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RELIGION IN BRIEF: Ski resort Jesus stays on mountaintop

Jesus at mountaintop ski resort in US allowed to stay after feds reverse statue's eviction

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A mountaintop Jesus statue can stay at a ski resort in the western U.S. state of Montana for now.

The religious statue, which has been on federal land since 1955, was allowed to remain in place for at least 10 more years after the U.S. Forest Service reversed its eviction order Tuesday. The initial decision came amid heated debate over the constitutional separation of church and state.

The agency had faced criticism from religious groups, the state's congressman and residents after it decided last year to boot the Jesus statue from its hillside perch in the trees above Whitefish.

After the agency's about-face, opponents promised a lawsuit within the week. They argue the statue's free placement on federal land is unconstitutional.

The statue was placed by local members of the Knights of Columbus and has been a curiosity at the famed Big Mountain ski hill for decades, mystifying skiers with its appearance in the middle of the woods as they cruise down a popular run.

Forest Service supervisor Chip Weber said the revised decision took into account that the statue is eligible for placement on National Register of Historic Places, and that no substantive concerns related to environmental conditions were found in about 95,000 comments received by the agency.

Va. House panel backs `conscience clause' to let faith-based agencies deny adoptions by gays

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Private, faith-based adoption agencies would be allowed to deny placement of a child if doing so would violate their religious beliefs, including opposition to homosexuality, under legislation advanced by a Virginia House panel.

The Health, Welfare and Institutions Committee voted 14-5 Tuesday to send Del. Todd Gilbert's "conscience clause" bill to the House floor. Gilbert, R-Woodstock, said his bill protects religious freedom.

The Virginia Board of Social Services in December adopted regulations that allow discrimination based on personal factors, including gender, age, religion disability, sexual orientation and family status. Gilbert said it's important to convert those regulations into state law.

Jeff Caruso, representing several Roman Catholic organizations, spoke in favor of the bill. Del. Joe Morrissey, D-Henrico, tried to ask Caruso what's wrong with placing a child with "a loving gay couple," but the committee chairman intervened.

"For him to have to defend why his church has such a belief, I don't think that's appropriate," said Del. Robert C. Orrock Sr., R-Spotsylvania.

Morrissey urged the committee to reject the bill.

"It strikes me as slightly more than outrageous," he said. "It's hurtful, it's mean-spirited, it's un-Christian."

Macedonian Orthodox Christian church set alight in latest inter-religious incident

SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) — An Orthodox Christian church was set alight in southern Macedonia amid religious tension between Christians and Muslims over a carnival in which Orthodox Christian men dressed as women in burqas and mocked the Quran, authorities said.

Firefighters extinguished the fire late Monday in the two-century-old Sveti Nikola church, known for its valuable icons. They said the roof of the church, near the town of Struga, was destroyed but its icons were not damaged.

Hours before the fire, Muslim leaders had appealed for calm among community members.

The Jan. 13 Vevcani festival prompted angry, sometimes violent demonstrations by Muslims, who make up 33 percent of the country's 2.1 million population and accuse the majority of stoking hatred against them.

SD Legislature gives final approval to measure urging academic study of Bible in schools

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — A measure encouraging South Dakota schools to provide academic instruction on the Bible has won final approval from the state Legislature amid criticism from some lawmakers that it could blur the line between government and religion.

The Senate voted 25-10 on Monday to pass the non-binding resolution, which has no force of law. The House passed the measure last week. Sen. Elizabeth Kraus, R-Rapid City, said students need to learn about the Bible because it permeates culture, laws and literature. Many young people know very little about the Bible, and schools can provide instruction on it without promoting religion, she said.

"The Bible is alone in terms of its influence on Western civilization," she said.

But Sen. Tom Hansen, R-Huron, said he opposes the measure because it could get government involved in religious issues.

"I kind of follow the philosophy it's up to the state to regulate state things and it's up to the church to regulate church things," Hansen said.

The measure encourages school districts to provide instruction that makes students familiar with the content, character and narratives of the Bible. It says the instruction also should make students aware of the role the Bible has played in the development of literature, art, culture and public discourse.

Prosecutors: Suspect confessed he kept firebombing NJ synagogues even after hearing screams

HACKENSACK, N.J. (AP) — Prosecutors say a New Jersey man admitted firebombing two New Jersey synagogues, telling investigators he kept throwing incendiary devices even after he heard screams.

But Anthony Graziano's attorney says his client has psychological and emotional problems and the admission shouldn't be taken seriously.

The Record newspaper reports that Graziano pleaded not guilty Tuesday to an additional charge that he planned to attack a Jewish center in Passaic.

A judge reduced the 19-year-old's bail from $5 million to $2.5 million, saying he doesn't have the money to post bond.

Graziano had previously pleaded not guilty to nine counts of attempted murder as well as bias intimidation and arson charges for a Jan. 11 attack on a Rutherford synagogue and a Jan. 3 firebombing on a Paramus synagogue.