Monday, March 31, 2014

Kerry May Release Pollard to Extend Peace Talks; Freeing Israeli Spy Could Sway Israel to "Table"

Secretary of State John Kerry rushed back to the Middle East today (March 31, 2014) to try to salvage peace talks -- possibly by releasing Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard to push Israel to free Palestinian prisoners -- the Forward (Jewish) website reports.

Requesting anonymity, a U.S. official said the release of Pollard -- who has been serving a life sentence in the United States since 1987 for spying for Israel -- was "on the table" as a possible element in a Middle East peace deal as an incentive to Israel.

Kerry -- who flew to Israel from Paris -- held two-hour talks in Jerusalem today with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Sources close to the talks -- who declined to be identified -- said that under the proposed arrangement to extend the negotiations beyond April, Pollard, now 59, would be freed before the start of Passover in two weeks. However, when asked today about Pollard's possible early release from prison, White House spokesman Jay Carney indicated only that Pollard was convicted of espionage and is serving his life sentence.

Man Swept to Sea During Calif. Baptism Ceremony; Firefighters and US Coast Guard Searched for Him

A man remains missing after he was swept out to sea yesterday morning during a California baptism ceremony, the Raw Story website reports today (March 31, 2014).

Mauro Cervantes -- pastor of Santa Maria Church of Jesus Christ Light of the Sky -- said the 43-year-old man and two others were swept out into the Pacific Ocean just before 10 a.m. at the Rancho Guadalupe Dunes Preserve. The two others returned safely to shore, Cervantes said.

The pastor added that about 25 people attended the baptism ceremony, which the church performs two or three times a year.

Firefighters and the U.S. Coast Guard searched for the missing man, whose name has not been released.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

EXCLUSIVE: Israel Will Free 400 Pal. Prisoners; But PA Must Extend Peace Talks for 6 Months

Israel has offered to release a new group of 400 Palestinian security prisoners -- in addition to the fourth and final group of longtime terrorism convicts who were set to go free this weekend -- if the Palestinian Authority (PA) agrees to extend peace talks for another six months, The Times of Israel website reports exclusively today (March 30, 2014). The United States -- anxious to arrange for the continuation of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks -- supports the offer.

As of last night, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was insisting that the fourth group of longtime prisoners first be released before he would consider extending the talks beyond their current April 29, 2014 deadline.

Israel has refused to free the final group of some 26 prisoners -- whom the PA insists must include several Israeli Arabs -- unless Abbas first agrees to extend the talks. Israel has also balked at releasing Israeli Arabs.

Under the new Israeli offer, Israel would determine which additional 400 security prisoners would go free, sources said. Israel is believed to be holding close to 5,000 Palestinian security prisoners.

Taliban Attack Election Commission HQ in Kabul; Police Kill All 5 Armed Militants Wearing Burqas

Taliban militants attacked the main Afghan election commission's headquarters in Kabul yesterday -- the latest in a series of audacious assaults threatening to scare voters away just a week before Afghans go to the polls -- the Washington Times website reports today (March 30, 2014).

It was the third attack in Kabul in five days claimed by the Taliban. The Islamic militant movement has promised a campaign of violence to disrupt the April 5 elections to choose the country's next president and provincial council members.

The five attackers disguised themselves as women -- wearing the all-encompassing burqa -- to sneak unnoticed into a building that overlooked the heavily fortified Independent Election Commission's headquarters on the eastern edge of the capital, officials said.

Afghan police killed all five militants after a four-hour standoff, Deputy Interior Minister Mohammad Ayub Salangi said. Two policemen were wounded in the firefight after security forces surrounded the building. None of the dozens of employees and other people -- who had been hiding inside the election commission headquarters -- was injured, Salangi added.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Suicide Bomber Explodes Car in Eastern Lebanon; One Killed, Several Wounded in Arsal Near Syria

Lebanese security officials say a suicide car bomb exploded today (March 29, 2014) at an army checkpoint in eastern Lebanon near the Syrian border, killing at least one soldier and wounding several others, the VOA News website reports.

Today's attack took place in the border town of Arsal, which has seen a spillover from the Syrian civil war.

The region is home to thousands of Syrian refugees, as well as Syrian rebels and their allies, who have fled a Syrian army offensive aimed at securing towns and villages along the Lebanese border.

The Lebanese militant group Hezbollah has been fighting alongside forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Egypt Muslims Kill 4 at Coptic Orthodox Church; Muslim Radicals Often Go into Frenzy on Fridays

Muslim protesters in Egypt attacked a Coptic Orthodox Christian Church yesterday in the Cairo suburb of Ain Shams, killing four people, the Spero Forum website reports today (March 29, 2014).

Among the dead are a 25-year-old journalist and a Coptic Christian worshiper.

When Egyptian security forces intervened, violence spread throughout the surrounding neighborhood.

Muslim radicals are frequently whipped up into frenzy by their religious leaders on Fridays when they gather for Islamic prayer.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Study: Being Married Makes for a Healthy Heart; Divorced, Widowed Linked to Higher Heart Disease

Being married makes for a healthy heart, while being divorced or widowed is linked to higher rates of cardiovascular disease, according to a study of 3.5 million people released today (March 28, 2014), the AFP (Agence France-Presse) website reports.

The study is the largest of its kind to show heart health is linked to marital status, and was presented at the American College of Cardiology conference.

People who were divorced had a higher likelihood of any vascular disease, abdominal aortic aneurysm, coronary artery disease, and cerebrovascular disease when compared to single people, according to the study.

Widowers showed slightly higher odds of any vascular disease and coronary artery disease, also when compared to people who had never been married.

"The study demonstrates that other risk factors, such as smoking and obesity, hypertension, diabetes, and being sedentary also increases with being divorced or widowed," said Suzanne Steinbaum, director, women and heart disease, at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York.

Taliban Storm Kabul Guesthouse, Hold 4 Hostage; Afghan Child Killed, Security Forces Kill Taliban

Taliban gunmen stormed a Kabul guesthouse used by a U.S.-based aid group and held four foreigners hostage for several hours today (March 28, 2014) -- just eight days before Afghanistan holds a presidential election which the military group has vowed to derail -- the Reuters website reports.

Kabul is already on high alert and people across Afghanistan are on edge ahead of an April 5 vote that the hardline Islamist movement has denounced as a Western-backed sham.

The siege of the walled compound -- which is also home to a small church -- lasted several hours before Afghan security forces killed the last remaining Taliban gunman holed up inside.

At least one Afghan child was killed when a suicide bomber blew himself up outside the building and the insurgents forced their way in. There were no foreign casualties.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Kerry,Abbas Debate Dubious Mideast Peace Talks; Meet 4 Hours, Deadline for Agreement Is April 30

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met today (March 27, 2014) with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in a bid to salvage foundering Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that were dealt a herculean blow recently, when Arab leaders said they never would recognize Israel as a Jewish state, the Newsmax World website reports.

