MADISON, Wisconsin (AP) — A U.S. group representing atheists and agnostics has filed a federal lawsuit arguing that the Internal Revenue Service is violating the Constitution by allowing tax-exempt churches and religious organizations to get involved in political campaigns.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation argues that churches and religious organizations have become more involved in political campaigns, "blatantly and deliberately flaunting the electioneering restrictions."
The lawsuit filed Wednesday in Wisconsin cites several examples, including full-page ads that ran this fall in The New York Times and other newspapers by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association that featured a photo of renowned evangelist Billy Graham urging Americans to vote along biblical principles. Graham met in October with Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney and pledged to do "all I can" to help him.
The lawsuit argues that the IRS is not enforcing the federal tax code, which prohibits tax-exempt religious organizations from electioneering. Not enforcing it is a violation of equal protection rights because the same preferential treatment is not provided to other tax-exempt organizations such as the Freedom from Religion Foundation, the lawsuit contends.
The lawsuit asks that the IRS initiate legal action against any churches or religious organizations that are believed to be violating the restrictions.
For the past three years, the IRS hasn't been investigating complaints of partisan political activity by churches, leaving religious groups who make direct or thinly veiled endorsements of political candidates unchallenged.
Church attendance is part of probation for Okla. teen convicted of manslaughter in DUI crash
MUSKOGEE, Okla. (AP) — A 17-year-old from Muskogee has been sentenced to attend church for 10 years as part of his probation for a manslaughter conviction.
Tyler Alred was sentenced Tuesday in Muskogee County District Court after pleading guilty in August to first-degree manslaughter in the December 2011 auto accident that killed 16-year-old John Luke Dum.
Alred cried while apologizing to Dum's family in court and hugged Dum's father as both began to sob.
Authorities say Alred registered 0.06 and 0.07 blood-alcohol content after the crash. The legal limit is 0.08 — but Alred's amount is considered under state law to be driving under the influence of alcohol because he's underage.
Defense attorney Donn Baker said the church requirement is unusual — but he won't challenge it and that Alred currently attends church regularly.
Boston Cardinal approves archdiocese reshuffle that see parish groups sharing resources
BRAINTREE, Mass. (AP) — Cardinal Sean O'Malley on Thursday approved a plan that aims to stabilize the Boston Archdiocese's declining finances by combining its 288 parishes into 135 clusters that share staffing and resources.
The plan tries to keep parishes intact as the church deals with weak attendance, a looming priest shortage and decaying parish finances that have left 4 in 10 parishes unable to pay their bills.
The archdiocese is banking on an ongoing evangelization drive to bring Catholics back into the pews and strengthen the local church.
Right now, just 16 percent of Catholics attend church, following a decade that saw the archdiocese battered by a clergy sex abuse scandal and widespread parish closings that permanently shuttered numerous local churches.
The clusters, or collaboratives, will consist of one to four parishes in the same geographic region, each of which will retain its legal identity. The collaborative will be led by a single pastor and run by merged clergy and layperson staffs.
Bosnian Muslims inaugurate new spiritual leader, expected to maintain moderate stance
SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Bosnia's Muslims have inaugurated their new spiritual leader who will replace the man who led them for nearly two decades.
Husein Kavazovic took his post Thursday in Sarajevo as the head of the Bosnian Islamic Community, which counts more than 2 million members. He is expected to be as open-minded and devoted to the principles of so-called "European Islam" as his predecessor Mustafa Ceric was.
Ceric, who served the maximum two terms in role, led Bosnian Muslims for 19 years without allowing them to radicalize even though they were the main victims of the 1992-95 Bosnian war. His idea of European Islam is based on efforts to harmonize Islam and European secular values.
300-pound statue of Hindu god Shiva stolen from NJ temple
WAYNE, N.J. (AP) — Police say someone stole a 300-pound statue of the Hindu god Shiva from a New Jersey temple the night before the Indian new year.
The Indian Cultural Society Hindu Temple and Mahatma Gandhi Center in Wayne is planning to offer a reward for information leading to an arrest.
The statue was discovered missing Wednesday morning.
The statue, which is valued at $6,200, is made of a five-metal alloy that contains copper gold and silver.
Shiva is believed to decide whether a soul is to remain with the gods or to be reincarnated.
Temple member Sanjay Desai called the theft heartbreaking.
Pope tells elderly its beautiful to be old, that society is judged on how it treats aged
ROME (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI told a group of elderly Romans that it's "beautiful to be old" and that they still have much to offer society despite their limitations.
The 85-year-old pontiff said Monday he knows well the difficulties that come with age: He started using a cane occasionally earlier this year, and has slowed down. But his health remains robust and his schedule full. Monday, for example, took him out of the Vatican to a nearby residential home to mark Europe's year of solidarity with the elderly.
Benedict urged the residents to not look back sadly on their youth but to enjoy their age now. He said: "The quality of a society, I'd say of a civilization, is judged by how well it treats its elderly."