WASHINGTON (AP) – A broad coalition of religious leaders is appealing for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution defining marriage nationwide as “the exclusive union of one man and one woman.”

The 50 founders of the Religious Coalition for Marriage on Monday urged citizen action to support an amendment that is scheduled for a June vote in the U.S. Senate. They said this is the only way to protect marriage from those who would “circumvent the legislative process and force a redefinition” upon the whole of society.

The groups represented were already on the record as opposing same-sex marriage but had not shown a united political front on the issue.

Activists: Remove kids from school

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – Southern Baptist Convention activists are again asking the denomination to urge removing children from public schools, two years after a similar bid failed.

A proposal urging Baptists to develop an “exit strategy” from public schools is co-sponsored by Texas lawyer Bruce Shortt and Roger Moran, a Missouri businessman serving on the convention’s executive committee. They plan to submit their resolution to the Baptists’ annual meeting in June.

Their Tuesday announcement came after 56 Baptist leaders urged members to “speak positively about public education” in response to efforts promoting home-schooling and Christian academies.

Norway to question church-state

OSLO, Norway (AP) – Norway opened hearings Monday on whether to separate church and state after 469 years of Lutheranism as its official religion.

The government has asked 2,500 people and groups, including every congregation and city, to comment by Dec. 1 on a special panel’s recommendation that church and state be split. At present, the nation’s central government funds the church and employs its bishops and clergy.

“I would encourage those asked to comment to organize information and discussion sessions,” said Minister of Culture and Churches Trond Giske as he launched the hearings.

In January, the majority of a 20-member government panel recommended separation. No change could be made until at least 2014 because this requires a constitutional amendment approved by two successive parliaments.

About 86 percent of the 4.6 million Norwegians are listed as Church of Norway members but registration is automatic at birth and many are inactive.

Lutheranism became Norway’s official religion in 1537 by royal decree. Denmark has a similar Lutheran state church. Sweden ended its Lutheran state church system in 2000.

Israel reported to recognize ousted Greek Orthodox leader in Jerusalem

JERUSALEM (AP) – Israeli Cabinet minister Tzachi Hanegbi has written Irineos I, the deposed leader of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, confirming Israel’s recognition of him as the continuing head despite the church’s appointment of Theofilos III as his successor, the daily Haaretz reported Monday.

Hanegbi heads the committee that deals with Orthodox church issues.

Irineos was ousted after he allegedly signed a land deal leasing prime church properties to Jews who seek to increase their presence in prominently Arab east Jerusalem. He has refused to recognize his ouster.

Irineos loyalists had said the deposed leader would attend Easter ceremonies last weekend, which would have ignited tensions. But he stayed away at police request.

Theofilos has petitioned Israel’s Supreme Court for state recognition. Church rules require approval from all three governments where his flock lives. Unlike Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority affirmed Theofilos’ election.

Catholic broadcasting network kept abusive priest on staff

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) – A major Roman Catholic TV and radio ministry kept a priest on its staff for nearly seven years despite knowing of his history as an admitted child abuser.

The Birmingham-based, conservative Eternal Word Television Network said the Rev. Real Bourque led Masses and staff Bible studies and gave talks at retreats but wasn’t allowed on the air or to be around young people after 1995, when executives learned of his past. Bourque left EWTN in 2002.

The priest’s past was revealed by bishopaccountability.org and Leon J. Podles, who is writing a book about the abuse issue.

Bourque, 78, who hasn’t been charged with any crimes, now lives in a Catholic retirement home in Belleville, Ill. Last week The Belleville News-Democrat reported that Bourque admitted sexually abusing boys in the 1970s and 1980s in Maine and Massachusetts. There were no reports of misconduct during his time in Alabama.

Bourque joined EWTN in 1991. When allegations against him surfaced in 1993, his religious order, the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, sent him for treatment. EWTN Chairman William Steltemeier wrote Podles that Bourque was permitted to return for limited duties “in the spirit of compassion.”

Responding in writing to The Associated Press, EWTN President Michael P. Warsaw said “we should have asked a lot more questions” before letting Bourque remain with the network.

Commission rules for ex-Amish woman in discrimination case

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) – Kentucky’s Commission on Human Rights has ruled in favor of a former Amish woman who claimed she was discriminated against by an Amish thrift store owner who refused to serve her.

Erma Troyer, who owns the Rocky Top Salvage store in an Amish enclave at Cub Run, Ky., was ordered to serve Ruth Irene Garrett, an author on Amish life who left the faith.

Troyer used a religious freedom defense, saying church doctrine prevented her from taking money from those shunned by the Amish.

The commission ordered Troyer to pay $100 to Garrett for embarrassment caused by the confrontation.

Troyer, who declined comment, can appeal the order to a circuit court.

The case stemmed from an Oct. 15, 2003, confrontation. Garrett attempted to purchase groceries. Troyer refused to ring up the items because she recognized Garrett from one of the books Garrett wrote about the Amish life she had left. Troyer said she even offered to give Garrett the groceries for free.

Garrett said last week that she expected to shop at Troyer’s store in the future.

Emily Riggs Hartlage, a Human Rights Commission staff attorney, said she hoped the order – which applies to other consumers – “empowers other shunned Amish people to assert their rights.”

AP-ES-04-26-06 1157EDT

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