Kerry and Abbas spoke for more than four hours over a working dinner in the Jordanian capital of Amman that U.S. officials said were "constructive." No other details of the meeting were released. Kerry has planned further talks with Abbas and with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the coming days.

Kerry flew from Rome to Amman today to see Abbas as negotiations approached a critical April 30, 2014 deadline for a settlement. The Palestinians have threatened to walk away before then unless Israel releases a group of prisoners -- as it had promised when the peace talks began last year -- by March 30.

Speaking to reporters earlier today in Kuwait, Abbas said he was still waiting to receive a formal framework proposal from Kerry. He added there have been no talks of extending the peace negotiations beyond the April deadline, adding that the coming month would be "a very important period" for agreeing to an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement.

Ukrainian Jews Slam Putin in a NY Times Ad; Assert He's a Liar, Rip Anti-Semitism in Russia

Leading Ukrainian Jews have posted a full-page ad in The New York Times slamming Russian President Vladimir Putin for maligning the treatment of Jews in Ukraine, the JTA (Jewish Telegraphic Agency) website reports today (March 27, 2014).

The ad -- which also appeared in Canada's National Post, Israel's Daily Haaretz, and the International New York Times -- is addressed to Putin and accuses him of spreading lies about how Jews and other minorities are treated in Ukraine.

"The Russian-speaking citizens of Ukraine are not being humiliated or discriminated against, their civil rights have not been limited," the letter says. "Your certainty of the growth of anti-Semitism in Ukraine also does not correspond to the actual facts. It seems you have confused Ukraine with Russia, where Jewish organizations have noticed growth in anti-Semitic tendencies last year."

The letter was signed by a host of businessmen, public figures, scholars, and artists. The lead signatory is Josef Zissels, chairman of the Association of Jewish Communities and Organizations of Ukraine, known as the Vaad.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Syrian Forces Kill 500 Rebels in a Raging Battle; Fighting Ongoing in Latakia Province Near Turkey

At least 500 rebel fighters have been killed in a raging battle with President Bashar al-Assad's forces as the fierce fighting continued today (March 26, 2014) in Syria's coastal Latakia province near the Turkish border, the Big News Network website reports.

Rebel fighters had seized a frontier crossing in Syria's northwestern province of Latakia, triggering fierce battle with the regime forces, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said today.

The el-Watan newspaper published from Cairo said the clashes have continued, claiming the lives of over 500 rebels.

Most of the dead militants were Saudis and Chechens, according to the newspaper.

Christian School Shames Girl, 8, for Boyish Look; Says Girl's Haircut, Attire Reject Biblical Lifestyle

Eight-year-old Sunnie Kahle recently left her private Christian school in Lynchburg, Virginia to attend public school, after the administration complained that her appearance was not female enough, the Christian Headlines website reports today (March 26, 2014).

Sunnie has a short haircut and enjoys wearing t-shirts and jeans. The school administration believes that this confuses other children and does not coincide with the "biblical lifestyle" the school promotes.

Timberlake Christian Schools (TCS) elementary principal Becky Bowman sent Kahle's great-grandmother and legal guardian Doris Thompson a letter stating the school's religious beliefs and included Bible passages referencing sexual immorality.

"We believe that unless Sunnie and her family clearly understand that God has made her female and her dress and behavior need to follow suit with her God-ordained identity, that TCS is not the best place for her future education," Bowman wrote.

Thompson said she found the letter offensive. "To claim that we are condoning sexual immorality in our home is nonsense," Thompson said. "We are Christians. We understand the Bible. Sunnie knows it very well. She has accepted Christ."

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Ukrainian Greek Catholic Worshipers Flee Crimea; Russian Arrests, Prop. Seizures Intimidate Them

Members of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) are fleeing Crimea to escape threats of arrest and property seizures by Russian forces, according to a priest in the Black Sea peninsula recently annexed by Russia, the Catholic News website reports today (March 25, 2014).

"The situation remains very serious, and we don't know what will happen -- the new government here is portraying us all as nationalists and extremists," said Fr. Mykhailo Milchakovskyi, a parish rector and military chaplain from Kerch, Crimea.

He said that officials from Russia's FSB (Federal Security Service) had called him in for questioning about his community and to ask whether he "recognized the new order." He added that he and his family -- and at least two-thirds of his parishioners -- had left Kerch for Ukrainian-controlled territory on the advice of UGCC Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych.

"All my parishioners are patriotic Ukrainians who love their Crimean homeland. But Russia is now seeking to drive us out," Fr. Milchakovskyi said today.

Tymoshenko:No Crimea for Russia If I Were PM; She'd "Find a Way to Finish Off These Bastards"

Ukraine's former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko -- who served three years in jail for abuse of power before being released last month -- was plunged into fresh controversy today (March 25, 2014) after Russian television broadcast a tape where she is heard urging the "wiping out" of Russians over Moscow's seizure of Crimea, the Yahoo News website reports.

"One has to take up arms and go wipe out these damn 'katsaps' together with their leader," Tymoshenko -- perhaps best known for her neatly braided blonde hairdo --  said in Russian. The word "katsaps" is a derogatory Ukrainian term for Russians.

During the leaked phone call, Tymoshenko discusses Russia's seizure of Ukraine's peninsula of Crimea with Ukrainian MP (Member of Parliament) and former government official Nestor Shufrych. She told him if she were in power, Moscow would not be able to take the peninsula.

Tymoshenko said, "I am sorry that I am not able to be there and I am not in charge of these processes; they wouldn't have had a f.....g chance of getting Crimea off me. I would have found a way to finish off these bastards," the 53-year-old leader of the 2004 pro-democracy Orange revolution was heard saying.

She added, "I am hoping that I will use all my connections and will get the whole world to rise up so that not even scorched earth would be left of Russia."

Monday, March 24, 2014

Card.:Obama's Policies Hostile toward Christians; Says Obama Backs Anti-Life, Anti-Family Policies

The Vatican's chief justice believes that President Barack Obama's policies have been hostile toward Christians, the Drudge Report website reports today (March 24, 2014).

In an interview with the Catholic magazine "Polonia Christiana," Cardinal Raymond Burke said that Obama "promotes anti-life and anti-family policies."

"It is true that the policies of the president of the United States have become progressively more hostile toward Christian civilization. He appears to be a totally secularized man who aggressively promotes anti-life and anti-family policies," Burke told the magazine.

Burke -- the former archbishop of St. Louis -- stated that Obama is trying to "restrict" religion. "Now he wants to restrict the exercise of the freedom of religion to freedom of worship; that is, he holds that one is free to act according to his conscience within the confines of his place of worship but that, once the person leaves the place of worship, the government can constrain him to act against his rightly-formed conscience, even in the most serious of moral questions," Burke said.

Egyptian Court Sentences 529 in Nation to Death; Members of Muslim Brotherhood Are Sentenced

An Egyptian court sentenced to death 529 members of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood today (March 24, 2014) on a variety of charges, including murdering a police officer and attacking police, according to the Washington Post website.

