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.
NATIVITY DISPLAY-ATHEIST BANNER
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."
MOUNTAIN JESUS STATUE
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
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
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
A judge was supposed to rule on the restraining order on Dec.
22, but now the parties are scheduled in court next Friday.
FUNERAL PROTEST LAW
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
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
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
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.)