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Religion news in brief

By The Associated Press
The Associated Press
Wednesday, March 16, 2011; 12:13 PM

-- Mormon church relocating missionaries in Japan

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Mormon church officials say as many as 200 missionaries working in the Sendai and Tokyo regions of Japan are being moved farther away from a nuclear power plant where elevated radiation levels have been detected.

Church Elder Jeffrey Holland also said Tuesday that all 638 Mormon missionaries living in Japan, including 342 from the U.S., are safe and accounted for following Friday's massive earthquake and tsunami.

Fire and explosions at the nuclear facility caused the Japanese government to order 140,000 people living within 20 miles of the plant to seal themselves indoors to avoid exposure.

Church officials say Mormon missionaries won't be available to provide aid in those areas until better information about radiation levels becomes available.

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Islamic extremist sentenced to death for killing American in Africa

NOUAKCHOTT, Mauritania (AP) - A court in the west African country of Mauritania has sentenced a member of an al-Qaida cell to death for the 2009 slaying of an American teacher.

A North African branch of al-Qaida said it targeted 39-year-old Christopher Leggett because he allegedly was trying to convert Muslims to Christianity.

Leggett was fatally shot in the Mauritanian capital not far from a school he helped run. The Tennessee native, his wife and their four children had lived in Mauritania for more than six years.

The Mauritanian court announced Tuesday that the man found guilty of plotting Leggett's murder would be executed. Two other men were sentenced to prison as accomplices to the crime.

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Asheville, N.C., music minister ordered to prison

ASHEVILLE, N.C. (AP) - A former music minister at an Asheville Roman Catholic church has been sentenced to 28 years in federal prison after he pleaded guilty to producing child pornography.

Thirty-one-year-old Paul Lawrence Berrell was sentenced in U.S. District Court in Asheville last week. Berrell was music minister at St. Eugene Catholic Church.

He originally was charged with nine counts of second-degree sexual exploitation of a minor, two counts of indecent liberties with a child and one count of statutory sex offense.

Authorities seized a camera, a computer and 11 compact discs of child erotica.

Police say they learned about the case when the parent of a female minor reported it in 2009. The court said there was a pattern of sexual abuse against children dating to 2002.

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Lawyers clash over religious status of college police

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - North Carolina's Supreme Court is considering whether a private college is too closely aligned with a religious denomination to be allowed to have its own police force.

The case involves a woman who was arrested by one of the school's police officers on a nearby street.

The woman, who was not a student, pleaded guilty to driving while impaired but later appealed on the grounds that Presbyterian-affiliated Davidson's police force violates separation of church and state.

An attorney for the state, which certifies police at religious and secular private colleges, argued that Davidson is independent of church control.

A lawyer for Davidson said the issue is campus safety, and the court's decision could have consequences for other religious-affiliated colleges with their own police.

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Malaysia agrees to release 35,000 seized Bibles

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) - Malaysia's government has agreed to release some 35,000 imported Bibles seized by customs officials amid a dispute over their use of the word "Allah" as a translation for God.

Authorities say they fear that Malay-language Bibles using the word "Allah" for God will confuse Muslims. Such Bibles must be stamped with the words "For Christians Only," which is generally meant to prevent anyone from trying to convert Muslims.

The Prime Minister's office said in a statement that the government was releasing the Bibles, but assured Malaysia's majority Muslims that the decision would not jeopardize their ongoing court case on whether non-Muslims have the constitutional right to use "Allah."

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Passenger prayer spurs security alert on LA flight

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Pilots on an Alaska Airlines flight from Mexico City to Los Angeles locked down the cockpit and alerted authorities when a flight crew grew alarmed at the behavior of three men who turned out to be conducting an elaborate orthodox Jewish prayer ritual.

The three Mexican men began the ritual that involves tying leather straps and small wooden boxes to the body, and the crew of Sunday's Flight 241 alerted the cockpit, airline spokeswoman Bobbie Egan said.

The cockpit was placed on a security lockdown for the rest of the flight - meaning the door couldn't be opened even for pilots to leave briefly. Normal protocol calls for the cockpit to be locked, but on longer flights the pilots will leave and return from the flight deck.

FBI and customs agents along with police and a full assignment of fire trucks met the plane at the gate at Los Angeles International Airport, and the men were escorted off.

After questioning from the FBI, the men were released without being arrested. Airline officials later learned from law enforcement the men were performing the ritual known as laying the tefillin.

© 2011 The Associated Press