Saturday, May 31, 2014

Palestinian Unity Govt. Will Be Sworn In June 2; Israel Won't Recognize It Due to Hamas Inclusion

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said today (May 31, 2014) that a coalition government to be formed by his Fatah party and its rival, the militant group Hamas, will be sworn in Monday, June 2, 2014, according to the LA Times website.

The new government will adopt his political program, Abbas said, which includes recognition of Israel and renunciation of terrorism. Nonetheless, Israel has informed him it will not recognize the new government and will impose sanctions against it because of the inclusion of Hamas, which Israel considers a terrorist group.

An Israeli official said today that it was too early to say whether the government is going to impose punitive measures against the Palestinians.

But Abbas told pro-Palestinian French activists at his Ramallah office today that the decision for a Palestinian unity government had already been made. "Israel has informed us that it is going to impose sanctions against us when the national conciliation government is declared on Monday," he said. Abbas added, "For every Israeli measure, there is going to be an appropriate Palestinian response."

Vancouver Church Site Is Used for Dumping Trash; Pastor's Sign Reads "Do Not Drop Your Crap Here"

St. Barnabas Church in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada is "warning" that there could be shocking consequences for those who dump trash at the site, the Vancouver Sun website reports today (May 31, 2014).

Roxee Forrest -- associate warden at the church in the Brow of the Hill neighborhood -- said people have been dumping assorted items at the church, and this needs to stop. "It comes in the middle of the night. We've had two or three mattresses, a huge old china cabinet with broken doors," she said. "It's really a costly thing."

"It's not just us, it's happening to everybody," Forrest said. "People do it because they don't know what to do with it or they don't have the money to pay for it."

Rev. Emilie Smith has created a tongue-in-cheek sign from God that she hopes will deter people from dumping unwanted items at the church -- as it could have electrifying consequences. "Do not drop your crap here... Management of St. Barnabas Church not responsible for lightening bolts," states the sign.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Egypt's Christians Optimistic After Pres. Election; Say Pres. Sisi Will Save Them from Islam Radicals

Christians in Egypt are hopeful following the election of a new Egyptian president that they will be protected from Muslim extremist attacks, the Christian Post website reports today (May 30, 2014).

Field Marshall Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has received more than 95 percent of the 25 million plus votes that were cast. It was the first presidential election since the fall of Islamist president Mohammed Morsi last year, who was removed following a public uprising that led to clashes between army forces and pro-Islamist supporters.

"Many Christians, and even Muslims, think that Sisi saved them from the Islamic groups and he is the hero and savior that we are all waiting for. In Egypt you have to choose from two choices: Military or Islamist. So, if I am Christian, for sure I'll choose the military even if I don't like them," said Mahmoud Farouk, executive director of the Egyptian Center for Public Policy Studies.

Many Egyptians remain hopeful that El-Sisi will be able to restore the country. "I support him because he has promised us that he will do his best to serve the Egyptian citizen and eliminate the illiteracy and he will combat the terrorism in Egypt and defend the Christians [and] the church. He also has promised the youth that he will create new jobs for them," Nariman Gaber, a Christian woman in Cairo, said.

Rus. Patriarch Rips UGCC for Russophobic Words; Says It Hampers Russian Church-Vatican Rapport

Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia sharply criticized the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) yesterday, accusing it of using Russophobic slogans against the Russian Orthodox Church, the Orthodox Church Info blog reports today (May 30, 2014).

"The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is engaging in direct political activities, unfortunately, using sharp Russophobic slogans and statements and making sharp statements against the Russian Orthodox Church in its public declarations," the patriarch said at a meeting in the Russian Foreign Ministry yesterday.

Patriarch Kirill added that "a very sad shadow" has been cast on the relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Vatican.

Archbishop Svyatoslav Shevchuk -- the head of the UGCC -- has recently made very sharp statements against Russia. Greek Catholic worshipers -- often referred to as Uniates in several Eastern European nations -- recognize the pope as their church leader, but their church services are conducted in the tradition of the Greek Orthodox Church, rather than the Roman Catholic Church.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Israel, Palestinian Presidents to Meet at Vatican; Pope Invites 2 Leaders to Pray for Peace June 8

Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will meet at the Vatican and pray for peace together at an unprecedented gathering on June 8, the Reuters website reports today (May 29, 2014).

In one of his boldest political gestures since his election in March, 2013, Pope Francis invited the two leaders to come to the Vatican and hold a joint prayer meeting with him during the pontiff's trip to the Holy Land last week.

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said the two had accepted and that the meeting would take place on a Sunday afternoon. On the morning of June 8, the pope will be presiding at a Pentacost Sunday service in St. Peter's Square. Pope Francis -- who made the surprise invitation at the end of a Mass in Bethlehem on May 24 -- told reporters on the plane returning to Rome that he was not getting directly involved in the stalled Mideast peace process, something he said would be "crazy on my part."

But he said he hoped the prayer meeting -- which comes after failing diplomatic efforts to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- would help create an atmosphere that would help the eventual resumption of talks. "Courage is needed to do this and I am praying to the Lord very much so that these two leaders, these two governments, have the courage to move forward. This is the only path for peace," Francis said.

Ex-NYC Cop Says Vandalism Due to "Cheap Jews;" As a Deliveryman "They Never Gave Me Anything"

The former New York City police officer charged with spray-painting anti-Jewish obscenities and swastikas in Brooklyn earlier this month said he did it because of "cheap Jews," the JTA (Jewish Telegraphic Agency) website reports today (May 29, 2014).

Michael Setiawan -- who was arraigned on May 23 on a 39-count indictment -- made the assertion in court papers. "When I was a deliveryman, they never gave me anything," he said.

The graffiti appeared on cars, storefronts, and a school in the Hasidic enclave of Borough Park on May 3.

Setiawan, 36, retired in 2007 after two years as a cop, according to the court papers.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

SNAP Head Says Pope's Abuse Meeting a PR Ploy; Says Pope Has Info Needed to Fire Abusive Priests

The head of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) says Pope Francis' plan to meet with sexually abused victims by clergy in June looks like "a public relations ploy," the Christian Broadcast Network website reports today (May 28, 2014).

SNAP President Barbara Blaine says the pope already has all the information he needs to remove priests who abuse minors and bishops who cover it up.

Francis' upcoming meeting with a half-dozen victims -- which he announced on May 26 -- is being organized by Cardinal Sean O'Malley, the archbishop of Boston.

O'Malley was instrumental in setting up a 2008 meeting between clergy sex-abuse victims and Francis' predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI. Blaine says that meeting did not lead to meaningful action.

Israeli Mil. Orders End of Gaza-Based Newspapers; PA Says Israel Denies Its Rights, Freedom of Press

Israeli military forces stormed a publishing house in Ramallah in the early morning hours today (May 28, 2014) and ordered its managers not to print or distribute any Gaza-based newspapers in the occupied West Bank, arguing that such newspapers "incite violence against Israel," according to the World Bulletin website.

