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Roma Downey calls casting of Jesus and answer to prayer

LOS ANGELES (AP) — "Son of God" producer Roma Downey says casting Diogo Morgado as Jesus was an answer to prayer.

The handsome Portuguese actor landed the role in the TV miniseries "The Bible," parts of which were reassembled into the feature film now in theaters.

But Downey says only weeks before filming was to begin, the role still hadn't been cast, so she fired off an email to church and business contacts with the urgent header: "Looking for Jesus."

She believes that what followed was a divine appointment, and now she can't imagine anyone else playing the son of God.

Morgado says his initial feeling was "There's no way I can do this," but he drew upon his own relationship with Christ to portray a loving messiah.

"Son of God" ranked second at the box office last weekend, earning $25.6 million.


300-w-33-(Steve Coleman, AP religion editor, with "Son of God" producer Roma Downey and actor Diogo Morgado)--"Son of God" producer Roma Downey says casting Diogo Morgado as Jesus was an answer to prayer. AP Religion Editor Steve Coleman reports. (6 Mar 2014)

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285-a-09-(Diogo Morgado, actor who plays Jesus in "Son of God", in online news conference)-"can do this"-Actor Diogo Morgado, who plays Jesus in "Son of God," says he was uncertain about auditioning for the role. (6 Mar 2014)

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283-a-12-(Roma Downey, actor and producer of "Son of God", in online news conference)-"looking for Jesus"-''Son of God" actor and producer Roma Downey says she and her husband went down to the wire looking for an actor to play Jesus. (6 Mar 2014)

<<CUT *283 (03/06/14)££ 00:12 "looking for Jesus"

286-a-08-(Diogo Morgado, actor who plays Jesus in "Son of God", in online news conference)-"relationship with him"-Actor Diogo Morgado, who plays Jesus in "Son of God," says the role was a challenge for him. (6 Mar 2014)

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284-a-11-(Roma Downey, actor and producer of "Son of God", in online news conference)-"that role now"-''Son of God" actor and producer Roma Downey says Diogo Morgado was the right actor to portray Jesus. (6 Mar 2014)

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Gay vice principal to sue Wash. Catholic school

SEATTLE (AP) — Gay Vice-Principal Mark Zmuda, who was forced out of his job at Seattle's Eastside Catholic High School, says he plans to file a lawsuit against the school and the Seattle Archdiocese.

The departure in December of the popular teacher, coach and vice principal was protested around the region and with two online petitions.

The school and the church decided Zmuda couldn't continue in his job after they learned he had married his same-sex partner. They cited an employment agreement Zmuda had signed that said his public behaviors would at all times be consistent with the values and teachings of the Catholic Church.

The lawsuit to be filed in King County accuses the school and the church of discrimination, wrongful termination and violation of the state consumer protection laws.


Kansas faith leaders still seek gay-marriage bill

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A dozen Kansas religious leaders are calling on legislators to approve special legal protections for gay-marriage opponents before the federal courts invalidate the state's same-sex marriage ban.

The leaders issued a statement after a Kansas Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Thursday on religious liberties issues. The committee heard conflicting testimony on whether Kansas has enough legal protections for people, groups and businesses refusing for religious reasons to provide goods or services for gay weddings or same-sex marriages.

Senate President Susan Wagle said afterward that lawmakers won't consider the issue again this year.

The call for immediate action came from Catholic bishops, a Presbyterian pastor and regional Mormon, Southern Baptist, Assemblies of God and Church of God in Christ officials. They also said they don't condone unjust treatment of anybody.


Gay hiring fears hurt Baptist agency fundraising

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Uncertainty over a short-lived proposal to open employment to gays at Kentucky's largest private child care agency prompted many supportive churches to withhold giving last year, creating a multi-million dollar shortfall.

Sunrise Children's Services depends on giving from Kentucky's Baptist congregations — and government funding. But Kentucky Baptist Convention executive director Paul Chitwood says offerings dried up last year amid donor concerns that the proposal to allow gay workers might succeed.

The Sunrise board ultimately rejected the proposal, unwilling to begin hiring gays at Sunrise just to ensure future government contracts. Supporters now hope a fundraising drive will cover $5 million of the roughly $7.5 million shortfall.

Meanwhile, experts note that religiously-affiliated groups operating with government funding could be increasingly held to new standards as gay right protections advance in several states.


Dalai Lama opens Senate session with prayer

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Dalai Lama has opened the Senate with prayer.

With senators standing in respect, the orange-robed Tibetan leader said that as a "simple Buddhist monk," he would pray to "Buddha and all other gods."

He proceeded to wish for joy and good fortune, concluding with what he said was a prayer he recites daily: "As long as space remains, and as long as sentient beings remain, until then may I too remain and help dispel the misery of the world."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid thanked the Dalai Lama, and explained that Tibetan Buddhists believe their Dalai Lamas are enlightened beings who postpone their "liberation from the cycle of reincarnation in order to serve humanity."

Reid said their guest chaplain was recognized as the reincarnation of the previous Dalai Lama when he was two years old.


