Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Kenya Passes Law Legalizing Polygamy for Men; Men Don't Need OK from Wives for More Wives

A bill legalizing polygamy for men in Kenya was signed into law yesterday by President Uhuru Kenyatta, bringing civil law into line with customary law in which some Kenyan cultures allow a man to have more than one wife, the UPI website reports today (April 30, 2014).

A controversial amendment was added in the bill, requiring no consultation of prior wives before a man takes additional wives. Last month, female members of parliament walked out in disgust as male members approved the amendment.

The bill was also opposed by Christian leaders in Kenya, claiming it undermines Christian and family values, as well as equality. The law "would be demeaning to women since it does not respect the principle of equality of spouses in the institution of marriage," Archbishop Timothy Ndambuki of the National Council of Churches in Kenya said.

The new law ends the practice of unofficial and unregistered traditional marriages, and sets the minimum age for marriage at 18, regardless of the tribe or culture.

Kidnapped Nigerian Girls Forced to Marry Thugs; Islamic Extremists Sell Over 200 Girls as Slaves

A civil society group reported today (April 30, 2014) that scores of girls and young women -- among the more than 200 kidnapped by Islamic extremists from a school in Nigeria two weeks ago -- have been forced to marry their abductors or other thugs, according to the Huffington Post website.

Parents say the girls are being sold into marriage to Boko Haram militants for 2,000 naira ($12), Halite Aliyu of the Borno-Yobe People's Forum told the Associated Press. She said the parents' information about mass weddings is coming from villagers in the Sambisa Forest, on Nigeria's border with Cameroon, where Boko Haram is known to have hideouts.

"The latest reports are that they have been taken across the  borders, some to Cameroon and Chad," Aliyu said.

"Some of them (the kidnapped girls) have been married off to insurgents. A medieval kind of slavery. You go and capture women and sell them off," said community elder Pogu Bitrus of Chibok town, the town where the girls were abducted.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Teacher in UK Is Stabbed to Death by Student,15; Ann Maguire, 61, Taught at the School for 40 Yrs.

A school in northern England is in mourning after a much-respected long-serving teacher was stabbed to death in class, the Euro News website reports today (April 29, 2014).

Ann Maguire, 61, had taught at the school in Leeds for 40 years and was planning to retire this summer. She was married with two adult children.

A 15-year-old boy is in police custody after the Spanish teacher was stabbed in the back and neck yesterday morning.

A mass has been held at a nearby Catholic church. The school has remained open for staff and pupils who are being given specialist support.

Kerry: US Has Proof Russia Runs Spies in Ukraine; Intel Tapes Affirm Moscow Seeks Chaos in Ukraine

The U.S. has proof that the Russian government in Moscow is running a network of spies inside eastern Ukraine because the U.S. government has recordings of their conversations, Secretary of State John Kerry said in a closed door meeting last Friday, The Daily Beast website reveals today (April 29, 2014).

"Intel is producing taped conversations of intelligence operations taking their orders from Moscow and everybody can tell the difference in the accents, in the idioms, in the language. We know exactly who is giving those orders, we know where they are coming from," Kerry said at a private meeting of the Trilateral Commission in Washington.

Kerry claimed that the intercepts provided proof of the Russians deliberately fomenting unrest in eastern Ukraine -- and lying about it to U.S. officials and the public.

The intercepts also come as more proof has mounted inside Ukraine that Russia is behind the provocations, uprisings, and other actions aimed at ripping Ukraine apart.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Syria's Pres. Assad Will Seek Re-Election June 3; Runs for Pres. Despite a 3-Year War Against Him

Syria's Bashar al Assad will seek re-election in the June 3 presidential vote, the speaker of Syria's parliament announced today (April 28, 2014), the France 24 website reports.

Assad is expected to win the presidential election, despite a three-year civil war against his rule that continues to rage and has resulted in more than 150,000 deaths of Syrians.

Six other candidates -- mostly unknowns -- are also running in Syria's upcoming presidential election.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a mortar attack by rebels in Allepo yesterday (April 27) on government-held parts of the northern city killed at least 21 people, as Syria's civil war shows no signs of abating.

Ukrainian Jewish Mayor Shot, Critically Wounded; Fights for His Life in Hospital for Anti-Semitic Act

The Jewish mayor of Ukraine's second-largest city was shot today (April 28, 2014) in a suspected anti-Semitic assassination attempt that left him in critical condition, according to the JTA (Jewish Telegraphic Agency) website.

Gennady Kernes, mayor of Kharkiv, "sustained a gunshot wound to the back," officials from the eastern Ukraine city said in a statement issued today. "Now he is in the hospital emergency room, on the operating table. Doctors are fighting for his life."

Kernes was on his routine morning jog when he was shot. The CEO of the National Television Company of Ukraine, Zurab Alsasnia, said that evidence suggested Kernes had been ambushed during his jog by a sniper who studied the mayor's habits.

According to the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress, the 2009 election campaign -- in which Kernes became mayor -- was tarnished with anti-Semitic hate speech targeting him and other Jewish candidates.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

New Report: Sharp Rise in Anti-Semitism in 2013; No. of Attacks Against Jews Is Steadily Increasing

An annual report on anti-Semitism worldwide during 2013 was released today (April 27, 2014), a day before Israel marks Yom HaShoah -- Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Day -- the Jewish Press website reports.

The report -- compiled by Prof. Dina Porat of the Moshe Kantor database for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism and Racism at Tel Aviv University in cooperation with the European Jewish Congress -- describes a severe escalation in the worldwide anti-Jewish atmosphere in 2013, as anti-Semitism continues to infiltrate the mainstream from the extreme left and right fringes, and its manifestations have become an almost daily phenomenon.

The major conclusion of the research conducted by the Kantor Center team and supported by both community reports and independent surveys by non-Jewish sources, is that the anxiety felt by Jews around the world -- both as individuals and as communities -- originates in the growing intensity and the increase in insults, abusive language and behavior, threats and harassment, but not necessarily in an increase in the number of physical violent incidents.

During 2013, the Kantor Center team registered and analyzed 554 violent anti-Semitic acts perpetrated with weapons or without, by arson, vandalism or direct threats against Jewish persons or institutions such as synagogues, community centers, schools, cemeteries and monuments, as well as private property. Physically violent incidents decreased in 2013 by 19 percent to 554 attacks, yet the number of direct attacks against Jewish persons is steadily increasing.

Pope Francis Canonizes 2 Past Popes to Sainthood; First Time 2 Past Popes Canonized at Same Time

Pope Francis, leader of the Roman Catholic Church, proclaimed two of his predecessors -- John XXIII and John Paul II -- as saints at a ceremony today (April 27, 2014) in St. Peter's Square, the VOA News website reports.