Israeli authorities ordered the confiscation of the Al-Resala, Palestine, and Al-Istiklal newspapers, which Ramallah's Al-Ayam publishing house began printing a few weeks ago, according to a statement issued today by Al-Ayam.

The statement added that the publishing house's managers had received "clear threats" that Israeli authorities would take "firm action" to prevent the printing and distribution of the three newspapers in the West Bank.

"This is a continuation of the [Israeli] occupation's policy of blatantly trampling on the rights of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and freedom of the press," read the Al-Ayam statement.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Pope:"Door Is Always Open" on Celibacy Question; Is Most Explicit on Celibacy Since Becoming Pope

Pope Francis directly addressed the issue of priest celibacy yesterday for the first time since his election as pope, while on his way back to Rome from a historic trip to the Middle East, the World Wide Religious News website reports today (May 27, 2014).

He told reporters, "It is a rule of life that I appreciate very much, and I think it is a gift for the church, but since it is not a dogma, the door is always open."

The pope has hinted that the practice of priest celibacy is open to change before, but this was his most explicit public statement on the subject since becoming pope.

The Catholic Church already allows priests to be married in several eastern European countries -- including Poland and Ukraine -- where services are held in Greek Catholic Churches, which are churches that come under the jurisdiction of the Vatican, but conduct their services so as to be more like services in the Greek Orthodox Church than the Roman Catholic Church.

Pakistani Woman Is Stoned to Death for Marrying; Killed for Marrying Man Her Father Had Opposed

A pregnant woman was stoned to death today (May 27, 2014) by her own family in front of a crowd of onlookers outside a courthouse in the Pakistani city of Lahore for marrying the man she loved, the Huffington Post website reports.

The woman was killed while on her way to court to contest an abduction case her family had filed against her husband. Her father was arrested on murder charges, police investigator Rana Mujahid said, adding the police were working to apprehend all those who participated in this "heinous crime."

Arranged marriages are the norm among conservative Pakistanis, and hundreds of women are murdered every year in so-called "honor killings" carried out by husbands or relatives as a punishment for adultery or other illicit sexual behavior.

A police officer, Naseem Butt, identified the slain woman as Farzana Parveen, 25, and said she had married Mohammad Iqbal, 45, against her family's wishes after being engaged to him for years. Her father, Mohammad Azeem, had filed an abduction case against Iqbal, which the couple was contesting, said her lawyer, Mustafa Kharal. He added that she was three months pregnant.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Pope Will Meet with Sex Abuse Victims at Vatican; Vows "Zero Tolerance" for Clergy Who Abuse Child

Pope Francis announced today (May 26, 2014) that he will meet soon with a group of sex abuse victims at the Vatican and declared "zero tolerance" for any member of the clergy who violates a child, the Newser website reports.

Francis also revealed that three bishops are currently under investigation by the Vatican for abuse-related reasons, although it was not clear if they were accused of committing abuse or having covered it up. "There are no privileges," he told reporters en route back to Rome from Jerusalem.

The meeting with a half-dozen victims will mark the first such encounter for the pope, who has been criticized by victims for not expressing personal solidarity with them when he has reached out to several other groups of people who suffer. The United Nations has criticized the Vatican in recent months for covering up over a thousand sexual abuse incidents by Catholic clergy.

Francis said the meeting and a Mass at the Vatican hotel where he lives will take place early next month. "On this issue, we must go forward, forward. Zero tolerance," Francis asserted, calling abuse of children an "ugly" crime that betrays God.

Pope,Israel PM Spar Over Jesus' Native Language; Pope Tells PM Jesus Spoke Aramaic, Not Hebrew

Pope Francis and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu traded words today (May 26) over the  language spoken by Jesus two thousand years ago, as the pope was about to end his three-day visit to the Holy Land, the Newsmax World website reports.

"Jesus was here, in this land. He spoke Hebrew," Netanyahu told Pope Francis, at a public meeting in Jerusalem in which the Israeli leader cited a strong connection between Judaism and Christianity.

"Aramaic," the pope interjected.

"He spoke Aramaic, but He knew Hebrew," Netanyahu shot back.

A Jew, Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the Roman-ruled region of Judea, now the Israeli-occupied West Bank. He grew up in Nazareth and ministered in Galilee, both in northern Israel, and died in Jerusalem, a city revered by Jews, Christians, and Muslims, and to which Israelis and Palestinians lay claim.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Pope, Patriarch Hold an Historic Prayer for Unity; Meet in Jerusalem, OK Pledge for Christian Unity

Pope Francis joined Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew in an historic joint prayer for Christian unity at Christianity's holiest site in Jerusalem today (May 25, 2014), the AFP (Agence France-Presse) website reports.

They met at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher inside the walled Old City after signing a landmark pledge to work together to further unity between the eastern and western branches of Christianity, which divided Christianity almost 1,000 years ago.

The meeting has been billed as the main reason for the pope's three-day trip to the Middle East, which ends on May 26. It commemorates the historic rapprochement between both branches of the Christian Church 50 years ago, when Pope Paul VI met and embraced Patriarch Athenagoras -- the first significant easing of tensions between the Churches since the Great Schism of 1054, which split the Christian Church into Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox divisions.

Both Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew knelt side by side in prayer on the rough Stone of the Anointing, where the body of Jesus was laid before burial, removing their headgear as they did so. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher was built on the site of the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.

Earlier, the two church leaders signed a joint pledge to pursue common dialogue, which reaffirmed values common to the Catholic and Orthodox churches. "Our fraternal encounter today is a new and necessary step on the journey towards the unity...of communion in legitimate diversity," says the declaration which was signed in the presence of representatives of 13 Catholic and Orthodox churches in Jerusalem.

Pope Francis Visits PA Pres. Abbas in Bethlehem; Calls for a Palestinian State in Israeli-PA Conflict

Pope Francis visited Bethlehem, in the West Bank, on the second day of his three-day visit to the Holy Land, the Big News Network website reports today (May 25, 2014).

Pope Francis was welcomed today to Bethlehem -- the birthplace of Christianity --  by the President of the Palestinian Authority (PA), Mahmoud Abbas, and senior religious officials. In his arrival remarks, Pope Francis expressed support of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

He said the time has come for everyone to find the courage to be generous and creative in the service of the common good. Moreover, he said, to forge a peace based on the recognition -- on the part of everyone -- of two states, of their right to exist and to enjoy peace and security within internationally-recognized borders.

