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Religion news in brief

By The Associated Press
The Associated Press
Wednesday, March 23, 2011; 8:23 PM

-- Obama visits tomb of slain Salvadoran archbishop

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) - On the final stop of his Latin American journey, President Barack Obama has visited the tomb of slain Roman Catholic Archbishop Oscar Romero.

Obama closed his eyes and bowed his head by Romero's crypt in San Salvador's Metropolitan Cathedral.

Next to the crypt was a kneeler used by Pope John Paul II during a 1983 visit.

Romero spoke out against repression by the U.S.-backed Salvadoran army during El Salvador's 12-year civil war and was gunned down on March 24, 1980, as he celebrated Mass in a hospital chapel.

During the 24-minute cathedral visit, Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes gave Obama a memento of Romero's life and ministry.

Rights activists and others welcomed Obama's decision to visit the tomb as a gesture of recognition of Romero's cause.

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Cross-burning shocks prosperous California town

ARROYO GRANDE, Calif. (AP) - An 11-foot cross that was stolen from a church has been set on fire next to the home of a black family, igniting anger and disbelief in a mostly white California community.

Police assigned extra patrols to the neighborhood in Arroyo Grande and rewards were offered for information leading to an arrest. Church leaders were urged to mention the family in their prayers.

Police say the cross was stolen from a garden at Saint John's Lutheran Church weeks ago and set ablaze Friday in a lot behind the house where the family lived.

A 19-year-old woman awoke about 12:30 a.m. and saw the flaming cross from her bedroom window. Arriving officers doused burning pieces of wood with a garden hose.

More than 30 clergy members signed a letter to the editor of the San Luis Obispo Tribune urging that the crime be taken seriously.

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US, Israeli leaders fight to protect desecrated ancient cemetery in east Jerusalem

JERUSALEM (AP) - A wide patch of steep hillside overlooking Jerusalem's Old City holds row after row of graves. Biblical prophets, revered rabbis and a prime minister are buried there. Yet many of the tombstones have been smashed, litter is strewn around and tethered donkeys defecate on top of graves.

The ancient cemetery is just one point of contention in the struggle for control of Jerusalem, an explosive issue in decades of Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.

Israelis and American Jewish leaders are demanding that the Israeli government increase protection to ensure that those buried on the Mount of Olives can rest in peace.

The cemetery is believed to hold the graves of biblical prophets Haggai, Malachi and Zechariah. The list of modern Jewish figures buried there includes Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, the father of modern Hebrew, and Nobel Prize laureate Shai Agnon.

Some Israelis claim Palestinians from surrounding east Jerusalem neighbourhoods attack visitors two to three times a week, sometimes stoning funeral processions. They accuse Arabs of building illegally on top of graves, using tombstones as goalposts for soccer games and lobbing firebombs to desecrate the cemetery.

Palestinian officials and organizations declined to comment.

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Amendment to Tenn. Shariah bill would not reference Islam

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Sponsors of legislation in Tennessee that would make it a felony to follow some versions of the Islamic code known as Shariah are proposing an amendment that strips out any reference to a specific religion.

The proposal outraged Muslims who were concerned it would outlaw central tenets of Islam, such as praying five times a day toward Mecca, abstaining from alcohol or fasting during Ramadan.

Republican state Sen. Bill Ketron says the amendment reflects the legislation's "original intention to prevent or deter violent or terrorist acts, but does so without any room for misinterpretation regarding the language's affect on peaceful religious practices."

Opponents of the legislation say the amendment would make it harder to fight in court because it wouldn't be such an obvious violation of the First Amendment.

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Nepal Christians protest to demand that the government provide burial grounds

KATMANDU, Nepal (AP) - Hundreds of Christians have protested in Nepal's capital, demanding the government provide designated burial grounds.

Christians complain that there are only a handful of places where they can bury their dead in the predominantly Hindu nation, where most corpses are cremated.

About 1,000 Christians held banners that read "Give us our rights, give us burial grounds" and demonstrated in the center of Katmandu on Wednesday.

Sundar Thapa, a pastor who led the protest, said they're demanding the government provide burial grounds for all Christians in all 75 districts of the country.

Christians have been protesting since a ban was imposed earlier this year on a traditional burial area next to a temple which is revered by Hindus in Nepal.

© 2011 The Associated Press