Officials say one million people crowded St. Peter's and the nearby streets of Rome for the elevation-to-sainthood ceremony.

Francis read the formal proclamation at the canonization Mass also attended by emeritus Pope Benedict XVI. It is the first time in history that two former popes have been elevated to sainthood at the same time.

Relics of the two new saints were brought to the altar during the ceremony -- John Paul's blood used in his 2011 beatification, and a small piece of John's skin taken after his body was exhumed for his 2000 beatification. Relics are used to help the faithful venerate.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Rome Is Set for Millions at Double Canonization; Popes John Paul II, John XXIII to Become Saints

The city of Rome and the Vatican are preparing for millions of visitors to attend the historic double canonization of Popes John Paul II and John XXIII tomorrow, the AJC (Atlanta Journal-Constitution) website reports today (April 26, 2014).

Pope Francis will declare the sainthood of both John Paul II and John XXIII Sunday morning at the Vatican. This will be the first double canonization since the Middle Ages.

The interior ministry said that in addition to the 800,000 pilgrims that are expected to gather in St. Peter's Square for the ceremony, as many as 150 cardinals, 1,000 bishops, and 24 heads of state will also be in attendance.

Even retired Pope Benedict XVI will be at the Mass, according to Vatican Radio. He will reportedly not be at the altar but will instead join the group of cardinals and bishops at the ceremony.

Girl, 12, Boy, 13, Are Now Youngest Parents in UK; Case Shows How Society Has Lost Its Moral Values

A 12-year-old girl and a 13-year-old boy have become Britain's youngest parents in a case described as "symptomatic of a society that has lost its moral compass," the Charisma News website reports today (April 26, 2014).

According to The Sun (British) newspaper, the girl -- who has not been named -- was primary school-aged when she conceived.

She lives with her mother, who has become one of the UK's youngest grandmothers at 27, in London. The pair posted a picture of themselves and the baby online.

Director of Family Education Trust Norman Wells said, "Children having children is one of the bitter consequences of a highly sexualized society."

Friday, April 25, 2014

Russian Warplanes Flying Over Ukraine's Airspace; Downing Planes Can OK Russian Attack of Ukraine

The Pentagon announced today (April 25, 2014) that Russian warplanes have entered Ukrainian airspace several times in the last 24 hours, according to the USA Today website.

U.S. officials called on Russia to cease the operations, said Army Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman. "We call upon the Russians to take immediate steps to de-escalate the situation," Warren said.

Ukraine's air defenses are old but still potent enough to shoot down Russian aircraft, said Michael O'Hanlon, a military analyst at the Brookings Institution. In fact, drawing fire might be Russia's intent by entering Ukraine's airspace.

"I don't put a deliberate provocation, in order to create a pretext for response and invasion, past Putin at this point," O'Hanlon said. In other words, Putin is ordering Russian warplanes to fly over Ukraine in order to have them shot at by Ukrainians, thus "justifying" his decision for Russia to attack Ukraine and seize control of it.

Ukraine PM: Russia Wants to Start World War III; Calls Moscow a "Gangster" Supporting "Terrorists"

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk accused Russia today (April 25, 2014) of wanting to start World War III by occupying Ukraine "militarily and politically," the Reuters website reports.

"The world has not yet forgotten World War II, but Russia already wants to start World War III," Yatseniuk told the interim cabinet. "Attempts at military conflict in Ukraine will lead to a military conflict in Europe."

In some of the strongest language he has yet used in a war of words between the former Soviet neighbors -- as both sides have deployed troops close to their frontier -- Yatseniuk accused Moscow of acting like a "gangster" supporting "terrorists."

"It is clear that Russia's goal is to wreck the election in Ukraine, remove the pro-Western and pro-Ukrainian government and occupy Ukraine politically as well as military," added the premier. Yatseniuk took office in February after pro-European protests prompted the Kremlin-backed president to flee to Russia in order to save his life.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Afghan Guard Kills 3 American Hospital Workers; Shot Americans Walking Outside a Kabul Hospital

Three American hospital workers for a Christian charity -- among them a father and a son -- were shot dead by an Afghan security guard today (April 24, 2014) in Kabul. The suspected killer shot himself but survived and is currently in custody, according to the Christian Post website.

"We are grieved to confirm, as has already widely been reported, the CURE Hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan, was the site of a shooting this morning. Three individuals, including a doctor who served at the hospital, were killed, and two others were injured," the Christian nonprofit said in a statement.

The attack outside the CURE Hospital -- which specializes in maternity and pediatric care -- occurred without warning, according to reports. The security guard -- a member of the Afghan Police Protection Force assigned to the hospital -- reportedly opened fire on the Americans as they walked by outside.

The security guard was treated at the CURE Hospital after the shooting himself and is now in the custody of the Afghanistan government, according to CURE.

Israel Ends 9-Mo. Peace Talks with Palestinians; Due to Palestinians and Hamas New Unity Govt.

The Israeli government says it has decided to halt peace talks with the Palestinians in response to a new unity agreement between rival Palestinian factions, the Washington Post website reports today (April 24, 2014).

The decision ends a nine-month peace initiative by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. The negotiating period is scheduled to end on April 29, although both sides had been trying to agree to an extension.

Israel's Security Cabinet unanimously decided to cut off contacts with the Palestinians after a five-hour meeting today.

Israel is furious over Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' decision to form a unity government with the rival Hamas movement after a seven-year rift. Israel and the West consider Hamas to be a terrorist group.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Actress Jodie Foster Marries Lesbian Girlfriend; Foster Has 2 Sons by Ex-Partner Cydney Bernard

Actress Jodie Foster may have announced only last year that she is a lesbian, but now she is married to another woman, the Newser website reports today (April 23, 2014).

The 51-year-old Oscar winner married photographer girlfriend Alexandra Hedison, 44, last weekend.

Foster reportedly gave up drinking, because Hedison is a recovering alcoholic.

Foster has two sons from a previous relationship with ex-partner Cydney Bernard, while Hedison previously dated lesbian Ellen DeGeneres for three years.

Suffolk Students Against Foxman as Grad. Speaker; Opposed US Agreeing Armenian Purge as Genocide

A multitude of students at Suffolk University in Boston are criticizing the selection of Abraham Foxman -- national director of the (Jewish) Anti-Defamation League -- as commencement speaker, the Inside Higher Ed website reports today (April 23, 2014).

The students object to Foxman's opposition to US congressional recognition of the the killings of one and one-half million Armenians by Ottoman Turks during World War I as genocide. Other students say he has defended the ethnic profiling of Muslims.

Students have launched an online petition urging the university to reconsider the choice of Foxman, who is also scheduled to receive an honorary doctoral degree at the commencement on May 17.

