US State Dept. report notes increase in anti-Semitism

WASHINGTON (AP) — The State Department has appointed a special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism as a new report documents a global increase in incidents of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.

Ira Forman, former CEO of the National Jewish Democratic Council, was chosen as special envoy as the State Department released its annual report on religious freedom around the world. The report said expressions of anti-Semitism by government officials, religious leaders and the media were of great concern, particularly in Venezuela, Egypt and Iran. At times, the report said, such statements led to desecration and violence.

Secretary of State John Kerry called the report a "clear-eyed, objective look at the state of religious freedom around the world" and said that in some cases, the report criticizes U.S. allies and would-be allies.

2 brothers file lawsuits against Maine Catholic church alleging it hid priest sexual abuse

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Two brothers are suing the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, saying church officials knew a priest was sexually abusing them and other children but did nothing to stop it.

In complaints filed in Cumberland County Superior Court, Jeffrey and Frederick Conroy say they the late Father James Vallely abused them from approximately 1976 through approximately 1979 when they were altar boys at St. Michael’s Parish in South Berwick.

Frederick Conroy is now 46 and lives in Massachusetts. Jeffrey Conroy is 45 and lives in Texas.

The suits seek unspecified damages on claims including fraudulent concealment, infliction of emotional distress and negligent supervision.

The diocese announced in 2005 that Vallely was among nine dead priests against whom child sexual abuse allegations had been validated.

Church officials weren’t immediately available for comment.

Atheist group says Ball State professor teaching creationism in honors science class

MUNCIE, Ind. (AP) — Ball State University is investigating an atheist organization’s complaint that one of the professors at the Indiana college is teaching religion rather than science.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has filed a formal objection to Eric Hedin’s teaching with university officials. Hedin teaches an honors class called "Boundaries of Science," which the foundation maintains teaches creationism rather than science. The foundation is dedicated to "nontheism" and separation of church and state.

Hedin is listed as a member on the Ball State website as a member of the department of physics and astronomy, not biology. The faculty directory says he teaches classes in nanoscience and cosmology.

"Faculty own the curriculum. In large part, it’s a faculty matter," Provost Terry King told The Star Press. "But we have to ensure that our teaching is appropriate. All I have so far is a complaint from an outside person. We have not had any internal complaints. But we do take this very seriously and will look into it."

The course is an elective, not a required class, King said.

Retired professor Ruth Howes, who formerly taught the Boundaries of Science class, said it’s important to help students understand viewpoints that are different from their own.

Man sets church doors on fire during service; members put out fire, follow man until arrest

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — New Orleans Fire Department Superintendent Charles Parent says that when a man set fire to church doors during a service, some churchgoers put out the fire and others followed the man until police arrested him.

Parent’s news release Monday evening did not identify the 36-year-old man.

Parent says his department was called at 10:27 a.m. Sunday, when a camera showed a man pouring combustible liquid on the front doors of Kingdom Hall in Gentilly, and setting them afire.

The fire chief says 148 people were in the church.

He says the fire was out when the first of 10 fire tricks arrived at 10:32 a.m.

The man walked away, and several church members followed him until police arrived.

Parent says the man was arrested a block from the church.

Settlement reached in sexual harassment suit involving ex-pastor of Jackson megachurch

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A federal lawsuit that accused the former pastor of a Jackson megachurch of sexually harassing an employee ended with a settlement Tuesday, the plaintiff’s attorney said.

Jamila Slaughter sued Word of Faith International Christian Center and Bishop Kevin Wright in June 2011. Slaughter’s attorney, Carlos Moore, said the settlement was reached after a hearing in U.S. District Court in Jackson. He said terms of the deal are confidential.

"We are happy to have it resolved and my client looks forward to moving on with her life," Moore said.

An attorney for the church, Charles R. Wilbanks Jr., did not immediately respond to a telephone/email? message seeking comment.

Word of Faith was founded in Detroit in 1978 and has more than 30 satellite churches, including the one where Slaughter and Wright worked in Jackson.

Slaughter alleged in the lawsuit that Wright made unwanted sexual advances from December 2008 to October 2009 while she worked at the Jackson church as an administrative assistant and receptionist.