Entries in Religion (15)


Texas Cheerleaders Fight Back over Bible Verses

ABC News(KOUNTZE, Texas) -- Cheerleaders in a small East Texas town that worships two things -- God and football -- are now fighting back after the Bible verses they painted on banners to display at games were banned.

The cheerleading squad at Kountze High School, just north of Beaumont, Texas, would show their support for the team, and also display their religious beliefs, by painting Bible verses on the banners players run through before every game.

"We just wanted to encourage the boys," one cheerleader said.

The banners apparently offended someone, though, and that unidentified person complained to an atheist group, which argued that the Bible banners amount to a public school's advocating a particular religion, which is unconstitutional.

"This is not a Christian school and they cannot misuse their authority," Annie-Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Madison, Wis.-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, said.

Ultimately, school superintendent Kevin Weldon forced the cheerleaders to stop using scripture on the banners.  That was when the squad members put down their pompoms and picked up the phone, calling attorney David Starnes, who argues that the banners are not school sponsored.

"It was student led...student initiated," Starnes said.

The girls came up with the idea by looking at the social networking website Pinterest, where they saw that cheerleaders in Georgia had done the same thing with their banners a few years ago. Those were banned by their school, too.

The community is now cheering for the cheerleaders, with signs of support and online.  A Facebook page dedicated to their fight now has nearly 50,000 followers, which is 25 times more people than live in the town of about 2,000.

Kieara Moffett, a cheerleader at Kountze High School, said that the she believes this is about freedom of expression.

"They have the right to say whatever they want," she said. "But it's our religion and we want to portray that."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Secretary Clinton Delivers Powerful Religion Speech After Middle East Embassy Attacks

Win McNamee/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Secretary Clinton delivered a powerful and personal speech about religion at an Eid ul-Fitr reception, marking the end of the Muslim holiday of Ramadan. The speech, at times, was a direct response to the attacks on U.S. diplomatic missions in the Middle East, and the deaths of four diplomats at the hands of militants in Libya.

In her remarks, Clinton repeated much of what she’s said in the last two days, namely that the Benghazi attack was carried out by a “small and savage group,” and that the United States completely rejects what she called the “inflammable and despicable” anti-Muslim film circulating the Internet. However, Clinton pointed out all religions have faced insults and denigration, but that’s no justification for violence.  The response to such insults is what separates people of true faith from those who would use religion as an excuse to commit violent acts, she said.

“When Christians are subject to insults to their faith, and that certainly happens, we expect them not to resort to violence. When Hindus or Buddhists are subjected to insults to their faiths, and that also certainly happens, we expect them not to resort to violence,” said Clinton. “The same goes for all faiths, including Islam.”

She spoke movingly about her own personal beliefs as a way of re-enforcing her point.

“I so strongly believe that the great religions of the world are stronger than any insults.  They have withstood offense for centuries,” said Clinton. "Refraining from violence, then, is not a sign of weakness in one’s faith; it is absolutely the opposite, a sign that one’s faith is unshakable.”

She asked the crowd to work towards building a world where if one person commits a violent religious act, millions of people will stand up and condemn it.

“We can pledge that whenever one person speaks out in ignorance and bigotry, ten voices will answer,” Clinton said forcefully. “They will answer resoundingly against the offense and the insult; answering ignorance with enlightenment; answering hatred with understanding; answering darkness with light.”

The secretary urged the audience not to be discouraged by the hatred and violence that exists, but instead resolve to do something tangible to promote religious tolerance in their own communities.

“In times like these, it can be easy to despair that some differences are irreconcilable, some mountains too steep to climb; we will therefore never reach the level of understanding and peacefulness that we seek, and which I believe the great religions of the world call us to pursue,” she reflected. “But that’s not what I believe, and I don’t think it’s what you believe… Part of what makes our country so special is we keep trying. We keep working. We keep investing in our future,” she said.

This year’s annual Eid event honored three young Muslim-Americans who are part of the State Department’s Generation Change program. The initiative, launched by Clinton two years ago, supports young Muslims to develop positive organizations and movements around the world.

Clinton acknowledged that given the deaths of the diplomats killed in Libya this week, the event had a more somber tone than in years past. But she also highlighted the outpouring of support the United States has received from the Muslim world.  She thanked the Libyan ambassador, Ali Suleiman Aujali, who gave a heartfelt tribute to U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, whom he called his dear friend, killed in Benghazi on Tuesday.