As a result of the student criticisms of Foxman, the university released a statement that said: "It is our hope that Mr. Foxman's personal story as a Holocaust survivor and attorney who has dedicated his life to public service will inspire our graduates as they embark on their professional careers."

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Lawsuit Filed in NJ to End "Under God" in Pledge; Secular Org. Says "Under God" Disgraces Atheists

A Washington, D.C.-based secular organization has filed a lawsuit against the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, the Christian Post website reports today (April 22, 2014).

The American Humanist Association announced yesterday that a New Jersey school district in Monmouth County will be the latest entity sued over the two words.

David Niose -- attorney for the American Humanist Association's Appignani Humanist Legal Center -- said in a statement that he believes the pledge's words are religiously coercive.

"Public schools should not engage in an exercise that tells students that patriotism is tied to a belief in God," Niose said. "Such a daily exercise portrays atheist and humanist children as second-class citizens, and certainly contributes to anti-atheist prejudices."

High Court OKs State Bans on Affirmative Action; States Can Ban Racial Priority in Col. Admissions

The U.S. Supreme Court dealt another blow to affirmative action programs today (April 22, 2014), upholding the right of states to ban racial preferences in university admissions, the USA Today website reports.

The 6-2 decision came in a case brought by Michigan, where a voter-approved initiative banning affirmative action had been tied up in court for a decade.

Seven other states -- California, Florida, Washington, Arizona, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and New Hampshire -- already have similar bans. Today's Supreme Court decision is expected to convince many more states to end their affirmative action programs.

Chief Justice John Roberts -- an opponent of affirmative action preferences -- is famous for writing in another case several years ago that "the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race." In other words, preference for minorities must be eliminated, as must also be the case for discriminating against minorities, and all candidates for positions should be selected on the basis of merit, not on race, ethnicity, gender, religion, or other similar factor.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Church Has 60 Days to Pay Debts or Face Auction; Judge Rules Fla. Church Must Pay Family $60,000

A West Palm Beach, Florida financially struggling church has been given 60 days to pay its debts or go on the auction block, the News Daily website reports today (April 21, 2014).

A Palm Beach circuit judge ruled earlier this month that the Westgate Tabernacle Church must raise $60,000 to pay a family that sued five years ago after their daughter was injured when struck by the church's uninsured van.

The church has been struggling financially for years and at one point had amassed nearly $100,000 in code enforcement liens for issues including inadequate plumbing and faulty wiring.

Westgate Bishop Ronnie Green says the church doesn't have the money, but that "Jesus will provide with the help of the people."

Parents:234 Girls Kidnapped from Nigerian School; Islamic Extremists Use Girls as Cooks, Sex Slaves

Some 234 girls are missing from the northeast Nigerian school attacked last week by Islamic extremists, significantly more than the 85 reported by education officials, parents told the state governor today (April 21, 2014), according to the ABC News website.

The higher figure came out a week after the kidnappings when the Borno state governor insisted a military escort take him to the town. Parents told the governor that officials would not listen to them when they drew up their list of names of missing children and the total reached 234.

Security sources have said they are in "hot pursuit" of the abductors, but so far they have not rescued any of the girls and young women, aged between 16 and 18.

The kidnappings are believed to have been carried out by Nigeria's Islamic extremist rebels, known as Boko Haram. Boko Haram -- the nickname means "Western education is sinful" -- is violently campaigning to establish an Islamic Shariah state in Nigeria, whose 170 million people are about half Muslim and half Christian.

The Islamic extremists use the girls and young women as porters, cooks, and sex slaves, according to Nigerian officials.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Pope Francis Urges People to Share Christ's Love; Jesus' Resurrection Means Unconditional Love

In an Easter message today (April 20, 2014), Pope Francis urged Christians to remember how they first encountered Christ and to share His love and mercy with others -- especially through acts of caring and sharing -- the Catholic News website reports.

Proclaiming the good news of Jesus' resurrection means giving concrete witness "to unconditional and faithful love," he said today before solemnly giving his blessing "urbi et orbi" (to the city and the world).

Celebrating the second Easter of his pontificate, the pope told at least 150,000 people gathered in St. Peter's Square and on adjacent streets that evangelization "is about leaving ourselves behind and encountering others, being close to those crushed by life's troubles, sharing with the needy, standing at the side of the sick, elderly and the outcast."

Whatever is going on in one's life, he said from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica, Jesus' victory over sin and death demonstrates that "love is more powerful, love gives life, love makes hope blossom in the wilderness."

France Has Info Syria Using Chemical Weapons; Says They Are Deadly, Being Used Near Lebanon

France has information that Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime is still using chemical weapons, French President Francois Hollande said today (April 20, 2014), according to the Times of Israel website.

"We have a few elements of information but I do not have the proof," Hollande said in a radio interview after he was asked about reports that Assad was currently using chemical weapons.

"What I do know is what we have seen from this regime in the horrific methods it is capable of using and the rejection of any political transition," Hollande told the Europe 1 radio station.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told the same radio station there were "indications, which have yet to be verified, that there have been recent chemical attacks." He said they were "much less significant than those in Damascus a few months ago but very deadly," and had taken place in the northwestern region of Syria, near its border with Lebanon.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Exclusive: Most People in Venice Prefer to Secede; Veneto Region Prepares Referendum to Leave Italy

Venice -- renowned for incomparable Gothic architecture and placid canals plied by gondolas that make it one of the most recognizable cities in the world -- may have had enough of Italy, as a vast majority of its citizens want to secede from the boot-shaped nation, the USA Today website reports exclusively today (April 19, 2014).

A movement for the Italian region that includes Venice to declare itself an independent state -- as it was centuries ago -- is gaining momentum amid chaotic national economic policies from Rome and local pride in the region's 1,000-year history of achievement in the arts and merchant class.

The region of Veneto -- one of Italy's richest and the country's fifth-largest with a population of around 5 million -- is preparing a formal referendum about whether to secede from Italy.

An informal online vote last month saw 89 percent vote in favor of breaking away. And last week, police arrested two dozen Veneto separatists on charges of terrorism for planning to take over Venice's iconic St. Mark's Square with a makeshift tank fashioned out of a tractor.

Venetians say they support the secession movement partially out of frustration at seeing their taxes used to support the underdeveloped southern part of Italy. Campaigners say they pay out nearly $30 billion a year more in taxes than they receive in government benefits. Moreover, Venetians are frustrated at the corruption pervading other parts of the country, as well as the significant influence of organized crime in southern Italy.