Among the accused are several key figures of deposed President Mohamed Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, one of whom is spiritual leader Mohammed Badie.

Since last July -- when the national army deposed Morsi -- political turmoil has pervaded the nation of some 80 million people. Hundreds of Brotherhood members have been killed and thousands more arrested.

Today's sentencing is likely to worsen Islamic-secular tension in Egypt. It represents one of the most sweeping actions against the Muslim Brotherhood since Field Marshal Abdel Fatah al-Sisi took power in July.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Jimmy Carter Believes NSA Spying on His Emails; Types Letters to Nat. Leaders, Mails Them at P.O.

Former President Jimmy Carter believes the NSA (National Security Agency) is spying on his email, the Inquisitr website reports today (March 24, 2014).

Carter favors old-fashioned "snail mail" when communicating with foreign officials. This was explained during an interview with NBC's Andrea Mitchell during the TV program "Meet the Press."

He said: "The justification for surveillance has been extremely liberalized and, I think, abused by our own intelligence agencies. As a matter of fact, you know, I have felt that my own communications are probably monitored. And when I want to communicate with a foreign leader privately, I type or write the letter myself, put it in the post office, and mail it."

Andrea Mitchell said "old-fashioned snail mail," to which Carter responded, "Yeah. Because I believe if I send an email it will be monitored."

NATO General Warns of More Russian Aggression; Huge Russian Force in Ukraine Threatens Moldova

NATO's top military commander warned today (March 23, 2014) that Russia could seek to expand its territorial conquest to new areas, just a day after Russian forces seized some of the final Ukrainian military installations in the contested Crimean Peninsula, the Washington Post website reports.

U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove -- the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Europe -- said Russia had assembled a huge force on Ukraine's eastern border that could pose a threat to Moldova's separatist Transnistria region.

"The Russian force that is at the Ukrainian border now to the east is very, very sizeable and very, very ready," Breedlove said at an event sponsored by the German Marshall Fund.

Ukraine's east is also considered under threat. Ukrainian officials have been warning for weeks that Russia is trying to provoke a conflict there -- a charge that Russia denies. But Breedlove said that Russian ambitions extend well beyond Ukraine.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Russian Orth. Church Seeks Crimea Churches; May Take Over Non-Moscow-Linked Churches

Russian Orthodox priests -- accompanied by armed men -- have attempted to seize two Crimean churches belonging to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church--Kiev Patriarchate, the Catholic Culture website reports today (March 22, 2014).

Established in 1992 -- as a by-product of the collapse of the Soviet Union -- the Ukrainian Orthodox Church--Kiev Patriarchate is led by Patriarch Filaret, who has been excommunicated by the Russian Orthodox Church.

"Today the seizure of places of worship in Crimea is being triggered by Russia," said Yevhen Nyshchuk, Ukraine's minister of culture, according to a report from the Religious Information Service of Ukraine.

Ukraine has two separate Ukrainian Orthodox churches -- that of the Moscow Patriarchate, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church based in Moscow, and that of the Kiev Patriarchate, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church based in Kiev. There is also the Ukrainian Autocephalous (self-governing) Orthodox Church, which the other canonical Orthodox churches refuse to recognize.

Pope to Mafia:Stop Your Evil Path or Go to Hell; Mafia Continues to Kill People in Southern Italy

Pope Francis -- in an annual ceremony held to remember the thousands of innocent people murdered by the Italian mafia -- made a solemn plea for mobsters to change or else "end up in hell," the Reuters website reports today (March 22, 2014).

The mafia continues to plague Sicily and southern Italy: just this week, a 4-year-old boy was shot dead, along with his mother and her boyfriend, near the southern city of Taranto in a suspected mob hit.

At the end of an emotional ceremony in Rome in which the relatives of those murdered read the names of about 900 innocent mafia victims, the pope said the mafia "has no pity even for a child."

"You have power and money now from much dirty business and many mafia crimes. It is blood money and blood power, and you can't take it with you to the afterlife," Francis said in a Rome parish church packed with some 900 relatives -- many of whom held pictures of their slain
loved ones.

The pope added, "Stop doing evil... There's still time to stay out of hell. That's what's waiting for you if you stay on this path."

Friday, March 21, 2014

Poland Will Speed Up Its Missile Defense System; NATO Nation Plans to Counter Russian Aggression

Poland has decided to speed up its bid for a missile defense system, a defense ministry spokesman said yesterday, in a sign of Warsaw's anxiety over the tension between neighboring Ukraine and Russia, the Yahoo News website reports today (March 21, 2014).

"The issues related with Poland's air defense will be accelerated," spokesman Jacek Sonta said. "Poland plans to choose the best offer for its missile defense in the next few weeks."

The NATO member had planned to reduce the number of bidders by June, but the crisis in Ukraine and concerns about Russia's annexation of Crimea -- and its possible aggression on other neighboring nations -- have prompted officials to speed up the timetable.

This missile defense system is separate from elements of a U.S. missile shield to be deployed in Poland by 2018, as confirmed by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden on a visit to Warsaw this week.

Pope Francis Holds Vigil with Victims of Mafia; Thousands Lost Loved Ones at Hands of Mafia

Pope Francis was set to hold a vigil today (March 21, 2014) with representatives of the thousands who have lost loved ones at the hands of the Mafia, The US Daily website reports.

According to Libera -- an organization that battles organized crime -- some 700 families representing 15,000 people will gather with the pontiff in Rome today.

While Italy has long battled the Mafia's influence, recent mob hits have shocked the country.

The January slaying of Nicola "Coco" Campolongo -- a 3-year-old who was shot dead and burned virtually beyond recognition -- sparked nationwide outrage.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Abp. Philip Saliba, 82, Dies from a Heart Attack; Led America's Antiochian Orth. Church for 50 Yrs.

Archbishop Philip Saliba -- who led one of the largest groups of Eastern Orthodox Christians in the United States and Canada for half a century -- has died, the IB Times website reports today (March 20, 2014).

Saliba, 82, died last night of a heart attack while in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America said.

Saliba -- who held the titles of metropolitan and archbishop of New York and Metropolitan of All North America -- had led his church since 1966. He was born in Abou Mizan, Lebanon in 1931, but moved to the U.S. in 1956 to study at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, Massachusetts.

Though born in Lebanon, Saliba worked zealously to build his church -- many of whose members come from or are descended from Christians in Syria, Palestine, and Lebanon -- into a unique North American body that welcomed all races and ethnicities. He was instrumental in attracting large numbers of Anglicans and evangelical Christians into the church. The Antiochian Orthodox Church had 65 parishes in 1965, but today it has more than 260 parishes in the United States and Canada.

Fla. Man Is Guilty of Trying to Join Al-Qaeda; Planned to Join in Yemen, But Caught in Jordan

A 20-year-old Orlando, Florida man pleaded guilty yesterday to conspiring to travel to the Middle East to join an al-Qaeda terrorist group and receive military training as part of a holy war (jihad), the Reuters website reports today (March 20, 2014).

