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News of Faith, Teachers sue over "Proof of faith"

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MONROE, la. (KNOE 8 News & AP) - An American pastor jailed in Iran is sentenced to prison, lawsuits mount over mandated birth control and teachers sue over proof of faith.

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - The State Department says an American pastor who has been jailed in Iran since September has been sentenced to eight years in prison.

Spokesman Darby Holladay said Sunday that the department is calling on Iran to respect Saeed Abedini's human rights and release him.

Earlier this month Iran's semi-official news agency, ISNA, quoted Abedini's attorney as saying his client stood trial in the Revolutionary Court on charges of attempting to undermine state security by creating a network of Christian churches in private homes.

The pastor, who is of Iranian origin but lives in Boise, Idaho, has rejected the charges. Holladay says the State Department is in close contact with Abedini's family and actively engaged in the case.

PROOF OF FAITH-LAWSUIT

VENTURA, Calif. (AP) - A Southern California Christian school is suing two former teachers who had threatened a lawsuit over the school's practice of demanding proof of faith from its employees.

The teachers lost their jobs at Little Oaks School in Thousand Oaks last year after refusing to provide a statement of faith and a reference from a pastor. The Ventura County Star reports that when the teachers threatened to sue, school leaders filed their own federal lawsuit.

The school and its owner, Calvary Chapel of Thousand Oaks, say their right to hire teachers who share their beliefs is protected by the California Constitution, the U.S. Constitution's right of the free exercise of religion and civil rights laws.

The school is incorporated as a for-profit entity. The newspaper says the teachers argue that a state law prohibiting religious discrimination doesn't exempt for-profit religious groups.

BIRTH CONTROL-LAWSUITS

NEW YORK (AP) - Lawsuits over the birth control mandate in the federal health care overhaul seem headed to the Supreme Court.

The provision of President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act requires employers to provide health insurance that covers contraception.

Dozens of lawsuits have been filed by faith-affiliated charities, hospitals and universities. They say the mandate forces them to violate their religious beliefs. For-profit business owners are also suing over the religious freedom issue.

The Obama administration is trying to come up with an accommodation for faith groups before the rule takes effect for them in August.

Meanwhile, the lawsuits by business owners are producing conflicting rulings in federal courts around the country.

At the center of the cases is the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the 1993 law that bars the government from imposing a substantial burden on the exercise of religion for anything other than a compelling government interest pursued in the least restrictive way.

EPISCOPAL FUTURE

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) - South Carolina Episcopalians who remain loyal to their national church are moving forward with a provisional bishop and name after the Diocese of South Carolina left the denomination last year.

Nineteen parishes and six worship groups in the diocese refused to leave The Episcopal Church. On Saturday, they met at Grace Church in Charleston to install the Right Rev. Charles Glenn vonRosenburg as the new bishop.

He's a retired bishop of the Diocese of East Tennessee. He pleaded for tolerance and understanding during a difficult period.

At the convention, images of the seal were obscured and the name "the Diocese of South Carolina" was replaced with "The Episcopal Church in South Carolina." That's because a state judge ruled that only the breakaway diocese can use the name Diocese of South Carolina.

CHURCH-VULTURE EFFIGY

JACKSONVILLE, N.C. (AP) - A North Carolina church's use of a dead vulture to ward away live ones seems to be working.

The Daily News of Jacksonville reports that Bethlehem Baptist Church contracted with the U.S. Agriculture Department to use vulture effigies to ward off live birds that were destroying the church roof.

The effigy is a taxidermist-prepared vulture body attached to a decoy head, because real bird heads disintegrate too quickly.

The dead bird went up about a month ago. Vultures that used to flock to the church roof now hang out elsewhere.

The USDA also has used bird effigies to reduce the potential for bird strikes on military planes at the New River and Cherry Point air stations. The USDA hung effigies from the water towers in Jacksonville and Havelock.

CLERGY ABUSE

Friar accused of abuse in 2 states kills self

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Police say a Franciscan friar accused of sexual abusing students at schools in two states has committed suicide in a western Pennsylvania monastery.

Blair Township police Chief Roger White says an autopsy confirmed that Brother Stephen Baker died of a self-inflicted knife wound.

White said officers were called to St. Bernardine Monastery in Hollidaysburg on Saturday after another resident found Baker not breathing. 

Baker, who was 62, was named last week in legal settlements with 11 men who alleged he sexually abused them at a school in Warren, Ohio, three decades ago. A school in Johnstown, Penn., said it also had received molestation allegations involving Baker.

The Youngstown diocese previously said it was unaware of the allegations until nearly 20 years after the alleged abuse.

Youngstown Bishop George Murry called for prayers for abuse victims, for Baker's family and for "the repose of his soul."

Feds: `Monsignor Meth' dealt drug, bought sex shop

UNDATED (AP) - Jury selection has been scheduled for March for a suspended Roman Catholic priest in Connecticut charged in an alleged methamphetamine drug-selling operation.

Sixty-one-year-old Monsignor Kevin Wallin of Waterbury remains detained without bail on federal charges accusing him of shipping methamphetamine from California to his apartment and making more than $300,000 in drug sales in the second half of last year. He was one of five people arrested and indicted by a grand jury this month.

Wallin resigned as pastor of St. Augustine Parish in Bridgeport in June 2011, citing health and personal problems. Diocese of Bridgeport officials suspended him last May.

A diocese spokesman told the Connecticut Post that there were complaints about Wallin's appearance, erratic behavior and sexual encounters with men in the St. Augustine rectory.

HOLOCAUST REMEMBRANCE

Holocaust victims mourned at Auschwitz and beyond

WARSAW, Poland (AP) - Holocaust survivors, politicians, religious leaders and others have marked the International Holocaust Remembrance Day with solemn prayers and warnings to never let such horrors happen again.

Events Sunday took place at sites including Auschwitz-Birkenau, the former death camp where Hitler's Germany killed at least 1.1 million people, mostly Jews, in southern Poland. Sunday was the 68th anniversary of the liberation of the camp by Soviet troops in 1945.

In Warsaw, prayers were also held at a monument to the fighters of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943.

And in Rome, Pope Benedict XVI warned that "the memory of this immense tragedy, which above all struck so harshly the Jewish people, must represent for everyone a constant warning so that the horrors of the past are not repeated."

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