Update on the latest religion news


No immediate ruling on Dakota Access pipeline

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A federal judge says he'll decide within a week whether to temporarily halt construction of the final section of the Dakota Access pipeline over claims that it violates the religious rights of two Indian tribes.

U.S. District Judge James Boasberg told lawyers at a hearing Tuesday that he wants to issue a ruling before oil begins flowing in the pipeline.

The Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes want Boasberg to order the Army Corps of Engineers to withdraw permission to lay pipe under Lake Oahe in North Dakota. Tribal attorney Nicole Ducheneaux argued that the mere existence of an oil pipeline under the reservoir that provides water to neighboring reservations violates their right to practice their religion, which relies on clean water.

Corps attorney Reuben Schifman said the tribes waited too long to raise the religion claims and argued that they haven't shown that the pipeline creates a "substantial burden" on their religious practices.


186-v-33-(Steve Coleman, AP religion editor)--A federal judge says he'll decide within a week whether to temporarily halt construction of the final section of the Dakota Access pipeline over claims that it violates the religious rights of two Indian tribes. AP Religion Editor Steve Coleman reports. (28 Feb 2017)

<<CUT *186 (02/28/17)££ 00:33


Outpouring of community help for vandalized Jewish cemetery

PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Dozens of volunteers from various faiths are helping clean up a Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia where vandals damaged hundreds of headstones.

The volunteers are doing general cleanup and mapping of graves in one-hour shifts ahead of major repairs at Mount Carmel Cemetery.

Fifty-two-year-old landscaper Michael Bristow of Philadelphia, who is Catholic, was among those who showed up Tuesday. He says he assumes kids from a neighboring playground were responsible. He says "I thought this was all over with" and asked "why is this still going on."

One volunteer came from Boston.

Police have not determined who was behind the vandalism or the motive. The Anti-Defamation League is offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and the Fraternal Order of Police is offering $3,000.


218-a-11-(Steven Rosenberg of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, in AP interview)-"and a half"-Steven Rosenberg of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia says damage to the Mount Carmel Cemetery is extensive. (28 Feb 2017)

<<CUT *218 (02/28/17)££ 00:11 "and a half"

219-a-08-(Michael Bristow, volunteer, in AP interview)-"a human being"-Volunteer Michael Bristow says he isn't Jewish but he feels he should help clean up the damage. (28 Feb 2017)

<<CUT *219 (02/28/17)££ 00:08 "a human being"

220-r-07-(A rabbi and volunteers, singing at Mount Carmel Cemetery)--Sound of a rabbi and volunteers singing at Mount Carmel Cemetery. (28 Feb 2017)

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Trump to visit Catholic school in Florida

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The White House says President Donald Trump plans to visit a Catholic school in Florida.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders says the president will visit St. Andrew Catholic school in Orlando, Florida, on Friday for a listening session on school choice.

On the school's website, Principal Latrina Peters-Gipson says 295 of St. Andrew's 344 students use the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program.

Trump supports expanding such "voucher" programs to give parents more choices about where to send their children to school.

Peters-Gipson says "faith is an important component of our education, but we are inclusive and only 10 percent of our students are Catholic."


Chicago cardinal takes stand on immigration enforcement

CHICAGO (AP) -- Chicago's Roman Catholic archdiocese has told its schools not to let federal immigration agents into their buildings without a warrant.

Cardinal Blase Cupich (blayz SOO'-pitch) issued the directive in a letter sent Monday to principals of more than 200 schools and other officials in the nation's third largest archdiocese.

Hispanic students make up nearly a quarter of the 76,000 students in the archdiocese's schools.

For weeks, parents and school officials have reported that children have expressed fears that they or their friends will be grabbed by immigration agents or they will come home to find their parents have been taken.

A spokesman for Homeland Security declined to comment but pointed to the department's website, which says enforcement action at "sensitive locations," such as schools and churches, "should generally be avoided."


Prep school that was offered for free finally given away

NORTHFIELD, Mass. (AP) -- The owners of a vacant Massachusetts prep school who have been trying to give away the campus for years say they have found takers.

The former campus of the Northfield Mount Hermon School will be turned over in May to California-based Thomas Aquinas College, which will open a campus there -- and to the nonprofit Moody Center, which will open a museum honoring the 19th-century evangelist who founded the Northfield school.

The 217-acre property has been vacant since Northfield Mount Hermon consolidated at another site in 2005. The Hobby Lobby craft stores bought the property in 2009 and later asked the National Christian Foundation to find an institution to take it for free. Two previous deals fell through.