“I must tell you, Madam Secretary, and tell the American people, that Chris is a hero,” said Aujali. “He loves Benghazi, he loves the people, he talks to them, he eats with them, and he [was] committed -- and unfortunately lost his life because of this commitment.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Michelle Obama Cites Jesus as Model for Citizenship

Official White House Photo by Sonya N. Hebert(NASHVILLE, Tenn.) -- First lady Michelle Obama Thursday offered a rare public reflection on her religious faith, telling a conference of the African Methodist Episcopal church that the life of Jesus Christ is a model for democratic organizing.

“It’s kind of like church,” Obama said. “Our faith journey isn’t just about showing up on Sunday for a good sermon and good music and a good meal. It’s about what we do Monday through Saturday as well, especially in those quiet moments, when the spotlight’s not on us, and we’re making those daily choices about how to live our lives.

“We see that in the life of Jesus Christ. Jesus didn’t limit his ministry to the four walls of the church,” she said. “He was out there fighting injustice and speaking truth to power every single day. He was out there spreading a message of grace and redemption to the least, the last, and the lost. And our charge is to find Him everywhere, every day by how we live our lives.”

Obama, who is not a regular churchgoer, said citizenship like the practice of faith is “not a once-a-week kind of deal.”

“Democracy is also an everyday activity,” she said. “And being an engaged citizen should once again be a daily part of our lives.”

The first lady said such engagement involved “the tireless, the thankless, relentless work of making change, you know, the phone-calling, letter-writing, door-knocking, meeting-planning kind of work.”

Her appearance at the Gaylord Opryland Resort in Nashville, Tenn., was dubbed an official event by the White House to recognize the history and legacy of the AME church, particularly its role in the civil rights movement.

“Time and again, history has shown us that there is nothing – nothing – more powerful than ordinary citizens coming together for a just cause,” Obama said. “And that is particularly true of folks in the AME church.”

The first lady concluded her trip to Tennessee with a campaign fundraiser in Memphis.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


First Edition Book Of Mormon Stolen

File photo. Jeff Blake/For The Washington Post(MESA, Ariz.) -- For decades, parents would bring their newborn babies to Helen Schlie’s bookstore so their infants could touch a first edition copy of the Book of Mormon. Missionaries from around the world were also drawn to the Mesa, Ariz., bookstore where they took pictures with the 182-year-old book. Some would even cry, Schlie said.

But this week, the 88-year-old shop owner discovered that the sacred text,which Mormons hold in equal reverence with the Bible, had been stolen from an unlocked file cabinet in the back office of her bookstore, Rare and Out of Print Books and Art. The book is valued at $100,000.

“So many people know where the book was. I’ve never had it under glass. I’ve always let people touch it and hold it and take pictures with it,” she told ABC News.

Schlie does not have security cameras in her store, but has a night watchman. She said she pinpointed a 20-minute window of time when her guard took a bathroom break that the theft must have occurred.

Her store is one block from the Mormon Temple in Mesa.

The Mesa Police Department said it is investigating the theft. Anyone with information about the missing book is asked to contact the Mesa Police Department.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Pew Survey: Majority of Mormons Lean Republican

Scott Eells/Bloomberg via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- With Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith often under the microscope, a new survey to be released Thursday finds that most Mormons feel they are misunderstood, discriminated against and not accepted by Americans as part of mainstream society.

In a survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, a majority of Mormons cite misperceptions about their faith, discrimination, and lack of acceptance as the biggest challenges facing them. Two-thirds, or 68 percent, feel they are not viewed as mainstream by society, while six in 10 say that Americans in general are uninformed about the Mormon faith. Nearly half of those polled, about 46 percent, say there is “a lot” of discrimination against their faith, while 54 percent feel that Mormons’ portrayal in television and movies hurts their image.

Evangelical Christians particularly are singled out by Mormons as the group that is unfriendly toward them. In a previous Pew poll, roughly half of evangelical Christians said Mormonism is not a Christian religion, higher than the national average of 32 percent who feel that way.

At the same time, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints express optimism about the future, with 63 percent saying that acceptance of their faith is on the rise.

Amid questions about his faith, one point that Romney has repeatedly made on the campaign trail is that he is a Christian, a sentiment that is echoed in the survey. An overwhelming 97 percent of Mormons describe themselves as Christians.

But the survey finds that a number of Mormon tenets are distinct from other Christian traditions. More than 90 percent of Mormons surveyed said they believe that God and Jesus Christ are separate physical beings, that the Book of Mormon was written by ancient prophets, that the president of their church is a prophet of God, and that families can be bound together eternally in Mormon temple ceremonies.

The survey found that the group is highly religious compared with the general public. Of those surveyed, 82 percent say religion is very important in their lives, compared with 56 percent of the general public.

