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Religion news in brief

Published: Saturday, Feb. 18 2012 5:00 a.m. MST

Kansas religious freedom bill needed to fight Obama policies, backers say.

TOPEKA, Kan. — Supporters of a proposal in Kansas that's described as an attempt to protect religious freedoms told state legislators Tuesday that President Barack Obama's ill-fated mandate for insurance coverage of birth control is a compelling example of why the measure is needed.

But gay rights advocates said the primary goal of the conservative and religious groups pushing the bill continues to be nullifying local ordinances or university policies that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The House Judiciary Committee had a hearing on the proposed "Preservation of Religious Freedom Act" and is expected to vote on it by next Monday. Chairman Lance Kinzer, an Olathe Republican, contends the measure simply writes into state law language from past Kansas court decisions for determining when government policies place too much of a burden on practicing religion.

Still, neither supporters nor opponents are treating the measure as a straightforward restatement of existing legal standards. The gay rights group Kansas Equality Coalition mobilized members to lobby against it, and the measure has the backing of conservative groups like the Kansas Family Policy Council and Concerned Women for America.

Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer and the Kansas Catholic Conference also weighed in, and both cited the Obama administration's recent decision to require religiously affiliated groups such as colleges and charities to offer employees health plans that cover contraceptives. In response to protests, the president last Friday said he would accommodate the faith-run groups by having insurance companies bear the cost of providing birth control coverage.

— Associated Press

Mexican Roman Catholic Church Criticized for issuing voting guide

MEXICO CITY — Mexico's Roman Catholic Church drew fire Tuesday for releasing voting guidelines for the faithful ahead of the July 1 presidential elections.

All religious groups in Mexico are banned from engaging in electoral politics, or supporting or opposing any candidate or party. The guidelines published by the Archdiocese of Mexico on its website appear to closely skirt the restriction.

But the issue is a sensitive one in Mexico, where harsh anti-clerical laws sparked the 1926-1929 Cristero war, an uprising by Roman Catholic rebels against Mexico's secular government in which tens of thousands of people died. While loosened in the 1990s, many restrictions on church activities in Mexico remain.

The latest guidelines do not mention any party, saying only that Catholics cannot "choose as a political option those who support or promote false rights or liberties that attack the teachings contained in the Holy Scriptures, tradition and doctrine of the Church."

That appeared to be a reference to gay marriage and abortion rights, both of which the church has hotly opposed.

The guidelines also say Catholics "should be alert to the commitments of the candidates and their parties to respect the foremost of all rights, which is the right to life, from the moment of conception."

The suggestions appear aimed especially at candidates of the leftist Democratic Revolution Party, which has enacted both gay marriage and legalized abortion in Mexico City, which it governs.

The publication comes just over a month before Pope Benedict XVI is scheduled to visit central Mexico from March 23 to 26.

— Associated Press

Missouri measure would allow state to fund religious schools

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A Missouri state senator says religious groups should not be barred from receiving state funds to operate their schools.

Republican Scott Rupp, of St. Louis County, is sponsoring legislation to abolish language in the Missouri Constitution that prohibits public funding for religious groups to operate schools.

Rupp says the ban is outdated and discriminates against religious institutions. He says religious schools could help educate students in unaccredited districts if they got state funding. Schools in Kansas City, St. Louis and Riverview Gardens in St. Louis County are unaccredited.

A spokeswoman for the Anti-Defamation League says the measure could force Missouri to pay for schools run by groups with discriminatory ideologies, such as white supremacist groups.

— Associated Press

Judge gives Utah 90 days to pay billto managers of sect's land trust

SALT LAKE CITY — A judge has given Utah's attorney general 90 days to pay off more than $5.5 million in debts incurred by managers of a communal land trust once run by jailed polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs.

Third District Judge Denise Lindberg set the deadline in an order issued last Monday.

The money is owed to Salt Lake City accountant Bruce Wisan, his attorneys and other firms hired to assist with management of the United Effort Plan Trust — the $114 million communal property trust of Jeffs' Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

The trust holds the land and homes of FLDS members in the twin border communities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., and in Bountiful, British Columbia.

No trust bills have been paid since 2008.

"We are disappointed in the ruling and are reviewing our options for appeal," Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said. "We believe it is important to have the decision reviewed as expeditiously as possible."

Utah seized control of the trust in 2005 amid allegations of mismanagement by Jeffs and other Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints leaders. The Arizona Attorney General's Office backed the effort.

Wisan was to be paid from the sale of trust assets, but a string of pending lawsuits, including one pending before Denver's 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, has blocked any land sales.

A large portion of the debt is for legal fees incurred since 2008, when the FLDS first mounted a challenge to state control of the trust.

Other expenses include fees for accounting services, property management, engineering and platting a plan to subdivide Hildale and Colorado City, and public relations and legislative consulting work.

Lindberg's ruling deems most of the expenses as legitimate, although she rejected and reduced the amounts to be paid on some claims. Overall, Lindberg cut just over $65,000 from the more than $5.6 million Wisan initially requested.

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