Egypt Mil. Commander al-Sisi Visits Pope Twadros; Gives Easter Regards to Coptic Orth. Church Head

Pope Twadros II of Alexandria and All Africa received Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (Egyptian military commander) at the Mark Cathedral situated at the Headquarters of the Coptic Orthodox Papal residence in Cairo, the Orthodox Church Info blog reports today (April 19, 2014).

Marshal al-Sisi congratulated Pope Twadros and conveyed greetings on the occasion of Pascha (Easter) and the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.

This was the first visit made by Marshal al-Sisi to the Cathedral, since he became the head of Egypt's government last July.

The meeting was also attended by the Rev. Angelos Isaac, secretary of Pope Twadros, and the Rev. Paul Halim, spokesperson of the Coptic Orthodox Church, as well as several high-ranking government officials. Marshal al-Sisi's visit with Pope Twadros illustrates that an important close and harmonious relationship exists between the Egyptian government and the Coptic Orthodox Church -- something that was not the case under Egypt's previous Muslim Brotherhood government.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Pro-Russian Forces Ignore Peace Pact for Ukraine; Will Continue to Occupy Dozen Bldgs. in Ukraine

Pro-Russian militants -- boasting that they do not take orders from Washington or Moscow -- refused to end their armed occupation of a dozen government buildings across eastern Ukraine today (April 18, 2014), upending hopes for a quick end to the standoff, according to the Washington Post website.

The defiance came just hours after Russia, the European Union, Ukraine, and the United States sought to de-escalate the conflict with an agreement signed in Geneva, Switzerland urging restraint on all sides and calling on the pro-Russia activists to lay down their arms and walk away from their barricades at the city halls and police stations.

Denis Pushilin -- a leader of a group calling itself the Donetsk People's Republic -- said today that he and his men had no intention of abandoning their positions as long as the new government in Kiev, Ukraine's capital, still stood.

"It is an illegal junta," Anatoliy Onischenko -- another separatist leader in Ukraine -- said of the Kiev government. "They should leave their buildings first."

Myriad Christians Mark Good Friday in Holy Land; Revere Jesus' Crucifixion at Jerusalem's Old City

Christians in the Holy Land today (April 18, 2014) are commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus Christ in Good Friday prayers and processions through Jerusalem's Old City, the AOL website reports.

Thousands of Christian pilgrims filled the cobblestone alleyways of the Old City today along the Via Dolorosa, Latin for the "Way of Suffering." 

They are carrying wooden crosses and following the 14 stations ending at the ancient Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Tradition says the Church was built on the site where Jesus was crucified, buried, and resurrected. 

According to the Gospels, Jesus ate His last supper hours before He was betrayed. Christians believe Jesus was crucified on Good Friday and resurrected on Easter Sunday. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Tenn. OKs 2 Free Years of Com. College Tuition; All State's High School Grads Can Have Free Ed.

The Tennessee House and Senate have approved a measure that allows for two free years of tuition at community colleges or technical schools for all the state's high school graduates. The proposal not only has the backing of Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, it was based on his idea, the Alter Net website reports today (April 17, 2014).

Moreover, the legislation passed by an overwhelming majority. The state's House of Representatives voted in favor of the legislation with an 87-8 margin.

When the plan -- called Tennessee Promise -- becomes law, it will provide free higher education for about 25,000 students in the state beginning in 2015.

It will only benefit incoming freshmen. College sophomores already attending two-year schools in 2015 will not be able to participate in the plan, but will still be eligible for other state financial aid programs.

Catholicism in Latin America Is Still on the Decline; New Survey: Many Switch to Vibrant Protestantism

A new survey shows that -- despite the ascension of the charismatic Argentine Pope Francis to the Holy See -- Catholicism in Latin America is still on the decline, the Christian Today (British) website reports today (April 17, 2014).

Chile-based pollster Latinobarometro released data yesterday showing that only 67 percent of Latin Americans identified as Catholics in 2013, compared to 80 percent in 1995.

Latinobarometro said: "In the recent data we don't see an impact in the number of Catholics following the arrival of Pope Francis at the head of the Church." However, they qualified the statement, saying that it was too early in the new pontificate to detect new trends in things like church attendance or religious affiliation.

"Latin Americans embrace another religion when they abandon Catholicism," Latinobarometro said. Vibrant and energetic services have been attracting large numbers to charismatic evangelical Protestant churches -- a stark contrast to the more traditional and sombre style of service seen in most Catholic churches.

Northwest Ind. Mayor, Wife, Daughter Indicted; Face Fed. Corruption Charges for Taking Money

A northwest Indiana mayor, his wife, and stepdaughter have been indicted on federal corruption charges, the Chicago Tribune website reports today (April 17, 2014).

Lake Station Mayor Keith Soderquist and his wife Deborah Soderquist -- his administrative assistant --are accused of taking money from the mayor's campaign finance account and the city's food pantry account and spending it at casinos in Indiana and Michigan. The couple also failed to file accurate tax returns between 2010 and 2012, according to the charges.

In a second indictment, the mayor and his wife are accused of helping the mayor's step-daughter, Miranda Brakley, avoid arrest after she allegedly stole $5,000 from the Lake Station City Court.

According to the indictments, the Soderquists lost more than $100,000 at casinos between the spring of 2010 and December 2012. During that time, the couple improperly took $18,500 from the election campaign's account as well as an undisclosed amount from the food pantry account, according to the indictment.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Pope:Jesus'Suffering on Cross Reflects Our Pain; Betrayal for 30 Pieces of Silver Leads to Death

The suffering of Jesus on the Cross -- that reflects the pain of humanity and represents the divine response of the mystery of the evil that is so difficult to understand -- was the theme of Pope Francis' catechesis during the general audience held today (April 16, 2014), Holy Wednesday, in which the liturgy presents the story of Judas' betrayal and Christ, it emerges, has a price, the Independent Catholic News website reports.

"This dramatic act marks the beginning of the Passion of Christ, a painful path that He chooses with absolute freedom. He says this clearly Himself: 'I lay down my life....No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.' The path of humiliation begins here, with this betrayal, with Jesus as if he were on the market: He is worth 30 pieces of silver. And Jesus undertakes the path of humiliation ... unto the end."

The humiliation of Christ culminates with His death on the Cross, which is "the worst death, reserved to slaves and criminals. Jesus was considered a prophet, but died like a criminal. When we look at Jesus in His Passion, we see as if we are looking in a mirror the evil and pain of death. Often we feel horror at the evil and pain that surrounds us and we ask, 'Why does God allow this?' It wounds us profoundly to see suffering and death, especially of the innocent. It pains our hearts when we see children suffering. It is the mystery of evil, and Jesus takes upon Himself all this evil, all this suffering. This week it will do good to all of us to take a crucifix and to kiss Christ's wounds. He takes all human suffering upon Himself; He vests Himself with this suffering."