Politically, Mormons are more conservative compared with the general public, the survey finds. Seventy-four percent of Mormons surveyed say they lean toward the Republican party, and 66 percent describe themselves as conservatives, much higher than the national average of 37 percent. That political ideology is reflected in their views of politicians -- 86 percent view Romney favorably and 50 percent hold a positive view of another Mormon candidate, Jon Huntsman. But considerably less, only 22 percent, are supportive of Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who is also a Mormon.

The survey is the first of its kind published by a non-Mormon group.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Calif. Bishop Admits Having Fathered Two Children, Resigns

David McNew/Getty Images(LOS ANGELES) -- A Catholic bishop serving in Los Angeles has resigned after admitting that he fathered two children over a decade ago, the L.A. archdiocese announced Wednesday.

Bishop Gabino Zavala submitted his resignation letter to Pope Benedict XVI and has since stopped serving as the head of the archdiocese, according to spokesman Tod Tamberg. The Los Angeles archdiocese is the largest in the country, Tamberg noted.

The diocese's archbishop, Jose Gomez, sent out a letter to parishes and schools Wednesday explaining the resignation, calling the situation "sad and difficult."

Tamberg said the bishop, who served as an auxiliary bishop in the San Gabriel region, announced in early December that he is the father of two teenage children who live with their mother in another state and had already submitted his resignation to the pope. There was no discussion about the circumstances ahead of time and the diocese did not know why Zavala decided to come forward with the information at this time, Tamberg said.

The diocese would not comment on who the family is, but said that they have reached out to offer spiritual and financial assistance to the children.

Zavala will go on to lead a private life, Tamberg said.

Zavala was a prominent bishop in the church, presiding over the U.S. arm of Pax Christi, the church's international peace movement. Prior to becoming a bishop in 1994, he had served at churches in the Los Angeles area since his 1977 ordination. He was not able to be reached for comment.

The Catholic Church enforces a vow of celibacy on its clergy.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Atheist Group: Nativity Scene Is a ‘Superstition,’ But Santa Can Stay

Jupiterimages/, Texas) -- The Freedom From Religion Foundation has taken offense with a nativity scene displayed outside a courthouse in downtown Athens, Texas.

The Keep Athens Beautiful Committee has been putting up the nativity scene since 2002, and County Judge Richard Sanders says it’s not violating any law, according to ABC News affiliate KBMT.

“Because we have all the other decorations, it’s legal,” Sanders said. “Our county attorney has looked into it.”

A Henderson County resident complained to the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Wisconsin-based atheist group, and the foundation notified the committee that the nativity scene was in violation of federal law. The foundation asked for the baby Jesus to be removed, or for a sign to be put up next to his crib that would 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.”

But while some believe Santa is “but myth and superstition,” no one has asked for a sign to be placed next to him, clarifying his non-existence. The town has several other seasonal decorations up, such as reindeer, garden gnomes and snowmen, but the nativity scene is the only decoration that has been criticized as a religious symbol. As for Santa, he’s more of a tradition than a religious icon, so the foundation has not taken issue with him.

Henderson County Commissioner Joe Hall says he’ll fight to keep the nativity scene in place.

“Don’t come down here and tell me there is no God. This nation is a Christian nation regardless of what those fruit loops and fruitcakes in Washington D.C. say. Hell will freeze over before I vote to have it removed,” Hall said.

Pastor Nathan Lorick of First Baptist Church in Malakoff, about 10 miles from Athens, said it was time to stand up and speak up in defense of Christianity, which is the majority in Athens.

“I hope this is a platform all across the nation that says, let’s take America back,” he said.

Multiple U.S. Supreme Court cases have dealt with similar controversies. Most recently, in 2010, in the midst of the Christmas tree vs. holiday bush debate, Salazar v. Buono, the justices ruled that a cross to honor veterans placed in 1934 on a rock located in a national park in southeastern California could remain in place.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Obama Will Light New National Christmas Tree

Robert Shafer/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama will officially light the National Christmas Tree on Thursday evening, inaugurating a new, significantly smaller, tree on the Ellipse and continuing a tradition 89 years in the making.

While the White House is eager to cut federal costs, this year’s tree was not a recession-friendly effort by the Obama administration. The 40-foot-tall Colorado blue spruce that had served as the national tree for 32 years was snapped in half by strong winds in February. The new, 26-foot-tall tree from New Jersey will make its grand debut as the National Christmas Tree on Thursday.

