Southern Baptists poll public perceptions of denomination's name

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - A new poll by the Southern Baptists'

LifeWay Research showing that 44 percent of respondents have an

unfavorable view of the denomination could be an argument for

changing the name of the nation's largest Protestant denomination.

In September, Southern Baptist Convention President Bryant

Wright announced he was forming a task force to study the idea and

give him a recommendation. He says a change could help the

denomination of about 16 million plant new churches.

Although 53 percent of respondents overall had a favorable view

of Southern Baptists, the high negative numbers are a concern for a

denomination with a major focus on evangelism.

The name change idea has been proposed and defeated multiple

times over the years. What may be different this time is that the

idea comes at a time of declining membership for the denomination.


Mayor rejects atheist banner for holiday display including


ELLWOOD CITY, Pa. - A Pennsylvania mayor has refused to add a

banner from an atheist group that says "there are no gods" to a

holiday display that includes a Nativity scene and symbols of

Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, Santa Claus, a snowman and a Christmas tree.

Ellwood City added secular symbols to its annual display after

the Freedom From Religion Foundation complained last year that the

Nativity scene amounted to a government endorsement of religion.

Seeking to head off a similar challenge this year, Mayor Tony

Court also invited the atheist group to contribute something to the

modified display. The group mailed a sign that read: "At this

season of the Winter Solstice, may reason prevail. There are no

gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our

natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens

hearts and enslaves minds."

Court said that banner won't be added, because nothing in the

display "puts down what others believe."


Public comment pouring in on mountain Jesus statue

KALISPELL, Mont. (AP) - Officials managing the Flathead National

Forest in Montana have received more than 90,000 comments as they

consider whether to renew a lease for a 25-square-foot parcel of

federal land on Big Mountain that's been home to a statue of Jesus

since 1955.

The Daily Inter Lake reports that the forest service is hearing

mostly from people who support the statue and the lease renewal,

including 70,000 online comments from supporters of a letter

written by the American Center for Law and Justice.

On Tuesday, the agency received another 10,000 comments

collected by U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg's congressional website, also

supporting renewing the lease for the statue - a memorial for World

War II soldiers erected by the Knights of Columbus.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation and the Flathead Secular

Association oppose the lease renewal, arguing that a religious

statue on public land violates separation of church and state.


ACLU, Sumner school board agree on policies

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - The American Civil Liberties Union and

the Sumner County, Tenn., Board of Education have agreed on

policies to be followed in the aftermath of a suit claiming

educators were promoting Christianity.

In a consent decree announced Wednesday, schools officials

cannot advance their personal religious beliefs to students.

Religious symbols and items may not be publicly visible to

students. School officials cannot encourage or solicit prayer at

school functions.

Additionally, course materials and choral music must have a

clear pedagogical purpose.

An attorney for the board did not return an after-hours

telephone call from The Associated Press for comment on the decree.

The ACLU claimed the school system had an unconstitutional

pattern of religious activities.


Perry ad accuses Obama of waging war on religion

WASHINGTON (AP) - Republican presidential hopeful Rick Perry -

with nowhere to go but up - is making an aggressive play to rise in

Iowa by courting evangelical Christians who could help revive his


The Texas governor on Wednesday started a month-long, $1.2

million ad campaign in the leadoff caucus state. He plans to spend

more than $650,000 this week on an ad promoting his Christian faith

and accusing President Barack Obama of waging a "war on


The ad also serves as a contrast with rival Mitt Romney, whose

Mormon faith gives many evangelicals pause, and Newt Gingrich, who

recently converted to Catholicism but has been divorced twice and

has acknowledged infidelity in his first two marriages.

In the ad Perry says, "there's something wrong in this country

when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can't

openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school."


Letter spurs hearing in NJ abortion lawsuit

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) - A lawsuit filed by a group of nurses over

abortions performed at a Newark hospital is headed back to court a

week earlier than expected after the hospital said it will hire

additional staff to care for patients undergoing the procedure.

The 12 nurses filed a federal lawsuit last month against the

University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey claiming that

they were being forced to assist in abortions over their religious

and moral objections, a violation of state and federal law. The

lawsuit seeks a temporary restraining order against the hospital.

The hospital denied the claims, but last Friday it sent a letter

to the nurses saying it would hire additional staff to meet all

patient needs.

A judge was supposed to rule on the restraining order on Dec.

22, but now the parties are scheduled in court next Friday.