Shelton Thomas Bell admitted he recruited an unnamed juvenile and the two flew to the Middle East in 2012 with the intention of joining the Ansar al-Sharia group, according to his plea agreement.

The two traveled to Amman, Jordan -- in an effort to reach Yemen -- but were deported by Jordan to the United States.

Bell faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison and a $500,000 fine; however, federal prosecutors in the plea deal agreed to recommend a lighter sentence to the judge. No date was set for sentencing.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Fla. Legislator Moves to Ban Under-16 Marriages; Would Not Allow Teens 15 or Younger to Marry

Rep. Cynthia Stafford -- a state lawmaker in Florida -- has introduced a bill to scrap a law that allows people 15 or younger to marry if they have a baby or are expecting one, the Newser website reports today (March 19, 2014).

"Marriage is an adult responsibility," she said.

Stafford told a House subcommittee that "in 2012 we had a 13-year-old groom in the state of Florida."

Her bill would still allow 16- and 17-year-olds to marry with parental consent.

Palestinians Threaten to Renew UN Recognition; Unless Israel Releases Pal. Prisoners by March 29

The Palestinians threatened today (March 19, 2014) to resume their campaign for international recognition at the United Nations if Israel calls off a planned release of Palestinian prisoners, deepening a crisis that could derail U.S.-led Mideast peace efforts, the 24 All News website reports.

Israel pledged to release 104 long-serving Palestinian prisoners in four stages at the outset of the current round of talks last July. The fourth and final release was set to take place by March 29.

But in recent days, Israel has signaled it may not carry out the final release. Israel said yesterday that much would depend on the progress that is made, and it is seeking an extension of negotiations beyond the current late-April deadline.

Palestinian official Nabil Shaath said yesterday that the Palestinians would "immediately" resume their United Nations campaign if Israel reneges on the release. The Palestinians had frozen these UN efforts as part of the U.S.-brokered package that relaunched the negotiations last year.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Abbas Distorts Obama's Peace Solutions to Press; Claims Obama Backs E. Jerusalem as Pal. Capital

U.S. President Barack Obama met in the Oval Office on March 17 with Mahmoud Abbas -- the acting leader of the Palestinian Authority -- and made some surprising comments, such as commending Abbas as someone "who has consistently sought a diplomatic and peaceful solution" for Israel and Palestine, the Jewish Press website reports today (March 18, 2014).

Obama said "everybody understands the outlines of what a peace deal would look like, involving a territorial compromise on both sides based on '67 lines with mutually agreed upon swaps," but never said a word about Jerusalem.

In Abbas's responsive remarks to the press, he transformed what Obama said into something quite different. Abbas made it sound as though Obama said that there would be a Palestinian State with "'67 lines" as its western border, and with eastern Jerusalem as its capital.

Abbas also created a link to the "promise" of the release of still more convicted Muslim murderers as part of the "peace process."

Putin Signs Treaty Making Crimea Part of Russia; He'll Retaliate for Sanctions Imposed on Russia

Despite the likelihood of sparking a new "cold war" and isolating Russia from economic, social, and political relations with many nations of the world, President Vladimir Putin today (March 18, 2014) brazenly signed a treaty to incorporate Crimea into Russia, the Euro News website reports.

It comes after last Sunday's referendum in Crimea, which saw overwhelming support for a union with Russia. Putin signed the law after a speech to a joint session of Russia's parliament, in which he hit back at his critics.

He condemned Ukraine's so-called authorities, saying they had stolen power in a coup and had opened the way for "extremists" who would stop at nothing to determine the future of the country.

Putin added that Moscow sees Western attempts to frighten Russia with sanctions as aggression, and that Russia will retaliate.

The Crimean parliament had declared independence from Ukraine after the region's referendum on Sunday. That saw a massive 97 percent of Crimea's voters back a break-away from Ukraine.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Ukraine's Greek Catholic Church Head Visits Pope; May Have Discussed Needs of Priests in Crimea

Pope Francis met privately at the Vatican with the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) today (March 17, 2014) -- the day after pro-Russian voters on the Crimean peninsula voted to secede from Ukraine in a referendum the United States and European Union called illegal -- the Catholic News Service website reports.

While Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych -- head of the UGCC -- declined requests for interviews, it was believed his talk with the pope included a discussion about the fate of the Ukrainian Catholic priests ministering in Crimea.

On March 15, Father Mykola Kvych -- pastor of the Dormition of the Mother of God Parish in Sevastopol -- was taken away from his church in Crimea by two men in uniform and four men in civilian clothing.

Consequently, the UGCC's leadership urged priests in Crimea to evacuate with their wives and children to mainland Ukraine. The priests themselves have all returned to their parishes to be with their faithful in a time of crisis and moral and physical danger.

More Than 100 People Killed in Northern Nigeria; Muslims Shoot Innocent Christians, Burn Homes

Members of a Muslim tribe attacked three Christian villages in northern Nigeria this past weekend, leaving more than 100 people dead in Kaduna state, the Christian Broadcast Network website reports today (March 17, 2014).

A village chief reported Faluni tribesmen gunned down innocent civilians, including a pastor and his children. The radical Muslims also burned down hundreds of homes.

The Faluni are cattle-herders who have waged war with Christians over land, religion, and ethnicity over the years.

Nigeria's Christians are also targeted by the radical Islamic Boko Haram terrorist group, which seeks to establish an Islamic state in northern Nigeria.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Vandals Desecrate a Jewish Cemetery in Hungary; Strong Wave of Anti-Semitism Pervading Hungary

Unidentified vandals desecrated a Jewish cemetery in Hungary last week, spray-painting swastikas and various anti-Semitic slurs on tombstones, the Algemeiner (Jewish) website reports today (March 16, 2014).

Residents of the Jewish community in Tatabanya were shocked to discover the offensive slogans on March 14, which included "STINKING JEWS!," "HoloLie" and "There was no Holocaust but there will be!!!"

"They spray-painted swastikas and the black cross which was a symbol of the Nazi movement during the reign of Adolf Hitler," said Zohar Meir, one of the leaders of the annual March of the Living in Hungary, which is scheduled this year for April. "There is a very strong wave of anti-Semitism in Hungary."

Meir added, "Based on past experience, these waves are getting stronger as the economic situation becomes more difficult and all the anger is taken out on the Jews."

Crimea Secedes from Ukraine, Now Part of Russia; Obama Admin. Asserts Vote to Secede Was Illegal

State-owned media in Moscow reported today (March 16, 2014) that the Crimean peninsula in the Black Sea voted overwhelmingly in favor of seceding from Ukraine and becoming a part of Russia, according to the Washington Times website.

Exit polls announced on Russian television this afternoon claimed 93 percent of voters who turned out for Sunday's referendum voted for unification with Russia.