Abbas welcomed the pontiff saying Palestinians value highly his efforts on their behalf. Abbas added we have shown His Holiness the tragic situation that East Jerusalem is living and what he called Israel's plan to change its identity and status, to isolate its Palestinian residents -- Christian and Muslim -- to force them to emigrate.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Four Killed in Brussels Jewish Museum Shooting; Suspect Arrested in Apparent Anti-Semitic Attack

In what appears to be an act of anti-Semitism, two men and a woman were killed in a shooting at the Brussels Jewish Museum today (May 24, 2014). A fourth person who was seriously injured died of his wounds, the Jewish Press website reports.

Twelve people were treated for shock as a result of the shooting.

Belgium's interior minister told Belgian TV that the attack was probably anti-Semitic. A suspect has been arrested, and police are looking for a second suspect.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the attack was the result of the unending incitement against Jews and the state of Israel, in Europe.

KY Judge OKs Tax Breaks for Clergy and Churches; Atheists Argued Tax Laws Favor Churches, Pastors

A Kentucky judge has struck down an atheist challenge to tax benefits for clergy and churches, the Christian Headlines website reports today (May 24, 2014).

Three groups -- American Atheists, Atheists of Northern Indiana, and Atheist Archives of Kentucky -- argued that the current tax code provisions unfairly favor churches and pastors.

Among the ecclesiastical benefits challenged in the lawsuit were: The church exemption from the requirement to file applications for recognition of tax-exempt status (Form 1023); the church exemption from filing annual information returns (Form 990); the clergy housing exclusion; and the exemption from income tax withholding and FICA taxes for ministers.

The atheist groups have not applied for religious exemptions. "At this point, the atheists have no idea whether they could gain classification as a church or religious organization ...because they have never sought such classification," Judge William Bertelsman said.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Patriarch Bartholomew Arrives in Israel;Will Discuss Orth.-Cath. Unity with Pope Francis

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew -- spiritual leader of over 300 million Orthodox Christian faithful worldwide -- arrived in Israel today (May 23, 2014) and will meet with Pope Francis on May 25 and 26, 2014 in the Holy City of Jerusalem, the Greek Star website reports.

At Ben Gurion International Airport, His All-Holiness was greeted by His Excellency Uzi Landau, Israeli Minister of Tourism; His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem; and the Consuls General of Greece and Turkey in Jerusalem, George Zacharioudakis and Mustafa Sarnic respectively.

After arriving in Jerusalem, the Ecimenical Patriarch proceeded to the Church of the Resurrection (Holy Sepulcher) and led a service of Thanksgiving in advance of his meetings with Pope Francis.

Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope Francis will hold private meetings, sign a joint declaration, and conduct an ecumenical meeting in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher to mark the 50th anniversary of the meeting between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras at the same site.

Police, Protesters Clash for a 2nd Day in Istanbul; Police Killed 2 Yesterday, Leads to More Violence

Violent clashes have erupted for a second day in the Turkish city of Istanbul between police and protesters, the Euro News website reports today (May 23, 2014).

Riot officers once again used tear gas and fired live rounds into the air today in the city's troubled Okmeydani district to disperse demonstrators.

It comes a day after two people died of their injuries. One man was shot in the head, while another died of wounds caused by a grenade.

Several police officers were also injured in today's violence, sparked almost a year to the day after protesters in Istanbul triggered a summer of nationwide demonstrations against Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's autocratic government.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

NY Muslim Man Goes on Trial for Killing His Wife; Defense Atty. Says Wife-Beating Is a Muslim Right

A defense attorney in New York City used a novel defense to explain why her client allegedly murdered his 66-year-old wife. Noor Hussein -- a 75-year-old Pakistani immigrant -- was apparently so enraged when his wife, Nazar Hussein, prepared lentils for supper instead of his favorite meal of goat meat that he beat her to death in their Brooklyn apartment, the Spero Forum website reports today (May 22, 2014).

Counsel Julie Clark readily admitted in court yesterday that the Muslim man beat his wife to death, but explained that this was all right by claiming that this is customary in his home country of Pakistan. "He comes from a culture where he thinks this is appropriate conduct, where he can hit his wife," Clark said in a statement to the Brooklyn Supreme Court. "He culturally believed he had the right to hit his wife and discipline his wife."

Prosecutor Sabeeha Madni said Hussein "Brutally attacked his wife as she lay in her bed" and left deep wounds on her upper body and head, causing a brain hemorrhage. Hussein beat his wife with a stick that had been used normally to stir laundry in a washtub.

Prosecutor Madni added that witnesses will testify that Hussein had meted out beatings for his wife in the past. "They have told us about years of abuse they witnessed." The trial continues today.

Federal Workers Steal Over $1M in Charity Money; Use CFC Money for Massages, Hotels, Meals, Gifts

A recent government audit found several federal workers and a contractor guilty of using more than $1 million of charity money for their own personal use, the Christian Headlines website reports today (May 22, 2014).

The government workers called themselves volunteers of the annual Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) -- an annual charity drive -- and abused the money for perks, such as massages and expensive meals. Workers also attended events for the charity in Las Vegas and New Orleans, extending their  stay longer than necessary.

Although the government employees volunteered their time for the charity, they were still being paid their full salaries.

The audit -- which revealed there was suspicious spending through 2013 -- found members of the Alexandria, Virginia chapter of the CFC abusing contributions granted the charity amounting to $764,069 in 2012. The report found another $300,000 in "petty" expenses such as dry cleaning bills and gift shop purchases.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

At Least 118 Dead in Two Bomb Blasts in Nigeria; Police Say Attack Bears Clues of Boko Haram Act

At least 118 people have died in two car bomb explosions in the Nigerian city of Jos today (May 21, 2014), the Euro News website reports.

Dozens more were injured in the blasts, which took place just half an hour apart in a busy business district. The second blast killed some of the rescue workers who had rushed to the scene of the first explosion.

Nigerian President Goodluck Johnathan has condemned the attack, which police claim bears the hallmarks of the Islamic militant Boko Haram insurgents.

The city of Jos lies in the heart of Nigeria where the Christian south meets the Muslim north. Until today, it had been relatively free of militant violence.

Feds Charge 71 in New York Child-Porn Ring Bust; Police Chief and Rabbi Are Among Those Charged

Seventy men and one woman in New York were charged today (May 21, 2014) with being part of a child-porn ring by the feds, according to The Daily Beast website.

Authorities say the operation -- which took place over five weeks -- caught the individuals using computer file-sharing programs to swap videos and photos of children engaged in sexual acts.

Among those charged with child porn were Brian Fanneli, chief of the Mount Pleasant Police Department in Valhalla, New York; Rabbi Samuel Waldman of Brooklyn, who taught at an all-girls school; and Johnathan Silber, a Boy Scout leader and little league coach in Rockland County.

The investigation -- led by agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement -- is the largest enforcement operation on child pornography in the New York-area.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Three-Fourths of France's Jews Consider Leaving; Due to Increased Anti-Semitism, Loss of Ethnicity

Nearly three-fourths of France's Jews have seriously contemplated leaving the country, as a result of anti-Semitism and fears that they cannot "preserve their Judaism," The Daily Beast website reports today (May 20, 2014).

