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Ruling ordering removal of school's prayer banner won't be appealed

CRANSTON, R.I. -- A local school committee voted it won't appeal a federal court ruling that called for the permanent removal of a Cranston public high school's prayer banner that had been in place for almost 50 years.

After hearing three hours of passionate testimony Feb. 16, the Cranston School Committee voted 5-2 to not appeal because most members believed that the cost of additional legal expenses would hurt the school department budget.

The banner became the center of debate last April when the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit contending that it was a religious symbol displayed in a public school that violated the First Amendment rights of Jessica Ahlquist, a self-avowed atheist, who is now a junior at Cranston High School West.

More than 700 people attended the committee meeting, many of them wearing signs bearing the directive "Appeal," while others carried placards supporting their position. Before the meeting began, many supporters of the prayer banner sang "God Bless America," while during the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, a large number in the audience shouted "Under God."

Lifelong Catholic is first American to join Russian ballet company

HERNDON, Va. -- Keenan Kampa will make history this summer as the first American to join the prestigious Mariinsky Ballet Company based in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Being offered a position with Mariinsky, also known as the Kirov Ballet, is "such an absolute honor," Kampa said. "Even thinking about it, I get chills sometimes."

Irish priest is the latest Catholic ecological voice

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NAVAN, IRELAND -- There was a priest in America that Columban Fr. Seán McDonagh needed to see. McDonagh, recalled to the monastery in Navan, County Meath, Ireland, after several years in the Philippines, had himself routed through New York. It was 1980. Sent as a missionary to Mindanao in 1972, McDonagh had developed reforestation and land-use projects with the T’boli people. Standing up to the money interests was risky; a Passionist priest colleague, Carl Schmitt, had already been murdered “up in the mountains.”

Shift to laity sparks formation needs

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Nearly every month, supervisors, executives and others in positions of leadership at Avera Health System come together to reflect on the Catholic tradition of the businesses where they work. They remember the stories of the health system’s founders, the Benedictine and Presentation Sisters, who around the turn of the 19th century began caring for the sick and poor in what was then Dakota Territory, but they also talk about everyday routine in the more than 300 health care facilities the system now runs throughout the Great Plains. They talk about Catholic social teaching, and what it means to care for the patient as a whole, and they praise colleagues who do good work. Mostly, they try to keep alive the link between present and past.

Lawmakers in Washington state pass bill legalizing same-sex marriage

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SEATTLE -- Members of the House of Representatives in Washington state voted Feb. 8 to legalize same-sex marriage, and Gov. Christine Gregoire was expected to sign the bill into law by mid-February.

The vote came one day after a federal appeals court in California struck down that state's voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage.

In Washington, the legislation passed with a 56-42 vote in the House. On Feb. 1, the state Senate approved it 28-21.

Once it becomes law, Washington will be the seventh state in the nation, along with the District of Columbia, where same-sex marriage is legal.

Several Republicans in the House argued against the bill, saying that it went against the tradition of marriage.

In Jan. 23 testimony before a Senate committee, Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain urged lawmakers to oppose the measure "based on the grave challenge this legislation poses to the common good. By attempting to redefine marriage, it ignores the origin, purpose and value of marriage to individuals, families and society."

As warden, she oversaw executions; now she fights to stop them

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OAKLAND, CALIF. -- The woman who oversaw four executions by lethal injection is fighting to make sure it never happens again.

Jeanne Woodford served as warden of San Quentin State Prison in California from 1999 through 2004. Now she is the chief law enforcement spokesperson for SAFE California, a ballot initiative that would replace the state’s death penalty with life in prison without parole, require inmates to pay into a victims’ compensation fund, and allocate $100 million over three years to solving crime.

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September 26-October 9, 2014

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