While Western leaders awaited an official announcement of the much anticipated Crimea referendum, the Obama administration issued a statement this afternoon asserting that the vote was illegal.

"This referendum is contrary to Ukraine's constitution, and the international community will not recognize the results of a poll administered under threats of violence and intimidation from Russian military intervention that violates international law," White House spokesman Jay Carney said in the statement.

Muslim in Tex. Kills His Daughter, Lesbian Lover; Left Koran Open to Page Rebuking Homosexuality

A Texas Muslim -- who was disgusted with his daughter's lesbian lifestyle -- murdered the young woman and her lover, according to the girl's mother, the Creeping Sharia website reports today (March 16, 2014).

James Cosby, 46, bludgeoned his daughter Britney Cosby to death and shot her lover, Crystal Jackson, on March 6 before dumping the bodies near the ferry gate in Port Bolivar, Texas, police believe. Both women were 24.

Britney's mother indicated that Cosby was angry that his daughter was gay. "He said it to me a few times that he did not like the idea of her being gay," she stated. "But, I told him, there's nothing we could do about that. That's who she is. We can't change her lifestyle."

In his bedroom, Cosby had a copy of the Koran open to a page which talks about homosexuality as a sin.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Woman Extends Outreach Ministry in Strip Clubs; Shares Redemption with Women Strippers in Ind.

An Indianapolis musician and speaker has extended her outreach ministry into strip clubs throughout the Indiana city where she engages in conversation with women strippers and shares the message of redemption and love, the Christian Post website reports today (March 15, 2014).

Kim Tabor admits that she would not frequent strip clubs if she did not have a compassion for the women in need, whom she considers to be no different than anyone else.

"The women in those clubs are just like me and every other woman sitting at church. We're all the same at our core. We want and long to hear the same thing, that we matter and we're loved," Tabor of Stripped Free Ministry told the Christian Post.

Tabor considers her outreach ministry to be rewarding and notes that although Indianapolis is dotted with churches on every corner, there is also a large number of strip clubs in the city, which indicates she has a lot of work to engage in.

Suicide Bomber Kills Only Himself in Somalia; Detonates Explosives Too Soon in Car Near Hotel

A suicide car bomber accidentally detonated his explosives near a popular hotel in the Somali capital and managed to kill only himself, the Newser website reports today (March 15, 2014).

The bomber appeared to have prematurely detonated his explosives-laden car today as he tried to park near the Mogadishu hotel.

No others were hurt or killed in the blast.

The al-Qaeda-linked group of al-Shabab frequently carries out attacks against the Somali government, the UN, and African Union peacekeepers.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Anti-Semites Suspected in Attack of a Kiev Rabbi; Many Ukrainians Blaming Jews for Nation's Chaos

Two unidentified men assaulted a rabbi yesterday in Kiev, Ukraine in a suspected anti-Semitic attack, the JTA (Jewish Telegraphic Agency) website reports today (March 14, 2014).

The men assaulted Rabbi Hillel Cohen -- who runs the Ukrainian branch of the Hatzalah emergency services organization -- on the street, his wife, Racheli Cohen, told JTA.

"They struck him in the leg, shouting anti-Semitic slurs, calling him a 'zhyd,' she said, using the Ukrainian word for 'kike.' This was clearly an anti-Semitic attack," Racheli Cohen said. Cohen was treated for minor injuries in a hospital and is recovering at his home in Kiev.

In an interview with JTA last month, Cohen said that the Ukrainian revolution increased the risk of anti-Semitic attacks because of the general breakdown of public order. Many Ukrainians are now blaming its Jews -- even using them as a scapegoat -- for the chaos and instability that has prevailed in Ukraine during the past several months.

Iraq May Legalize Marriage of Girls as Young as 9; Draft Measure of the Law Was Recently Approved

A law being considered in Iraq for the country's majority Shiite Muslim population would legalize marriage to girls as young as nine, and allow a husband to have sex with his wife regardless of consent, The Daily Beast website reports today (March 14, 2014).

The draft measure was introduced by Iraq's Justice Ministry at the end of 2013, and was recently approved.

The measure must be ratified by parliament before it becomes law.

The Shiite majority came to power in Iraq after the 2003 invasion by the United States toppled Saddam Hussein's dictatorship.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Northeastern Univ. Suspends Pro-Palestinian Org.; Issued "Eviction Housing Notices" to Mock Israel

The Students for Justice in Palestine chapter at Northeastern University vowed to fight its suspension from campus over a campaign that the Boston school said intimidated students, the Forward (Jewish) website reports today (March 13, 2014).

"It is clear that the university's draconian decision is part of a thinly veiled policy of silencing student speech critical of Israel," the group said in a statement issued yesterday, adding that it was being "singled out for unfair and unequal treatment by the administration."

Northeastern suspended Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) from its campus on March 7 for at least one year and barred its current executive board from serving on any future board in the organization for its campaign distributing mock eviction notices last month to student residences at the university. The notices were designed to mimic those that appear on illegal Arab construction slated for demolition by Israel.

Jason Campbell-Foster -- Northeastern's director of the Center for Student Involvement -- informed SJP of its suspension. "You have not shown a concerted effort to improve your practices and educate your members on how to properly operate your organization within the boundaries of university policy," he wrote. Northeastern put SJP on administrative probation last May after members staged a silent walkout during an event with Israeli soldiers.

Last year, the university was accused by several national Jewish associations of turning a "blind eye" to anti-Semitism that they claimed had pervaded the Northeastern campus.

Spkr. Boehner Invites Pope to Speak to Congress; Says He's "Awakened Hearts on Every Continent"

Pope Francis has been invited by House Speaker John Boehner to speak to a joint session of Congress, the ABC News website reports today (March 13, 2014).

Boehner extended the formal invitation today in a letter to the Vatican -- on the one-year anniversary of his papacy -- saying the Holy Father has "awakened hearts on every continent."

"Pope Francis has inspired millions of Americans with his pastoral manner and servant leadership, challenging all people to lead lives of mercy, forgiveness, solidarity, and humble service," Boehner wrote. "His tireless call for the protection of the most vulnerable among us -- the ailing, the disadvantaged, the unemployed, the impoverished, the unborn -- has awakened hearts on every continent."

Boehner -- a Catholic himself -- said the pope's message "challenges people of all faiths, ideologies, and political parties."

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Muslims Demolish Church Being Built in Pakistan; Christians Receive Threats, Won't Build a Church

A large group of Muslim extremists has destroyed a church that was under construction in Okara, Punjab, Pakistan, the Independent Catholic News website reports today (March 12, 2014).

The walls of the church had been completed on land donated by a local Christian resident, Akber Masih. When a cross was placed in front of the main gate of the small construction yard, a mob arrived with bulldozers and demolished the building.

The faithful filed a complaint to the police, but the perpetrators have not been arrested -- thanks to the political influence the Muslims have.