According to a new survey -- just published today -- 74 percent said they were considering leaving France.

Of those, 30 percent cited anti-Semitism as the reason and 24 percent said they were motivated to emigrate in order to maintain their Jewish identity.

A majority agreed "Jews have no future in France." In recent years, France has experienced both a booming Muslim population -- more Muslims live in France than any other country in Europe -- and the rise of far-right parties that both may contribute to the scary atmosphere for Jews.

Greensboro,NC Presb.Pastor Put on Paid Leave; Reggie Weaver Confesses to Extramarital Affair

After confessing to having an extramarital affair, Reggie Weaver -- the senior pastor of one of Greensboro, North Carolina's largest churches -- has been put on paid leave, the Charisma News website reports today (May 20, 2014).

Weaver -- widely considered a rising star in the Presbyterian denomination -- signed on as senior pastor nine months ago. Weaver and his wife, Ashley-Anne Masters, are getting divorced.

"I have violated my ordination vows and my wedding vows," Weaver, 33, wrote in a letter to his congregation at Westminster Presbyterian Church. "I am sorry and I ask your forgiveness."

One church member said reactions of worshipers were of sadness and forgiveness. Whether the denomination's forgiveness extends to reinstatement remains to be seen.

Monday, May 19, 2014

NH's Police Comr. Who Used "N-Word" Resigns; Robert Copeland Called Pres. Obama the "N-Word"

Town officials in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire confirmed today (May 19, 2014) that the police commissioner who was heard publicly calling President Obama the "n-word" -- sparking nationwide outrage -- has resigned, according to the Washington Post website.

Robert Copeland, 82 -- vice chairman of Wolfeboro's three-member police commission -- turned in his resignation to the head of the police commission late last night, town officials confirmed.

His resignation comes as several of New Hampshire's most prominent politicians -- including Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R) and Jeanne Shaheen (D) and Gov. Maggie Hassan -- had called for Copeland's ouster.

"Commissioner Copeland's reprehensible comments dishonor law enforcement officials across our state who work hard to ensure that all citizens are treated fairly, and the remarks do not represent the values of New Hampshire residents," said William Hinkle, a spokesman for New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan. "Governor Hassan believes that he should listen to the people of Wolfeboro and New Hampshire and apologize and step down in order to restore confidence in the Commission."

US Accuses Chinese Officials of Cyber-Espionage; Charges 5 with Hacking Firms to Get Trade Secrets

The United States today (May 19, 2014) brought the first of its kind cyber-espionage charges against five Chinese military officials accused of hacking into U.S. companies to gain trade secrets, the Huffington Post website reports.

According to the indictment, hackers targeted the U.S. nuclear power, metals and solar products industries and are accused of stealing trade secrets and economic espionage. The victims are Alcoa World Alumina, Westinghouse Electric Co., Allegheny Technologies, U.S. Steel Corp., United Steelworkers Union, and SolarWorld, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said.

"The alleged hacking appears to have been conducted for no other reason than to advantage state-owned companies and other interests in China at the expense of businesses here in the United States," Holder said at the Justice Department. "This is a tactic that the United States government categorically denounces."

Bob Anderson Jr.  - executive assistant director of the FBI's criminal, cyber response and services division -- said: "This is the new normal. This is what you're going to see on a recurring basis."

Sunday, May 18, 2014

UGCC Warns Ukrainians on Presidential Elections; Calls for Honesty, Transparency and Responsibility

Due to the chaos and political instability that has recently been occurring in Ukraine, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) has published a letter, urging Ukrainians to "actively support" what it calls "crucial" presidential elections on May 25 and to "faithfully take part in them," the Zenit website reports today (May 18, 2014).

In a statement, a synod of the UGCC said that in the current difficult time in Ukraine there is a need for the "unity of all healthy forces of society and institutions more than ever."

They asked the candidates, their parties and representatives to "act honestly, transparently, and responsibly," not to use "loud, hollow and deceptive slogans" but present a "truthful program of necessary reforms in Ukraine."

The UGCC bishops called on all members of election commissions to be "responsible and honest" in their tasks and not to become co-authors of fraud or manipulation of the will of citizens.

Fire Destroys Detroit's First Unitarian Church; Final Service to Be Held Tonight at Church Site

The fire-ravaged ruins of the 123-year-old former home of Detroit's First Unitarian Church will host a final service at 7:30 p.m. today (May 18, 2014), the News Daily website reports.

A fire destroyed the vacant church yesterday.

The group Preservation Detroit is organizing the service. It says the ceremony will have music and readings, including a speech delivered at the First Unitarian's first service November 29, 1890.

The Romanesque Revival-style building joined the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. It has been vacant for about 10 years.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Jew, Muslim to Join Pope's Mission in Holy Land; It's First Papal Delegation to Include Other Faiths

A rabbi and a Muslim leader will join Pope Francis on his upcoming trip to the Holy Land, the Christian Broadcast Network website reports today (May 17,  2014).

According to the Vatican, it will be the first time an official papal delegation has included members of other faiths.

Francis' two longtime friends and collaborators from his days as archbishop of Buenos Aires -- Rabbi Abraham Skorka and Omar Abboud, a leader of Argentina's Islamic community -- are on the official delegation for the May 24-26 trip to Jordan, the West Bank, and Israel.

A Vatican spokesman says their presence on the delegation was an "absolute novelty" desired by Francis to show the "normality" of having friends of other faiths.

Pregnant Christian Mother to Be Hanged in Sudan; Sentenced to Death for Not Rejecting Christianity

A Christian mother in Sudan -- who is pregnant with a second child and has been sentenced to 100 lashes and death on charges of apostasy and adultery -- has a long legal battle ahead even as her wheelchair-bound husband says his hope lies only in his prayers to God, the Christian Post website reports today (May 17, 2014).

Mohamed Jar Elnabi, the lawyer of Meriam Yahia Ibrahim -- a 27-year-old Greek Orthodox Christian who has a 20-month-old son and is eight months pregnant -- says he plans to file an appeal application tomorrow.

The young mother was convicted on April 30, and given three days to recant her Christian faith on May 11. "The court has sentenced you to be hanged till you are dead," Judge Abaas Al Khalifa finally told her on May 15, after she refused to forsake Christianity.

Ibrahim has been kept at the Omdurman Federal Women's Prison with her son since February 17.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Boys in France Wear Skirts as Protest to Sexism; "Lift the Skirt" Move in Schools Sends a Message

Male students have turned up to school in Nantes in western France wearing skirts in an anti-sexism move called "Lift the Skirt," the Euro News website reports today (May 16, 2014).

The pro-equality initiative aims to reduce sexism in French schools received the backing of the local education authority, and the majority of the boys.

