Update on the latest religion news

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By AP

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Updated: Wed, 15 Jan 2014 04:15:50 EST

SUPREME COURT-ABORTION BUFFER ZONE

Protests at abortion clinics back at high court

WASHINGTON (AP) — The regulation of protests outside abortion clinics returns to the Supreme Court today for the first time since 2000.

The state of Massachusetts is defending a law that prohibits abortion protests any closer than 35 feet from the entrance to clinics.

Abortion opponents hoping to dissuade women from ending their pregnancies filed suit, saying the law limits their ability to encounter patients arriving for care. But federal courts in Massachusetts have upheld the law as a reasonable imposition on protesters' rights. In 2000, the Supreme Court voted 6-3 to uphold a different buffer zone in Colorado.

State officials and clinic employees say the buffer zones make patients and staff feel safer and find it easier to enter abortion clinics.

The Rev. Harry Knox, president of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, says the law protects women from harassment as they exercise their rights.

But the Rev. Patrick Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition, says he prays the Supreme Court will find that the law unconstitutionally suppresses free speech.

Sound:

284-a-11-(The Rev. Patrick Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition, in AP interview)-"talk to them"-The Rev. Patrick Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition, says the buffer zones violate the free speech rights of people who want to persuade women not to have abortions. (14 Jan 2014)

<<CUT *284 (01/14/14)££ 00:11 "talk to them"

283-a-10-(The Rev. Patrick Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition, in AP interview)-"on this subject"-The Rev. Patrick Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition, says abortion rights should not negate the free speech rights of opponents. (14 Jan 2014)

<<CUT *283 (01/14/14)££ 00:10 "on this subject"

287-a-13-(The Rev. Harry Knox, president of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, in AP interview)-"or spiritual violence"-The Rev. Harry Knox, president of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, says buffer zones around abortion clinics protect women from harassment by protesters. (14 Jan 2014)

<<CUT *287 (01/14/14)££ 00:13 "or spiritual violence"

288-a-08-(The Rev. Harry Knox, president of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, in AP interview)-"the Massachusetts law"-The Rev. Harry Knox, president of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, says buffer zones are a reasonable imposition on free speech rights. (14 Jan 2014)

<<CUT *288 (01/14/14)££ 00:08 "the Massachusetts law"

285-a-14-(The Rev. Patrick Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition, in AP interview)-"into a clinic"-The Rev. Patrick Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition, says he has been arrested for entering buffer zones like those in the Massachusetts law. (14 Jan 2014)

<<CUT *285 (01/14/14)££ 00:14 "into a clinic"

286-a-12-(The Rev. Harry Knox, president of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, in AP interview)-"accessing medical services"-The Rev. Harry Knox, president of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, says laws creating buffer zones balance free speech with other constitutional rights. (14 Jan 2014)

<<CUT *286 (01/14/14)££ 00:12 "accessing medical services"

GAY TEACHER FIRED

Gay Ohio teacher: I knew engagement could cost job

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — An Ohio band and choir director says he knew that announcing his engagement to another man likely would mean he could no longer teach at a Roman Catholic school because of the church's teachings on marriage.

Brian Panetta said he was forced to resign last week after he told administrators at Sandusky Central Catholic School about his engagement over the Christmas break.

In a letter to people associated with the school, Panetta calls himself "a proud and gay Catholic" who hopes the church will change its teachings on marriage.

Two other teachers at Catholic schools in Ohio have recently fought their firings over actions that administrators said went against teachings of the church.

A lesbian teacher who challenged her firing by a school in Columbus didn't get her job back. Carla Hale and the Diocese of Columbus reached an undisclosed settlement.

A jury in June found the Archdiocese of Cincinnati discriminated against a teacher who was fired after becoming pregnant via artificial insemination. Christa Dias, who isn't Catholic, was awarded more than $170,000 after winning a federal anti-discrimination lawsuit against the archdiocese.

