North Korean Christians; Chinese Communists Warn Party Members about Religion; Christian...


Graham: Obama should offer food aid to North Korea's new leader

BOONE, N.C. (AP) - The Rev. Franklin Graham, whose ministry has

operated in North Korea for 15 years, says the death of Kim Jong Il

offers the U.S. a possible breakthrough in relations with the

isolated regime.

Graham has visited North Korea a number of times, most recently

in May, and his Samaritan's Purse relief organization has built

hospital facilities and provided food and agricultural assistance.

He says President Barack Obama should offer desperately-needed

food aid to Kim Jong Un, the young son and designated successor of

Kim Jong Il. Graham says doing so could ease tensions and the harsh

persecution of North Korean Christians.

The son of evangelist Billy Graham says Samaritan's Purse has

expressed its condolences to North Korean officials and may send a

small delegation to Kim Jong Il's funeral.





UN denounces NKorea rights violations

UNITED NATIONS (AP) - The U.N. General Assembly has

overwhelmingly approved a resolution denouncing widespread human

rights violations in North Korea ranging from public executions to

severe restrictions on freedom of religion, expression and


The General Assembly vote was scheduled before the announcement

late Sunday that North Korea's leader Kim Jong Il had died.

The 193-member world body urged North Korea "to immediately put

an end to the systematic, widespread and grave violations."

North Korea rejected the resolution, insisting there have been

no such rights violations in the reclusive communist nation.

The resolution was approved Monday by a vote of 123-16, with 51




Graham says he advocates for Christians in North Korea

BOONE, N.C. (AP) - The Rev. Franklin Graham says he advocates

for North Korean Christians when he visits the communist country.

Human rights groups say tens of thousands of Christians are

imprisoned, tortured and killed in North Korean concentration


It's unclear if that will change now that Kim Jong Il has died

and been succeeded by his son, Kim Jong Un.

Graham, whose Samaritan's Purse ministry provides food and

medical assistance in North Korea, says he has told officials there

that Christians are honest citizens and productive workers who

could make their country prosperous, like China.

Graham says they asked him how God could bless an atheistic

nation, and he responded that God would do it to show them He's


Graham's mother, the late Ruth Bell Graham, was the daughter of

missionary parents. She attended high school in North Korea in the

1930s, before the communist takeover.





China party official warns members over religion

BEIJING (AP) - A Chinese Communist Party official says growing

religious practice among members is threatening the party's unity

and leadership.

Zhu Weiqun reinforced the demand that party members not believe

in religion or engage in religious practice. He said religious

practice is a growing trend, especially in areas inhabited by

ethnic minorities, and must not be tolerated.

His remarks come amid a spike in tensions between Beijing and

the Vatican and crackdowns on independent churches, Buddhist

monasteries and religious practice among Turkic Uighur Muslims in

the northwest.

While China's Communist Party no longer actively works to

eradicate religion as it did under Mao Zedong, it remains deeply

suspicious of religious practice and strictly controls when and

where it can take place.



Study: Christian population shifts from Europe

NEW YORK (AP) - A new analysis shows how much the Christian

population has declined in Europe, while growing dramatically in

Africa and elsewhere.

The study by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion &

Public Life finds that Europe is now home to about a quarter of the

world's Christians, compared to two-thirds a century ago.

About one-quarter of the Christian population is now found in

sub-Saharan Africa. More than a third is in the Americas.

Overall, Christians remain the largest religious group in the

world, with nearly 2.2 billion people. Muslims are the

second-largest group, with about 1.5 billion adherents.

The smallest concentration of Christians is found in the region

where the faith began, the Mideast and North Africa, where

Christians are only about 4 percent of the population.





Gay couple sue Hawaii B&B, claim discrimination

HONOLULU (AP) - Two women are suing a Hawaii bed and breakfast,

saying they were denied a room because they're lesbians.

The lawsuit claims Aloha Bed & Breakfast discriminated against

Diane Cervelli and Taeko Bufford.

Cervelli says that when she called the business in 2007 to book

a room and said they would only need one bed, the owner asked if

they were lesbians. The lawsuit says that when Cervelli responded

truthfully, the owner said she was uncomfortable having lesbians in

her house because of her religious views.

According to the lawsuit, the bed and breakfast's owner told the

Hawaii Civil Rights Commission that homosexuality is "detestable"

and "defiles our land." The commission then issued a notice of

"reasonable cause to believe that unlawful discriminatory

practices have been committed" and notified the couple of their

right to sue.



Court rules in Ga. case on student's view of gays

ATLANTA (AP) - A federal court has upheld a ruling that Augusta

State University in Georgia was within its rights to require a

graduate school counseling student to keep her biblical views on

gays to herself.

A three-judge panel ruled that the university was following

protocol when it put Jennifer Keeton on a remediation plan and

threatened to expel her after she repeatedly said she would have

difficulty working with gay clients.

The university argued that it would risk its accreditation if it

didn't hold Keeton to a code of ethics. Keeton filed suit, claiming

the institution was punishing her for her Christian views.

The Alliance Defense Fund, which brought the suit, declined

comment on the ruling.



Church leaders urge gov. to repeal immigration law

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Several leaders of the Roman Catholic,

United Methodist and Episcopal churches in Alabama have sent a

letter to the governor, saying they're praying that he'll support

repeal of Alabama's immigration law.