"We expect that God, in His omnipotence, will defeat injustice, evil, sin, and suffering with a triumphant divine victory. Instead, God shows us a humble victory that in human terms seems to be a failure," continued the Holy Father. "And we can say this: God wins in failure. Indeed, the Son of God on the Cross appears to be a defeated man: He suffers, He is betrayed, He is vilified, and finally dies. But Jesus allows evil to set upon Him. He takes it all upon Him in order to vanquish it. His Passion is not incidental; His death -- that death -- was 'foretold.' It is an unsettling mystery, but we know the secret of this mystery, of this extraordinary humility: God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son."

India's Supreme Court OKs Third Gender Category; Lets Indians Identify Themselves as Transgender

India's top court yesterday issued a landmark verdict recognizing transgender rights as human rights, saying people can identify themselves as a third gender on official documents, the Huffington Post website reports today (April 16, 2014).

The Supreme Court directed the federal and state governments to include transgendered people in all welfare programs for the poor, including education, health care, and jobs to help them overcome social and economic challenges. Previously, transgendered Indians could only identify themselves as male or female in all official documents.

The decision was praised as giving relief to an estimated three million Indians who are transgender.

The court noted that it was the right of every human being to choose their gender while granting rights to those who identify themselves as neither male nor female.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

NYC Police Dept. Ends Spy Unit on Muslims' Lives; Unit Showed Police Viewed Muslims with Distrust

The New York City Police Department said today (April 15, 2014) that it has abandoned a secretive program that dispatched plainclothes detectives into Muslim neighborhoods to eavesdrop on conversations and built detailed files on where people ate, prayed, and shopped. according to the NY Times website.

The decision by the nation's largest police force to shutter the controversial surveillance program represents the first sign that William Bratton -- the department's new commissioner -- is backing away from some of the post-9/11 intelligence-gathering practices of his predecessor.

The Police Department's tactics -- which are the subject of two federal lawsuits -- drew criticism from civil rights groups and a senior official with the Federal Bureau of Investigation who said they harmed national security by sowing mistrust for law enforcement in Muslim communities.

To many Muslims, the squad -- known as the Demographics Unit -- was a sign that the police viewed their every action with suspicion. The police mapped communities inside and outside the city, logging where customers in traditional Islamic clothes ate meals, and documenting their lunch-counter conversations.

Rebel Source: Syria Rebels Get US-Made Missiles; Anti-Tank Missiles Might Help Topple Pres. Assad

Syrian rebels fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad for the first time received at least 20 US-made TOW anti-tank missiles from a "Western source," according to a rebel official, the Daily Star (Lebanese) website reports today (April 15, 2014).

"Moderate, well-organized fighters from the Hazm movement have for the first time received more than 20 TOW anti-tank missiles from a Western source," the rebel official said on condition of anonymity, and without specifying who had supplied the rockets.

The Hazm movement -- part of the opposition Free Syrian Army -- brings together mainly ex-army officers and soldiers who defected from the military to join the revolt.

"More have been promised should it be proven that the missiles are being used in an effective way," the source said.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Israel Forbids Palestinians' Entry During Passover; Holiday Marks Jews' Exodus from Slavery in Egypt

Israel has banned Palestinians from entering Jerusalem and the rest of the country during the Passover holiday, which begins at sunset tonight (April 14, 2014) and ends on April 21, the Euro News website reports.

With a few exceptions for emergency medical situations, no Palestinians are allowed to cross into Israel from the occupied West Bank.

Israel frequently bans Palestinians during Jewish holidays, saying crowds could be vulnerable to attack.

Passover commemorates the Jewish people's exodus from slavery in Egypt in ancient times.

At Least 40 People Killed Today in Abuja, Nigeria; Caused by 2 Explosions at Crowded Bus Station

Dozens of people were killed in two explosions in Abuja -- a city in central Nigeria -- today (April 14, 2014), the Spero Forum website reports.

Commuters were waiting to board buses at a crowded bus station for their trip to work when the detonations took place.

Witnesses say that dozens of bodies are scattered about the area of carnage. It is feared that this may have been yet another attack by the armed Muslim sect known as Boko Haram, which has sworn to impose Muslim law throughout the multi-ethnic and multi-religious nation.

At least 40 bodies have been taken to makeshift morgues in Abuja, while rescue workers and police are gathering body parts.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Hundreds of Greeks Protest Sunday Store Hours; Police Crush Athens Protesters with Pepper Spray

Hundreds of protesters battled with riot police today (April 13, 2014) in one of the Greek capital's main shopping districts, the Ekathimerini (Greek Daily) website reports.

About 500 protesters -- which included retail employees as well as several anarchists -- closed access to shops on a central Athens street and handed leaflets protesting the extension of Sunday shopping and longer opening hours for the shops.

A large throng of passers-by protested the action and in the end it was riot police who dispersed the protesters pushing them back using pepper spray, which also sent passers-by scrambling to avoid the noxious fumes.

Left-wing activists and the Greek Orthodox Church oppose the extension of Sunday shopping for different reasons.

Man Kills 3 at 2 Kansas City Area Jewish Centers; Opens Fire at Jewish Community Center, Village

A white supremacist man in his 70s opened fire today (April 13, 2014) outside a Jewish community center and nearby Jewish retirement community in Overland Park, Kansas -- a suburb of Kansas City -- killing three people, the AP website reports.

Overland Park Police Chief John Douglass said at a news conference this evening that a person who had been reported to be in critical condition earlier was among the three killed in the attacks, which apparently occurred just minutes apart.

"Today is a sad and very tragic day," Douglass said. "As you might imagine, we are only three hours into this investigation. There's a lot of innuendo and a lot of assertions going around. There is really very little hardcore information."

Shots were fired behind the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City in a parking lot about 1 p.m., Douglass said. One male died at the scene, another male died at a hospital. The gunman then fled and opened fire at nearby Village Shalom, killing a female, before later being arrested near an elementary school. Two other people were shot at, but the gunfire missed them, Douglass said.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Exclusive: Turkish Mil. Aids in Armenian Attack; Evokes Memories of Ottoman Genocide in WWI

The Turkish military is actively assisting foreign-backed Sunni Islamic militants who are routing Christian Armenians from the northwestern Syrian town of Kassab, Syrian and Lebanese sources told the WND website exclusively today (April 12, 2014).

The Armenians are being forced to seek refuge in the Syrian city of Latakia.

The attack on Armenian Christians in Syria by Turkey has brought back memories of the Ottoman Turk attacks on Christian Armenians. The Turkish attacks beginning in 1915 and lasting until 1923 killed more than 1.5 million Armenians and have been regarded by many historians as genocide -- something that Turkey denies to the present day. As a result, many hundreds of thousands of Armenians fled to neighboring Syria and Lebanon to seek refuge and reestablish Armenian communities.

