Religion news in brief

Iranian court rejects American pastor’s appeal

BOISE, Idaho – The wife of an American pastor serving eight years in an Iranian prison says the Tehran Court of Appeals has rejected his appeal for a reduced sentence.

Pastor Saeed Abedini, whose family lives in Boise, Idaho, has been jailed in Iran since September. He was charged with attempting to undermine state security by creating a network of Christian churches in private homes. He was tried and sentenced in January.

Naghmeh Abedini says her 33-year-old husband’s faith remains strong, but he’s been suffering from internal bleeding.

She says their two small children pray for their father’s release daily, and she hasn’t had the heart to tell them about the court’s ruling.

This week, as the U.S. commemorates the massive 1963 civil rights march in Washington, Naghmeh Abedini is urging President Barack Obama to denounce the violation of her husband’s religious rights.

She notes that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Pope urges the international community to find a solution to Syria’s civil war

VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis says he has been disturbed by “terrible images” of atrocities occurring in Syria, and he is urging the international community to step up its efforts to end the civil war there.

Francis told tens of thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday that Syrian and rebel forces must put down their arms. He renewed his call for dialogue as the West considers a military response to the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria.

Syria reached an agreement with the United Nations on Sunday to allow a team of international experts to visit the site of alleged chemical weapons attacks last week outside Damascus. Anti-government activists and Doctors Without Borders say that more than 300 people were killed. Images purporting to show the aftermath of the attack are filled with people gasping for breath and dead children unmarked by any wounds.

At least 100,000 people have been killed in Syria since the country’s crisis began in March 2011.

Some churches alter bylaws after US gay marriage ruling

NASHVILLE, Tennessee – Some U.S. churches concerned they could be sued by gay couples, are changing their bylaws to reflect their view that the Bible allows only marriage between one man and one woman.

Although there have been lawsuits against wedding industry businesses that refuse to serve gay couples, attorneys promoting the bylaw changes say they don’t know of any lawsuits against churches. Critics say the changes are unnecessary, but some churches fear that it’s only a matter of time before one of them is sued.

Gay Christian Network executive director Justin Lee, who supports such ceremonies, says the First Amendment protects churches from being required to hold them.

Some Christian denominations, such as the United Church of Christ, accept gay marriage. But the majority of Christian denominations view homosexual relationships as sinful.

Thirteen states and the District of Columbia now recognize gay marriage.

Freedom From Religion Foundation to expand in Wis.

MADISON, Wis. – The Freedom From Religion Foundation is quadrupling space at its headquarters in Madison, Wis.

Foundation co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor says the existing building can no longer accommodate the staff needed to support the nonprofit organization’s membership growth.

The State Journal reports that paid membership is at nearly 20,000, an increase of 130 percent in six years.

The foundation takes on alleged violations of the separation of church and state, sometimes filing lawsuits but more often using the threat of legal action to force changes.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has 13 permanent staff positions, plus numerous interns and volunteers. It hired its first full-time staff attorney in 2007 and now has four.

Northwest Ga. church offers drive-thru prayer

DALTON, Ga. – A church in northwest Georgia has started offering Sunday prayer services for worshippers on the go.

Members of the Cedar Valley Cathedral of Praise in Dalton have been hosting a weekly drive-thru prayer mission Sundays from 2 to 5 p.m. Anne Keith told the Dalton Daily Citizen that she’s been visiting the drive-thru Sunday service for more than a month now, and it’s something she looks forward to every week.

Church members gather under their building’s awning to wait for a driver and distribute prayer cloths to visitors. Members say they welcome visitors from all denominations, and visitors are encouraged to come as they are. They say 17 people have prayed for salvation.

Members of the congregation said they got the idea to start offering drive-thru services from a speaker at the church in late May.