Short of repeal, they said they pray that the governor will work

for revisions to what they called "an unjust and unfair law."

The six religious leaders who wrote the letter had previously

sued in federal court to try to overturn the law.

On Saturday, hundreds who oppose the law rallied at the Capitol

and Governor's Mansion in Montgomery.

The governor's press secretary said Monday that Bentley is

working on changes to ensure that the law is "fair and just,

promotes economic growth, preserves jobs for those in Alabama

legally, and can be enforced effectively and without prejudice."



Reverend cut off by Panhandle city council

PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) - A Florida minister says he shouldn't have

been abruptly cut off by Pensacola's city council president and

surrounded by police while talking about his free speech rights.

Video shows the Reverend Nathan Monk of St. Benedict Orthodox

Church telling council president Sam Hall he would not leave the

podium because he had more time remaining.

Monk says the Thursday night incident stemmed from a Dec. 12

meeting when some audience members were ousted during debate about

the city's efforts to curtail panhandling and sleeping in public


The Pensacola News Journal reported that two other council

members left the council meeting because they were offended by

Hall's treatment of Monk.



Polygamous family launches challenge of Utah law

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Reality TV stars Kody Brown and his four

wives say they just want to be left alone.

As authorities investigate them for bigamy, the TLC "Sister

Wives" family is asking a federal judge to overturn part of Utah's

bigamy law because it bans them from living together and

criminalizes sexual relationships between unmarried consenting


Their lawyer says Brown and his wives are asking for the right

to structure their family "according to their faith and their


If their lawsuit is successful, it could help decriminalize a

way of life for tens of thousands of self-described Mormon


The Browns are members of the Apostolic United Brethren and

practice polygamy as part of their religious beliefs.

The family - Kody, Meri, Janelle, Christine and Robyn, plus 17

children - fled Utah for the Las Vegas suburbs in January after

authorities launched a bigamy investigation. No charges have been




Pope OKs 7 new saints, including Hawaii's Marianne

VATICAN CITY (AP) - Pope Benedict XVI has approved seven new

saints for the Catholic Church, including Hawaii's Mother Marianne

and a 17th-century Native American, Caterina Tekakwitha.

Benedict signed decrees Tuesday approving miracles attributed to

the intercession of the seven, clearing the last hurdle before

their canonizations. Benedict also signed decrees that 65 Catholics

died as martyrs during Spain's civil war and will be beatified, one

step shy of possible sainthood.

Marianne cared for leprosy patients on Hawaii's Molokai

peninsula in the late 1880s, soon after the death of Father Damien,

who was canonized in 2009. Tekakwitha, who lived from 1656-1680 in

the U.S. and Canada, became the first Native American to be

beatified in 1980.



Hungary's top court strikes down new religion law

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) - Hungary's Constitutional Court has

struck down the country's restrictive new church law as well as

parts of its disputed media law and the criminal code.

The Constitutional Court findings published Monday were a

response to Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government, which, backed

by a two-thirds majority in Parliament, has been pushing through

legislation at a chaotic pace.

The church law, which would have gone into effect Jan. 1, only

included 14 Christian churches and Jewish congregations, forcing

all others to seek recognition from two-thirds of Hungary's


The court also rejected aspects of the media law, including

rules on content regulation and confidential sources.



2 Muslim men kicked off flight sue airlines

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Two Muslim men who were kicked off an

airplane in May are suing Delta Air Lines Inc. and a regional

carrier that operated the flight from Memphis to Charlotte, N.C.

The suit was filed Monday in federal court against Delta and

Atlantic Southeast Airlines. It said the men - Masudur Rahman and

Mohamed Zaghloul - went through several security checks. It claims

the pilot wanted them off the plane because he thought their

presence would make other passengers uncomfortable.

The men are described in the suit as having beards and

"traditional Arabic clothing." It seeks compensation for losses

and injuries as well as punitive damages.

The men were traveling to attend a conference on how to deal

with anti-Muslim discrimination.



Maldives president condemns Islamic protest

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) - The president of Maldives, an island

chain in the Indian Ocean, has condemned a protest planned by an

Islamic party against what it calls anti-Islamic activities in the


A government statement Monday quoted President Mohamed Nasheed

as saying that the real goal of the protest is the introduction of

Islamic penalties such as stoning, amputations and executions.

Nasheed defended working women and said Maldives should continue

to practice a moderate form of Islam that allows recreation, sports

and music.

Several organizations that campaign for strict Islamic rules

including the Adaalath or Justice Party are calling for the protest


The country of 300,000 people forbids practice of religions

other than Sunni Islam.



New president calls for Tunisia's Jews to return

TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) - Tunisia's newly elected president has

called for the Arab country's Jewish population to return, in

statements carried by the state news agency.

During a meeting with the country's Grand Rabbi Haim Bittan,

President Moncef Marzouki said Tunisia's Jews are full citizens and

those that had left were welcome to return. His comments come

almost two weeks after Israeli deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom

called on the country's remaining Jews to emigrate to Israel.

Tunisia presently has a Jewish population of 1,500, but in the

1960s there were 100,000. Most left following the 1967 war between

Israel and Arab countries, and Socialist economic policies adopted

by the government in the late 1960s also drove many Jewish business

owners out of the country.



(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


AP-NY-12-20-11 0332EST


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