"I thought wearing a skirt is no big deal and if it does some good ... then great," said one young man in fetching orange.

Outside the school the skirt-wearing males were met by around 150 members of a right-wing anti-gay marriage group protesting against the move -- calling it "scandalous."

NYC Cabbie Wearing Swastika Armband Suspended; Violated Taxi Rule Prohibiting Inappropriate Act

A New York City cab driver is facing a 30-day suspension for operating his taxi while wearing an armband branded with a Nazi swastika, the Algemeiner website reports today (May 16, 2014).

After receiving complaints from members of the public, Jewish human rights group the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) sent a letter to the chief operating officer of the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC). The League said it was "extremely disturbed by this provocative display," and urged the commission to promptly investigate.

TLC subsequently suspended the cabbie's operator's license for 30 days after the driver pleaded guilty a rule that prohibits "any act that is against the best interests of the public."

The TLC named the offender as Gabriel Diaz. New Yorkers began to report the driver to the TLC from as early as March of this year, a source told Algemeiner.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Thousands Protest in Turkey Over Mine Disaster; Chant for Govt. to Resign, Over 270 Miners Dead

Thousands of people in Istanbul have been protesting against the deadly mine disaster that occurred in Turkey this week, the Euro News website reports today (May 15, 2014).

Many gathered in Taksim Square -- the scene of last summer's rallies -- chanting for the government to resign.

The four main unions have called for a national strike to be held today.

They say the explosion -- which left more than 270 dead -- was not an accident, but a crime or a "work murder." In Turkey's capital, Ankara, around 800 students protested.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

France Says US Had an Obligation to Attack Syria; Obama Ignores Pledge, Syria Still Uses Chemicals

France regrets that the U.S. did not carry out threatened air strikes against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as punishment for its use of chemical weapons, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said yesterday, the France 24 website reports today (May 14, 2014).

"We regret it because we think it would have changed lots of things ... but what is done is done, and we're not going to rewrite history," Fabius told a press conference on an official visit to Washington, D.C.

He cited U.S. President Barack Obama's "red line" pledge to order a harsh response if Assad used chemicals against his own people -- with France ready to assist in the operation -- but Obama did not abide by his own pledge.

Fabius also asserted that the Assad government still has not stopped using deadly chemical weapons -- even today. "We have information showing that the Syrian regime has fired barrels of powder with chlorine inside from helicopters at least 14 times in recent weeks," Fabius said.

Lesbian Clergy Candidate Is Rejected by the UMC; United Methodist Policy Bans Ordaining Lesbians

A lesbian clergy candidate in the United Methodist Church (UMC) has been rejected for possible ordination by the denomination, the Christian Post website reports today (May 14, 2014).

After a long and uncertain process, Mary Ann Barclay released a statement yesterday confirming that the Board of Ordained Ministry rejected her candidacy.

"Today is painful but it is not the end. I still dare hope," wrote Barclay, who was initially rejected by the Board without an interview due to her sexual orientation.

According to the UMC Book of Discipline, "self-avowed practicing homosexuals" are banned from "being certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church."

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

EU Court Orders Turkey to Pay $124M to Cyprus; Due to Its 1974 Invasion, Turkey Won't Pay Fine

A record-breaking judgement against Turkey for its 1974 invasion of Cyprus is likely to further damage its frayed relationship with Europe. Turkish officials said today (May 13, 2014) that it will not pay the 90 million euros ($124 million) in damages ordered yesterday by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) -- the largest such ruling in the court's history -- according to the Christian Science Monitor website.

European Union (EU) support for Turkey's membership bid has already been diminished by accusations of growing authoritarianism and waning press freedom, as well as anti-European rhetoric by Turkish leaders to score points domestically. Turkey's refusal to pay the court damages to Cyprus will only hurt its chances of EU membership.

The ECHR ruling also risks stalling reunification talks over the island of Cyprus, which remains divided between the Greek south and Turkish north 40 years after the Turkish invasion. The money would go to the families of those who died or went missing in the invasion and to Greek Cypriots who remained in an enclave in the Turkish-controlled north.

Turkey's refusal may be the first such instance since it accepted the ECHR's jurisdiction when it was founded in 1959. Non-payment is likely to result in sustained diplomatic pressure and economic sanctions from the Council of Europe -- a 47-nation body that recognizes the court's jurisdiction.

Former Israeli PM Gets Six Years for Taking Bribes; Ehud Olmert Accepted Bribes in Jerusalem Project

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, 68, has been sentenced to six years in jail for his role in the Holy Land corruption case, the Euro News website reports today (May 13, 2014).

Ten individuals have been convicted in the process which involves bribery connected to the development of a controversial residential project in Jerusalem. Olmert pocketed 105,000 euros while mayor of the city.

His lawyer Eli Zohar confirmed that Olmert is appealing the case to a higher court: "He did not take bribes, he didn't receive a bribe, he says he is innocent and will go with us to the Supreme Court."

Prosecution lawyer Liat Ben-Ali believes justice has been served: "The court has spoken, read the words and take them on board. Whoever accepts bribes, whoever gives bribes is corrupt. And whoever is corrupt goes to jail for a long time."

Monday, May 12, 2014

Harvard Satanic Mass Canceled Due to Perversity; RC Church Objected to Re-enactment of Ritual

The Harvard University Extension School Cultural Studies Club has dropped its sponsorship of a re-enactment of a Satanic "black mass" ritual, which was scheduled to occur this evening (May 12, 2014) at Cambridge Queen's Head Pub, The Crimson website reports.

The Harvard Extension School Cultural Studies Club originally said that it planned to relocate its re-enactment of a Satanic black mass ritual to an off-campus site, citing in an email that "misinterpretations about the nature of the event were harming perceptions about Harvard and adversely impacting the student community."

The club wrote in its email around 5 p.m. today that it planned for the event to be held at The Middle East nightclub in Central Square -- about a half-mile from Harvard's main campus -- at 9 p.m. But Clay Fernald -- the general manager of The Middle East -- said this evening that the nightclub will not host the event, as negotiations with the Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club had fallen through.

In response to the event's relocation, Terrence Donilon -- secretary of communications for the Archdiocese of Boston -- said the Catholic Church still condemns any re-enactment of the Satanic ritual, regardless of setting.

"Whether they have it at Harvard or at some other location, this is repugnant. No other community would stand up for this," Donilon said. "We recognize that we're a country that allows free speech, but we're also a country that shares in the common good. There's nothing good that comes out of desecrating the central element of the Catholic Church, which is the Eucharist."

Boston Area Rabbi Resigns Over Marital Infidelity; Barry Starr Served a Sharon Synagogue for 28 Yrs.

