Religion news in brief
House votes to reauthorize international religious freedom commission WASHINGTON — The House has approved a five-year reauthorization of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. The independent government agency reports on violations of religious rights abroad and recommends actions the U.S. could take against countries that persecute or fail to prevent persecution of people of faith. Virginia Congressman Frank Wolf said, “Without this commission, there would be nobody around to point out what is taking place to these groups.” USCIRF commissioners are appointed by Congress and the White House. The five-year reauthorization was approved by a voice vote in the House. New Jersey Congressman Chris Smith said he hopes the Senate will promptly agree to extend the life of the commission. ___ Suit challenges state abortion clinic buffer zone CONCORD, N.H. — A conservative Christian law group has filed a federal lawsuit seeking to strike down New Hampshire’s 25-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics. Alliance Defending Freedom announced Tuesday that it filed the suit on behalf of several abortion opponents. The suit says the buffer zone signed into law this year violates the free speech rights of abortion protesters. ADF filed the Massachusetts lawsuit that led to last month’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down that state’s buffer zone. The lawsuit filed Monday says the law unfairly allows clinic escorts, but not protesters, to talk to women within the buffer zone. Abortion rights supporters say the buffers are needed to protect women and clinic workers from harassment. William Hinkle, Gov. Maggie Hassan’s spokesman, says the governor believes the law is narrower than the Massachusetts law and will survive a court test. ___ Dahlkemper: Faith-based letter ‘misinterpreted’ ERIE, Pa. — Former Democratic congresswoman Kathy Dahlkemper says her decision to sign a letter asking President Barack Obama to create a religious exemption to a planned executive order about gay and lesbian hiring is being “misinterpreted.” Dahlkemper, who represented northeastern Ohio in the U.S. House before losing her first re-election bid in 2010, was elected Erie County executive last year. She has been stung by criticism that she doesn’t support gay and lesbian rights since signing the letter, which was sent to the White House on July 1 and publicized the next day. The letter was signed by faith-based leaders across the country, and urged the president to include a religious exemption when he signs a planned executive order banning any companies or agencies that contract with the government from discriminating against gays and lesbians in hiring. The Erie Times-News reports that Dahlkemper viewed the letter as a compromise proposal that would protect gay rights without penalizing people with religious objections. ___ Hispanic evangelicals addressing immigration crisis SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A Hispanic evangelical leader says most of the unaccompanied children arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border would be better off with their parents and should be sent home. The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez says those without parents in the U.S. could fall victim to the same drug gangs in American cities that threaten their lives in Central America. Rodriguez is president of NHCLC/Conela, which represents more than 40,000 Hispanic evangelical churches in the U.S. and 500,000 worldwide. NHCLC/Conela plans to broadcast public service announcements in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala discouraging parents from sending their children on the dangerous trek to the U.S. border, and is urging Central American pastors to spread that message throughout their communities. Rodriguez says that while NHCLC/Conela opposes illegal immigration, its churches are offering temporary shelter, food and clothing to children packed into U.S. detention facilities while their cases are processed. ___ Pope asks sex abuse victims for forgiveness, vows to hold bishops accountable VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis is promising to hold bishops accountable for the protection of minors. The pledge came as the pope celebrated a Mass with six victims of clergy sex abuse, and begged for their forgiveness. In his homily, the pope didn’t spell out just how he would hold bishops accountable -- and whether that would include firing bishops and other church leaders who systematically moved pedophile priests from parish to parish to avoid bringing shame upon the Catholic Church. One of the six people who met with Francis Tuesday -- Marie Kane of Ireland -- says she asked him to remove an Irish cardinal, Sean Brady, from his post because of how he handled allegations of abuse. The Irish Times quotes her as saying she told the pontiff a “cover-up is still happening, and you have the power to make these changes.” She says he replied that it’s difficult to make the changes. Other abuse survivors who weren’t at the meeting were critical, with one calling the meeting “a PR event.” Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.