Religion news in brief

AP News
Posted: Feb 08, 2012 1:38 PM
Religion news in brief

Drug gang banners appear in central Mexico city Pope will visit

MEXICO CITY (AP) _ A drug gang unfurled banners in a Mexican city that Pope Benedict XVI is scheduled to visit next month, telling rival traffickers to keep out and keep the peace during the papal visit next month.

One of the banners was signed by The Knights Templar, a violent, pseudo-religious cartel from the neighboring state of Michoacan. The cloth banners with hand-painted messages were found and quickly removed on Tuesday, a few weeks after the local Roman Catholic archdiocese had issued a public plea to drug gangs not to mar the Pope's visit with violence.

"We just want to warn that we do not want more groups in the state of Guanajuato. Confrontations will be inevitable. You have been warned, New Generation, we want Guanajuato in Peace, so don't think about moving in and much less causing violence, precisely at this time when His Holiness Benedict XVI is coming," according to the sign. Municipal police sent a photo of the banner to The Associated Press.

"New Generation" refers to a rival gang from the neighboring state of Jalisco, which is believed to be allied with the powerful Sinaloa drug cartel. The two groups, along with the Zetas, have been locked in battles in all three states.


Radical Islamist sect claims Nigeria military strikes, denies sending state-run TV a message

LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) _ A radical Islamist sect has claimed responsibility for attacks on military bases in a central Nigerian city at the heart of ethnic and religious unrest in the country.

A spokesman for the sect known as Boko Haram told The Daily Trust newspaper of Nigeria's Muslim north that it carried out Tuesday's attacks on an army and air force base in Kaduna. Military officials say only a bomber was killed in the attack, though witnesses saw soldiers in blood-drenched uniforms.

The sect also denied sending a video message aired Tuesday on the state-run Nigerian Television Authority in which they purportedly accepted an offer to negotiate for peace with the oil-rich nation's weak central government.


Sikh temple under construction in suburban Detroit vandalized with epithets, images

STERLING HEIGHTS, Mich. (AP) _ An advocacy group has asked authorities to investigate the vandalism of a Sikh house of worship under construction in suburban Detroit.

The Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund said Tuesday the vandalism happened in Sterling Heights at the site of the planned gurdwara, or temple. The group says it was vandalized between Sunday evening and Monday morning.

Graffiti included racial epithets, drawings of what appear to be a cross and gun, and references to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Detroit FBI spokesman Simon Shaykhet declined comment.

The temple is expected to be finished this summer.

Sikhism developed in northern India. Sikhs in the U.S. have occasionally been the target of anti-Muslim sentiment because they wear turbans and have beards.


Defendant pleads guilty to assault, averting trial in firebomb case from NY Hasidic village

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (AP) _ A Hasidic teenager pleaded guilty Tuesday to assault, averting a trial in an attempted murder case that brought unusual attention to a religious dispute in a Jewish enclave.

Shaul Spitzer, 18, accepted a plea bargain as jury selection was about to begin at the Rockland County Courthouse in New City. He was accused of severely burning neighbor Aron Rottenberg with a firebomb outside Rottenberg's home in New Square, an insular Hasidic village of 7,000.

Spitzer and Rottenberg were seriously injured on May 22 when the flammable liquid ignited. Rottenberg suffered third-degree burns on half his body. Spitzer had burns on his hands and arms.

Rottenberg claimed in a lawsuit that Spitzer was acting at the direction of the village's chief rabbi, David Twersky. Spitzer occasionally worked for Twersky. Rottenberg alleged that Twersky was angered because Rottenberg had stopped praying at his synagogue.

The rabbi denied involvement, criticized the attack and was not charged. Spitzer's lawyers also said the rabbi was uninvolved.


`I Believe' license plates available in SC, 2 years after lawsuit ruling

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) _ South Carolina drivers can buy religious license plates that feature three crosses and a sunrise, 2 1/2 years after a federal judge declared a previous legislative effort for the "I Believe" tags unconstitutional.

The new tags are sponsored by the nonprofit group as allowed under state law.

The new tag is a nonpolitical way for Christians of all denominations to share their faith, said Adrian Grimes, spokeswoman for the group's upcoming rollout of the plate.

A federal judge ruled in 2009 that "I Believe" tags that legislators created through a state law violated the First Amendment ban on establishment of religion by government. That plate featured a cross and stained glass window.

The new plates show the nonprofit's name across the top, with the letters "JC" between the image of three crosses on a hill and the license number.

A spokesman for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which was among groups that sued over the 2008 law, said it sees no constitutional problem with these plates.

"As long as all groups have the same access to the process, it doesn't raise constitutional issues," said spokesman Joseph Conn.

State law allows nonprofit groups to create specialty plates by either collecting 400 prepaid applications or making a $4,000 deposit.


Fire destroys barn storing items salvaged from Ohio church that burned in suspected arson

MARYSVILLE, Ohio (AP) _ There's more bad news for members of a central Ohio church where authorities believe a man drove a stolen car into the building, set a fire and watched from a nearby playground swing as the facility burned last month.

WBNS-TV reports New Horizons Baptist Church in Marysville lost more when a fire was reported early Monday at a barn that contained items salvaged from the church site.

The state fire marshal's says the barn and its contents were destroyed. The fire has been ruled accidental and started in a wall near an electrical outlet.

Jail records show the 30-year-old Philadelphia man suspected in the January church arson remained in custody early Monday.

No injuries were reported from either fire.