On the other hand, Christians in the neighborhood -- who have asked civil authorities for protection -- have received threats and have now abandoned the idea of building a church.

President Assad in Rare Visit to Displaced Syrians; Says He Will Continue to Fight Terrorist Rebels

In a rare public appearance, President Bashar Assad today (March 12, 2014) visited displaced Syrians in a frontline suburb of the country's capital, where he vowed to keep up the fight against gunmen whom he blamed for driving people from their homes, the New York Post website reports.

The visit to a shelter for displaced people in the Damascus suburb of Adra -- just northeast of the capital -- coincides with advances by his troops battling rebels who captured parts of the suburb in December, displacing thousands from the area.

The visit to Adra was Assad's first public appearance outside Damascus since August, when he toured the suburb of Daraya -- once a rebel stronghold -- and in the same week, took part in a public iftar, the meal that breaks the dawn-to-dusk fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

"The state will continue to fight terrorism and terrorists who displace people from their homes and commit ugly crimes against them," Assad said. His government refers to opposition fighters as terrorists.

Syria's civil war -- which begins its fourth year this month -- has killed more than 140,000 people.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Joel Osteen's Megachurch Robbed of $600,000; Theft Limited to Donations Made Last Weekend

Popular televangelist Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas was robbed of some $600,000 in cash and checks last weekend. The donations were collected in services Saturday and Sunday, the Charisma News website reports today (March 11, 2014).

The theft wasn't discovered until 8:30 a.m. yesterday, when a church worker and off-duty Harris County Sheriff's officer noticed the break-in. The money was taken from a safe.

Lakewood -- which hosts the largest congregation in the United States -- has asked anyone who attended services last weekend to pay close attention to their accounts and immediately report any suspicious activity. The church has assured members this was not a data breach and is limited to donations made last weekend.

"We are working with the police to fully investigate the incident," the church said in a statement. "The funds were fully insured, and we are working with our insurance company to restore the stolen funds to the church."

Nearly 45,000 people attend services at the nondenominational Christian megachurch every week.

Fmr. Defense Sec. Gates: Russia to Keep Crimea; Says Putin Will Try to Take Over All of Ukraine

Robert Gates -- former secretary of defense and a stellar scholar of international affairs -- said that he does not believe that Russia will lose out on Crimea, the Europe Sun website reports today (March 11, 2014).

Gates said that he did not believe that Crimea would slip out of Russia's hand, adding that he expected Russian President Vladimir Putin to continue his efforts to take control of all of Ukraine.

Gates' comments come amid reports of the Russian military marching into Crimea, while the decision of whether Crimea should break away from Ukraine and join Russia will be decided in a referendum on March 16.

Gates said that he did not think that Putin would stop in Ukraine until there was essentially a pro-Russian government in Ukraine, in its capital of Kiev.

Monday, March 10, 2014

High Court OKs Teens' Right to Wear Bracelets; School Forbad Them to Wear "I (Heart) Boobies!"

The Supreme Court sided today (March 10, 2014) with two Pennsylvania girls who like wearing their feelings about breast cancer on their wrists, the Newser website reports.

Kayla Martinez and Brianna Hawk got in trouble in 2010 for wearing "I (heart) Boobies!" bracelets at their school's Breast Cancer Awareness Day. Easton Area Middle School even banned them from the winter dance and suspended them from class.

So Martinez and Hawk -- then 12 and 13 -- challenged the ban and sued the school district with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union. They also kept wearing the bracelets.

Today the Supreme Court rejected the Pennsylvania school district's appeal, siding with an appeals-court ruling that the bracelets aren't "plainly lewd" or disruptive.

Tunisia Bars Jews on Cruise Ship from Visiting; Muslim Cleric Calls for "Divine Genocide" of Jews

Tunisia has barred Jews on a Norwegian cruise ship from leaving their cruise voyage and stepping foot in the country after their boat docked in Tunis, The Jewish Press website reports today (March 10, 2014).

Jewish passengers held on the ship said other passengers were enraged after they disembarked and only later learned that the Jews were not allowed to visit Tunisia.

Tunisian national security forces have increasingly harassed and assaulted Jews, and one Tunisian  Muslim cleric has publicly called for "divine genocide" of Jews.

Tunisian Jews at one time enjoyed a prosperous and safe life, but not any more. Approximately 2,000 Jews still live on the Tunisian island of Djerba -- home of the El Ghriba synagogue that dates back nearly 2,600 years.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Orthodox Patriarchs Call for End of Ukraine Crisis; Agree to Hold a Rare Ecumenical Council in 2016

Patriarchs of the world's 250 million Orthodox Christians ended a rare summit in Istanbul today (March 9, 2013), calling for a peaceful end to the crisis in Ukraine and denouncing violence driving Christians out of the Middle East, according to the Reuters website.

The heads of the autonomous Orthodox churches -- the world's second-largest family of Christian churches -- also agreed to hold a summit of bishops, or ecumenical council, in 2016, which will be the first to be held in over 1,200 years.

The Istanbul talks were called to decide on the council, which the Orthodox hierarchs have been preparing for since the 1960s, but the Ukraine crisis overshadowed their talks at the office of spiritual leader Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.

In the communique, the patriarchs called for "peaceful negotiations and prayerful reconciliation in the ongoing crisis in Ukraine" and denounced what they said were "threats of violent occupation of sacred monasteries and churches" there.

On the Middle East, the patriarchs denounced "the lack of peace and stability, which is prompting Christians to abandon the land where our Lord Jesus Christ was born." Unrest in the Middle East during the past decade has killed or driven out large numbers of Christians, many of them Orthodox. Christians make up about five percent of the Middle East's population.

Dozen Nuns Held by Rebels in Syria Are Released; Were Held in a Greek Orth. Monastery in Maaloula

About a dozen Greek Orthodox nuns held by rebels in Syria for more than three months were released today (March 9, 2014), and are on their way to Damascus via Lebanon, the Reuters website reports.

A Lebanese security source said the nuns had been taken to the Lebanese town of Arsal earlier in the week and were headed to Syria today, accompanied by the head of a Lebanese security agency and a Qatari intelligence official.

After being held in the Greek Orthodox monastery of Mar Thecla in Maaloula, they were reportedly moved to the rebel-held town of Yabroud, about 13 miles to the north, which is now the focus of a government military operation.

Speaking to reporters at the border, Syrian Greek Orthodox Bishop Louka al-Khoury welcomed the news. "What the Syrian army achieved in Yabroud facilitated this process," he said.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

U.S. and France Warn Putin of "New Measures;" Insist Russia Must Withdraw Forces in Crimea

U.S. President Barack Obama and French President Francois Hollande warned Russian President Vladimir Putin today (March 8, 2014) of "new measures" against Russia if it fails to work toward defusing the crisis in Ukraine, according to the Newsmax World website.

In a phone call today, Obama and Hollande insisted on the "need for Russia to withdraw forces it sent to Crimea since the end of February and to do everything to allow the deployment of international observers."

