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Man admits to pulling off a woman's hijab on an airplane

North Carolina man pleaded guilty to "forcibly" pulling off a woman's hijab during a Southwest Airlines flight.

Gill Parker Payne admitted that he walked up to the stranger wearing the religious headscarf and told her to take it off during a flight from Chicago to Albuquerque at the end of last year.

>> Click here to watch the video from Newsy

In the plea agreement, Payne also admitted to saying something like "Take it off! This is America!" and pulling the woman's hijab completely off.

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The U.S. Attorney for the District of New Mexico said: "This prosecution sends a clear message to anyone who contemplates the use of threats or intimidation to interfere with the right of individuals, including members of our Muslim community, to express their faith without fear."

Payne faces up to a year of imprisonment and a $100,000 fine. A date for his sentencing hearing has not been set. 

This video includes an image from sittiealiah M A / CC BY 2.0.

Noah's Ark to sail into San Diego

A replica of Biblical proportions will soon sail into the harbor in San Diego. 

A life-sized copy of Noah's Ark will travel by barge from the Netherlands to Brazil this summer for the Olympic and Paralympic games, KFMB reported.

It is then scheduled to visit Long Beach, San Diego and Seattle.

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The five-deck ship was built by carpenter Johan Huibers as a religious attraction. 

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And while the original Ark had animals loaded two-by-two, the replica includes life-sized model pairs of giraffes, elephants, crocodiles and many more animals.

It was created to be a museum and event center in partnership with the Ark of Noah Foundation.

The foundation's director said the group would like to build Ark of Hope Centers in areas that need help, KFMB reported.

There is no timeframe for the Ark's voyage to the United States.

Divine sign? Indiana mom's otherworldly ultrasound picture goes viral

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An Indiana mom's viral ultrasound picture isn't just unusual – some say it's otherworldly.

According to WFIE, Aley Meyer of Evansville, Indiana, was at her baby shower recently when a friend pointed out that a sonogram of her son, due in June, seems to include an image of Jesus on the cross.

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"We took a picture of it and blew it up on my phone to get a closer look and it is so much detail," she told WFIE. "You can see the hair and his legs crossed and everything."

Meyer believes the image, which has gone viral on Facebook, is a sign. 

"I've been on a lot of medicine for my Crohn's disease, and I've been very worried about it, so I feel like it's a sign that everything's going to be OK with him," Meyer told WFIE.

Read more here.

>> Click here to see the viral image

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Instead of speeding ticket, deputy offers prayer for driver's mom fighting cancer

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An Idaho sheriff's deputy's heartwarming act of kindness for a woman and her sick mother is going viral.

According to KREM-TV, Kootenai County Sheriff’s Deputy Matthew Brakeman recently pulled over a speeding driver, identified as RaeAnn Kuykendall, in Hayden. But as he spoke to Kuykendall and her passenger –  Kuykendall's mother – he could tell something was wrong.

"I asked where they were headed, and she said, 'To the oncologist,' " Brakeman told KREM. "She then started to become a little bit emotional."

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Brakeman, who lost his own mother to cancer, knew the feeling all too well. He went back to his patrol car but didn't return with a ticket.

"(I) then walked back up to the passenger side and asked her mother if she would accept a prayer, and she said, 'Absolutely,' " Brakeman said. "So then we prayed, and (I) told them to have a good day and went back to my car."

Kuykendall was touched. She took to the department's Facebook page to share the deputy's good deed.

"Needless to say, I emotionally lost it but (am) thankful for him pulling me over at that moment and offering his kindness to us," she wrote. "I don't know the officer's (name) that stopped me, but I want to thank him for his blessings and for hope."

Read more here.

>> Click here to see Kuykendall's Facebook post

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U.S. Army rules Sikh officer can keep these distinctive parts of his look

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A Sikh U.S. Army captain will be able to keep his religiously-mandated turban and beard.

Capt. Simratpal Singh had filed a discrimination suit against the Army last month. The Army announced last week that Singh, a West Point graduate, would be granted a “religious accommodation” to the rules against facial hair and headwear while on active duty.

The Army also announced that it “intends to gather information to develop uniform standards for religious accommodations.”

