Ex-Sarkozy aide lashes out at debate on Islam
PARIS (AP) _ French President Nicolas Sarkozy's ousted adviser on diversity called the president's conservative party the "plague of Muslims" amid a growing furor over its plans to debate Islam's role in France.
Even Prime Minister Francois Fillon, a prominent member of the governing UMP party, is distancing himself from its debate next week on secularism and religion in France. Fillon said Thursday he won't take part.
Many of the debate's critics fear it could lead to the stigmatization of French Muslims. Its backers say it is needed to reaffirm France's secular traditions and address evolutions in French society _ such as a growing demand for mosques and Islamic butchers _ in a country with western Europe's largest Muslim population.
Sarkozy fired his diversity adviser Abderrahmane Dahmane last month after Dahmane criticized the debate.
In an interview Thursday, Dahmane told The Associated Press that he wants to rally Muslims against the UMP and its leader, Jean-Francois Cope, in charge of the debate.
"We are going to engage the whole (Muslim) community against Jean-Francois Cope and against his party. Cope's UMP is the plague of Muslims," he said.
Dahmane is a controversial figure of Algerian descent who has called on French Muslims to wear a green star Tuesday in a sign of protest, similar to the yellow star that Jews were forced to wear under Nazi occupation.
Investor buys Zubaran paintings from Anglican Church _ and then donates them back
LONDON (AP) _ A wealthy investor has bought a series of 17th century religious paintings from the Anglican church Thursday for 15 million pounds ($24 million) and then gave them back so they can remain on public display.
The Francisco de Zubaran paintings of Jacob and his sons have been kept at Auckland Castle, the bishop's palace in Durham, northeast England, since 1756. But earlier this year, the Church of England put the paintings up for sale in hopes of using the money to fund church ministry in poorer areas of England.
Thousands of people in the region signed a petition asking that the paintings remain at the castle, and a campaign was organized to keep them in Britain.
Jonathan Ruffer, a 59-year-old investor who is from the area, bought the religiously themed pictures, even though he had never seen them. Talks are now on to see if access to the pictures _ and the castle _ can be expanded.
Ruffer said it was important to protect the historic pieces of art. Twelve of the paintings were completed between 1640 and 1645 by Zurbaran and the 13th, a portrait of Jacob's youngest son, Benjamin, was done by copyist Arthur Pond.
Unattended lamp blamed for Provo Tabernacle fire
PROVO, Utah (AP) _ An unattended 300-watt lamp is being blamed for a massive four-alarm fire that destroyed the historic Provo Tabernacle in December.
Provo police released a report Thursday tracing the fire to the Tabernacle attic, where the lamp was left on a wood speaker after choir practice late Dec. 16.
Investigators also blamed human error for the spread of the fire _ including failure to properly place smoke detectors and inattention by building managers after an alarm sounded.
Flames gutted the landmark structure with octagonal corner towers.
The building dates to the 1890s. It was as a meeting house for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.
Church officials haven't said what will happen to the building.
Calif. theater firm rejects name of Jesus in Easter ad
ALISO VIEJO, Calif. (AP) _ A movie theater ad firm has rejected a Southern California church bid to advertise its Easter service because it uses the name of Jesus.
Compass Bible Church pastor Mike Fabarez says he tried to pay for an ad to run at a local movie theater for the Aliso Viejo congregation's annual Easter service at the University of California, Irvine, Bren Center. The ad is aimed at attracting nonbelievers to the service.
NCM Media Networks, which handles pre-show advertising for many Orange County theaters, gave Fabarez content guidelines, which prohibits nudity, drug use and promotion of religious figures.
The Orange County Register says NCM Media released a statement explaining the ad was rejected because Compass Bible Church chose not to revise the ad to meet content guidelines.
Bishops criticize popular book about God
NEW YORK (AP) _ A committee of American Roman Catholic bishops says a popular book about God shouldn't be used in Catholic schools and university because it doesn't uphold church doctrine.
The book is "Quest for the Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God" by Sister Elizabeth A. Johnson, a theologian at New York's Fordham University.
The committee on doctrine said in a statement Wednesday that Sister Johnson used "standards from outside the faith ... to revise in a radical fashion the conception of God."
The author said in a statement that the committee had misinterpreted her book. She said she tried "to present new insights about God arising from people living out their Catholic faith in different cultures."