Update on the latest religion news


National Prayer Breakfast organizer dies at 88

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) -- Doug Coe, who cultivated relationships with national and world leaders and whose ministry coordinated the annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, has died at the age of 88.

Family spokesman Larry Ross says Coe died Tuesday in Annapolis, Maryland, after a brief hospitalization following a heart attack and stroke. Ross says Coe died at home, surrounded by family members "who sang songs and hymns together by his bedside."

Born and raised in Oregon, Coe moved to Washington D.C. in the 1950s and helped facilitate weekly congressional prayer groups. In 1953, the House and Senate groups jointly invited President Dwight Eisenhower to speak at what became the first National Prayer Breakfast.

Coe's ministry, known as the Fellowship and later as the International Foundation, has continued to organize the annual event, which was held for the 65th time this month. Every president since Eisenhower has spoken at the National Prayer Breakfast.

Ross says, "Coe enjoyed working quietly behind-the-scenes to help introduce people of all walks, cultures, nations and faiths to Jesus of Nazareth."


186-a-14-(Larry Ross, spokesman for the family of Doug Coe, in AP interview)-"and international leaders"-Larry Ross, a spokesman for the family of Doug Coe, says the Coe died Tuesday at the age of 88. (22 Feb 2017)

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187-a-10-(Larry Ross, spokesman for the family of Doug Coe, in AP interview)-"Senate prayer groups"-Larry Ross, a spokesman for the family of Doug Coe, says Coe's ministry organized the annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington. (22 Feb 2017)

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188-a-11-(Larry Ross, spokesman for the family of Doug Coe, in AP interview)-"with President Trump"-Larry Ross, a spokesman for the family of Doug Coe, says, every president since Dwight Eisenhower has spoken at the National Prayer Breakfast. (22 Feb 2017)

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Bill to protect adoption agencies that turn away gay couples

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) -- An Alabama Senate committee has advanced a bill to let faith-based adoption agencies, including those that care for state foster children, turn away gay couples on religious grounds.

The Senate Health Committee on Wednesday voted 6-1 for the legislation that would prohibit the state from refusing to license, or contract with, adoption groups that refuse services to people on religious grounds

Sen. Bill Hightower says his bill would protect the 30 percent of adoption agencies that are faith-based. Hightower says the bill would keep that adoption channel open for needy foster children.

Denise Brogan-Kator of the Family Equality Council says it would give groups the "state's permission and taxpayer dollars" to discriminate against gay couples who want to adopt.

A House committee has passed a similar bill.


Nebraska senators advance bill to lift religious garb ban

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) -- A bill that would lift Nebraska's ban on religious garb worn by teachers in classrooms has won initial approval from lawmakers.

Senators gave the proposal first-round approval on Tuesday with a 36-1 vote.

The ban prohibits teachers from wearing any sort of religious garb, including habits, burqas and yarmulkes. It was enacted in 1919 under pressure from the Ku Klux Klan amid a national wave of anti-Catholic sentiment. It's rarely enforced but came to lawmakers' attention after a Catholic nun was rejected for a substitute teaching job in Norfolk, Nebraska.

Thirty-six states had adopted similar bans. Nebraska and Pennsylvania are the only ones that have yet to repeal them.

Speaker of the Legislature Jim Scheer says he introduced the bill because public schools shouldn't punish teachers for what they wear.


Pence condemns vandalism at Jewish cemetery

UNIVERSITY CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Vice President Mike Pence has visited a suburban St. Louis Jewish cemetery where more than 150 headstones were damaged earlier in the week. He said there is "no place in America for hatred or acts of prejudice or violence or anti-Semitism."

Pence said at the cemetery in University City that the people of Missouri are inspiring the nation with their "love and care for this place." He thanked them for "showing the world what America's really all about."

Pence was joined by Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, who is Jewish.

The vice president spoke earlier in the day in the St. Louis suburbs and condemned the incident as a "vile act of vandalism."

The cemetery posted on Facebook that 154 headstones were vandalized in the damage discovered Monday.


180-w-38-(Mark Smith, AP White House correspondent, with Vice President Mike Pence)--Vice President Pence has been visiting a Jewish cemetery in Missouri that was vandalized over the weekend in what he's called a "vile act" of anti-Semitism. AP White House Correspondent Mark Smith reports. ((Opens with sound)) (22 Feb 2017)

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173-a-15-(Vice President Mike Pence, speaking at Chesed Shel Emeth Society cemetery)-"really all about"-At a vandalized Jewish cemetery, Vice President Mike Pence says the community reaction to the vandalism is heartening. (22 Feb 2017)

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174-a-07-(Vice President Mike Pence, speaking at Chesed Shel Emeth Society cemetery)-"violence or anti-semitism"-At a vandalized Jewish cemetery, Vice President Mike Pence says what happened there must stop. (22 Feb 2017)

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181-r-36-(Sound of Vice President Mike Pence and other volunteers raking up debris, during a visit to the Chesed Shel Emeth cemetery)--Sound of Vice President Mike Pence and other volunteers raking up debris, during a visit to the Chesed Shel Emeth cemetery. (22 Feb 2017)

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161-a-07-(Vice President Mike Pence, in speech at a family-owned equipment and engine dealer)-"strongest possible terms"-Vice President Mike Pence says the administration abhors the vandalism at the Jewish cemetery. (22 Feb 2017)

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162-a-15-(Vice President Mike Pence, in speech at a family-owned equipment and engine dealer)-"and your care (applause)"-Vice President Mike Pence says it's great to see the community come together against the acts of vandalism. (22 Feb 2017)

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Walker's evangelical Alaskan cruise canceled

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- An Alaskan cruise with evangelical Christians that Gov. Scott Walker promised would be a "once-in-a-lifetime" experience has been canceled.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that Walker's spokesman confirmed that the August cruise had been called off "due to scheduling issues."