Sound:

217-c-12-(John Seewer (SEE'-wur), AP correspondent)-"he actually resigned"-AP correspondent John Seewer reports that the gay teacher knew his engagement violated Catholic teachings. (14 Jan 2014)

<<CUT *217 (01/14/14)££ 00:12 "he actually resigned"

218-c-08-(John Seewer (SEE'-wur), AP correspondent)-"teachings on marriage"-AP correspondent John Seewer reports officials at the Catholic high school asked for the gay teacher's resignation. (14 Jan 2014)

<<CUT *218 (01/14/14)££ 00:08 "teachings on marriage"

216-c-10-(John Seewer (SEE'-wur), AP correspondent)-"the Christmas holiday"-AP correspondent John Seewer reports that a teacher who got engaged to his boyfriend has been forced to resign from a Catholic high school in Sandusky, Ohio. (14 Jan 2014)

<<CUT *216 (01/14/14)££ 00:10 "the Christmas holiday"

OKLAHOMA-SACRED ARROW PLATE

Judge rejects minister's claim on Oklahoma plate

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A federal judge has rejected a claim by an Oklahoma minister that the image on the state's license plate of a young Apache warrior shooting an arrow skyward conveys a religious message that is counter to his Christian beliefs.

U.S. District Judge Joe Heaton dismissed the claim filed against the state by Bethany pastor Keith Cressman.

Heaton wrote there is nothing about the image that suggests the Indian warrior is praying or that the arrow he is shooting is sacred, even though the image is inspired by artist Allan Houser's "Sacred Rain Arrow" sculpture.

Cressman claimed the license plate is an affront to his Christian beliefs and that being forced to display the image on his vehicle violated his First Amendment right against compelled speech.

CHURCH FIRE-NEBRASKA

Electrical problem sparked fire at SE Neb. church

SYRACUSE, Neb. (AP) — Officials say a flaw in a Nebraska church's electrical system caused the fire that destroyed the century-old church this month.

Syracuse Fire Chief Bruce Neemann told the Lincoln Journal Star that investigators determined that an electrical failure in the attic of the Syracuse United Methodist Church caused the Jan. 5 fire.

The church in the town of less than 2,000 people 25 miles southeast of Lincoln is a total loss.

On Sunday, about 120 people met for worship in a local coffee house. The church plans to meet at the United Methodist Church in Unadilla for the next three weeks.

The Rev. Gary Ganger says his congregation is in good spirits. The church is planning to rent a downtown storefront to use as a temporary location for at least the next year.

KERRY-VATICAN

Kerry visits papal diplomat to talk Mideast peace

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Intrigued by signals of an invigorated papal diplomacy, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has enlisted a new ally in his push for Mideast peace.

In a brief visit to the Vatican Tuesday, Kerry did not meet with Pope Francis but said he had wide-ranging discussions with the pope's chief diplomat.

Kerry is the first American Roman Catholic secretary of state to visit the Vatican since Edmund Muskie more than 30 years ago. He told reporters, "As an altar boy as a young kid, I would never have imagined that I would have been crossing the threshold of the Vatican to meet, as Secretary of State, with the Secretary of State of the Holy See."

Noting that the pope plans to visit the Holy Land in May, Kerry vowed to keep Francis informed on "what progress there may be in the peace process." Kerry said the Vatican also will want to ensure that future agreements guarantee "freedom of access for religious worship in Jerusalem for all religions."