Court to review decision in funeral protest ban

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - A federal appeals court will take

another look at whether a St. Louis suburb can enforce a funeral

protest ordinance drafted in response to picketing by an anti-gay

Kansas church.

The full 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis will

meet Jan. 9 to reconsider a three-judge panel's October ruling in

favor of members of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka. In the

now-vacated ruling, the panel upheld a district court decision that

peaceful protests near funerals are protected by the First

Amendment's right to free speech.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in favor of

Westboro Baptist Church in a lawsuit filed by the father of a

fallen Marine who sued the church for the emotional pain they

caused by showing up at his son's funeral. However, the Supreme

Court didn't specifically address the funeral protest laws.


Indonesians in NJ fear deportation despite deal

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) - Members of Congress have introduced

legislation aimed at helping Indonesian Christians who are facing

deportation after living and working legally in the U.S. for years.

The Indonesian Family Refugee Protection Act would allow

Indonesians who fled religious persecution to reapply for asylum.

The proposed legislation comes in response to a recent wave of

deportation letters sent to Indonesian immigrants in New Jersey who

have been living and working legally in the U.S. under a special

agreement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The Rev. Seth Kaper-Dale of The Reformed Church in Highland Park

says more than 70 Indonesians in the New Jersey community have

received deportation warning letters in recent months or have been

told to report to ICE offices with a one-way ticket to Indonesia.

He says those affected are mostly Christians who fled economic

instability and religious persecution in Indonesia - the world's

most populous Muslim country - in the late 1990s.


Walking 40 miles in Jesus' shoes

CAPERNAUM, Israel (AP) - A new trail across northern Israel

offers travelers the chance to walk in the footsteps of Jesus.

The newly opened Gospel Trail winds for 39 miles from Nazareth

to Capernaum, where Jesus is said to have established his home


It begins at Mount Precipice, where a mob nearly threw Jesus off

a cliff after a sermon he made in a local synagogue. From there,

the path goes to Mount Tabor, said to be the site of the

Transfiguration, where Jesus spoke to Moses and Elijah and God

called him his son. A side path heads to Kana, where Jesus is said

to have turned water into wine.

At Capernaum, pilgrims can take a boat across the Sea of

Galilee, where Jesus is said to have walked on water.

Israel's Tourism Ministry believes the new trail may attract up

to 200,000 Christians to northern Israel over the coming year.

Christians comprise about two-thirds of the 3.45 million people who

visited Israel in 2010.


Israeli police: Arsonists attack West Bank mosque

BRUKIN, West Bank (AP) - Israeli police and residents of a West

Bank village say arsonists have set fire to a Palestinian mosque.

Mayor of Burkina village Accra Samara says a flaming tire was

thrown into the entrance of the mosque early Wednesday, and that

assailants scrawled the words, "Hero of Ariel."

Ariel is a nearby Jewish settlement.

An Israeli police spokeswoman says they're investigating the


Hardline Jewish youths are suspected to be behind a series of

attacks against Palestinians and their property, including several



Egypt military wants to oversee constitution draft

CAIRO (AP) - Egypt's military rulers say the next parliament

won't be representative enough to independently oversee the

drafting of a new constitution, so they'll appoint a council to

guide the process and protect it from the influence of religious


Egypt just completed the initial stage of the first elections

since Hosni Mubarak's ouster in February, with Islamist groups

seizing an overwhelming majority. In theory, the new parliament

will be entrusted with forming a constituent assembly to write the

new constitution.

However, liberals and the military are now concerned that

religious extremists will exert too much influence over the


A member of the ruling military council says the constitution

must be representative of all of Egypt, and not just of the

parliamentary majority, so its advisory council will include

members of political parties, intellectuals, artists and

presidential hopefuls.


Pope illuminates big Christmas `tree' via Tablet

VATICAN CITY (AP) - Pope Benedict XVI has illuminated a huge

Christmas tree lighting display on an Italian mountainside by

tapping on a tablet computer from the comfort of the Vatican.

Benedict brought the "tree" to life through a wireless

connection. In reality the "tree," billed as the world's biggest,

is a display made up of nearly 1,000 lights on a mountainside in

Umbria. It is 1,476 feet by 2,460 feet and covers an area of 1.4

million square feet.

The 84-year-old Benedict has embraced new technology: Earlier

this year, he tweeted for the first time and put the Vatican's news

information portal online by tapping on an iPad.

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

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