Religion news in brief

Mauro Olivieri

Venezuela’s cardinal says pope should pressure Nicolas Maduro focus on democracy, coexistence

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Pope Francis should pressure Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to focus on promoting democracy and peaceful coexistence to ease tensions with the socialist government’s opponents, the Catholic Church’s top representative in the country said.

Cardinal Jorge Urosa said last Sunday he expected the pontiff to try to persuade Maduro during their meeting Monday at the Vatican to cease his verbal attacks on political rivals and critics

The cardinal said he hopes to see “increased serenity and impartiality in the president’s language” following the meeting.

It will be the president’s first meeting with the new pope, who has called on Venezuela’s political rivals to work toward reconciliation after the April 14 presidential election that Maduro won by a thin margin.

The relationship between Maduro and leaders of Venezuela’s Catholic Church has not been friendly. But he appears to be attempting to improve ties with the church, which wields enormous influence among Venezuelans of all political leanings.

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NH court: scholarship money from business tax credit can’t be used at religious schools

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A judge has declared New Hampshire’s new scholarship program unconstitutional but allowed it to continue as long as none of the money goes to religious schools.

Under the program created last summer, businesses get tax credits for donating to a private organization that awards scholarships to students attending either private or public schools. The program’s supporters argue it would provide educational choice to low-income parents, while opponents have cast it as a back-door voucher system that diverts taxpayer money to religious schools.

The program was enacted by Republican lawmakers who overrode a veto by then-Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat. It survived a repeal attempt earlier this year, but was significantly altered by Monday’s court ruling.

In his ruling, Strafford County Superior Court Judge John Lewis sided with the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which challenged the program on behalf of a group of taxpayers.

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Police: Man admits to Vegas church arson, tells officers pastor was ‘not keeping it real’

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Police say a 35-year-old man who admitted to setting fire to a Las Vegas church told them the pastor tried to “back door him” and was “not keeping it real.”

A police report sheds more light on the arrest of 35-year-old Adrian Kincade, who was booked into Clark County jail on arson and burglary charges after the fire last Friday.

Officials say the building is used by Nellis Baptist Church and Mission International Roca Eterna.

No injuries were reported. Clark County fire officials estimated damages at $100,000.

The report says Kincade told officers he used bricks to break the front glass door, and used matches and paper to light up a bench and a table.

A deacon told officers that Kincade previously threatened the pastor and bashed another deacon’s phone.

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In visit to Israel, Barbra Streisand criticizes treatment of women by ultra-Orthodox Jews

JERUSALEM (AP) — Entertainer Barbra Streisand waded into one of Israel’s touchiest issues Monday on the first major stop of her tour of the country — Jewish religious practices that separate men and women.

Speaking at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem on Monday, where she received an honorary doctorate, she took aim at cases of ultra-Orthodox Jews targeting women, even as she warmly praised the country.

“I realize it’s not easy to fully grasp the dynamics of what happens in a foreign land,” she said.

But “it’s distressing to read about women in Israel being forced to sit in the back of the bus or when we hear about ‘Women of the Wall’ having metal chairs thrown at them when they attempt to peacefully and legally pray.”

She was referring to isolated incidents in which ultra-Orthodox men tried to force women to sit separately at the rear of buses that go through their neighborhoods, as well as more serious clashes in which ultra-Orthodox Jews tried to prevent women donning prayer shawls and carrying Torah scrolls from praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, the holiest site where Jews can worship.

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Civil rights groups sue NY mayor and top cop over post-Sept. 11 Muslim surveillance programs

WASHINGTON (AP) — Civil rights lawyers urged a U.S. judge to declare the New York Police Department’s widespread spying programs directed at Muslims to be unconstitutional, order police to stop their surveillance and destroy any records in police files.

In a lawsuit filed Tuesday, the lawyers said the spying has hindered the ability of residents to freely practice their religion. It is the third significant legal action filed against the department’s Muslim surveillance program since details of the spy program were revealed in a series of Associated Press reports in 2011 and 2012.

The lawsuit said that Muslim religious leaders in New York have modified their sermons and other behavior so as not to draw additional police attention. The suit was filed against Mayor Michael Bloomberg, police commissioner Raymond Kelly and the deputy commissioner of intelligence, David Cohen.

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Jordan’s king endorses treaty with UK, setting stage for deportation of radical preacher

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — Jordan’s King Abdullah II has endorsed a treaty with Britain that sets the stage for the possible deportation of radical Muslim preacher Abu Qatada.

Last week, Jordan’s parliament ratified the Treaty on Mutual Legal Assistance, intended to ease human rights concerns preventing the deportation of the cleric, whose real name is Omar Mahmoud Mohammed Othman, from Britain to Jordan.

Abdullah’s endorsement came in a royal decree published in Jordanian newspapers Tuesday.

Since 2001, successive British governments tried to deport Abu Qatada, but courts there blocked extradition over concerns that evidence obtained under torture could be used against him.

Recently, Abu Qatada said he’d go to Jordan voluntarily if the treaty is ratified.

He is wanted in Jordan for retrial in several terror cases in which he was sentenced in absentia.

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