Bill would reverse contraceptive coverage mandate

WASHINGTON (AP) - Congressional opponents of President Barack

Obama's contraceptive coverage mandate are backing legislation that

would exempt any employer who has religious or moral objections.

The Respect for Rights of Conscience Act is currently supported

by 38 senators and 186 House members.

Republican Congresswoman Jean Schmidt of Ohio says the First

Amendment protects the religious liberty of all Americans, not just

church-affiliated groups.

Democratic Congressman Dan Lipinski of Illinois calls Obama's

cost-shifting from church-affiliated groups to their insurance

providers "a shell game" that made no change to the mandated

coverage many employers find objectionable.

The White House has called the exemption legislation "dangerous

and wrong."


Contraception battle looms in Mass. Senate race

BOSTON (AP) - The debate over religious freedom and

contraceptive mandates has spilled into the Massachusetts Senate


Republican Sen. Scott Brown says Democratic candidate Elizabeth

Warren wants to dictate to religious people what they should


Warren supports President Barack Obama's proposal that would

allow workers at religious affiliated institutions to get free

contraception directly from insurers. She says Brown has adopted an

extreme position by backing a bill that would let employers and

health plans deny coverage for any service that violates their

moral beliefs.

But Brown has invoked the memory of the late Democratic Sen.

Edward Kennedy.

In a letter to Pope Benedict in 2009, a dying Kennedy said he

supported "a conscience protection for Catholics in the health



From China, no visa for U.S. religious rights envoy

WASHINGTON (AP) - The State Department says it has been unable

to secure a visa for its religious rights envoy to visit China.

Last September, U.S. Ambassador at Large for International

Religious Freedom Suzan Johnson Cook said China was one of the

"countries that have challenges in protecting religious freedom"

that she hoped to visit.

State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland says Cook submitted a

visa application and requested meetings with Chinese officials "a

couple of weeks ago," and would have liked to have been there by


But Nuland says, "The requested meetings have not yet come

through, and the Chinese government has not yet acted on the


Nuland denied a report in The Washington Post that China had

rejected Cook's visa application, and said the State Department was

still trying to arrange what she called "an important visit."


RI school officials to discuss prayer banner case

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - A Rhode Island school committee is set

to hold a public hearing on a federal court decision ordering the

removal of a prayer banner at a public high school.

Cranston School Committee member Janice Ruggieri says she

expects the board to vote Thursday on whether to appeal the ruling

in a lawsuit brought on behalf of 16-year-old atheist Jessica


A federal judge last month ruled the prayer banner displayed in

the Cranston High School West auditorium is unconstitutional and

ordered its removal. The banner is covered with wood pending a

decision on whether there will be an appeal.

Superintendent of Schools Peter Nero says he's asked police to

attend the meeting.

Ahlquist has been the target of online threats since the court



Judge: Man still unfit for trial in pastor's death

EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. (AP) - An Illinois judge has ruled that a man

accused of fatally shooting a pastor in mid-sermon three years ago

remains mentally unfit to stand trial.

That ruling raises the specter that Terry Sedlacek may never face a jury on charges that he gunned down the Rev. Fred

Winters at Maryville's First Baptist Church as a stunned

congregation looked on in horror.

Sedlacek had no known connection to the church or Winters, and

an investigator said Winters hadn't received any previous threats

before Sedlacek calmly walked into the church and opened fire.

Sedlacek has been confined for mental health treatment since

being found incompetent to stand trial seven months after the March

2009 shooting. Madison County Circuit Judge Richard Tognarelli said

there's no substantial probability that Sedlacek will regain his

mental wherewithal within the next year to stand trial.


High school debate erupts over Islamic song

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (AP) - Educators in Grand Junction, Colo.,

are backing a teacher in a dispute over an Islamic song being sung

by the high school choir.

Questions arose after a teacher included a song and dance in the

style of Islamic prayer chants.

According to KREX-TV, the composer said it was not intended for

a worship ceremony, but high school senior James Harper says it

conflicts with his religious beliefs.

District spokesman Jeff Kirtland says the teacher was open with

the parents, and students are not being required to participate.


Israeli library uploads Newton's theological texts

JERUSALEM (AP) - He's considered to be one of the greatest

scientists of all time. But Sir Isaac Newton was also an

influential theologian who applied a scientific approach to the

study of scripture, Hebrew and Jewish mysticism.

Now Israel's national library, an unlikely owner of a vast trove

of Newton's writings, has digitized his theological collection -

some 7,500 pages in Newton's own handwriting - and put it online.

Among the yellowed texts are Newton's famous prediction of the

apocalypse in 2060.

Newton revolutionized physics, mathematics and astronomy in the

17th and 18th century.

But the curator of Israel's national library's humanities

collection said Newton was also a devout Christian who dealt far

more in theology than he did in physics and believed that scripture

provided a "code" to the natural world.




Mexican Roman Catholic Church issues guidelines for voting

MEXICO CITY (AP) - Mexico's Roman Catholic Church has released

voter guidelines ahead of the July 1 presidential elections.

Religious groups in Mexico are banned from engaging in electoral

politics or supporting or opposing any candidate or party.

The guidelines published by the Archdiocese of Mexico on its

website only say that Catholics must not vote for "those who

support or promote false rights or liberties that attack the

teachings contained in the Holy Scriptures, tradition and doctrine

of the Church."

That appeared to be a reference to gay marriage and abortion,

both of which the church has hotly opposed.

The guidelines also say Catholics "should be alert to the

commitments of the candidates and their parties to respect the

foremost of all rights, which is the right to life, from the moment

of conception."

Pope Benedict is scheduled to visit Mexico from March 23 to 26.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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