The tradition to have a national tree began in 1923 when President Calvin Coolidge lit 2,500 electric bulbs on a 48-foot balsam fir on Christmas Eve. Since then, the event has grown significantly. Thursday night’s lighting ceremony will include performances by Big Time Rush, the Black Eyed Peas, and Kermit the Frog.

The holiday season has officially arrived at the White House. Thursday’s tree lighting comes one day after the White House holiday decorations and this year’s theme -- “Shine, Give, Share” -- were unveiled to the public.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Ohio Churches Deny Craigslist Murder Suspect Is a Chaplain

Richard Beasley, left, and Brogan Rafferty. (ABC News)(AKRON, Ohio) -- Two churches denied Monday that suspected "Craigslist killer" Richard Beasley was a chaplain in their denominations or that he used their affiliations to mentor teenager Brogan Rafferty, who is charged with attempted murder.

Beasley, 52, who his mother said worked as an unpaid chaplain, was arrested on Nov. 16 along with 16-year-old Rafferty.

Rafferty's mother Yvette Rafferty told ABC’s Good Morning America that "Brogan looked up to Chaplain Rich Beasley. For 10 years now he's been taking the church and Bible studies."

Beasley was arrested for previous charges related to prostitution and drugs.

Beasley and Rafferty are suspected in the Craigslist killings of three men and the wounding of a fourth man, who managed to escape. Police have said they believe the motive of the killings to be robbery; the pair are accused of luring men to the state with the promise of employment.

Two churches that Beasley was associated with denied Monday that the suspect was a chaplain.

"[Rich Beasley] wasn't sanctioned through The Chapel," Tammy Kennedy, the executive assistant to the senior and executive pastors of The Chapel in Akron, Ohio, told ABC News. "He had no involvement whatsoever with the youth activities."

"Rich's mother is a very faithful member of the chapel," Kennedy said. "However, the other two men attended randomly, sporadically."

Kennedy said she did not know if reports that Beasley and Rafferty met through the church were true.

The Akron Bible Church in northern Ohio, which has also been connected to Beasley, also denied any direct link to him.

Carol Beasley said that her son acted as a mentor for Rafferty and tried to get him interested in history, since the boy struggled in school after his parent's divorce.

Yvette Rafferty told GMA that her son was manipulated by Beasley and that he is innocent.

The first victim has been identified as David Pauley, 51, from Norfolk, Va., and the second victim as Timothy Kern, 47, of Massilon, Ohio. The third victim has not yet been identified. Authorities are investigating the possibility of more victims.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


7 Amish Men Charged with Hate Crimes for Beard Cutting Spree

Richard Ellis/Getty Images(MILLERSBURG, Ohio) -- Seven Amish men have been charged with hate crimes for cutting the beards and hair of Amish men in a different religious sect.

The men, all family members of Bishop Samuel Mullet, Sr., allegedly forcibly restrained multiple Amish men and cut their beards and hair with scissors and battery powered clippers, injuring the men and others who tried to stop the attacks, according to a statement by the Department of Justice.

The attacks grew out of a religious feud between Mullet and the wider church, according to the criminal complaint against the Mullet family.

Mullet, as the head of the Bergholz clan sect of the church, excommunicated eight families who chose to leave the sect under his rule. His decision was investigated by the 300-member bishops council of the Amish church, which determined that the excommunications were vindictive and unfair, and overruled them.

The members allegedly began leaving the sect in 2005 because of Mullet's controlling behavior, according to the complaint. Mullet's former daughter-in-law and son-in-law told investigators that Mullet exercised complete control over the group, causing physical injury to those who defy him, including forcing members to sleep for days at a time in a chicken coop on his property and allowing public beatings. He also allegedly "counseled" married women by having sex with them in his home.

Mullet, accompanied by his sons, sons-in-law, and nephews, hired a driver to take them and their horse-drawn buggy to the home of one of the bishops that ruled against him. They knocked on the door and told the man they wished to speak with him, according to the complaint, and then assaulted the man and his son, known as Victims 1 and 2. They then pulled and cut their beard hair. They took pictures of the results and took the pictures with them, the document says.

The group then went to another victim's house and assaulted him, caused him pain, and then pulled and cut his hair as well, court documents state.

The hired driver that took the men to commit the crimes testified as a witness against them in the complaint.

Mullet's son-in-law, Emanuel Shrock, sent three letters to a fourth victim, convincing him to come to Shrock's home in Bergholz, Ohio, and then with the aid of others cut that victim's beard as well.

Johnny Mullet, Lester Mullet, Eli Miller, Daniel Mullet, and Levi Miller all confessed their involvement in the crimes to the FBI.

The suspects are charged with conspiring to violate the Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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