In addition to some 120,000 Armenian Christians, the government of Syria's embattled Shiite-Alawite President Bashar al-Assad has been protecting Christian Syriacs, Marionites, and Eastern Orthodox believers.

Armed Russian Separatists Seize City in Ukraine; Ukraine Govt. Equips Troops for Armed Response

Armed separatists took virtual control of a city in eastern Ukraine today (April 12, 2014), and Kiev prepared troops to deal with what it called an "act of aggression by Russia," the Reuters website reports.

Pro-Russian activists carrying automatic weapons seized government buildings in Slaviansk and set up barricades on the outskirts of the city. Official buildings in several neighboring towns were also attacked.

"The Ukrainian authorities consider the events of the day as a display of external aggression from Russia," Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said in a statement.

"Units of the interior and defense ministries are implementing an operational response plan," he added.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Egypt Police Kill 2 Brotherhood Men in Shootout; Attacks on Police Common Since Morsi's Ouster

Two members of the Muslim Brotherhood were killed in an exchange of gunfire with security forces in the Nile Delta north of Cairo today (April 11, 2014), according to the VOA News website.

They were part of a group that had opened fire on police while trying to flee after they were spotted attempting to set alight a checkpoint near the city of al-Mahalla al-Kibra. Three others were arrested, the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

Attacks on the security forces have become commonplace since the army deposed Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood last July following mass protests against his rule. Egypt has declared the Brotherhood a terrorist group. The group's leaders say it remains committed to peaceful activism.

Former army chief Abdel Fattah el-Sissi -- who unseated Morsi last year -- listed the fight against militants as one of his priorities when he announced his candidacy for a presidential election in Egypt that he is expected to win easily next month.

Moscow Is Kicked Out from Human Rights Body; Russia Is Sacked Due to Its Aggression in Crimea

Members of the Council of Europe voted yesterday to suspend Russia from the European human rights watchdog over its annexation of Crimea in Ukraine, the Euro News website reports today (April 11, 2014).

Parliamentarians from 47 countries at the Strasbourg-based body voted by 145 to 21, with 22 abstentions, to kick Moscow out.

The assembly is separate from the European Union.

"It is absolutely impossible that we sit here together in this house with the people who are supporting aggression and occupation and annexation of an independent state, member of the same council," said Tinatin Khidasheli. "So Russia got a very strong message, very crucial."

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Orth. Jews, Police Clash in Jerusalem Over Draft; Protest New Law Requiring They Serve in Military

Hundreds of ultra-Orthodox Jewish protesters took to the streets in Jerusalem today (April 10, 2014) to demonstrate against conscription, according to the Euro News website.

Police say the protesters hurled stones and bottles at them and set rubbish bins on fire. A new law which was passed last week will end the exemption from conscription of ultra-Orthodox Jews, which is almost as old as the state of Israel itself.

Police on horseback pushed the protesters back and five were arrested. The demo was staged as a show of support for an ultra-Orthodox man who refused to appear at a recruitment center, as required by the new law.

The sons of Israel's secular majority serve three years mandatory military service from the age of 18, and most believe that ultra-Orthodox Jews should also be required to serve three years. On the other hand, ultra-Orthodox leaders say they serve their state through religious study and prayer, and fear integration into the military will pose a threat to their pious way of life.

Ali Rips Brandeis U. for Not Awarding Her Degree; Says Brandeis Betrays Its Rel. Freedom Principles

Brandeis University -- a Judaic-oriented institution of higher learning in Waltham, Massachusetts -- was maliciously bad-mouthed by Ayaan Hirsi Ali yesterday for abandoning its plan to award her an honorary doctoral degree at its upcoming graduation, the Inside Higher Ed website reports today (April 10, 2014).

Ali -- who has been an outspoken critic of Islam -- released a statement denouncing Brandeis for saying it was "unaware" of some of her past statements when it first decided to honor her.

She said, "The slur on my reputation is not the worst aspect of this episode. More deplorable is that an institution set up on the basis of religious freedom should so deeply betray its own founding principles."

Ali added, "The 'spirit of free expression' referred to in the Brandeis statement has been stifled here, as my critics have achieved their objective of preventing me from addressing the  graduating class of 2014. They simply wanted me to be silenced."

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Anne Frank Tree to Be Planted on Capitol Lawn; Frank Hid from Nazis Until Captured at Age 15

A sapling grown from the chestnut tree that gave Anne Frank solace while she was hiding from the Nazis will be planted on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol, the AFP (Agence France-Presse) website reports today (April 9, 2014).

The original tree collapsed in 2010 in Amsterdam, Holland, but it lives on in offshoots like the one that will be planted in Washington, DC on April 30.

The National Journal notes a passage from Frank's diary in February 1944: "(We) looked out at the blue sky, the bare chestnut tree glistening with dew, the seagulls and other birds glinting with silver as they swooped through the air, and we were so moved and entranced that we couldn't speak."

Frank would be captured by Nazis about six months later and taken to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where she died at the age of 15.

Bomb Kills at Least 23 in Islamabad, Pakistan; Bomb Was Hidden in Fruit Box in Open-Air Market

A bomb exploded today (April 9, 2014) at a busy open-air market in Islamabad, Pakistan, killing at least 23 people and injuring dozens more, the Euro News website reports.

Severed body parts and bloodstained clothes were scattered across the site on the outskirts of the Pakistani capital.

Police say some 2,000 people were at the market this morning when the bomb went off, with around five kilos of explosives said to have been hidden in a box of fruit.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for what is the deadliest attack in Islamabad since 2008.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Exclusive: US Intel: Russia Will Invade Ukraine; But US Refuses to Share This Intel with Ukraine

U.S. intelligence officials now have detailed information that Russia has amassed the kind of forces needed for a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. But the Obama administration has refused to share with Ukraine the imagery, intercepts, and analysis that pinpoint the location of the Russian troops ready to seize more Ukrainian land, The Daily Beast website reports exclusively today (April 8, 2014).

President Obama has repeatedly and publicly expressed solidarity with the Ukrainian people -- and warned Russian leader Vladimir Putin that there will be severe consequences if he takes over any more Ukrainian territory. Nonetheless, Obama's administration has been reluctant to hand over the kind of intelligence that could benefit the Ukrainians in defending themselves.

U.S. officials and members of Congress briefed on the crisis in Ukraine tell The Daily Beast that senior U.S. military officers have been instructed to refrain from briefing their Ukrainian counterparts about what the United States knows about the Russian troops amassing on the border.

