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Religion news in brief

Battle over condoms enters Philippine Congress

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — After simmering for months, a wide-ranging and acrimonious debate over government-funded access to contraceptives in the Philippines has entered the country's Congress.

The issue pits the powerful and conservative Catholic establishment, which says contraceptives are as sinful as abortions, against reformers who want more openness about condoms and other birth control in the impoverished Southeast Asian nation to slow population growth and help prevent disease.

A reproductive health bill introduced Tuesday in the House of Representatives would require the government to provide information on family planning methods, make contraceptives available free of charge and introduce reproductive health and sexuality classes in schools.

President Benigno Aquino III, still widely popular a year after a landslide election victory, has backed artificial birth control even if it means risking excommunication from the dominant Roman Catholic church.

Supporters believe the measure will slow the Philippines' rapid population growth that some believe contributes to the country's crushing poverty.

Influential bishops have blocked family planning bills in the past by arguing that they would erode moral values and encourage promiscuity and early pregnancies.

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Thousands rally to back NC gay marriage ban idea

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Thousands of conservative Christians rallied Tuesday to urge the North Carolina Legislature to vote on a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage now that its Republican leaders are open to the idea after Democrats blocked it for years.

North Carolina is the only Southeastern state that hasn't approved an amendment restricting marriage to one man and one woman. Thirty states have voted to allow that restriction in their state constitutions.

"It's time. It's time, North Carolina, it's time," Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, told a cheering crowd on the Halifax Mall. "It's time to protect from those in Washington and those activist judges who are willing to aid those who want to redefine and ultimate destroy marriage."

Earlier Tuesday, several ministers and a rabbi who oppose the amendment said it would make gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgendered people second-class citizens by siding with the religious views of what they call a minority and deny them the ability to love whom they choose.

"At a time when legislators should be chopping away at unemployment rates and searching for ways to build a budget that would befriend the poor and marginalized, legislators are choosing to advance this divisive social agenda," said the Rev. T. Anthony Spearman of Clinton Tabernacle AME Zion Church in Hickory.

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Texas school district to stop using church for graduation

DALLAS (AP) — A Dallas-area district has decided to stop renting a nondenominational megachurch for high school graduation amid concerns about separation of church and state.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas raised questions about use of The Potter's House.

The Dallas Morning News reported Monday that the Irving school district in 2012 will no longer use the church led by Bishop T.D. Jakes.

The district, since 2004, has held its graduation ceremony at the worship facility and event center, which seats several thousand people.

Next month's graduation ceremony will go on as planned at The Potter's House. Leasing the complex will cost the district nearly $65,000 for the venue, parking and video streaming.

School official Lane Ladewig says the district is not promoting religion.

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Obama celebrates Jewish contributions to US

WASHINGTON (AP) — During a hectic week of Mideast policymaking, President Barack Obama has honored the contributions of Jews to America.

Obama spoke at a White House reception Tuesday recognizing Jewish Americans in the arts, science, the military, business and industry, and in public and community service. He says they persevered despite unspeakable discrimination and adversity at times.

Earlier in the day, Obama and Jordan's King Abdullah II discussed Mideast issues in the Oval Office. The president is giving a major speech Thursday in Washington on changes in the region. He also planned to discuss the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process when he meets Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House on Friday.

May is Jewish American Heritage Month in the U.S. Israel celebrates its independence on May 14.

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Gag order imposed in UC speech disruption case

SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — An Orange County judge has issued a gag order in the case of 11 Muslim students charged with disrupting a speech given by an Israeli ambassador last year on the University of California, Irvine campus after lawyers for the students complained that prosecutors were making "ethically irresponsible" public statements.

Lawyers for 11 current and former UC students — eight from Irvine and three from Riverside — had argued that county prosecutors violated their clients' rights to a fair trial by wrongly branding the students as anti-Semitic and declaring them guilty. They sought in February to remove prosecutors from the case, arguing that they have shown bias against Muslims by referring to the case internally as the "UCI Muslim Case."

The district attorney's office denies having any religious or ethnic bias. Rather, they say the demonstration was a premeditated attempt to disrupt Ambassador Michael Oren's lecture that infringed on the rights of hundreds of people who had gathered on campus to hear him speak.

The students have pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor conspiracy to commit a crime and misdemeanor disruption of a meeting. Each accused student allegedly stood up and spoke against Oren during a Feb. 8, 2010 speech before being escorted out by police.

Each defendant faces a maximum six months in jail if convicted. A trial is scheduled to start Aug. 15.

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