Obama's conversation with Hollande was one of a half-dozen telephone conversations he had with world leaders today about Ukraine, the White House said.

He also spoke with British Prime Minister David Cameron and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, and held a conference call with the presidents of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. The warnings to Putin come in the wake of armed Russian men trying to seize another Ukrainian military base on the Crimea peninsula.

The Dalai Lama Says It's All Right If Gays Marry; Perhaps 1st Time a Rel. Head Backed Gay Marriage

Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama this week told an online talk show -- hosted by veteran news broadcaster Larry King -- that consensual gay sex did not bother him, and it is "okay" if such a couple wants to marry, the Big News Network website reports today (March 8, 2014).

This is perhaps the first time any religious head has thrown his moral weight and spoken openly in favor of gay marriage.

The Buddhist monk -- in an interview during his latest trip to the United States -- said gay marriage was up to each government and ultimately "individual business."

"If two people, a couple, really feel that way is more practical, more sort of satisfaction, both sides fully agree, then okay," the Dalai Lama said. But he insisted that people should still follow their own religion's rules on sexuality.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Orthodox Church Leaders Meet in Constantinople; Visit Ecumenical Patriarch to Discuss Rel. Issues

A three-day meeting of the heads of Autocephalous (self-governing) Orthodox Churches was launched at the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul (Constantinople) yesterday, chaired by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the Greek Reporter website reports today (March 7, 2014).

The meeting will focus on the Holy Synod of Orthodoxy which has been in the process of preparation  for decades. Ecumenical Patriarchate sources said that Bartholomew is working hard to make sure that the synod will take place next year.

In his opening address, the Ecumenical Patriarch underlined that the meeting takes place at a turbulent time for the Orthodox Church, noting that its ability to exercise its mission is being challenged.

Issues the hierarchs plan to discuss include the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, developments in Ukraine, and the European society's growing alienation from Christian principles.

The three-day meeting is being attended by the heads of 13 Autocephalous Orthodox Churches.

PC(USA) in San Francisco to Leave Denomination; Quits Due to Diff. in Identity, Mission, Governance

Members of one of the largest congregations in the Presbyterian Church(USA) have voted to leave the denomination, despite facing an $8.89 million cost of leaving, the Charisma News website reports today (March 7, 2014).

Menlo Park Presbyterian is based in the San Francisco Bay area and led by well-known author and pastor John Ortberg. It is the ninth-largest PCUSA church, with about 4,000 members.

The motion to leave the PCUSA was approved by 93 percent of the church's members who voted, with 2024 ballots in favor of the motion and 158 ballots opposed, according to a letter posted by Ortberg.

The church voted to join a newer denomination called ECO, a Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians, which has attracted 115 other Presbyterian churches since it started in 2012. In its rationale for leaving, Menlo Park cited differences in identity, mission, governance, and owning its property.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Vandals in Poland Destroy 6 Jewish Tombstones; Famous People Buried in Cemetery Near Krakow

Vandals destroyed six tombstones in a Jewish cemetery in Mislowice, a city in southern Poland, the JTA (Jewish Telegraphic Agency) website reports today (March 6, 2014).

The identity of the vandals -- who knocked down the 19th-century gravestones on March 3 -- remains unknown.

Last year, a group of local residents organized a cleanup of the cemetery in Myslowice -- about 35 miles from the city of Krakow -- grubbing trees and bushes and cleaning the gravestones. During their work, they exposed the gravestones of some of the city's prominent historical figures, including author Jacob Lustig and Loebel Danziger, co-founder of the Myslowice coal mine.

"We will inform the police about the damage," Ireneusz Skwirowski -- one of the residents involved in cleaning the cemetery -- said.

Islamic Militants Blackmail Christians in Syria; Must Pay a Tax or Convert to Islam or Face Death

The U.S. State Department has issued a statement deploring what it calls "continued threats against Christians and other minorities in Syria" from militant Islamists at war with both Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and fellow Islamic militants, the Baptist Press News website reports today (March 6, 2014).

According to a March 3 statement from State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki, the Islamic State of Iraq in the Levant (ISIL) announced last week in Raqqa it will force Christians in the city to "convert to Islam, remain Christian and pay a tax, or face death."

"These outrageous conditions violate universal human rights," Psaki said. "ISIL has demonstrated time and again its disregard for Syrian lives, and it continues to commit atrocities against the Syrian people."

The State Department's condemnation of ISIL comes as the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported the group -- a branch of al-Qaida also known as ISIS -- had given Christians in Raqqa an ultimatum to accept a "dhimma," a protection agreement similar to those between mafia families and businesses. If the agreement was not signed, the villagers would have to convert to Islam or "face the sword."

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Pope Francis Leads Catholics on 1st Day of Lent; Urges Them Not to Be Obsessed with Possessions

Pope Francis --leading the world's Roman Catholics into the penitential season of Lent on Ash Wednesday -- urged them not to be obsessed with possessions and to shun a culture where everything can be bought and sold, the Reuters website reports today (March 5, 2014).

Ash Wednesday is the day Christians are reminded of mortality and hear the phrase "from dust you came and to dust you shall return" as ashes are smudged onto their foreheads.

Francis led a traditional procession between two churches on the streets of Rome's Aventine Hill to begin the pre-Easter season of Lent, when Christians are called on to fast, pray, and give alms to the needy.

In the second church, a cardinal smudged ashes onto the pope's forehead, and then the pontiff -- wearing purple vestments -- did the same to cardinals accompanying him.

Hillary Clinton: Putin's Tactics Are Like Hitler's; Rationalizes Like Hitler to OK Ukraine Invasion

Russian President Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine last week is a strategy similar to the one used by Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler in the 1930s to justify his aggression in Eastern Europe, Hillary Clinton said at a California fundraiser last night, the USA Today website reports today (March 5, 2014).

Putin's claim that ethnic Russians in Ukraine are threatened echoes Hitler's assertions that an ethnic German minority in Eastern Europe needed protection, Clinton said.

"Now if this sounds familiar, it's what Hitler did back in the 1930s," Clinton said at a Boys and Girls Club fundraiser in Long Beach, California. German troops were able to take control of several nations in Eastern Europe, but were defeated when they attempted to conquer Russia.

Putin -- whose Russian troops now control Ukraine's Crimea peninsula on the Black Sea -- "believes his mission is to restore Russian greatness," Clinton said. "When he looks at Ukraine, he sees a place that he believes is by its very nature part of Mother Russia."

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Florida Church Provides Drive-In Service to Cars; Daytona Beach Church Welcomes Entire Family

As church attendance continues to decline in the United States, some parishes are doing what they can to draw congregants: embracing social media, loosening dress codes, and even altering service times for big sporting events, the NPR (National Public Radio) website reports today (March 4, 2014).

At the Daytona Beach Drive-In Christian Church in Florida, people park in rows on the grass facing an altar on the balcony of an old drive-in theater. To hear the service, they switch on their radios.