"I am not confident we are sharing any of that kind of information," said Rep. Michael Turner, the Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee's subcommittee that oversees NATO  and U.S. tactical air and land forces. "It's clear we are not giving them critical military advice about the Russian capability on their border and the best utilization of the Ukrainian military to counter that."

Gang Murders Church of God Pastor in Honduras; Stabbed for Not Paying "Protection Tax" for Safety

A Church of God pastor in the city of Choloma, Honduras, was murdered on April 10 by two young gang members who had earlier demanded a "protection tax" to keep church members safe from their attacks, the Charisma News website reports today (April 8, 2014).

Maria Francisca Sevilla, 39 -- the mother of three children -- was co-pastor with her husband, Geovanny, of a church in this third largest city of Honduras. According to reports, she was surprised in her home by her attackers when she returned from taking one of her children to an afternoon school session.

The pastoral residence is attached to the church building. She was stabbed repeatedly, fighting against her assailants and calling for help, but she died in the church doorway before help arrived.

Police learned that a year ago, gang members had extorted money from the pair, threatening to harm the children and church members if payment was not made. Apparently, the gang members expect to be paid the "protection tax" every year, and failure to pay it may result in death.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Dutch Priest Shot Dead in Syrian City of Homs; Men Take Him from Home, Shoot Him in Head

A Dutch Jesuit priest was abducted and shot dead by unidentified gunmen in the besieged Syrian city of Homs today (April 7, 2014), Dutch media has reported. Armed men took him from his home in the morning and shot him twice in the head, the head of the Jesuit order in the Netherlands said, according to the Independent Catholic News website.

Fr. Frans Van der Lugt, a 75-year-old psychologist, had been living in Syria since 1966. In the 1980s he set up a farming project to help young people with learning difficulties.

In a video appeal made on January 27, 2014, Fr. Van der Lugt warned of the humanitarian suffering of the population in Homs, saying people in Homs were living in misery and starvation, and he appealed to the Red Cross to help to get women and children out of the besieged city.

Speaking in Arabic, he said: "It's impossible that we suffer and the world does nothing."

Photographer Refused Trial by US Supreme Court; Did Not Snap Lesbian Wedding, Convicted of Bias

The U.S. Supreme Court today (April 7. 2014) declined to hear a case (Elane Photography vs. Willock) in which a wedding photographer in New Mexico was punished for refusing to photograph a lesbian wedding ceremony, the Christian Post website reports.

"This essentially means the end of legal options for John and Elane Huguenin for now," Alan Sears, President, CEO, and General Counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) said. ADF represented the Huguenins, owners of Elane Photography.

In 2006, Vanessa Willcock sent an email to Elane Huguenin asking if she would photograph her same-sex "commitment ceremony." Huguenin informed Willock via email, "We do not photograph same-sex weddings, but again, thanks for checking out our site."

Willock filed a complaint against Elane Photography, arguing that the company violated an anti-discrimination ordinance. The New Mexico Supreme Court found Elane Photography guilty and ordered the company to pay close to $7,000 to Willock. This decision became finalized today, as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court refusing to hear an appeal by the Huguenins.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Mormon Head: Church Opposes Gay Marriage; Govts. Have Redefined Marriage, God Has Not

A Mormon leader yesterday reiterated the church's opposition to gay marriage, The Guardian website reports today (April 6, 2014).

Neil Andersen, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Quorum of the Twelve, said during the church's biannual general conference in Salt Lake City, Utah: "While many governments and well-meaning individuals have redefined marriage, the Lord has not."

Andersen added: "He (the Lord) designated the purpose of marriage to go far beyond the personal satisfaction and fulfillment of adults, to more importantly, advancing the ideal setting for children to be born, reared and nurtured."

The Mormon church's message on homosexuality has softened in recent years, but this marks the second consecutive conference in which leaders have talked about their opposition to gay marriage. In 2012, Dallin Oaks of the Quorum said human laws cannot "make moral what God has declared immoral."

Abp. Will Sell $2.2M Mansion, Move Out in May; Keeps with Tone of Austerity Set by Pope Francis

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta said yesterday that Archbishop Wilton Gregory will sell a $2.2 million mansion just three months after he moved in, the ABC News website reports today (April 6, 2014).

Archbishop Gregory publicly apologized last Monday for building such a costly residence for himself with archdiocese funds, and will move out in early May.

"I have decided to sell the Habersham property and invest the proceeds from that sale into the needs of the Catholic community," Gregory said.

A group of Catholics in Gregory's archdiocese have been asking since January that he sell the nearly 6,400 square-foot mansion in keeping with the tone of austerity set by Pope Francis. Elected Pope just over a year ago, Francis has denounced the "idolatry of money" and warned against "insidious worldliness" within the church.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Schools in France Stop Having Pork-Free Lunches; Party Head Says Catering to Jews, Muslims Illegal

France's far-right National Front party will prevent schools from offering Muslim and Jewish pupils pork-free lunches in the towns where it won in recent local elections, according to its leader Marine Le Pen, the Independent (British) website reports today (April 5, 2014).

She announced yesterday that arrangements catering to Muslim and Jewish pupils -- who cannot eat pork according to religious restrictions -- contradict the country's secular values.

"We will not accept any religious demands in school menus," Le Pen said. "There is no reason for religion to enter the public sphere, that's the law."

Muslims view France -- which is officially a secular republic despite being overwhelmingly Roman Catholic -- as imposing its values on them and other religious minorities. In 2011, a controversial law was passed banning full-face veils in public in France.

Two Priests, One Nun Kidnapped in Cameroon; Nabbed Near Nigeria, Boko Haram Suspected

Two Italian priests and a Canadian nun were abducted early today (April 5, 2014) from their mission in northern Cameroon, the Italian government and Vatican officials said, according to the NY Times website.

The Italian Foreign Ministry identified the priests as Giampaolo Marta and Gianantonio Allegri. A Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Ciro Benedettini, said the priests were from the Vicenza diocese in northern Italy.

Bishop Phillippe Stevens of the parish of Maroua, Cameroon, identified the nun as Gilberte Bissiere. He said the three were taken by "unknown people" who broke open the doors of their residences.

The Rev. Henri Djongang -- the vicar general of Maroua -- said the kidnapping took place near Maroua in the village of Tchere, 37 miles from the border with Nigeria. No one has claimed responsibility for the kidnappings, although Boko Haram -- an Islamist militant group based in Nigeria -- has often operated in the area.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Kerry Disappointed at Israelis and Palestinians; Both Sides Hinder Peace Talks Expiring April 30

Secretary of State Kerry signaled today (April 4, 2014) that the U.S. is losing patience over lack of progress in the Mideast peace talks, saying it was "reality check time," according to the Got News Wire website.