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“My military service continues to fulfill a lifelong dream,” Singh, who earned a Bronze Star in Afghanistan, said in a press release. “My faith, like [the faith of] many of the soldiers I work with, is an integral part of who I am. I am thankful that I no longer have to make the choice between faith and service to our nation.”

Singh had cut his hair and shaved his face for years to comply with the Army’s regulations.

The Army had requested tests to make sure Singh could wear a helmet and gas mask while wearing the turban. Singh sued, noting that other soldiers with beards were not subjected to tests.

The Army’s permanent accommodation comes with conditions. It could be revoked if the beard and turban affect “unit cohesion and morale” and safety.

(H/T Huffington Post)

>> Click here to watch a video report

Tennessee lawmakers approve Bible as state's official book

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Tennessee is one step closer to naming the Bible as its official book.

According to The Associated Press, the state Senate voted 19-8 to approve SB 1108, which "designates the Holy Bible as the official state book" because of its historical and cultural impact in Tennessee. Now Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, who said he opposes the bill, must decide whether to sign or veto the legislation.

>> PREVIOUS STORY: Tennessee poised to make Bible its state book

The measure, sponsored by Republican Sen. Steve Southerland, has stirred controversy, with some opponents saying the bill trivializes the Bible and others questioning whether it is constitutional.

"The Bible is a book of history, but it is not a history book to be placed on the shelf," said Democratic Sen. Jeff Yarbro of Nashville, according to The Tennessean.

Meanwhile, Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the ACLU in Tennessee, said the bill was a "thinly veiled effort to promote one religion over other religions" and "violates both the United States and Tennessee constitutions."

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But supporter Sen. Kerry Roberts, a Republican, had a different take.

"The very founding of our nation – the very form of government that we have today – was put forth by men of faith, based on their faith, based on what they read in Holy Scripture," Roberts said, The Tennessean reports.

Read more here or here.

Church close to returning 1800s family Bible to descendants

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A Bible from the late 1800s may soon be reunited with the descendants of its original owners.

Members of 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville, Georgia recently began a social media campaign to locate descendants of the Church family, whose family Bible was acquired from a Tennessee antiques shop a few years back.

They used Facebook, Twitter and other social media to find descendants of the Church family to return the item.

The search didn’t take long. The church, which has nine locations in metro Atlanta, had a lead within 24 hours.

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“We have found a descendant who has proven documentation of her lineage in the Church family,” said Donna Whitten, communications director for the church, who bought the brown leather Bible for $175. “We have been in contact with her and are making plans to return the Bible to her.”

Relatives were found in California and Ohio.

They provided family documents and photos. The family was confirmed through the efforts of two 12Stone members who researched the family.

During the search, Whitten said the church also discovered a nonprofit organization whose specialty is reuniting heirlooms with their families, although the nonprofit didn’t play a role in the process.

The unidentified woman has sent photos of her family.

The Bible, which was in very good shape, dated back to 1869.

It sat on a shelf in Whitten’s Buford living room for years. Then, right before Easter, she decided to find the descendants of the original owners and got church members to help.

“For Easter, we were talking about the prodigal son and how far God went to get us back when we were lost,” she said. “We put a spin on it and asked how far would you go to give something back to someone who had lost it? I feel like I own a part of someone’s family history. It’s a family heirloom and I feel like they should have it. It should be in their family.”

The Bible contained records of births, marriages and deaths, newspaper articles and a charcoal drawing of Job. Some of the obituaries are from Pennsylvania and New York.

Several people named “Church” responded to the Facebook postings, wondering if they were connected to the Bible by blood or marriage.

“A lot of people started talking about family Bibles and their own stories and how not many families have them anymore,” Whitten said.

Ted Cruz condemns Nathan Deal's veto of 'religious liberty' bill

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Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz, who has made advocating for “religious liberty” measures a staple of his platform, criticized Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal for his decision to reject Georgia’s latest version of legislation that would allow faith-based organizations to refuse to serve someone if doing so would violate a "sincerely held religious belief" or to hire someone "whose religious beliefs or practices or lack of either" violate its religion.

