Religion news in brief

Crystal Cathedral fires 3 of founder's relatives

GARDEN GROVE, Calif. (AP) — The Crystal Cathedral has fired three relatives of the megachurch's founder in an effort to revamp the "Hour of Power" amid declining donations and viewership.

California's Orange County Register reports that the church's board voted to oust the Rev. Robert H. Schuller's daughter and two sons-in-law along with five other people.

Church spokesman John Charles says Schuller and his wife abstained from voting to dismiss daughter Gretchen Penner and her husband Jim Penner as producers of the "Hour of Power" program. Son-in-law Jim Coleman was dismissed as director of creative services.

The program will replay previous episodes for a few weeks amid the change in direction.

The Crystal Cathedral has sold its sparkling church to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange under a plan to emerge from bankruptcy.


Atheist protests 'Year of the Bible' on billboard

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — A billboard in Harrisburg, Pa., that protests legislation designating 2012 as the "Year of the Bible" in Pennsylvania is being criticized by a legislator who calls it racist.

State Rep. Thaddeus Kirkland objected to the image of a shackled black slave above a Bible verse that says, "Slaves, obey your masters."

Kirkland, who supported the House resolution, says the billboard takes the Bible out of context and depicts racism and hatred.

The billboard a few blocks from the state Capitol is co-sponsored by a group called American Atheists.

The organization's Pennsylvania director says it wants lawmakers to repeal the resolution celebrating a book he calls "barbaric."


California woman gets prison for fake Christian concerts

SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — A federal judge has sentenced a promoter of Christian rock concerts to more than four years in prison for a Ponzi scheme involving nearly $1 million.

Federal prosecutors say 43-year-old Lauren Baumann of Downey, Calif., was sentenced to four years, nine months in prison and must pay restitution to more than two dozen victims.

Baumann, who owned the promotion company Stewardship Estates, pleaded guilty to wire fraud in October for falsely promising investors that their money would be used to host Christian battle-of-the-bands concerts.

Prosecutors say she instead used the money to pay previous investors, to rent a $10,000-a-month mansion and to pay for private school for her children.


NY rabbi meets with jailed American in Cuba

HAVANA (AP) — A New York rabbi has met with imprisoned American subcontractor Alan Gross in Cuba, describing him as upbeat and concerned about family members back home.

Rabbi Arthur Schneier said he spent about an hour and a half Tuesday with Gross in the Havana facility where he's being held.

Schneier said he brought Gross a prayer shawl and pastries, and they prayed together to mark the eve of the Jewish holiday of Purim. The rabbi said, "Purim is a festival of miracles, so we all pray that a miracle will allow us to see a resolution of the pain and suffering of all involved."

Gross is serving a 15-year prison sentence stemming from his work importing satellite and other communications equipment onto the island under a USAID-funded democracy-building program. Cuba considers such programs subversive, and he was convicted of crimes against the state. Gross maintains that he was only trying to help Cuban Jews improve their Internet capability.


Kirk Cameron defends his remarks on homosexuality and gay marriage

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Actor Kirk Cameron says he shouldn't be accused of hate speech for responding honestly when he was asked what he believed about homosexuality and gay marriage.

Cameron told CNN's Piers Morgan that marriage "was defined in the garden between Adam and Eve — one man, one woman for life." He added that in his view, homosexuality is "unnatural," ''detrimental, and ultimately destructive to so many of the foundations of civilization."

That prompted gay advocates to launch an online petition that has more than 6,000 signatures. It says Cameron's views are "out of step" with other people of faith who believe gays and lesbians should not be "condemned because of their sexual orientation."

The Christian actor responds in a statement that he tries to love everyone, but believes "God has something to say about these things." Cameron adds that people who preach tolerance shouldn't expect him to be silent or bend his "beliefs to their moral standards."


Islamist, leftist students clash at Tunisian university over women's face veil

TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — Ultraconversative Muslim students have clashed with leftists at a Tunisian university over women's right to wear the face veil. Five people were injured in the fighting.

Since a popular uprising toppled its secular dictator a year ago, Tunisia has seen a rise in activity by religious groups.

Manouba University, which sits just outside the capital Tunis, has witnessed numerous demonstrations by hardline Islamist students, known as Salafis, who insist the university change its policy to allow women to wear the veil during classes and exams.

The Salafis also said Wednesday's clash with leftist students from the official student union came as they were trying to avenge an attack on two veiled students by the dean of the university. He denies the charge, saying he was the one attacked.