Both sides gear up in N.C. gay marriage fight

WILMINGTON, N.C. (RNS) Here in the only Southern state that does not have a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, both sides are gearing up for a fight at the ballot box on May 8. By Amanda Greene.

Ala. bill would move religion classes off campus

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (RNS) A proposed Alabama law would allow churches or ministries to teach a religion class to public school students off campus, if parents and school boards give permission and the churches provide transportation and other expenses. By Greg Garrison.

Sparks fly as House GOP blasts contraception mandate

WASHINGTON (RNS) A House committee holds hearings Thursday that will find the Obama administration guilty of trampling on religious freedom by requiring employers to provide insurance that includes contraception coverage. By Lauren Markoe.

Washington becomes seventh state to legalize gay marriage

SPOKANE, Wash. (RNS) Gov. Christine Gregoire was scheduled Monday to sign legislation to make Washington the seventh state to allow same-sex marriage, although opponents promised a high-stakes fight at the ballot box. By Tracy Simmons.

Muslim men convicted of advocating death for gays

LONDON (RNS) In the first case of its kind, a British court has convicted three Muslim men — who claimed they were acting under teachings of their religion — of openly advocating the execution of gays. By Al Webb. 250.

Wednesday Godbytes: SOPA; Tea Party Jesus; Scholarship for Atheists

While sections of the internet have “gone dark” today in protest of SOPA, or the Stop Online Piracy Act. Internet companies such as Google (which is has a special logo today) and Wikipedia (which has taken itself down for the day in protest) think the legislation goes too far, and are taking action against it. Religious bloggers are getting into the act(ivism) too. Matthew Paul Turner of Jesus Needs New PR took his blog down for the day, although it seems to be harder than he thought: Some religious twitter feeds are all in a tizzy: And some bloggers are just blurring the line between “activist” and “slacktivist”: Get ready: Tea Party Jesus is coming. On the other end of the political spectrum, President Jimmy Carter, 87, reportedly still teaches sunday school.

Wednesday Godbytes: Iowa God-Talk; Wintery Worship; More Zen of Steve Jobs

The Republican Iowa caucuses finished up last night, and while Mitt Romney technically won by 8(!) votes, there wasn’t a real “clear” winnerâÂ?¦except for God: There was a LOT of God-talk last night in the candidate’s concession speeches. Mitt Romney, a Mormon, made sure to state that “Freedom is a gift from God,” while barely second-place-finisher-and-devout-Catholic Rick Santorum quoted C.S. Lewis and added, “God has given us this great country to allow his people to be free… we need to honor that creation.” Michele Bachmann – who, er, didn’t do so well – didn’t mince religious words either, beginning her speech with the invocation “More than anything I thank the God who loves us… who created and drew this nation into existence.”

COMMENTARY: Lessons worth learning the hard way

(RNS) Instead of year-end analyses and new-year resolutions, I prefer to share important lessons I have learned. Most came the hard way. That’s the first lesson: The easy way rarely leads anywhere worth going. Here are others as we begin a new year: — Make your bed and wash the dishes. Take pride in doing the basics well.

Monday Godbytes: Cee Lo Re-Imagines “Imagine”; Downloadable Forgiveness; Priestly Broom

Ah, New Years Eve. A time for revelry, resolutions, and twitter controversies involving John Lennon, Cee Lo Green and atheists. Long story short: several folks are miffed at singer Cee Lo Green for changing a lyric in John Lennon’s “Imagine” while performing on New Year’s Eve in Times Square. He reportedly tweaked the line “nothing to kill or die for / and no religion too” to say “nothing to kill or die for / and all religion’s true.” Lennon fans were pretty incensed, reportedly leading to several heated twitter exchanges with Cee Lo (which have since been deleted).

Magi would have a tough time finding frankincense

(RNS) The world may still have gold and myrrh, but it's quite possible that frankincense could become a thing of the past, given ecological pressures on the arid lands where it grows in Ethiopia. The storied resin — known to millions as one of the three gifts of the Magi, the wise men who visited Jesus after his birth — is made from gum produced by the boswellia papyrifera tree. Its “bitter perfume” is used as incense in religious rituals in many cultures, as well as an ingredient in perfume and Chinese traditional medicine. Dutch and Ethiopian researchers studying populations of the scraggly, scrublike trees in northern Ethiopia found that as many as 7 percent of the trees are dying each year, and seedlings are not surviving into saplings. Their paper in Tuesday's (Dec.

Christmas symbols are in the eye of the beholder

(RNS) When is a candy cane not just a candy cane? For some people, its red and white stripes might signify the sacrifice and purity of Jesus, or maybe just a 19th-century candy-maker’s twist intended to dazzle his grandchildren. Both stories are alive and well on the Internet. Is Santa Claus the imagined incarnation of the fourth-century St. Nicholas of Myra, the vision of a 19th-century poet or the carefully rendered creation of a 20th-century ad man?

Tuesday Godbytes: Salvation for Cyborgs; Sharia and the Simpsons; “untrustworthy” atheis

I know it’s the question that’s been keeping you up at night, keeping you from counting electric sheep: is there salvation for cyborgs? Techie blog iO9 highlights a recent interview with a Christian seminary professor on this very topic (i.e. – transhumanism, which I’m sure you’ve heard of), and also notes the existence of a somewhat unexpected (but seemingly well-organized) group: The Mormon Transhumanist Association. Whoa. In more present-y news: As inter-faith activist Eboo Patel points out, there’s been a lot of talk about Sharia law these days – especially how much Republican Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich dislikes it. But you know the Sharia conversation has become ubiquitous when it’s referenced on the pinnacle of cultural bellwethers: The Simpsons.

Monday Godbytes: Lowe’s blows; Jon Stewart in hell; holiday books

The department store chain Lowe’s recently pulled advertisements they were running during TLC’s new “All-American Muslim” reality TV show, reacting to protests from conservative Christian advocacy groups. The move, however, sparked a blacklash from several groups. The Crescent Post was not happy, and Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, a state senator from Southern California, is calling for a boycott of Lowe’s. Even business magnate Russell Simmons jumped into the fray, tweeting the following: There was also a back-and-forth twitter conversation between interfaith activist Chris Stedman and a satirical (fake) “Lowes Global PR” twitter feed, culminating with this exchange: Also, you may recall comedian Jon Stewart declared a “war on Christmas” last week. Apparently, Fox News show-host Bill O’Reilly fired back, joking that Jon Stewart was “going to hell.”