Rabbi Barry Starr -- a leader in the Conservative movement who has served a suburban Boston synagogue for 28 years -- resigned after acknowledging his marital infidelity, the JTA (Jewish Telegraphic Agency) website reports today (May 12, 2014).

Starr informed congregants at Temple Israel -- a Conservative synagogue in the heavily-Jewish populated south shore town of Sharon -- of his resignation in an emailed letter sent last week. In addition to engaging in marital infidelity, he acknowledged "other serious personal conduct which requires me to resign."

"I write this letter of a very heavy heart and a sense of shame and remorse that makes this the most difficult thing I have done in my life," the letter announcing his resignation said.

In a separate email, the executive director of Temple Israel wrote to congregants that some checks made payable to Rabbi Starr's discretionary fund over the past month have been "compromised." The Norfolk County District Attorney's Office, local, and state police are investigating the inappropriate use of these checks, according to Temple Israel president Arnie Freedman.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Teen Suspended for Not Standing During Pledge; Supreme Court Ruled Students Need Not Do So

A Texas high school sophomore was suspended for refusing to stand up during a Pledge of Allegiance recitation, the Christian Today website reports today (May 11, 2014).

Mason Michalec, 15, refused to stand up during the Pledge for most of the school year, but received a two-day in-school suspension on May 7 when a different teacher noticed he was sitting down.

"And she told me, 'This is my classroom. This is the principal's request. You're going to stand,'" Michalec told a Houston newspaper. "And I still didn't stand and she said she was going to write me up."

The Needville High School student said he is protesting the government's "big brother" activities. "I'm really tired of our government taking advantage of us," the teen said. "I don't agree with the NSA (National Security Agency) spying on us."

Principal Richard Janacek also allegedly told Michalec that he will continue to receive suspensions every time he sits down during the Pledge of Allegiance. Apparently, the principal does not know -- or doesn't care -- that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled over 50 years ago that public school students cannot be forced to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Women Sue San Diego Church for Sex Abuse; Say Counselor Fondled Them in Counseling Program

Six women are suing San Diego's Rock Church Ministries, saying they were sexually harassed at a drug and alcohol recovery program associated with the megachurch, the Christian Broadcast Network website reports today (May 11, 2014).

The lawsuit -- filed on May 8 in San Diego Superior Court -- says the Rock offered counseling and housing to women in a program led by David Powers, who is accused of repeatedly fondling the women.

The lawsuit seeks damages for sexual battery and other claims.

The Rock says the accusations are troubling, but that none of the alleged behavior occurred on its property or by anyone under its authority. The church says it stopped referring women to Powers' ABC Sober Living after learning of the allegations last week.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Mass. High Court:"Under God" to Stay in Pledge; Rules Children Not Harmed for Omitting Phrase

An atheist Massachusetts couple failed to prove their children had been harmed by the words "Under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, the state's highest court ruled yesterday (May 9, 2014), according to the Big News Network website.

The couple -- identified only as "John and Jane Doe" -- argued their children's rights were violated by the voluntary recitation of the pledge (including "Under God") in the public schools of the Acton-Boxborough regional school district. But the Supreme Judicial Court ruled unanimously they failed to make their case, saying they had not proved the children had been subjected to bullying, ostracism, or any other punishment or mistreatment for refusing to say the pledge or keeping quiet while everyone else was saying "Under God."

Chief Justice Roderick Ireland -- who wrote the court's opinion -- also said school officials in the district do not track students' patriotism, or lack thereof.

"John and Jane Doe" -- residents of the town of Acton -- got legal backing from the American Humanist Society for their lawsuit filed in Massachusetts' Middlesex County.

Turkish PM Storms Out of Ceremony Due to Critic; Furious Speaker Accused Him of Authoritarianism

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan lost his temper during a ceremony today (May 10, 2014), heckling a speaker who accused him of authoritarian tendencies before walking out of the room in fury, the AFP (Agence France-Presse) website reports.

The official ceremony -- which was aired live on Turkish television -- saw a visibly enraged Erdogan interrupt the head of the bar association, Metin Feyzioglu, whose lengthy speech took several jabs at the government's performance.

"You are insolent. You are disrespectful. This is a completely political speech, packed with lies," said Erdogan, who rose from his chair in anger.

Feyzioglu -- a young law professor and staunch critic of the ruling Islamist party in Turkey -- kept his cool during Erdogan's outburst and finished a speech that was met with applause by much of the attendance.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Nigerian Schoolgirls Raped, Face Sexual Slavery; Human Rights Group Infers Girls Being Abused

An African human rights group said that the more than 270 Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by Islamic militants Boko Haram have most likely been raped and face a life of sexual slavery if not rescued, the Christian Post website reports today (May 9, 2014).

"We can safely assume that the abducted girls have been raped by their captors, if not worse," said Rona Peligal, deputy director for the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch. "If they return home, they could be traumatized and stigmatized if they are known to be raped, pregnant, or with child from their abductors. What happens if they're trafficked would likely pale by comparison."

The Nigerian girls -- most of them Christians -- were taken last month from an all-girls school in Chibok, Borno State, after armed Islamic militants stormed in with trucks.

While Boko Haram has been waging war on the Nigerian government and has targeted Christians for over five years, the kidnappings have sparked an international outcry, with the U.S. announcing this week that it would send military, intelligence, and law enforcement agents to Nigeria to help with the search and rescue of the girls.

Pope Tells UN Head to Help Redistribute Wealth; Says More Must Be Done for World's Poor People

Pope Francis told United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon today (May 9, 2014) that the world body must do more to help the poor, and should encourage the "legitimate redistribution" of wealth, according to the Yahoo News website.

Francis -- who since his election last year has often called for significant changes to economic systems -- made his comments in an address to Ban and heads of many UN agencies meeting in Rome.

"In the case of global political and economic organization, much more needs to be achieved, since an  important part of humanity does not share in the benefits of progress and is in fact relegated to the status of second-class citizens," Francis said.

Francis -- an Argentine -- is the first non-European pope in 1,300 years and is the first-ever Latin American pontiff. He has consistently used his meetings with world leaders -- including U.S. President Barack Obama in March -- to champion the cause of the world's poor people.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Syrian Rebels'Blowup of Aleppo Hotel Kills Scores; Syria's Military Was Using This Hotel as a Barracks

Scores of Syrian troops were killed today (May 8, 2014) when insurgents detonated explosives packed into a tunnel they had dug under an Aleppo hotel that the Syrian military had been using as a barracks, The Guardian website reports.

The attack was the biggest militants have launched in the western half of Syria's largest city, which is under regime control.

The insurgents dug a tunnel thought to be at least 400 meters long towards the Carlton Citadel hotel from a frontline in the Old City district that splits Aleppo roughly down the middle.

The Islamic Front -- one of three main opposition groups fighting to remove Bashar al-Assad as Syrian leader -- claimed responsibility for the attack.