The tour run by Inspiration Cruises and Tours was to run from Aug. 12 to Aug. 19 and cost between about $1,300 and nearly $3,400. The trip is no longer listed on the tour website.

Walker was to be joined by first lady Tonette Walker, gospel singer Wes Hampton and Trudy Cathy White, whose father founded Chick-fil-A.

Walker had promised participants would "enjoy nightly inspirational messages about issues that directly impact our society and business climate today."


Pastor: I was shocked church was possible target

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -- The pastor of a historically black church in South Carolina says he was shocked to hear that his parish may also have been a target the night a white man fatally shot nine worshippers at a separate black church in Charleston.

The Rev. Rufus Berry said Wednesday that he canceled a Bible study scheduled for the Branch AME Church in Jedburg on the evening of June 17, 2015, because he was late getting off from his regular job.

In court documents unsealed Tuesday, federal prosecutors said they had evidence showing Dylann Roof exited the interstate and drove toward Berry's church following the killings at Charleston's Emanuel AME Church.

The 22-year-old white supremacist was found guilty in December of fatally shooting nine black parishioners at Charleston's Emanuel AME Church. He was convicted on 33 federal charges including hate crimes, and sentenced to death last month.

Berry says he thanked God "that he had us protected" and that he "would hate to know what the outcome would be" had there been a class that night.


Appeals court again nixes case involving SC Episcopal split

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) -- A federal appeals court has again refused to hear a case stemming from the Episcopal Church split in South Carolina.

The Post and Courier of Charleston reports that the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals remanded the case involving which bishop is the rightful church leader to Charleston's federal court.

Conservative parishes split with the national church in 2012 over theological issues. The bishop of parishes remaining with the national church later sued, alleging the bishop of the parishes that left committed false advertising by presenting himself as bishop.

A Charleston federal judge has twice opted not to proceed, preferring to wait for the resolution of a state lawsuit over the ownership of property and identities in the diocese. That suit now is stalled in the state Supreme Court.


Militants kill 2 Christians in Egypt's Sinai

EL-ARISH, Egypt (AP) -- Egyptian security officials say suspected militants have killed two Christians in the Sinai Peninsula, days after an Islamic State affiliate vowed to step up a wave of attacks on the embattled Christian minority.

The officials said Saad Hana, 65, was shot dead and his son Medhat, 45, was abducted and burned alive before their bodies were dumped on a roadside in el-Arish on Wednesday.

Coptic Christians, who make up 10 percent of Egypt's population, have increasingly come under attack since the military overthrow of an elected Islamist president in 2013. An IS video released this week cast them as allies of the West in a war against Islam and vowed further attacks.


Oklahoma court favors church in Syrian torture lawsuit

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- A court has ruled that a man from Syria who says he was tortured in his home country after converting to Christianity has no legal recourse against an Oklahoma church that published his name and baptism online.

The former Muslim is identified in the lawsuit only as "John Doe." He says that after his baptism in 2012 he returned to Syria and was kidnapped and tortured by radical Muslims. He claims he escaped by killing a relative who aided his captors.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that courts must refrain from "undue interference with religious beliefs and practices." It upheld a lower court ruling that church autonomy bars the courts from considering the plaintiff's claim.

The man's attorney in Tulsa didn't immediately return messages seeking comment.


Pope demands access for food aid to famine-struck S. Sudan

VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Pope Francis is demanding concrete action to get food aid to famine victims in South Sudan, saying words aren't enough to prevent millions from starving to death.

Francis' appeal Wednesday came a day after South Sudan President Salva Kiir promised "unimpeded access" for all aid organizations to reach the hungry. South Sudan has repeatedly promised such access, but with little effect.

Francis said: "At this time it's more necessary than ever for everyone to not just stop with words, but to take concrete action so that food aid can reach suffering populations."

The United Nations needs $4.4 billion by the end of March to prevent catastrophic hunger and famine in South Sudan, Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen, yet just $90 million has been collected so far


Detroit suburb agrees to settle lawsuits over planned mosque

STERLING HEIGHTS, Mich. (AP) -- A Detroit suburb that denied a religious organization's proposal for a mosque in a residential neighborhood has agreed to settle two federal lawsuits that alleged discrimination.

The Sterling Heights City Council voted Tuesday to accept the settlements, including one in a lawsuit brought in December by the U.S. attorney's office.

Federal authorities said Wednesday that Sterling Heights will allow construction of the mosque.

City officials say the settlement keeps Sterling Heights out of costly litigation.

The city's planning commission voted in 2015 against a special land agreement sought by the American Islamic Community Center. A lawsuit brought by the community center noted a "hostile" commission and public.

Sterling Heights says parking, traffic and issues involving the size of the mosque dome and spires have been addressed in the settlement.


Islamic group sues city over use of mosque's rooms, offices

VINELAND, N.J. (AP) -- An Islamic organization has filed a discrimination lawsuit accusing a New Jersey city of preventing the full use of its mosque.

The Garden State Islamic Center claims Vineland's imposition of an expensive, enlarged and unnecessary septic system means the mosque's second-floor religious education rooms, offices, library and bathrooms can't be used.

Defendants include the city, three municipal officials and 20 defendants who haven't been named.

The lawsuit seeks undisclosed damages and an order stating that the mosque's septic system and other land use operations are valid. The organization also wants the mosque to be declared tax-exempt and for a federal monitor to oversee court orders and the city's compliance with applicable federal laws.

City attorney Rick Tonetta said he hadn't read the lawsuit and couldn't comment.