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May 18, 12:46 PM EDT

Religion news in brief

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Mass. Catholics hold vigil in endangered churches
Convent shuts after helping generations 'overcome'
Inside a Voodoo Gede ceremony
Religion News
Creditors: Minnesota archdiocese sitting on $1.7 billion

The Latest: Archbishop says archdiocese disclosed all assets

Complaint alleges Texas charter schools abusing visa program

French president in anti-extremism talks with Al-Azhar imam

Irish church eyes 2018 papal visit, reconciliation gesture

Pope embraces Al-Azhar imam in sign of renewed relations

Pope asks followers to pray for Turkey humanitarian summit

Pope warns bishops to consult Rome on new religious orders

New custodian of Holy Land vows to work for peace, dialogue

Pope gives pre-match pep talk to Milan, Juventus

Speaker defends nuns over birth control mandate

WASHINGTON (AP) - House Speaker Paul Ryan says the Obama administration's treatment of the Little Sisters of the Poor "has shown a total misunderstanding of faith."

At the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, Ryan criticized the accommodation the Obama administration offered the nuns and other faith-based groups that object to providing birth control through their health insurance, even if they don't have to pay for it.

Ryan said the nuns "should not have to participate in any way," even if it's only by submitting a government form stating their religious objection. Faith-based groups have said that still makes them complicit in something they believe is sinful.

Ryan said the Obama administration "seems to believe only in a material world where the only stuff that matters is dollars and cents."

The speaker applauded the Supreme Court's decision Monday to send the case back to lower courts in search of a compromise that provides free contraceptives without infringing on religious liberty.

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Pastor who accused Whole Foods of slur on cake drops lawsuit

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - A gay Texas pastor who sued Whole Foods alleging that a cake he bought from the grocer had an anti-gay slur written on it in icing has dropped his lawsuit and admitted that "the company did nothing wrong."

Jordan Brown of Austin issued an apology on Monday, saying he was "wrong to pursue this matter and use the media to perpetuate this story."

Whole Foods vigorously denied the allegation when Brown first came forward in April. The Austin American-Statesman reports that the company released surveillance video that it said showed Brown was lying and filed a counter suit against him.

The company said in a statement Monday that given Brown's apology and public admission that his story was false, it sees "no reason" to move forward with its lawsuit.

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Gay choir director claims discrimination by Marietta church

MARIETTA, Ga. (AP) - The director of a church choir in Marietta, Georgia, says he was forced to resign from his job because he is gay.

Media outlets report Ira Pittman had worked at Mt. Bethel United Methodist Church for more than 20 years. Pittman says he kept his sexuality separate from the church.

In December, Pittman threw a Christmas party for staff members with his partner of 16 years present. He says after the party, one of the staff members complained to church leaders that it was a "coming out party."

Pittman says he was forced to resign because leaders said he violated the church's stance on homosexuality. He has now filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Pittman now works as a choir director at East Cobb United Methodist Church.

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Franklin Graham rallies Christians at Missouri Capitol

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - The son of the Rev. Billy Graham is urging Missouri's Christians to run for office and support candidates who adhere to biblical principles.

Franklin Graham delivered his message Tuesday as thousands rallied in the rain outside the state Capitol. Some attendees stepped onto ledges outside lawmakers' office windows to get a better view.

Graham made Jefferson City the 23rd stop of his 50-State Decision America Tour. He compared Christians' struggle against secularism to America's fight against communism.

He said Christians might have to hold their nose during some elections and choose the lesser of two "heathens." He said in those cases, voters should look for the candidate who will at least listen to Christians on issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage.

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Christian charity head admits using donations for sex habit

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) - The president of a Christian charity in Iowa has admitted that he embezzled nearly a half-million dollars in donations and used the money to pay for a sex addiction.

Jon Petersen of Cedar Rapids pleaded guilty Monday to one count of filing a false tax return, under a plea agreement with prosecutors.

He's the president of World Ambassadors, Ltd., a nonprofit founded in 1993 to provide a Christian outreach to international students on college campuses.

Prosecutors say Petersen diverted $475,000 received by the group to his personal checking account between 2010 and 2014 - virtually all of its funding. The guilty plea concerned his 2013 tax filing, when he failed to report $114,000 in income.

Petersen claimed he struggled with a sex addiction and used the money to pay for it.

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Supreme Court avoids major ruling in birth control dispute

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court is sidestepping a dispute between the Obama administration and faith-based groups who object to providing birth control for women covered under their health plans. The court is asking lower courts to take another look at the issue in a search for a compromise.

The lack of a resolution leaves the government able for now to ensure that women covered by faith-based groups' health plans have access to cost-free contraceptives. But the groups, which include Christian colleges and the Little Sisters of the Poor, won't face fines for not adhering to administration procedures for objecting to birth control benefits.

The case almost certainly would not return to the Supreme Court until after the November presidential election.

The outcome suggests the court lacked a majority for a significant ruling following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

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