Students now required to observe moment of silence in Illinois
Supporters say the goal is to give students a bit of peace and quiet to reflect on the day ahead - ``to listen to the rustling of leaves, to listen to the chirping of a bird, to listen to the tip-tap of a child walking,'' said state Rep. Monique Davis.
But critics called the measure an attempt to promote organized school prayer.
``It may not mandate prayer, but that's what it's about,'' said Rep. Lou Lang.
The law originally passed during the spring legislative session, but Gov. Rod Blagojevich vetoed it, saying the law's requirement of a moment ``for silent prayer or for silent reflection'' might be unconstitutional.
The Senate overrode the veto last week. The House did the same Thursday, voting 74-37.
The law takes effect immediately, so every public school must now begin the day with a moment of silence.
An Illinois law called the Silent Reflection and Student Prayer Act already allowed schools to observe a moment of silence if they wanted. The new provision changes just one word: ``may'' observe becomes ``shall'' observe.
The sponsor of the change, Rep. Will Davis, a Democrat from Homewood, said his goal is not to open the door for teachers to lead their classes in morning prayer but help students calm down and think about their plans.
Settlement fund helps former polygamous sect members
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - A fund for young people cast out of a southern Utah polygamous sect has helped about a dozen since it was created two months ago.
So far, $6,600 has been spent on school tuition, books, a desk, appliances, utilities and car insurance. A woman who was a possible witness in a criminal trial against sect leader Warren Jeffs received clothing.
The fund is ``just ramping up,'' attorney Roger Hoole said. ``We're interested in helping more people.''
The $250,000 Lost Boys Fund was part of a settlement of lawsuits filed by seven young men against the United Effort Plan Trust, the financial arm of Jeffs' Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
Six claimed they were cast out of the church by Jeffs, the FLDS president. The seventh man claimed he was sexually abused.
Neither the church nor Jeffs responded to the lawsuits, and the claims were never proved in court. But the trust, now controlled by a court-appointed accountant, approved the settlement.
The seven men were awarded land, and the fund was established to help young people cut off from the FLDS community.
Jeffs, 51, is in jail awaiting his sentence for rape as an accomplice in the arranged marriage of a 14-year-old follower and her 19-year-old cousin. Sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 20.
Detroit suburb to vote over nativity dispute
BERKLEY, Mich. (AP) _ It's an early skirmish in this year's edition of the Christmas wars. Voters in this Detroit suburb will decide Nov. 6 whether to return a Christian nativity scene to City Hall.
Under threat of a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union, the city council voted last year to relocate figures of an infant Jesus, Mary and Joseph in a manger off city land and onto church property.
A group of citizens collected 952 signatures to force a vote on returning the nativity scene to its home for at least two decades _ a small patch of grass behind City Hall.
``I'm tired of these organizations coming into a small-town community and threatening us with lawsuits and the city rolling over,'' said 37-year-old Georgia Halloran. ``We are celebrating a national holiday. We are not promoting a religion. The government isn't supposed to be hostile toward religion.''
After the ACLU threatened the city with a lawsuit in 2005, it moved a Santa mailbox closer to the nativity scene. But the ACLU returned in 2006 and the council sent the figures packing after lengthy public debate and examining several options from its legal department.
The U.S. Supreme Court has found that nativity scenes are permissible on public land as long as secular symbols are displayed, too.
Similar disputes over Christmas decorations have broken out in cities and towns across the country in recent years, part of a debate about religion's place in the public square.
Synagogue finds a home, with help from a Muslim contractor
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) - A Jewish synagogue is rising in the hills of Arkansas, in large part because of the generosity of the project contractor: a Muslim immigrant from the West Bank.
Since 1981, members of Temple Shalom have practiced their faith where they could. The congregation bought a home to convert into a temple, but members abandoned their plans after residents complained that the synagogue would bring traffic to their neighborhood.
Reform congregation then bought new land _ and Fadil Bayyari got involved. The Springdale, Ark., general contractor agreed to waive his regular fee, saving Temple Shalom at least $250,000.
``Abraham is our forefather,'' Bayyari said. ``We're first cousins. How we got to hate each other is beyond me.''
Bayyari, who built the mosque in Fayetteville, said his kinship with the Jewish congregation also stems from the fact that his faith community, too, lacked its own building until the mosque was completed.
Jeremy Hess, a founding member of Temple Shalom and the building project coordinator, said the synagogue will be open to all. He said working with Bayyari taught him that ``you can't judge anyone except by the character of who they are.''
Evangelical umbrella group names new leader after scandal
WASHINGTON (AP) - A Minnesota megachurch pastor has been named president of the National Association of Evangelicals, nearly a year after former president Ted Haggard resigned in scandal.
The Rev. Leith Anderson, 62, has been interim president since Haggard's fall in November 2006, and held the job before Haggard's tenure. The NAE board, at a meeting here Oct. 11, voted unanimously to make the position permanent.
Anderson, 62, has not been as outspoken about politics as his predecessor but is among a generation of evangelical pastors seeking to broaden the movement's tent, including speaking out about climate change.
``Leith Anderson is a man of astute mind and has a wealth of experience the NAE needs,'' Israel Gaither, national commander of the Salvation Army and NAE executive committee member, said in a statement. ``In my view he is just the right leader for the NAE for this critical time.''
Anderson is senior pastor of 5,000-member Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie, Minn., a Minneapolis suburb. He also is the author of eight books and the radio voice of Faith Matters, which is heard on Christian stations nationwide.
The NAE claims 45,000 member churches and 30 million members from 60 Christian denominations. Haggard resigned as president and was fired from his Colorado Springs church after a former male prostitute alleged a three-year cash-for-sex relationship. Haggard acknowledged undisclosed ``sexual immorality.''