The new owners were chosen because of their willingness to continue the school's Christian mission.


Police investigating string of church break-ins

NEWBURYPORT, Mass. (AP) -- Police in Massachusetts are investigating after four churches were burglarized earlier this week.

The Newburyport Daily News reports that three houses of worship in Newburyport and another in Salisbury were broken into overnight Sunday.

Newburyport police say a burglar vandalized the Old South Presbyterian Church, Unitarian Church and the Christian Science Reading Room as well as a nearby business.

Salisbury police say a thief or thieves broke through a back door at the East Parish Meetinghouse and stole an undisclosed amount of money from the church's safe.

Police in both municipalities spent are collecting evidence and pursuing leads. Fingerprints were taken from the Salisbury break-in.

Salisbury police Chief Thomas Fowler says it's very disappointing that someone would target churches.


Indiana House OKs bill on prayer in schools

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- A legislative proposal whose author says it would put prayer back in schools has cleared the Indiana House.

The measure by Democratic Rep. John Bartlett of Indianapolis directs school corporations to adopt policies allowing students to pray aloud at school events. He argues it would not mandate that students pray in school, but would affirm their right to do so.

Bill opponents question whether it's needed because freedom of religion is already acknowledged in schools. Some argue it could cause harm by identifying some students as irreligious if they choose not to participate.

The bill cleared the House 83-12 Monday and now moves to the Senate for consideration.

It also encourages high schools to offer classes on world religions and affirms students' right to wear religious clothing or jewelry.


Pastor faces 60 years in prison for fleecing 2 parishioners

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (AP) -- The former pastor of a church in Stratford, Connecticut, has pleaded no contest to charges that he fleeced two parishioners out of a combined $400,000.

Prosecutors say 67-year-old Robert Genevicz faces 60 years in prison at sentencing May 26 after entering his plea Monday.

He remains free on $100,000 bond.

The Connecticut Post reports that Genevicz and his lawyer refused to comment after the hearing.

Authorities say as pastor of Stratford Baptist Church, Genevicz stole nearly $200,000 from retired school teacher Patricia Stosak and $200,000 from the estate of 88-year-old Arthur Devack. Both have since died.

Police say Genevicz took out loans under Devack's name to buy two Mercedes-Benzes, one for him and one for an alleged accomplice.


Criticism remains as town gives early OK for Muslim cemetery

FARMERSVILLE, Texas (AP) -- An Islamic association has again received permission from a Texas town to move forward with plans for a Muslim cemetery, despite opposition from residents seeking to block the project.

Officials in Farmersville, northeast of Dallas, approved a conceptual plan Monday for the cemetery just outside the town.

Farmersville spokesman Michael Sullivan says the Islamic Association of Collin County two years ago presented a similar plan but never moved forward with a more detailed proposal, causing its earlier application to lapse.

Thirty-five acres have been purchased for the project. Muslim leaders say the handful of Muslim cemeteries in North Texas have little remaining space.

Some residents suspected the cemetery would be a prelude to a mosque or a training center that would allow extremists into the region.


Pakistani court frees man sentenced to death for blasphemy

ISLAMABAD (AP) -- A Pakistani court has freed an Islamic preacher who was sentenced to death four years ago on charges of blasphemy, according to a defense lawyer.

Chaudhry Mehmood Akhtar says that a judge in the city of Rawalpindi acquitted Mohammad Ishaq on Friday after finding him "completely innocent" of insulting Islam. Ishaq was custodian at a shrine in Punjab province when he was arrested and sentenced to death in 2013 after a citizen accused him of claiming in conversation to actually be God.

Under Pakistan's blasphemy laws, anyone accused of insulting God, Islam or religious personalities can be sentenced to death.

Human rights groups have called for amending the laws, which are often misused against the country's minority Christian community. In 2015, a Muslim mob beat a Christian couple to death and burned their bodies for allegedly desecrating the Quran.


Austria: Nigerian women forced into sex trade through voodoo

VIENNA (AP) -- Austrian police say they have arrested two Nigerian nationals on suspicion of forcing young women into prostitution, in part through voodoo rites.

Police spokesman Johann Baumschlager says the man and woman are accused of being part of a criminal organization, of human trafficking and of engaging in the international prostitution trade.

He says they forced at least 10 young Nigerian women into the sex trade in part by engaging "a voodoo priest, who made them submissive through certain rites." Baumschlager says the victims were repeatedly threatened with new voodoo spells and told they each owed $53,000 for their transport to Europe.

He says the male suspect is cooperating with police but the woman denies the accusations.