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Religion News in Brief

By The Associated Press
The Associated Press
Wednesday, November 3, 2010; 2:31 PM

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- Saudi Arabia's top government-sanctioned board of senior Islamic clerics has endorsed a fatwa that calls for a ban on female vendors because it violates the kingdom's strict segregation of the sexes.

The powerful committee said in its ruling Sunday that the mixing of sexes is forbidden and women should not seek jobs where they could encounter men.

The decision comes after a conservative preacher was reprimanded in August for violating a government-mandated restriction on fatwas by calling for a boycott of supermarkets employing female cashiers.

Saudi King Abdullah has been trying to clamp down on ultraconservative ideology as part of his bid to modernize the kingdom. But his efforts appear to be challenged by the influential religious scholars, who play a key role in the monarch's legitimacy.

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Churches play a key, sometimes controversial role, in fugitive safe surrender programs

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) - Law enforcement officials say a program that allows people wanted by the law to turn themselves in safely wouldn't succeed without the crucial participation of local churches.

In New Jersey, the third "Fugitive Safe Surrender" is taking place this week at a church in Somerset. The program is aimed at nonviolent offenders. Many are wanted for drug possession, traffic violations or unpaid child support.

Across the country, more than 25,000 people have turned themselves in at churches as part of safe-surrender programs.

Supporters say the program gives offenders the opportunity to get their lives back on track.

But advocates of church-state separation worry that it blurs lines between government and religious institutions.

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Chicago pastor Meeks drops church duties for mayoral run

CHICAGO (AP) - State Sen. James Meeks has reversed himself, saying he will drop his church duties as pastor to devote all his time to his campaign for Chicago mayor.

Meeks told the congregation of the 22,000-member Salem Missionary Baptist Church he has delegated "all day-to-day responsibility" for church operations to his senior staff.

In a statement Monday, Meeks says he made the move "so that he can fully prepare for his impending mayoral campaign" to succeed Mayor Richard M. Daley, who decided against seeking another term.

Last month, Meeks said he wouldn't give up his ministry if he is elected mayor. That led several African-American aldermen to virtually rule him out as a candidate to back in the mayoral race.

Meeks now says if elected, Salem Baptist's executive pastor, the Rev. Dearal L. Jordan, would oversee day-to-day church activities.

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Baptist disaster relief volunteers providing meals at Okla. County jail after drain collapse

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Volunteers from the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma are providing meal service to inmates and workers at the Oklahoma County jail after a drain collapse in the facility's kitchen.

Sheriff John Whetsel says the kitchen will be under repair until next week. The Baptist convention's disaster relief teams stepped in and served 2,200 hot meals on Monday.

Sam Porter, the leader of the Baptist relief teams, says the volunteers will stay until they're not needed anymore. He says they see the situation as a "major ministry" for Oklahoma County in a time of need.

Whetsel says the Baptist teams are saving the jail from having to rent a mobile kitchen, which would cost about $23,000.

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American Catholic priest from Ohio drowns during vacation on Philippine island

MANILA, Philippines (AP) - A Roman Catholic religious order says an American missionary drowned during a vacation on an island south of the Philippine capital.

The director of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions said the Rev. Steve Baumbusch's body was found last Friday, a day after he disappeared while swimming off Lubang Island.

The 53-year-old missionary from Columbus, Ohio, had been working in the Philippines since 1998 and last served as rector of a seminary in Tagaytay city.

The Rev. Giovanni Re, director of the missions institute, said Baumbusch was swimming with several seminarians but got separated when he reached an area of strong currents.

He said Baumbusch's family plans to bury him in his hometown.

Lubang Island is about 80 miles (130 kilometers) southwest of Manila.

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Historic Cape Cod church to undergo $1.3M renovation project

BREWSTER, Mass. (AP) - A historic Cape Cod church is getting a $1.3 million makeover.

Repairs on the 175-year-old First Parish Brewster Unitarian Universalist church will begin in January, when contractors will lift the 40-by-56-foot church off its fieldstone and cement foundation using jacks and stacked timber pilings.

Dwight Woodson, the preservation committee's building director, said the majority of the renovation money is going to replace the rotted sills at building's base and pour a modern concrete foundation. The sills of the church have rotted so much that the floor now sags visibly.

The congregation has already pledged nearly $600,000 for the work. A second phase of renovation work, estimated to cost about $300,000, will fix interior problems.

The congregation traces its history to the earliest days of Brewster in the 17th century colony of Massachusetts.

© 2010 The Associated Press