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Religion news in brief

Wednesday - 3/12/2014, 12:14pm  ET

The head of the Franciscan convent of St. Francesco a Ripa, Friar Stefano Tamburo, uses a tablet device to check the Kickstart page promoting the conservation works required in the cell that St. Francis of Assisi is believed to have used when visiting the convent in Rome, Friday, Feb. 28, 2014. The friars who run the St. Francis a Ripa church in Rome's Trastevere neighborhood are launching a Kickstarter online fundraising campaign Tuesday, March 11, 2014, to try to raise the $125,000 to restore the tiny cell where St. Francis stayed when he came to Rome to see the pope, The Associated Press has learned. Rather than ask for funding from the Italian government, which owns the church and is responsible for its upkeep, the friars decided on this more democratic crowdfunding initiative thinking it more in keeping with the Franciscan tradition of seeking alms for just what they need, spreading the faith as they beg, and making sure the poor are the priority. (AP Photo/Domenico Stinellis)

The Associated Press

House approves individual religious exemption to health care law

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Individuals who practice faith healing instead of seeking medical attention would be exempt from the health care law's insurance requirement under legislation passed Tuesday by the House.

The bill would exempt Americans who notify the IRS that covered health care would violate their "sincerely held religious beliefs." Illinois Congressman Aaron Schock (SHAHK) said insincere applicants would forfeit the exemption and be fined if they voluntarily sought medical treatment.

California Democrat Henry Waxman warned that the legislation would force the IRS to approve almost all requests for the exemption or try to determine whether religious beliefs are "sincerely held." He said the IRS also would have difficulty determining whether an exempt person's medical treatment was voluntary.

The legislation passed after Schock said lawmakers were sworn "before God to protect the religious freedoms of every American." It's unlikely to pass the Democratic Senate.

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Donations taken from safe at Osteen's megachurch

HOUSTON (AP) -- Authorities are investigating after $600,000 in checks and cash was stolen from a safe at Pastor Joel Osteen's Houston megachurch, which has one of the largest congregations in the country.

Police spokesman Kese Smith said Tuesday $200,000 in cash and $400,000 in checks were stolen from a safe sometime between 2:30 p.m. Sunday and 8:30 a.m. Monday.

The theft was reported Monday morning by a church employee and an off-duty sheriff's deputy who provides security at the facility. Smith said no arrests have been made.

In a statement issued Monday, Lakewood Church said the money and checks taken, as well as some envelopes with written credit card information, were limited to funds given during this past weekend's Saturday and Sunday services.

More than 40,000 people attend weekly services led by Osteen, whose televised sermons reach nearly 100 countries.

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Methodists end minister's NY same-sex wedding case

NEW YORK (AP) -- A United Methodist bishop has dropped the case against a retired minister accused of breaking church law by officiating at his son's same-sex wedding -- a decision that came just months after another Methodist minister was defrocked for the same reason.

The Rev. Thomas Ogletree, 80, a former dean of the Yale Divinity School, said he's thankful that his church won't put him on trial for what he called "an act of pastoral faithfulness and fatherly love."

Bishop Martin McLee, who announced his decision Monday, called on church officials to stop prosecuting other pastors for marrying same-sex couples. The dismissal of the case against Ogletree does not require him to say he'll never conduct another same-sex wedding, nor does it say that what he did was wrong.

The pastor who brought the complaint against Ogletree says McLee's decision will make many United Methodists wonder "whether they can continue to support a church that will not abide by its own rules."

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UN starts Central African Republic investigation

GENEVA (AP) -- Leaders of a U.N. investigation of human rights abuses in Central African Republic said they will look into "reports of genocide."

The chair of the investigation, Bernard Acho Muna, said he's concerned that hate propaganda used by both Christians and Muslims in the conflict will fuel more violence.

Political disputes in Central African Republic are turning increasingly sectarian as Muslims are killed, Qurans are destroyed and mosques are set on fire. Tens of thousands of Muslims have fled to neighboring countries in recent months.

In December, the 15-nation Security Council mandated an investigation of human rights abuses in Central African Republic for an initial period of one year to compile information and help identify perpetrators with an aim toward prosecuting them.

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Pope's Franciscans kick-start fundraising effort

ROME (AP) -- Pope Francis' namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, founded his order of mendicant friars in the 13th century after receiving a calling from God to "rebuild my church." Some 800 years later, St. Francis' followers are rebuilding his church in the ancient tradition of door-to-door begging that St. Francis championed -- but with a modern twist.

With interest in things Franciscan at an all-time high, the friars who run the San Francesco a Ripa church in Rome have launched a Kickstarter online fundraising campaign to try to raise $125,000 for the restoration of the tiny cell where St. Francis stayed when he went to see the pope.

Rather than ask for funding from the Italian government, which owns the church and is responsible for its upkeep, the friars decided on the crowd-funding initiative, thinking it more in keeping with the Franciscan tradition of seeking alms for just what they need, spreading the faith as they beg and making sure the poor are the priority.

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