Sound:

146-a-12-(Secretary of State John Kerry, at news conference)-"the Holy See"-Secretary of State John Kerry says it was a personal honor to meet with his counterpart at the Vatican to discuss issues of mutual interest. (14 Jan 2014)

<<CUT *146 (01/14/14)££ 00:12 "the Holy See"

147-a-15-(Secretary of State John Kerry, at news conference)-"pope's comments yesterday"-Secretary of State John Kerry says he and his Vatican counterpart discussed the civil strife in Syria and the pope's support for the upcoming Geneva Two conference on Syria. (14 Jan 2014)

<<CUT *147 (01/14/14)££ 00:15 "pope's comments yesterday"

149-a-15-(Secretary of State John Kerry, at news conference)-"a peaceful resolution"-Secretary of State John Kerry says he and the Vatican secretary of state discussed problems in Sudan, where there's a large Roman Catholic population. ((note audio garble as fed from site)) (14 Jan 2014)

<<CUT *149 (01/14/14)££ 00:15 "a peaceful resolution"

148-a-11-(Secretary of State John Kerry, at news conference)-"the peace process"-Secretary of State John Kerry says he briefed the Vatican secretary of state on the status of the Middle East peace effort, in view of the pope's upcoming visit to Israel, the Palestinian territories and Jordan. ((note audio garble at end as fed from site)) (14 Jan 2014)

<<CUT *148 (01/14/14)££ 00:11 "the peace process"

VATICAN-UN-ABUSE

Vatican facing UN showdown on sex abuse record

VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican faces a stiff challenge of its abuse record tomorrow as it defends itself publicly for the first time against allegations it enabled the rape of thousands of children by protecting pedophile priests.

The Holy See will be grilled by a U.N. committee in Geneva on its implementation of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The Holy See ratified the convention in 1990 and submitted a first implementation report in 1994. But it didn't provide progress reports for nearly a decade, and only submitted one in 2012 after the 2010 explosion of abuse cases in Europe and beyond.

Victims groups and human rights organizations are providing written testimony outlining what they say is the global scale of the problem.

VATICAN-COSTLY SAINTS

Vatican puts cap on costs for sainthood cases

VATICAN CITY (AP) — How much does it cost to become a saint?

The Vatican said Tuesday it has put a cap of sorts on the often-spiraling budgets for sainthood cases, another nod to Pope Francis's call for sobriety.

Cardinal Angelo Amato, head of the Vatican's saint-making office, announced the change during a meeting Monday of postulators, the officials who shepherd sainthood cases through the lengthy investigations of would-be saints' lives and miracles.

He said postulators must now abide by a "reference price" to curb overall expenditure and make the process more equitable for less well-funded cases.

It's no secret that cases supported by wealthy donors often move faster through the process since more resources can be put toward the investigations.

Francis has said he wants a "poor church for the poor."

CHURCH ABUSE-STOCKTON

Former Stockton priest charged with child abuse

STATIONS: Note nature of language in criminal charge in 2nd graf

SAN ANDREAS, Calif. (AP) — A Roman Catholic priest who spent 39 years at parishes in the Diocese of Stockton, Calif., has been indicted on criminal child molestation charges.

A Calaveras County grand jury indicted the Rev. Michael Kelly on Monday on three counts of lewd and lascivious conduct on a child and one count of oral copulation.

Prosecutors allege the abuse started when the victim was 10 years old and a parishioner at St. Andrew's Catholic Church in San Andreas.

District Attorney Barbara Yook says her office will work to have Kelly extradited from Ireland, where he fled in 2012 after a civil jury found him liable for raping a former altar boy at St. Joachim's Church in Lockeford during the 1980s.

The Stockton Diocese paid $3.5 million in damages in that case and is planning to file for bankruptcy this week.

BRITAIN-AFGHAN ATHEIST

Afghan atheist granted religious asylum in Britain

LONDON (AP) — Lawyers for a young Afghan man say he has been granted asylum in Britain because he is an atheist who could face death in his homeland.

Lawyers for the man, who has not been identified, say he came to Britain at age 16 in 2007 and gradually lost his Muslim faith. They said that if he returned to Afghanistan he could face death for renouncing Islam, a crime under Shariah law.

Claire Splawn, a University of Kent law student who helped prepare the man's case, said protection from religious persecution should also apply to atheists. The Home Office said it did not comment on individual cases.

Lawyer Sheona Yorke, who worked on the case, said Tuesday that this is believed to be the first case of its type in Britain.

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