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posted: 8/28/2011 5:23 AM

Religion in the news: Court rules on circumcision

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Associated Press

Senate panel OKs rules on male circumcision

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- A California Senate committee unanimously approved a bill Tuesday to block local jurisdictions from banning male circumcision, a debate that evolved from a divisive ballot measure in San Francisco that would have barred the practice for most boys under age 18.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 5-0 for the bill by two Democratic lawmakers that would declare that circumcision -- surgically removing the foreskin that covers the tip of the penis -- has health, cultural and other benefits, and that uniform statewide rules are needed to govern it and a parent's authority over whether their children receive it.

"It's a medical procedure, and it has value," said Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles, co-author of AB768. Passing the bill, he told the committee, would prevent a statewide patchwork of laws governing circumcision.

Sen. Noreen Evans, the Santa Rosa Democrat who chairs the committee, said a statewide standard would ensure parents retain the right to decide for their children.

The legislation comes against a national backdrop of efforts to limit male circumcision, which critics say is an unnecessary surgery to a healthy and defenseless child that can cause long-lasting sexual and mental health problems.

Supporters of male circumcision include researchers who say it can reduce the risk of sexually transmitted diseases and cancer, and many Jews and Muslims, for whom the practice is an important religious ritual.

The bill next goes to the full state Senate, where it could be considered as soon as next week.

Goshen College in Indiana replaces national anthem

GOSHEN, Ind. -- A small college in northern Indiana that decided to stop playing the national anthem at sporting events will play "America the Beautiful" instead.

Jim Brenneman, president of Goshen College, said that "America the Beautiful" was more fitting with the pacifist traditions of the Mennonite Church affiliated school and also honored the country.

Leaders of the 1,000-student college decided in June to quit playing an instrumental version "The Star-Spangled Banner" after starting to do so for the first time last year. Some students and graduates were against the song being played because its lyrics contain references to using war to defend the country.

Brenneman said the use of "America the Beautiful" will begin with sports events this fall and the U.S. flag will be present.

Polygamy town officials plead not guilty

SALT LAKE CITY -- A defense attorney says two officials from the polygamous sect-run town of Colorado City, Ariz., have pleaded not guilty to criminal charges stemming from allegations that they misused public funds.

Fire Chief Jacob Barlow and City Manager David Darger entered the pleas during a Tuesday hearing in Mohave Superior Court in Kingman.

Barlow and Darger were indicted separately on charges of violating the duty of a custodian of public money, participating in a criminal syndicate and assisting in a criminal syndicate.

Barlow faces 30 counts and Darger faces 13.

Darger's attorney, Anne Chapman, says a judge set the next hearing for Sept. 26.

Colorado City is dominated by followers of convicted child sex offender and Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints leader Warren Jeffs.

Indonesian mayor: No churches on streets with Islamic names

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- A mayor is trying to ban Christian churches on streets with Islamic names, the latest attempt to block construction of a new parish in the world's largest Muslim-majority country.

Critics say the proposal is another example of growing religious intolerance.

The Taman Yasmin Indonesian Christian Church was supposed to open in the city of Bogor in 2008, but residents protested, claiming its permit was illegal. Though the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the church in December, Mayor Diani Budiarto refused to comply. The mayor said he was pushing for a decree to make it illegal to open churches on streets with Islamic names.

Indonesia, a secular nation of 240 million, has a long history of religious tolerance, but a small extremist fringe has become more vocal -- and violent -- in recent years.

Critics said President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono -- who relies heavily on Islamic parties in parliament -- has remained silent as minorities have been attacked by hard-liners or seen their houses of worship torched or boarded up. Christians, who make up 10 percent of the population, also say it can take years to get permits to build new churches.

The Taman Yasmin worshippers have been holding weekly services in front of their sealed off building for nearly three years, said Bona Singalingging, the church spokesman. He called the mayor's latest proposal part of a "dangerous" trend.