again camp out in front of City Hall and offer to pay off up to $10,000 dollars in parking tickets for any passers-by.
Organizers say the Dec. 12 event is an example of how easy it is to receive God's grace.
The Grace Gift Parable giveaway was first held in 2004, when Treasure Valley church leaders doled out nearly $7,500 to delinquent parkers, including one woman who arrived with more than a dozen tickets.
Montie Ralstin, Jr., the pastor at Boise Valley Christian Communion, says the event is to help people understand that even though they've made mistakes, forgiveness is available.
The $10,000 for this year's event was donated by area businesses and the Christian Churches of the Treasure Valley.