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May 4, 1:59 PM EDT

Religion news in brief

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AP Photo/Seth Wenig

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Religion news in brief

A Virginia man has been sentenced to 17 years in federal prison for plotting to shoot up or bomb synagogues and black churches

Investigators say a fitness instructor found dead at a North Texas church had multiple puncture wounds to her head and chest when her body was found

The president of the European Jewish Congress says Sweden needs to be vigilant of anti-Semitism among some Middle Eastern refugees seeking shelter in the Nordic country

Germany's Jews are divided over whether to welcome or oppose an unprecedented wave of immigration from Muslim lands traditionally hostile to Israel

A Muslim woman is suing Long Beach police, saying an officer forcibly removed her religious headscarf during an arrest

Authorities say a man's planned explosive attack on a South Florida Jewish center was thwarted by the FBI through an undercover operation involving use of a dummy bomb

A man accused of plotting to detonate an explosive at a large Jewish center in South Florida has made his first federal court appearance

A historic church in New York City has been destroyed in a raging fire just hours after its Orthodox worshippers celebrated Easter

Pope Francis is insisting pedophile criminals be 'severely' punished

Officials: Candles possible cause of NYC church fire

NEW YORK (AP) - Fire department officials say candles may have caused Sunday's blaze that destroyed a historic New York City church.

The Serbian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Sava (SAH'-vah) burned on the same day Orthodox Christians around the world celebrated Easter. Fire officials said Tuesday they are looking into whether caretakers at the church may have accidentally placed candles that had not been fully extinguished in a cardboard box after the Easter celebration.

They say the fire is not suspicious, but the investigation is ongoing.

The church was designed by architect Richard M. Upjohn and was built in the early 1850s. One of its earlier congregants was novelist Edith Wharton, who wrote "The Age of Innocence." She was married in the church in 1885.

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Jamaica police trying to solve killings of US missionaries

KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) - Jamaican police say they're seeking suspects and trying to determine a motive in the weekend slayings of two American missionaries in the area where they lived and worked.

The bodies of Randy Hentzel, 48, and Harold Nichols, 53, were found in bushes along a rural road where they were traveling on motorbikes. One of the men was found with his hands bound.

Randy Hentzel was from Donnellson, Iowa, and had five children with his wife, Sara. Harold Nichols hailed from Randolph, New York, and is survived by his wife, Teri.

The men and their wives worked for a Pennsylvania-based ministry called Teams for Medical Missions that has been in Jamaica since 1990. They did evangelism and Bible ministry, built homes and provided health care.

They were apparently killed Saturday on their way to check on the foundation of a home they were building for a needy family.

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Evangelist Franklin Graham tells followers to pray, vote

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Evangelist Franklin Graham has urged a crowd of thousands at the Tennessee Capitol to pray for the country and vote for candidates that stand for and live by biblical principles.

Graham said he places no hope in the Republican and Democratic parties, but he still believes that God can save the United States.

Graham asked the crowd to confess the nation's sins, which he said included abortion, the legalization of same-sex marriage, worship of materialism and racism. He also asked them to consider running for public office, saying politicians today are unwilling to stand up for Christian beliefs.

The prayer rally Tuesday is part of a tour to every state capitol that Graham said he's undertaking because he believes the country is in trouble "spiritually, racially, economically, and politically."

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Idaho city settles lawsuit over local law, LGBT weddings

COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho (AP) - A northern Idaho city has settled a lawsuit brought by wedding chapel owners who oppose same sex marriage.

The Coeur d'Alene (kohr duh-LAYN') Press reports that Coeur d'Alene agreed Friday to pay the Hitching Post $1,000 but not to change its non-discrimination ordinance. The city attorney says the city hopes the settlement will save taxpayers' money.

The city's ordinance makes it illegal to discriminate because of sexual orientation but includes an exception for religious organizations.

The Alliance Defending Freedom sued Coeur d'Alene on behalf of Hitching Post Weddings owners, who say the ordinance violated their right to freedom of speech and free exercise of religion. The lawsuit came shortly after Idaho's same-sex marriage ban was struck down.

Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Jonathan Scruggs says he views the settlement as a win.

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Clergy leader touts impact of annual event

WASHINGTON (AP) - The president of the National Clergy Council says this week's National Day of Prayer is more important than next year's presidential inauguration.

The Rev. Rob Schenck (shank) notes millions of Americans are expected to take part in prayer gatherings Thursday at county courthouses, state capitols and on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Schenck says this week's Bible Reading Marathon on the Capitol plaza is a fitting lead-in to the annual day of prayer, which began in 1952 under President Truman. Congress's designation of the first Thursday in May as the National Day of Prayer was signed by President Reagan in 1988.

Schenck says it's a day "when the hearts and minds of millions of Americans are turned toward our only hope and our only salvation, the Lord God Almighty."

He said that's "more important than any inauguration."

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Bassist: Prince loved sharing his Jehovah's Witness faith

MINNETONKA, Minn. (AP) - Music megastar Prince was known for throwing parties that stretched into the wee hours of the morning, but his faith and the Bible could also keep him gabbing until sunrise, according to his longtime friend and "spiritual brother," bassist Larry Graham.

Prince, who died last month at 57, became a Jehovah's Witness late in life, and that helped shape his music as well as his lifestyle, according to Graham, who first met the star decades ago and became a confidante and tour mate.

Graham says Prince worshipped at a Kingdom Hall just outside Minneapolis. He says Prince would knock on doors, talk with visitors at his Paisley Park compound in suburban Minneapolis and even share his faith with small groups after a show.

Graham says Prince's "biggest joy was sharing the hope of everlasting life."

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