Cross soars over Beruit

BEIRUT — Lebanon's Maronite Christian Church inaugurated a towering, lighted cross Monday as a sign of unity among the world's people.

The cross soars more than 240 feet (73 meters) into the air and has 1,800 spotlights and is located in the mountain village of Qanat Bekish, according to the Rev. Farid Doumit, a Maronite priest in the village.

Building the cross took about two years and cost some US$1.5 million, which mainly came from donations from the Maronite Church, which is in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church and under the authority of the pope, and a French Catholic group. The cross stands near a church that dates to 1898.

Monday's inauguration came on the eve of the feast of the Congregation of Holy Cross.

Lebanon is a pluralistic society with 18 different religious sects and a parliament split equally between Christians and Muslims. Lebanon is also the only Arab country with a Christian head of state.



US files religious discrimination suit against Calif. city for denying Buddhist center permit

LOS ANGELES — The U.S. Justice Department has filed a religious discrimination lawsuit against the Southern California city of Walnut, claiming it unfairly denied a permit to a group seeking to build and run a Buddhist center.

The lawsuit filed last Monday in Los Angeles seeks a court order saying the city violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, which prohibits religious discrimination in land use and zoning decisions. The suit also requests an injunction to prohibit Walnut officials from discriminating against the Chung Tai Zen Center and other religious organizations.

Federal officials said the city of Walnut denied the center's application in January 2008 and had not denied any other religious group since at least 1980. The lawsuit also contends the city treated the Zen Center differently than other religious facilities, including approval of an August 2008 permit for a church that will be larger than the Buddhist center when completed.

"Religious freedom is among our most cherished rights, and our nation's laws prohibit cities and towns from discriminating based on religion when they make zoning decisions related to houses of worship," said Thomas Perez, assistant attorney general of the civil rights division. "No faith should be singled out for inferior treatment when it seeks to build a house of worship in compliance with local zoning laws."

Walnut's city manager, Robert Wishner, said he couldn't comment on the lawsuit because he hadn't seen it. Attempts to reach the Zen Center were unsuccessful.



New leader for Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod

ST. LOUIS — The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod installed its new president, the Rev. Matthew C. Harrison, in a service last Saturday at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis.

Harrison was elected to the position last July, defeating the Rev. Gerald Kieschnick, who had held the job for nine years when he lost re-election.

The Kirkwood-based denomination has about 2.5 million members and is theologically conservative. The largest Lutheran group in the country is the liberal-leaning Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which has about 4.5 million members.

"Bring back the doubting, those who are not sure whether to follow the Bible or to follow the postmodern views of our day," said Presiding Bishop Walter Obare of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya, who preached at the installation service. He was quoted by the synod's magazine, The Lutheran Witness.

Harrison had served as head of the church's World Relief and Human Care, and was previously a pastor in Westgate, Iowa, and Fort Wayne, Ind. He and his wife, Kathy, have two sons.


New hearing ordered in inmate head scarf case


SAN FRANCISCO  — A federal appeals court has ordered a new hearing for a Muslim woman who was made to remove her religiously mandated headscarf by Orange County deputies in a courthouse holding cell.

The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said last Monday that a majority of its 27 judges voted to set aside the court's earlier ruling in the case.

A three-judge panel of the court decided in May that deputies had not violated Souhair Khatib's rights when they ordered her to remove the head scarf for security reasons.

The incident occurred after a judge revoked Khatib's probation for a conviction on a misdemeanor charge.

At issue is whether a courthouse holding cell qualifies as a pretrial detention facility under a federal law that protects inmates' religious practices.

The case is scheduled for rehearing in December.


Utah's unique Gilgal Garden celebrates 10 years as public park


SALT LAKE CITY — Gilgal Garden is celebrating its tenth year as a city park.

Named for the spot where ancient Israelites crossed the Jordan River in the Middle East, Gilgal Garden contains a dozen original sculptures with biblical themes. More than 70 engraved stones contain quotes from hymns, scripture, poets and philosophers.

The garden's best-known sculpture is an Egyptian sphinx with the face of Joseph Smith, founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The garden was created by stonemason and LDS Bishop Thomas Battersby Child Jr., with help from Utah sculptor Maurice Brooks, as a tribute to faith and the craft of masonry. The quartzite and granite sculptures date from 1945 until Child's death in 1963.

The garden was donated to Salt Lake City for a park in 2000.

— Associated Press

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