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Religion News in Brief

Kansas prison ministry conference aims to reduce recidivism

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas officials want more nonprofit and faith-based groups to work with criminal offenders, hoping they can reduce the number of former inmates who return to prison later for committing new crimes.

Kansas Corrections Secretary Ray Roberts opened a statewide conference Monday on prison ministry by encouraging religious volunteers to increase their efforts to help offenders stay out of prison. The "Out for Life" conference in Wichita was organized by Prison Fellowship, which promotes ministry in prisons and church support for offenders after their release.

"I really think if we, as a community, as a state, engage people coming out of prison we will see that number go down," Gov. Sam Brownback said.

The Kansas Department of Corrections says 43 percent of the offenders released from prisons will return for new crimes within three years.

Roberts said efforts like those of Prison Fellowship have had an impact in Kansas and he would like to see them expand under Brownback, a Roman Catholic who has a strong interest in partnering with faith-based groups in several areas of government service.

"Even though we're in a hard patch financially, we're not going to let budget restraints create an opportunity for us to stop moving in the direction we need to move," Roberts said.

Roberts called on the groups attending to form a strong coalition of volunteers across the state to provide mentoring and support services to smooth inmates' re-entry process and reduce recidivism.

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Bangladesh moves to retain Islam as state religion through amending constitution

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — Bangladesh will retain Islam as the state religion in amendments the government is proposing to its constitution, a government minister said Tuesday.

A former military ruler declared Islam the state religion in 1988 by amending the charter, but it barely affected Bangladesh's secular legal system mainly based on British common law.

The government says the proposed changes won't affect the legal system. Inheritance and other family laws already are based on religion.

The decision was made late Monday at a Cabinet meeting, the minister said. Led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the Cabinet also endorsed equal status and equal rights for other religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity, the minister said.

A special government committee prepared proposals for the amendment, and the government will send those proposals to the parliament for approval.

Bangladesh won independence from Pakistan in 1971 with help from India through a bloody nine-month war.

The original constitution did not recognize any faith as a state religion, promised elimination of communalism and disfavored discrimination or persecution because of a person's faith. The new proposals want to restore those provisions of secularism but keep Islam as state religion.

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Colorado civil liberties groups sue over vouchers, claim religious freedom violated

CASTLE ROCK, Colo. (AP) — Three civil liberties organizations have filed a lawsuit challenging a school voucher plan adopted by Douglas County.

The lawsuit was filed Tuesday by the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

ACLU Colorado director Mark Silverstein says the voucher plan violates the Colorado Constitution's religious liberty provisions, which bar the use of public funds for religious schools.

The district plans to designate up to 500 children as public school students in order to obtain per-pupil educational funds from the state to help them pay private school tuition.

Douglas County officials say the program includes "rigorous accountability measures" and that district believes that every student should be empowered to find their best educational fit.

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Mormon church leader released from hospital, returning to Utah after collapse in Massachusetts

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A senior Mormon leader who is next in line to lead the church was briefly hospitalized after fainting at an event in Boston, church officials said.

Boyd K. Packer, president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, collapsed last Sunday after delivering a speech at a church meetinghouse.

Packer is the second-highest ranking Mormon church leader and the next in line for the presidency of the 14.1 million-member faith. By Monday, the 86-year-old Packer had improved and headed back to Utah, said Michael Purdy, a church spokesman.

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Evangelist pleads guilty to wire fraud in Ky. oil-and-gas scheme to defraud church-goers

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — A traveling evangelist has pleaded guilty to 17 counts of wire fraud for an oil-and-gas investment scheme that cost churchgoers more than $700,000 over 15 years/

Ernest Cadick, 60, entered the plea as trial was set to begin in federal court, the U.S. attorney's office said.

Cadick was accused of soliciting investments for oil-and-gas businesses, then spending the money on himself. Cadick would quote Scripture and pray with potential victims over investments, prosecutors said. The Rev. Bob Rodgers, pastor at Louisville's Evangel World Prayer Center, said some of his church members invested with Cadick and lost their life savings.

Cadick's attorneys did not comment. Sentencing will be Sept. 12 before U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II.

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Liechtenstein voters overwhelmingly back gay partnership law challenged by religious groups

VADUZ, Liechtenstein (AP) — Voters in Liechtenstein have overwhelmingly backed a new law giving gay and lesbian couples the right to formally register their partnership.

The government says 68.8 percent of voters approved the law in a binding referendum Sunday. About 31.2 percent voted against it.

Roman Catholic groups had challenged the law saying it would weaken traditional family ties.

Gay and lesbian couples will now be put on a par with heterosexual couples when it comes to inheritance, social security, immigration and taxation. They will still be barred from adopting children or accessing reproductive medical services.

Last week, the U.N. Human Rights Council condemned for the first time discrimination against gays, lesbians and transgender people.

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Despite objections, SW Missouri county will display 'In God We Trust' in county chambers

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) — The Greene County Commission will display the "In God We Trust" logo in its chambers at the county's courthouse.

The vote Monday came after critics argued displaying the logo would be disrespectful in light of religious diversity.

The issue was initially brought to the commission by Springfield attorney Dee Wampler, who said the motto makes a statement about U.S. history and love of God.

Jim Viebrock, the presiding commissioner, emphasized that anyone, regardless of religious belief, will be welcomed in the county chambers in Springfield.

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