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Published: Saturday, 12/27/2008

Barack Obama top newsmaker in religion in 2008

FROM BLADE STAFFAND WIRE REPORTS

WESTERVILLE, Ohio - Controversial pastors, Democrats finding faith, and a new darling of the Christian right.

WESTERVILLE, Ohio - Controversial pastors, Democrats finding faith, and a new darling of the Christian right.

Those story lines from the U.S. presidential election led the list of top religion stories in 2008, according to a Religion Newswriters Association survey of more than 100 beat specialists.

President-elect Barack Obama was voted the top religion newsmaker of 2008. Senator Obama received more than 60 percent of the votes.

Journalists chose a trio of pastors who posed problems for politicians as the year's top religion story.

Incendiary sermons by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright forced Senator Obama to withdraw his membership from Mr. Wright's Chicago church, while Republican John McCain rejected the endorsements of evangelical pastors John Hagee and Rod Parsley over their negative comments about other faiths.

The Democratic Party's efforts to woo faith-based voters and GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin's popularity with evangelical voters were the second and third top stories, respectively.

Others making the list: voters in California overturning a court decision legalizing gay marriage, Pope Benedict XVI's first U.S. papal visit, and deepening divides within the worldwide Anglican Communion.

BOWLING GREEN - Kenneth Pargament, a professor of psychology at Bowling Green State University, has been honored by the American Psychiatric Association for his contributions to dialogue concerning religion, spirituality, and psychiatry.

The association named Mr. Pargament the recipient of the Oskar Pfister Award, named for the Swiss Protestant minister and psychoanalyst who befriended Sigmund Freud and was an early proponent of the integration of psychiatry and religion.

Mr. Pargament recieves a $1,000 honorarium when he is given the award in October at the association's Institute on Psychiatric Services meeting in New York City.

"Ken is one of the world's experts on studying scientifically the mental health effects of spirituality and religion," said Michael Zickar, an associate professor and chairman of psychology at BGSU.

St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Maumee has announced that Shawn Smith of Pittsburgh has been hired as youth pastor.

Mr. Smith is the first youth pastor at the church in six years. His duties include leading the Fix, a weekly service for high school students at 9:30 a.m. Sundays; Organic - Addicted to Jesus, at 7 p.m. Wednesdays, and a once-a-month service called HAVOC for middle school-age youth.

He also teaches confirmation classes on Tuesday.

Mr. Smith is a graduate of Duquesne University and received a master of divinity degree from Trinity School for Ministry.

He also is a graduate of a program founded by the Rev. Tony Campolo called Mission Year, during which he served at an inner-city church in Atlanta.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - The Awakening America Alliance is asking Christians to join in a 21-day national fast, Jan. 1-21, covering the last days of President Bush's administration and President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration and first day in office.

"The American church needs deep, transformational change so that we can affect our nation for Christ," said Billy Wilson, executive chairman of Awakening America Alliance.

Calling this period a crucial time for the United States, he cited parallels between 21st century America and the Roman Empire shortly before its fall.

More information on the 21-day fast is available online at awakeningamerica.us or by calling the toll-free phone number 1-888-9AWAKE-US.

SAN FRANCISCO - A federal appeals court has ruled that a Jewish couple can't claim tuition paid to their children's religious schools as a tax deduction.

Michael and Marla Sklar of Los Angeles had attempted to claim the tuition payments for their five children as a charitable contribution to a religious organization.

But the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court decision in rejecting that claim. The court ruled that the couple paid only for their children's education and had not shown that any of the tuition was used by the schools as a gift.

"We are pleased that the IRS's denial of the Sklars' claimed deductions was upheld by the Tax Court and the Ninth Circuit," said Nathan Hochman, assistant attorney general of the Justice Department's tax division. "While taxpayers may choose to enroll their children in religious schools, the Tax Code should not subsidize this choice."

LINCOLN, Neb. - A woman who said she was hired by the University of Nebraska to run a youth program has filed a lawsuit claiming she was wrongly fired because she is a witch.

The lawsuit, filed by a plaintiff identified as Jane Doe, states the woman was hired in February 2007 and was satisfactory in her performance. Once her employer discovered she was a witch, "plaintiff was terminated from her position, and was replaced by a non-witch," the suit says.

"Plaintiff is a witch and the Reclaiming Tradition of Witchcraft is her religion," the suit says.

The woman previously filed a complaint with the Nebraska Equal Opportunity Commission, which ruled that her rights were violated because of religious discrimination, according to the lawsuit. The commission does not comment on complaints.

The plaintiff says in the lawsuit that she is using a pseudonym to protect her privacy and that of her family. She is concerned of potential discrimination from other employers or members of the public if her real name was used.

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