Kerry said Washington was evaluating its role in the process, adding "both sides have taken steps that are not helpful" in recent days.

His comments came after Israel called off a planned relief of Palestinian prisoners yesterday, and the Palestinian Authority solidified its role in the United Nations.

Last August, Kerry persuaded Israeli and Palestinian negotiators to resume talks and set a nine-month timetable for an agreement to be reached. That timetable expires at the end of this month.

Taliban Pays Afghans $5 to Surrender Voter Cards; Brands Weekend Election a Western-Backed Sham

The Taliban have launched a violent campaign to disrupt this weekend's presidential election in Afghanistan, and in at least one eastern corner of the country they are paying villagers to surrender their voting cards, the Global Post website reports today (April 4, 2014).

Residents in Nangarhar province -- which lies on the border with Pakistan -- said local Taliban militants have been offering voters 500 Pakistani rupees (the equivalent of just over $5) to opt out of the election.

"At first we thought the Taliban were trying to trick us and wanted to find out who had voter cards, but later we found out that they were honest and paid money," said Ahmad Shah, a youth in a village just outside the city of Jalalabad.

Saturday's election will bring the first democratic transfer of power in war-torn Afghanistan and an end to the rule of President Hamid Karzai, who has led the country since the ouster of a Taliban regime in late 2001. The Taliban have branded the election a Western-backed sham.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Israel Cancels Discharging Palestinian Prisoners; Pal. Authority Takes Revenge, Joins 15 UN Orgs.

Israel has canceled its previously postponed release of 26 Palestinian prisoners in the latest blow to faltering Mideast peace talks, saying the move was a response to renewed efforts by Palestinians to gain recognition at the United Nations, the Newsmax World website reports today (April 3, 2014).

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni -- one of Israel's two chief negotiators -- told Palestinian counterpart Saeb Erekat of the decision in a meeting earlier today, an Israeli official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the talks.

Ziad Abu Ein -- the Palestinian Authority's deputy minister for prisoner affairs -- said halting the release "closes all doors to further peace opportunities, and it's a blow to the American efforts that have been exerted till this moment."

Israel has freed three previous groups of prisoners since U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry brought the two sides back to the negotiating table in July, but missed a deadline at the end of April for a fourth and final release to which it had agreed. Because Israel failed to release the fourth group of Palestinian prisoners by the deadline, the Palestinian Authority retaliated against Israel by applying at the United Nations to join 15 international treaties and conventions.

UN Records Millionth Syrian Refugee in Lebanon; Lebanon Hosts Highest No. of Refugees in World

The United Nations registered the one-millionth Syrian refugee in Lebanon today (April 3, 2014), as the civil war in Syria continued in its fourth year, the National Post (Canadian) website reports.

But there were warnings that Lebanon -- with a population of just over four million -- was struggling to cope and could explode.

"The number of refugees fleeing from Syria into neighboring Lebanon surpassed one million today, a devastating milestone worsened by rapidly depleting resources and a host community stretched to breaking point," a UN statement said.

"The influx of a million refugees would be massive in any country. For Lebanon, a small nation beset by internal difficulties, the impact is staggering," said Antonio Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, in a statement. "Lebanon hosts the highest concentration of refugees in recent history."

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Fla. School Won't Let Girl, 5, Pray Before Lunch; Attorneys Send Letter to Admin., Demand Apology

Liberty Institute attorneys yesterday sent a demand letter, on behalf of clients Marcos Perez and his daughter, to school administrators at Carillon Elementary School in Oviedo, Florida, requesting that school officials cease engaging in religious discrimination in violation of federal and state law, the Charisma News website reports today (April 2, 2014).

Last month, a school lunchroom supervisor told Perez's 5-year-old daughter that it was wrong to bow her head in prayer before she ate her lunch.

When the young girl replied, "But it's good to pray," she was told, "It is not good."

"This is a violation of the federal law and we expect the school district to apologize to the Perezes and the community as well as take steps to ensure this does not happen again," the letter states. Liberty Institute senior counsel Jeremy Dys said, "The school is in violation of Department of Education guidelines that specifically protect this type of prayer, and thus could jeopardize its federal funding."

Three Bombs Explode Outside Cairo Univ. Today; Police General, Civilian Killed, Several Wounded

Three bombs exploded today (April 2, 2014) outside Cairo University, killing a senior police general and a civilian, and wounding several others -- including a number of top officers -- according to the VOA News website.

Security officials say two home-made bombs went off in quick succession this morning, hitting riot police stationed outside the university because of nearly daily anti-government protests by students. About two hours later, a third, smaller bomb exploded in the same area.

There has been no immediate claim of responsibility, but the attacks bore the hallmarks of Islamist militants.

Security forces have been the target of frequent attacks since the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi last year and the continuing deadly crackdown on his supporters in the Muslim Brotherhood and others opposed to Egypt's military-backed government.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Md. Govt. Worker Risks Jail Praying at Meetings; Defies Judge's Order, Opens Meetings with Prayer

A government official in Carroll County, Maryland, said she is willing to go to jail rather than obey a federal judge's ban on sectarian prayers in the county's government meetings, The New American website reports today (April 1, 2014).

On March 26 Federal Judge William Quarles, Jr. ruled that the Carroll County Board of Commissioners must cease opening its meetings with mostly Christian prayers offered in Jesus' name while a lawsuit over the prayers proceeds.

The American Humanist Association filed a complaint over the prayers in 2012, supposedly in behalf of a handful of the county's residents who were made uncomfortable by the monthly petitions for God's help. When the county board refused to stop the prayers, the atheist group filed suit.

On March 27 Carroll County Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier opened the board's meeting by informing her fellow commissioners that she had no intention of following the judge's order. "I am willing to go to jail," said Frazier in comments that were videotaped. "If we cease to believe our rights came from God, we cease to be America..."

Rev.Graham:Obama,Holder Turned Backs on God; Obama OKs Gay Agenda Against God's Teaching

Rev. Franklin Graham said that Russian President Vladimir Putin was right to enforce a law to protect Russian children from gay propaganda, adding that President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder were wrong about homosexuality and have "turned their backs on God and His standards, and many in the Congress are following the administration's lead," the CNS News website reports today (April 1, 2014).

Rev. Graham -- who heads the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association  (BGEA) and is the son of world-renowned preacher Billy Graham -- made his remarks in the March issue of "Decision" magazine, which is published by BGEA.

Graham noted that the Russian law is designed to protect children by banning the "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors," and that "America's response to Putin's law was sadly predictable."

"It's obvious that President Obama and his administration are pushing the gay-lesbian agenda in America today and have sold themselves completely to that which is contrary to God's teaching," Graham said.