White House Christmas Tree; Billy Graham Has Pneumonia; Study: Many Atheists Take their Kids to...


Obama: Christmas is about Christ's birth and message

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama says Americans of all

faiths can unite around Christ's message of love and service.

At Thursday evening's ceremonial lighting of the National

Christmas Tree in Washington, Obama said, "Christ's birth made the

angels rejoice" and was "a manifestation of God's love for us."

The president said that as a Christian, he takes to heart

Christ's admonition to love God and neighbor, and believes it can

unite people regardless of how they worship.

Obama urged the crowd to honor Christ's words by being generous

during the Christmas season and helping others in need, including

"the homeless, the hungry, the sick and shut in."




Hospital says evangelist Graham has pneumonia

ASHEVILLE, N.C. (AP) - The Rev. Billy Graham has been diagnosed

with pneumonia but remains in good spirits at a North Carolina


Dr. Mark Hellreich, a pulmonologist treating Graham at Mission

Hospitals in Asheville, said Thursday that the 93-year-old

evangelist is responding well to antibiotic treatment and is in

stable condition.

Graham was visited Thursday by his pastor, the Rev. Don Wilton,

who prayed with him and read from the Bible's book of Ephesians.

Graham is alert and talking with hospital workers, and has also

been visited by his daughter, Gigi.

In May, Graham spent five days in the hospital during a bout

with pneumonia.

Graham rarely appears in public. The Billy Graham Evangelistic

Association is run by his son, Franklin.






Newsboys singer is part of Christmas concert tour

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - Former dcTalk singer Michael Tait can sound

a lot like the late Nat King Cole this time of year.

Tait, who's now lead singer for the Newsboys, sings "Chestnuts

roasting on an open fire" and other Christmas songs on "The

Story" tour, which kicked off Thursday night in Wichita, Kan., and

continues tonight in Dallas.

Joining the Newsboys on "The Story" Christmas tour are Steven

Curtis Chapman, Natalie Grant and Francesca Battistelli.

Tait says the three-hour show mixes Christmas songs with

dramatic musical depictions of major characters from the Bible.

When he's off-stage and home for the holidays, Tait says he's

always asked to sing "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire" and the

rest of the classic whose actual title is "The Christmas Song."




Study: Some atheist scientists take their children to church

HOUSTON (AP) - A new study suggests that a surprising number of

atheists are taking their children to church.

Research published in the December issue of the Journal for the

Scientific Study of Religion found that 17 percent of atheist

professors with children reported attending more than one religious

service in the past year.

The study's principal investigator, Rice University sociologist

Elaine Howard Ecklund, says that while some atheist academics

attended religious services to please their spouses, others were

seeking the company of fellow parents or wanted to expose their

children to a moral environment. She says some atheist scientists

simply wanted their children to learn about religion so they could

make up their own minds.

The researchers from Rice University and the State University of

New York at Buffalo surveyed a scientifically selected sample of

275 university faculty members.





Breakaway group to return church after court loss

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) - A congregation that split from the

Episcopal Church four years ago will give back the church building

and property in downtown Savannah after a recent legal loss in the

Georgia Supreme Court.

David Reeves, senior warden for the breakaway group at Christ

Church, said Thursday evening that the congregation is working with

the Episcopal Church to transfer the $3 million church property by

Dec. 12. He says his group decided it would be "a longshot" to

ask the high court to reconsider its 6-1 ruling issued Nov. 21.

Founded in 1733, Christ Church was the first church established

in Georgia. The congregation split from the Episcopal Church in

2007 in a dispute over the consecration of the denomination's first

gay bishop. Both sides sought rights to the property in court.



Chicago church objects to new Pride Parade route

CHICAGO (AP) - Leaders of one of Chicago's oldest Roman Catholic

churches are objecting to a newly-proposed route for the city's

annual gay pride parade, saying the event will draw large crowds

outside the church and block access to Sunday Masses.

The parade through parts of Chicago's North Side attracted

800,000 people last year, according to organizers.

The revised route would now go by Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church,

where officials say the event on the last Sunday in June could

prevent them from having morning Mass for the first time in nearly

100 years.

The parish priest, Father Robert Srenn, says his church hosts a

weekly service geared toward gay parishioners and doesn't oppose

the parade on religious grounds. Church officials have asked

parishioners to contact Chicago Alderman Tom Tunney, an openly-gay

leader who attends the church. Tunney said he has spoken to Srenn

and they're working on a solution.



Committee backing gay marriage ban in NC formed

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - A campaign committee has been formed to

raise money and work for approval of an amendment to North

Carolina's constitution that would ban gay marriage.

The "Vote FOR Marriage NC" organization has filed paperwork

with the State Board of Elections.

Initial coalition members include the Baptist State Convention

of North Carolina, the North Carolina Values Coalition, a group of

black pastors and the National Organization for Marriage.

The Legislature agreed in September to put the proposed

amendment on the ballot next May.

A referendum committee opposing the amendment called the

Coalition to Protect North Carolina Families formed in early


North Carolina state law already limits marriage to a man and a

woman, and the amendment would make such a marriage the only

domestic legal union recognized in the state.



ACLU: FBI used outreach to collect info on Muslims

WASHINGTON (AP) - The American Civil Liberties Union says the

FBI has been using community outreach programs, which are intended

to build partnerships, to collect information on Muslims.

Documents obtained by the ACLU show that some FBI agents were

documenting names, emails, phone numbers, physical descriptions and

opinions of people they met at Muslim-related events in Northern


The FBI says some of these documents are from actual

investigations and are not part of the community outreach program

reporting. The documents are so heavily blacked out that it's not

immediately clear what they are.

The bureau's community outreach program is designed to improve

the public's trust in the bureau. The FBI says it's standard for

agents to record basic information about people they meet with at

outreach events.



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


AP-NY-12-02-11 0333EST


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