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Religion News in Brief

LANCASTER, Calif. (AP) - A national Muslim group and an atheist organization are condemning comments by Mayor R. Rex Parris that the city is "growing a Christian community."

Parris made the remarks last week during his annual State of the City address before an audience of mainly clergy and their spouses.

"We're growing a Christian community, and don't let anybody shy away from that," he said, according to the Antelope Valley Press. Parris is also promoting a ballot measure that supports prayer at public meetings with reference to a specific deity such as Jesus.

"I need them standing up and saying we're a Christian community, and we're proud of that," he said. On a screen behind him flashed a picture with a cross and the phrase "2010 Growing a Christian Community," the Antelope Valley Press reported.

Hussam Ayloush of the Los Angeles office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said "elected officials should not use public positions to impose their religious beliefs on others."

Annie Laurie Gaylor, a leader of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, also criticized the mayor. Parris said later he didn't mean the remarks to be exclusionary and he won't apologize.

He made the comments a week after it was learned that Lancaster Councilwoman Sherry Marquez wrote on her Facebook page about the case of a Muslim New Yorker charged with beheading his wife. "This is what the Muslim religion is all about," she wrote. She later apologized.

Lancaster is a desert bedroom community about 40 miles northeast of Los Angeles.

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Tenn. education board approves guidelines on teaching Bible in public high schools

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - The state Board of Education has approved guidelines on how to teach the Bible in public high schools despite concern the curriculum could be challenged in court.

Legislation approved in 2008 authorized a course for a "nonsectarian, nonreligious academic study of the Bible" in public schools.

State officials said they tried to develop principles that are safe from legal challenge, but some say a state-approved Bible course could violate the separation of church and state.

The course will teach students about the content of the Bible and its historical context. It is an elective, meaning high schools can choose whether to offer it to students as a social studies credit, and students can decide whether to take it.

Last year, the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee responded to concerns about the classes by distributing its guide, "Know Your Rights: Religion in Public Schools," to school systems statewide.

"Whether these classes are constitutional depends on who teaches them and how they are taught," said Hedy Weinberg, the state's ACLU director. "The devil is in the details."

Education Board member Richard Ray voted in favor of the standards, but is concerned potential lawsuits could create a distraction for schools.

"We have so much that needs to be done to elevate our kids in math and science, the focus of education should be right there," he said.

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Prague center offers access to unique US-based database of Holocaust survivor testimonies

PRAGUE (AP) - Prague has become the third European capital after Berlin and Budapest to have access to a unique U.S.-based database of Holocaust survivor testimonies.

Project coordinator Jitka Drahokoupilova says Prague's Center of Visual History Malakh has started offering access to the archive of the USC Shoah Foundation Institute, a Los Angeles-based organization founded by director Steven Spielberg.

With a collection of nearly 52,000 video testimonies from Jewish survivors in 32 languages, representing 56 countries, including the Czech Republic, the archive is one of the largest visual history archive in the world.

Drahokoupilova says the center located at Prague's Charles University offers the service to anyone free of charge.

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LDS: 2 missionaries die in Romania of accidental gas asphyxiation

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Two young Mormon missionaries have died in Romania.

Scott Trotter, a spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, says the 20-year-old missionaries died last week from accidental natural gas asphyxiation.

He identified them as McKay Choy Burrows of Highland, Utah, and Jace Edwards Davis of Logandale, Nev., who were serving at the church's Romania Bucharest Mission.

Marinela Apostolache, a spokeswoman for Romania's Timis County police confirmed the cause of death and says investigation was under way to determine how they occurred.

Some Romanian homes are heated by stoves that runs on natural gas, which can pose an asphyxiation danger if the pilot light goes out.

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Judge's order lets Tecumseh teen avoid jail if he apologizes, attends church

ADRIAN, Mich. (AP) - Go to jail or go to church.

Given that choice by a Lenawee County judge, a Tecumseh teenager who pleaded guilty to trying to break into a church opted for the latter.

Circuit Judge Timothy Pickard told 17-year-old Dylan Patrick Karle last week that he could avoid jail if he would apologize to the congregation of the United Methodist Church in Tecumseh and attend services there for the next three Sundays.

Karle, who is a member of the church, promptly accepted Pickard's offer. The judge also placed Karle on probation, but his felony conviction will be expunged if he stays out of trouble for three years.

Karle was among several juveniles arrested Sept. 27 while trying to break into the church in the town 45 miles southwest of Detroit.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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