NJ Orthodox Rabbi Pleads Guilty to Kidnapping; Took $100K from Woman Seeking Get from Ex

Rabbi David Wax of Lakewood, New Jersey this week pleaded guilty to kidnapping charges as part of a scheme to force an Israeli man to give his wife a get (a religious writ of divorce), the JTA (Jewish Telegraphic Agency) website reports today (May 8, 2014).

The Orthodox rabbi admitted to being paid $100,000 to compel the man -- identified as Yisrael Briskman -- to grant his wife a get. The money came from Briskman's estranged wife.

Wax lured Briskman to his house on October 17, 2010, had him beaten up by a group of thugs, and threatened to bury him alive in the Pocono Mountains unless he agreed to give the get, according to court papers. Under Orthodox Jewish law, women whose husbands refuse to grant them religious writs of divorce may not remarry; these women are known as agunahs (chained women).

On May 6, Wax pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit kidnapping, and faces life in prison and a $250,000 fine. He will be sentenced on August 19, 2014.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Vatican Defrocked 848 Priests in the Past 10 Years; UN Pressure Forced Vatican to Release Abuse Data

In response to being pressured by a United Nations inquiry, the Vatican has released data -- for the first time -- on the number of priests it punished for child sexual abuse cases in the last decade, the Slate website reports today (May 7, 2014).

The Vatican revealed yesterday that over the past decade, it has defrocked 848 priests who raped or molested children and sanctioned another 2,572 with lesser penalties, thus providing the first ever breakdown of how it handled the more than 3,400 cases of abuse reported to the Holy See since 2004.

There are around 410,000 Catholic priests worldwide, which means about 0.83 percent -- or 1 in 120 -- priests were officially punished by the Vatican over the past 10 years. This covers only punishments handed down by the Vatican -- as opposed to local diocesan tribunals -- which means that the total number of sexually abusive priests is probably much higher.

The Catholic Church says that penalties short of defrocking are given to elderly or infirm priests who would otherwise be left destitute, and that they are kept away from contact with children.

Rev. Strongylis Is Elected Metropolitan of Sweden; Was Greek Orth.Pastor of Boston,Lowell Churches

The Holy and Sacred Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople elected unanimously on May 5, 2014 the Very Reverend Archimandrite Cleopas Strongylis as the Metropolitan of Sweden and All Scandinavia, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese website reports. The Metropolitan-elect served as Dean of the Annunciation Cathedral in Boston since 2009, and before that served as pastor of the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Lowell, Massachusetts from 2004 to 2009.

On a personal note, I have been a life-long member of Lowell's Holy Trinity Church -- viewed as the most beautiful Greek Orthodox Church in the world by many church architects -- and I was friendly with Metropolitan-elect Cleopas while he was its pastor. Moreover, I attended church services at Boston's Cathedral a few times since 2009, and he still remembered my name.

His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America upon the announcement of the election stated: "We congratulate His Grace, Metropolitan-elect of Sweden and All Scandinavia, Cleopas Strongylis on his election and wish him strength and grace from above as he will shepherd parishes in Sweden, Denmark, Iceland and Norway. May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be always with the newly elected Metropolitan in his diakonia." (The Greek-derived word "diakonia" may be defined as "ministry" or "service.")

Metropolitan-elect Cleopas was born in Athens in 1966. In 1994 he graduated summa cum laude from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, Massachusetts, with a Master's degree in Sacred Theology. In 1996 he was awarded a Doctorate of Theology from the Theological School of the Aristotelian University of  Thessaloniki in Greece.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

US to Send Team to Nigeria to Free Abducted Girls; Islamic Militants Took Some 300 Girls from School

The White House announced today (May 6, 2014) that it is going to send a team to Nigeria to help assist its government in finding nearly 300 girls who were abducted from their school by Islamic extremists last month, the Washington Post website reports.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said that the United States will provide military personnel, intelligence, and hostage negotiators to help the government.

Carney said that Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan welcomed the U.S. offer. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke with President Jonathan this morning, according to Carney.

Carney added there is a "utility to having U.S. military personnel and experts on intelligence" on the ground in Nigeria, "and hostage negotiators to assist and advise the Nigerian government as they deal with this challenge."

Sisi: Muslim Brotherhood "Finished" in Egypt; Says Egyptians Rioted Against It, Still Debar It

Egyptian presidential candidate Abdel Fatteh al-Sisi says the banned Muslim Brotherhood group will never return to Egypt. The former military chief was speaking in the first television interview of his election campaign, the Euro News website reports today (May 6, 2014).

Sisi -- who is favored to win the presidential election scheduled for the end of this month -- led the ouster of the Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi from the presidency last year after mass protests against Morsi's rule.

When asked whether the Brotherhood would cease to exist during his presidency, the former military chief said: "Yes. That's right. It's not me that finished it -- the Egyptians have."

Sisi added: "The problem is not with me, it was with the Egyptian people. They have said 'No' twice [to the Brotherhood rule]. They have said 'No' on June 30th [2013, protests that led to the ousting of the former President Mohamed Morsi] and they are saying 'No' to the Brotherhood now."

Monday, May 5, 2014

Past US Amb. to Vatican to Leave Univ. of Dayton; Accused of Sexual Demands, to Teach at Loyola U.

A theology professor -- who is a former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican -- is moving from one Roman Catholic university to another after an investigation found it likely that he sexually harassed a married couple where he now works, the Inside Higher Ed website reports today (May 5, 2014).

Miguel Diaz -- who was President Obama's representative to the Holy See from 2009 to 2012 -- was found to have likely engaged in "unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature" toward a married couple who were his colleagues at the University of Dayton, according to a confidential letter written by Dayton's provost.

The married couple -- husband and wife professors who teach in the humanities -- accused Diaz of making various sexual requests and references to sexually explicit feelings. The suggestion that a Catholic theologian suggested an adulterous encounter involving both another man and another woman and that he made unwelcome requests of fellow academics could be problematic for Diaz, a Catholic theologian, who is a married father of four.

Diaz served as ambassador during the reign of Pope Benedict XVI and maintains a high profile. Diaz and his wife -- a fellow academic -- are both expected to soon leave Dayton for Loyola University in Chicago, also a Catholic institution of higher learning.

High Court OKs Prayer at Town Council Meetings; Reverses Ruling That Ended Prayer in Greece, NY

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today (May 5, 2014) prayers that open town council meetings do not violate the Constitution -- even if they routinely stress Christianity -- the One News Now website reports.

The court said in a critical and close 5-4 decision that the content of the prayers is not significant as long as officials make a good-faith effort at inclusion.

The ruling was a victory for the town of Greece, New York, outside of Rochester. A federal appeals court had ruled previously that Greece violated the Constitution by opening meetings with prayers that stressed Christianity.