Pastor Bob Kemp-Baird was skeptical of the church's approach when he was first recruited two years ago, but now says he understands that the worship style works for his congregation.

Some parishioners say the drive-in approach is perfect for those who have trouble walking or for restless children who enjoy the open space. Others say they revel in the ocean air and Florida sunshine. And some say they like that the church welcomes the whole family, including pet dogs. When ushers hand out Communion, even the dogs get treats.

Ky. Gov. Will Appeal Ruling on Gay Marriages; Judge:Ky. Must Accept Other States' Gay Marriages

Gov. Steve Beshear of Kentucky announced today (March 4, 2014) that the state will hire outside counsel to appeal a federal judge's ruling that the state must recognize same-sex marriages legally performed outside the state, the USA Today website reports.

Beshear said in a written statement that the potential for "legal chaos is real" if a delay is not issued in the case while it is appealed.

"Other Kentucky courts may reach different and conflicting decisions," Beshear said. "Employers, health care providers, governmental agencies and others faced with changing rules need a clear and certain roadmap."

Beshear's announcement came moments after state Attorney General Jack Conway's emotional announcement that he would not appeal U.S. District Judge John Heyburn's ruling and would not pursue any more stays. By appealing, Conway said, he would be defending discrimination, "and that I will not do."

Monday, March 3, 2014

High Court Refuses to Hear Home-School Case; German Family Came to US Due to German Law

To the disappointment of many home-schooling supporters, the U.S. Supreme Court declined without comment today (March 3, 2014) to hear the case of a German family seeking asylum in the U.S. because they cannot teach their children at home in Germany, the Washington Times website reports.

The leader of a home-school advocacy group said that while "normal" legal battles are exhausted, he and others would seek other avenues to support Uwe and Hannelore Romeike and their six children.

"We will pursue changes to the asylum law in this country to ensure that religious freedom is once again vigorously protected in our policy," said Michael Farris, chairman of the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), which has been representing the family.

The devoutly Christian Romeikes came to the U.S. in 2008 amid fears that by not sending the five children they had at that time to state-approved schools in Germany, they would be forced to pay substantial fines and even lose custody of their children. Home-schooling is illegal in Germany.

Atheists Try to Remove Cross in Md. Vets' Park; Honors Bladensburg Area Men Killed in WWI

Atheists want to remove a cross that sits on public property in Bladensburg, Maryland, but one legal group doesn't think that will happen, the One News Now website reports today (March 3, 2014).

The American Humanist Association has filed suit on the basis of separation of church and state -- a concept not in the U.S. Constitution.

Jeff Mateer -- general counsel at Liberty Institute, which represents the American Legion in defending the memorial -- said, "That cross was originally put up in 1925, and it has now stood for almost 90 years without any legal action. It was put up to honor 49 men from the local county there who gave their lives during World War I."

It sits in Veterans Memorial Park "near the site of ... a battle from the War of 1812, Mateer continues. "It's near a World War II school, it's near a Korean and Veteran War Memorial, and it's also near a 9-11 memorial. So it's on public land, but on public land that's been dedicated to honor our veterans."

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Mass of Ultra-Orthodox Jews Rally in Jerusalem; Protest Bill to End Exemption from Mil. Service

Hundreds of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews rallied in Jerusalem today (March 2, 2014) to protest emerging legislation that could end their sweeping exemption from military service, according to the Los Angeles Times website.

Israel's capital was paralyzed as access to Jerusalem was blocked. Government offices, schools, and courthouses closed early, and public transportation was halted to accommodate the mass prayer called by rabbinical leaders.

Under heavy police protection, black hats bobbed as the crowd of demonstrators swayed in prayer or danced to express their opposition to a military draft that many decried as a "war against religion." In an unusual move, religious women were encouraged to attend the protest, standing separately from the men.

For decades, Israel's ultra-Orthodox citizens dedicating their lives to Jewish scholarship in religious schools -- called yeshivas -- could defer indefinitely being drafted. But under a new bill -- which is expected to be finalized in the next few weeks -- the number of yeshiva students enrolling in military or other service would gradually increase in coming years by restricting exemptions to outstanding scholars only.

Most non-Orthodox Jews in Israel believe it is not fair for ultra-Orthodox Jews to be exempt from military service, while all other Jews -- including Reform and Conservative Jews -- are required to serve in Israel's armed forces.

UGCC Patriarch: Entire World on Side of Ukraine; UGCC Ready to Stand on Battlefield with Our Army

Patriarch Sviatoslav Shevchuk -- head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) -- made a live statement on public television yesterday regarding Russian troops taking control of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula, the Religious Information Service of Ukraine (RISU) website reports today (March 2, 2014).

He said, in part: "We regret, we can say that Ukraine, unfortunately, has been pulled into a military conflict. So far no one is shooting, so far people are not dying, but it is obvious that military intervention has already begun.

"And so, indeed, the entire world community is on the side of Ukraine, as Russia is the aggressor. The role of the church is consistent. During the last three months, the church, especially the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, was with its people.

"And it will continue to remain with its people. If, God forbid, we will have to stand together on the battlefield with our soldiers, with our army, the Ukrainian Church, especially the UGCC, is ready to provide pastoral support."

The UGCC conducts its religious service in the Greek Orthodox Church tradition -- and its priests are allowed to be married -- but it is under the jurisdiction of the Pope in Rome.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Obama Warns Putin of Russia's Ukraine Invasion; Asserts Raid Violates Inter. Law, Isolates Russia

President Barack Obama told President Vladimir Putin by phone today (March 1, 2014) that Russia's dispatch of troops to take control of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula on the Black Sea violated international law, and warned he was courting political isolation of Russia if the incursion continues, the AFP (Agence France-Presse) website reports.

Obama also spelled out the right of the people of Ukraine to chart their own destiny and symbolically began to line up the long-time Western alliance against Russia, calling the leaders of France and Canada.

The U.S. leader's 90-minute telephone call with Putin represented the kind of direct confrontation between the men who run the White House and the Kremlin rarely seen since the end of the Cold War some 25 years ago.

Obama also made it clear to Putin that his actions were a "breach of international law, including Russia's obligations under the UN Charter, and of its 1997 military basing agreement with Ukraine."

Gang Stabs 28 to Death at Rail Station in China; Govt. Sees It as Act of Terror by Minority Group

China was reeling from what was described as a "violent terror attack" today (March 1, 2014), in which a knife-wielding gang stabbed 28 people to death and left scores more injured at a railway station, The Guardian website reports.

Motives for the killings at Kunming in Yunnan province in southwest China were unclear, but Beijing has blamed similar attacks on militants from Xinjiang in the country's restive northwest.

Reports said five unidentified attackers were shot dead by police and another five were being hunted.

No reason for the killings was given, but state television described them as an act of terrorism -- a term Beijing usually uses to describe the activities of minority ethnic groups it charges with fomenting unrest in outlying regions such as Xinjiang.