262-a-14-(The Dalai Lama, delivering Thursday's opening prayer for the U.S. Senate)-"of the world"-The Dalai Lama concludes with what he says is a favorite prayer he recites daily. (6 Mar 2014)

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261-w-32-(Steve Coleman, AP religion editor, with the Dalai Lama)--The Dalai Lama has opened the U.S. Senate with prayer. AP Religion Editor Steve Coleman reports. (6 Mar 2014)

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264-a-07-(Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., in floor speech)-"13th Dalai Lama"-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says the current Dalai Lama is believed to be reincarnated. (6 Mar 2014)

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263-a-10-(Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., in floor speech)-"to serve humanity"-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid explains what Tibetan Buddhists believe about their Dalai Lamas. (6 Mar 2014)

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Baseball star Rivera rescues, renovates NY church

NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. (AP) — Retired New York Yankees star Mariano Rivera has picked up another save.

The famed relief pitcher has rescued an abandoned church in New Rochelle. His foundation has put about $3 million into the project.

The former Presbyterian church was renovated for a Christian Pentecostal congregation headed by Rivera's wife, Clara. At Thursday's ribbon-cutting Rivera called it a privilege to fulfill a dream that God put in their hearts.

The church will also provide educational and sports-oriented after-school activities.

The 107-year-old grey stone building has been vacant since the 1970s. The city agreed to sell the property for $1 on the promise of rehabilitating it.

Rivera tallied a record 652 saves before retiring last season. The church is just a few miles north of Yankee Stadium.


King daughter asks brothers to reconsider MLK sale

ATLANTA (AP) — The daughter of Martin Luther King Jr. is calling on her brothers to reconsider their plan to sell or lease the civil rights icon's Bible and Nobel Peace Prize.

King's estate is run by his two sons, Martin Luther King III and Dexter King. The estate's lawyers on Jan. 31 asked a judge to order their sister, the Rev. Bernice King, to surrender the items.

Bernice called on her brothers to search their conscience at a news conference Thursday at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.

A judge last week set a Wednesday deadline for the items to be placed in the safe deposit box and for the keys to be handed over to the court. But Bernice King's lawyer says the deadline has been pushed forward another five days.


225-a-17-(The Reverend Bernice King, daughter of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Junior, at news conference)-"civil rights movement"-Martin Luther King Junior's daughter, Bernice King, begged her brothers to change their minds. (6 Mar 2014)

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223-a-16-(The Reverend Bernice King, daughter of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Junior, at news conference)-"the appointed time"-Martin Luther King Junior's daughter, Bernice King, says she considered refusing a court order to put her father's Bible and Nobel Peace Prize in a safe deposit box. (6 Mar 2014)

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226-a-12-(The Reverend Bernice King, daughter of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Junior, at news conference)-"as a society"-Martin Luther King Junior's daughter, Bernice King, says her father's Bible and Nobel Peace Prize should not be for sale. (6 Mar 2014)

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224-a-11-(The Reverend Bernice King, daughter of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Junior, at news conference)-"change of heart"-Martin Luther King Junior's daughter, Bernice King, says she's asking her two brothers to agree to a new vote on whether to sell the items. (6 Mar 2014)

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NY man pleads guilty in NJ in alleged divorce ring

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — A Brooklyn man has admitted to traveling to New Jersey to coerce a Jewish man to give his wife a religious divorce through threats of violence.

The U.S. attorney's office says David Hellman pleaded guilty Thursday in federal court in Trenton.

Prosecutors say Hellman was part of an alleged plot involving several men, including two rabbis, who arranged religious divorces through torture and kidnapping.

The men were arrested in October 2013 in an undercover operation involving an FBI agent posing as a woman trying to get a divorce, who contacted the rabbis. According to court filings, one rabbi spoke about forcing compliance through "tough guys."

Hellman is facing up to 20 years in prison at his June 12 sentencing.


Pope reveals he took his late confessor's cross

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis has confessed that he took the cross of his late confessor's rosary from his casket and wears it to this day in a fabric pouch under his cassock, hoping to have half as much mercy as the priest.

Francis made the revelation Thursday during an informal meeting with Roman priests. He told the story of the "great confessor" in Buenos Aires who heard confessions from most of his priests as well as from Pope John Paul II when he visited Argentina.

When the priest died, Francis went to pray by his open casket. He said: "I saw the rosary he had in his hand and immediately there came to mind the thief we all have inside ourselves and while I arranged the flowers I took the cross."


Philly schools accused of religious beard bias

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The Department of Justice has accused the Philadelphia school district in a federal lawsuit of discriminating against an employee who said he couldn't trim his beard for religious reasons.

The complaint alleges that in 2010 the district instituted a grooming policy preventing school police officers from having beards longer than a quarter of an inch long and discriminated against Siddiq Abu-Bakr by failing to accommodate his religious beliefs.

The lawsuit says the longtime school police officer is a member of the Islamic faith, which requires him not to cut his beard. It says the school district failed to consider his request for reasonable accommodation and he was reprimanded.

The government wants monetary damages for him and new grooming policies from the district.

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