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy -- writing for the majority -- said the prayers are ceremonial and in keeping with the nation's traditions. "The inclusion of a brief, ceremonial prayer as part of a larger exercise in civic recognition suggests that its purpose and effect are to acknowledge religious leaders and the institutions they represent, rather than to exclude or coerce nonbelievers," Kennedy said.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Ex-Cop Paints Anti-Semitic Graffiti in Brooklyn; Arrested for Graffiti on School, 20 Homes, Cars

A former New York City policeman was arrested today (May 4, 2014) for allegedly spray-painting anti-Semitic graffiti in an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Brooklyn, the Forward (Jewish) website reports.

Michael Setiawan, 36, was arrested today for the vandalism spree the previous night throughout Borough Park. His graffiti includes swastikas and disgusting epithets against Jews.

The anti-Semitic graffiti was spray-painted in red on a school building and on 20 private residences and cars. A surveillance camera at the school showed Setiawan spray-painting on the school's door, where hate graffiti was found. Setiawan was charged with criminal mischief and aggravated harassment, both as hate crimes.

"It is unconscionable that someone would spray such hateful graffiti across our community -- the crime is only more appalling that it was done on the holiest day of our week," said Councilman David Greenfield, who represents the area.

Okla. Pastor Resigns After Admitting Infidelity; Mark Crow Founded a Multi-Site Megachurch

Mark Crow -- founder of the Oklahoma multi-site congregation Victory Church -- stepped down from his role as senior pastor last week after confessing marital infidelity, the Christian Post website reports today (May 4, 2014).

"Mark will be focusing his full attention on his personal relationship with God, and beginning the process of bringing healing to the fractured relationships in his family and life," said the Rev. Dale Swanson, executive pastor of the church, in a statement. "Victory Church is fully committed to providing the counselors and ministers who will guide him through the process of reconciliation with God, and ensuring the best possible outcome for this next season in his life."

Crow -- who is also known as a televangelist, author, and international speaker -- has been married to his wife, Jennifer, for more than 20 years, and together they have five children and three grandchildren.

Crow and his wife began the church in 1994 with only 53 people, according to the church's website and now thousands gather in campuses in Oklahoma City, Edmond, Norman, and the African nation of Lesotho. Also, the church has a Hispanic satellite campus called Victory Iglesia.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Egyptian Court Sentences 102 Islamists to Prison; Sentenced to 10 Yrs. for Killing, Inciting Violence

More than 100 supporters of Egypt's deposed Islamist President Mohamed Morsi were sentenced to ten years in jail today (May 3, 2014) on charges of killing and inciting violence, the Big News Network website reports.

The verdicts for the 102 defendants -- handed down ahead of a May 26-27 presidential election -- relate to deaths that occurred during clashes in Cairo last July between supporters of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood and security forces.

Two other Brotherhood supporters, who were defendants in the case, received seven-year jail sentences, judicial sources said.

Militant violence has spiraled since last July, when the army toppled Morsi and the authorities launched a crackdown on his supporters in the Brotherhood. Thousands of the movement's supporters have been arrested and hundreds killed, and its leaders are on  trial.

Pope's New Panel for Protection of Minors Meets; O'Malley: Church Must Be Made Safe for Children

The Roman Catholic Church failed to recognize the worldwide reach of clerical sexual abuse, Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley said today (May 3, 2014) at a press conference in Rome, according to the Religion News Service website.

"Many don't see it as a problem of the universal church," said O'Malley who heads the Vatican's new commission for the protection of minors.

"In many people's minds it is an American problem, an Irish problem or a German problem," he said. "The church has to face it is everywhere in the world. There is so much denial. The church has to respond to make the church safe for children."

O'Malley -- whose Boston archdiocese was at the center of a wave of sex scandals that rocked the church a decade ago -- addressed the media after the panel's eight members held their first meeting in Rome.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Atheist Handbook Is Sent to Every UK Sec. School; Sent by British Humanist Assoc. for Free Thinking

A free copy of "The Young Atheist's Handbook" has been sent to every secondary school in England and Wales by the British Humanist Association (BHA), the Christian Today website reports today (May 2, 2014).

Subtitled "Lessons for Living a Good Life without God," the guidebook tells the true-life story of Bangladesh-born Alom Shaha, a science teacher who was brought up as a Muslim in southeast London.

He rejected Islam in favor of atheism following the early death of his mother, and wrote a book detailing his journey to encourage others who are searching to find meaning apart from religion.

The Young Atheist Handbook for Schools campaign was launched by science teacher and blogger Ian Horsewell, who wanted to offer every UK student the opportunity to consider and explore their own belief system in more detail.

Afghan Landslide Caused by Heavy Rain Kills 350; Thousands Still Missing, UN Aids in Rescue Effort

A landslide triggered by heavy rains buried a village in northeastern Afghanistan today (May 2, 2014), killing at least 350 people, according to a UN official, the USA Today website reports.

Ari Gaitanis -- from the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan -- says the UN is working with authorities on the ground to rescue people still trapped.

According to Badakshan Provincial police chief, Fazluddin Hayar, as many as 2,000 people are missing and dozens more are trapped under rocks.

The landslide occurred at about 1 p.m. today when a hill collapsed on the village of Hobo Bank, said Badakshan province Gov. Shah Waliullah Adeeb. More than 300 homes -- about a third of all the dwellings there -- have been buried, he said.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

US Officials: Syria Keeeping 27 Tons of Chemicals; Assad Uses Them as Way to Keep Storage Facilities

U.S. officials revealed today (May 1, 2014) that the months-long effort to dismantle Syria's chemical weapons program has ground to a halt because Syria is holding on to 27 tons of sarin precursor chemicals as leverage in a dispute with the international community over the future of facilities used to store the deadly agents, the Washington Post website reports.

Having turned over all but an estimated 8 percent of its chemical arsenal to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Syria missed a deadline of April 27 to relinquish the remnants of its arsenal, which are stored in 16 containers in Damascus, U.S. officials said.

The OPCW is insisting that a network of tunnels and buildings that were used to store the weapons must be destroyed. The government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has argued that the facilities should be repurposed.

"They're just stalling for time to hold on to some of these facilities," said a U.S. official familiar with the matter who would discuss the issue only on the condition of anonymity.

Today Marks 63rd Annual National Day of Prayer; DC Lawmakers Urge Americans to Pray for Nation

Today (May 1, 2014) marks the 63rd annual National Day of Prayer. This year's theme is "One Voice, United in Prayer," the CBN (Christian Broadcast Network) website reports.

An estimated 40,000 events nationwide will mark the day, including many at local, state, and national government buildings.

In Washington, D.C., lawmakers will observe the National Day of Prayer on Capitol Hill, where congressmen -- like Rep. James Lankford of Oklahoma -- are urging Americans to pray for the nation.

"There is still a God in heaven who hears our prayer" and "cares about our lives," Lankford said.