Religion news in brief

AP News
Posted: Mar 14, 2012 2:13 PM
Religion news in brief

Omaha City Council passes extended anti-bias protections to gay, transgender people

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) _ The Omaha City Council has approved an ordinance that would extend protections to gay and transgender people.

The proposal, put forward by Councilman Ben Gray, would apply to employers, employment agencies, job training programs, labor groups, public accommodations and businesses that contract with the city. It also would provide exemptions for religious groups.

A similar proposal failed in October 2010 on a 3-3 vote, but passed Tuesday 4-3.

Nebraska's anti-discrimination laws and federal regulations don't extend protection to gay and transgender people.

Backers argued the proposal would make Omaha a more welcoming city to a diverse workforce. Opponents countered that the proposals would add an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy and open up businesses to lawsuits.

Testimony to the City Council last week from Nebraska Cornhuskers assistant football coach Ron Brown, who opposed the measure based on his Christian faith, drew a rebuke from University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Harvey Perlman. Perlman said Brown should have made clear his views were his own and not the university's. Brown apologized for giving the City Council the university's football stadium address as his personal address.

Council members discussed the ordinance for more than an hour before passing the measure, which survived a motion by Councilman Franklin Thompson to amend it to protect only against discrimination based on sexual orientation, dropping any reference to gender identity.

Thompson voted against the measure Tuesday, as did City Council members Tom Mulligan and Jean Stothert.

Thompson drew both laughter and some gasps as he grappled out loud with his decision. At one point, he said he had determined from his own observations that of every 10 gay, lesbian or transgendered people, "I believe that four are born that way, and six are choosing." Thompson, who is black, also compared gay and transgender rights to the civil rights movement, saying, "We didn't get all our rights in 17 months. It was a process."

Mayor Jim Suttle said in a statement that he would sign the ordinance into law.

"Omaha is a city that welcomes diversity, embraces fresh ideas and is open for business to everyone," Suttle said. "Allowing discrimination in our city is wrong-for our citizens and our businesses."


Man pleads not guilty in Hasidic Village car fire

RAMAPO, N.Y. (AP) _ A man has surrendered to face charges he set ablaze a car that belonged to a dissident member of a Hasidic Jewish community in suburban New York.

Aron Fromowitz pleaded not guilty to arson and criminal mischief charges on Tuesday.

He is accused of setting fire to Aron Rottenberg's car last Thursday.

Rottenberg told police Fromowitz had been drinking and celebrating the Jewish festival of Purim, the Journal News reported. Fromowitz works for the grande rebbe's kitchen and once prayed with Rottenberg.

Last May, Rottenberg was severely burned with a firebomb outside his home in New Square. He said he was attacked because he refused to pray in Grand Rabbi David Twersky's synagogue. Shaul Spitzer, 18, pleaded guilty to first-degree assault in that attack.


Fired CFO of Philadelphia Catholic archdiocese charged in $900K theft

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ A former financial executive of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia has been charged with stealing over $900,000 from the church.

Anita Guzzardi, 42, surrendered Tuesday, city prosecutors said. She was fired in July, weeks after becoming chief financial officer. Guzzardi used hundreds of church checks to pay personal credit card bills from 2005 to 2011, according to prosecutors. The investigation began when American Express contacted authorities.

Guzzardi's lawyer did not respond to request for comment Tuesday.

The Haddon Heights, N.J., woman had worked for the Roman Catholic archdiocese since 1989.

Prosecutors say they've recovered about $150,000 for the church. The archdiocese says insurance will pay for most of the remaining losses.


Hawaii reaches $100K out-of-court settlement in lawsuit by protester who objected to prayer

HONOLULU (AP) _ Hawaii will pay $100,000 to settle a lawsuit by a protester who was dragged out of the state Senate when he objected to a prayer.

Mitchell Kahle is founder of the Hawaii Citizens for the Separation of State and Church. His friend Kevin Hughes videotaped Senate Sergeant-At-Arms Ben Villaflor pulling on Kahle's arm in April 2010 after he objected to an opening prayer. Kahle was then hustled outside and seen on the ground with Villaflor and three uniformed deputies on top of him.

Hughes claims sergeant-at-arms employees attacked him and broke his camera.

The attorney representing both men told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that the lawsuit establishes that nonviolent protest and filming in public should not be met with force.


Nation's oldest Portuguese Catholic parish in New Bedford closing, merging with nearby church

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. (AP) _ A New Bedford church that's been home to oldest Portuguese Roman Catholic parish in North America is closing.

The Diocese of Fall River announced Monday that St. John the Baptist church will close and the parish will be merged with Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

St. John the Baptist Parish was established by the Boston Archdiocese in 1871 to serve the area's burgeoning Portuguese-speaking population. The current building dates to 1913.

A diocese spokesman said the church was selected for closure because of deep debt and declining membership. The parish needs $1.5 million in repairs.

The Rev. John Oliveira, pastor of both parishes, said the news was received at last weekend's Masses with great sadness. No date for a closure has been set.