It would also allow religious officials to refuse to perform same-sex marriages and protect any individual who refuses to attend a marriage that conflicts with his or her faith.

>>Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal vetoes religious liberty bill 

"I thought that was very disappointing to see Gov. Deal of Georgia side with leftist activists and side against religious liberty," Cruz said. "It used to be, political parties, we would argue about marginal tax rates and you could have disagreements about what the level of taxation should be. But on religious liberty, on protecting the rights of every American to practice, live according to our faith, live according to our conscience, we all came together. That ought to be a bipartisan commitment and I was disappointed not to see Gov. Deal not defend religious liberty."

Cruz' remarks don't come as a surprise.

Backers of what became House Bill 757 and the Cruz campaign created somewhat of a symbiotic relationship with each other, hoping that each would get the other across the finish line.

Retired neurosurgeon and former Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson also expressed his dismay, quoting the New Testament in a Facebook post:

<script>(function(d, s, id) {  var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0];  if (d.getElementById(id)) return;  js = d.createElement(s); js.id = id;  js.src = "//connect.facebook.net/en_US/sdk.js#xfbml=1&amp;version=v2.3";  fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js, fjs);}(document, 'script', 'facebook-jssdk'));</script>As a nation founded on Judeo-Christian beliefs; the very notion of this essential ideal is the cornerstone of our...Posted by Dr. Ben Carson on Tuesday, March 29, 2016

A group of “religious liberty” proponents will assemble at the Georgia state Capitol Tuesday morning for a press conference -- presumably to push the call for a special session to override Deal’s veto of HB 757. A three-fifths vote by each chamber would be required for the General Assembly to call itself into session.

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But at least until May 3, it may be tough to find lawmakers willing to jump up and support an override session. That’s because the governor of Georgia has the line-item veto and can pencil out specific funding projects in the districts of rebellious members of the House and Senate. 

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal vetoes religious liberty bill

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Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

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According to the governor’s office, the bill "doesn't reflect the character of (Georgia) or the character of our people." Deal said state legislators should leave freedom of religion and freedom of speech to the U.S. Constitution.

“Efforts to purge this bill of any possibility that it would allow or encourage discrimination illustrates how difficult it is to legislate something that is best left to the broad protections of the First Amendment,” he said.

Many people have been waiting to see whether Deal would sign the bill. He has received a lot of pressure from gay rights groups and companies, including AMC, Disney and Google, that don't support the bill. The bill triggered waves of criticism and presented Deal with one of the biggest challenges he’s faced since his election to Georgia’s top office.

Several companies and businesses have been vocal in opposing the bill, saying it encourages discrimination.

"The negatives will be unbelievable," Hyatt Regency Atlanta general manager Peter McMahon said.

McMahon told WSBTV that he believed that his hotel could lose $1 million in business over the next 18 months if Deal signed the bill. The Human Rights Campaign called on Hollywood film companies to abandon Georgia if Deal signed the measure, and the NFL warned that it could risk Atlanta’s bid for future Super Bowls.

Deal, who is in his final term, officially had until May 3 to act on the bill.

The measure, which surfaced on March 16, would bar government penalties against faith-based organizations that refuse to serve someone if doing so would violate a "sincerely held religious belief" or hire someone "whose religious beliefs or practices or lack of either" violate its religion. It includes language based on a federal "religious freedom restoration act," which prevents government from burdening religious belief.

Public employees who refuse to perform their duties, such as a probate judge issuing marriage licenses, would not be covered. The bill says it doesn't permit discrimination prohibited by federal or state law.

It also would allow religious officials to refuse to perform same-sex marriages and protect any individual who refuses to attend a marriage that conflicts with his or her faith.

The governor’s veto will likely infuriate religious conservatives who considered the measure, House Bill 757, their top priority. This is the third legislative session in which they have sought to strengthen legal protections for opponents of same-sex marriage, but last year’s Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex weddings galvanized their efforts.

It is also likely to herald a more acrimonious relationship between Deal, who campaigned on a pro-business platform, and the evangelical wing of the Georgia Republican Party. Prominent conservatives vowed to revive the measure next year if Deal chose not to sign it.

Read more here.

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