The Associated Press
Congress honors Birmingham church bombing victims
WASHINGTON (AP) -- House and Senate leaders have awarded Congress' highest civilian honor to four girls killed in an Alabama church bombing nearly 50 years ago.
The Congressional Gold Medal was awarded to 14-year-olds Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley, and 11-year-old Denise McNair. Tuesday's ceremony came five days before the 50th anniversary of their deaths inside the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham.
The girls were killed in the explosion of a bomb planted outside the church by white supremacists. The attack shocked the nation and helped spur passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Past recipients of the medal include Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife Coretta Scott King.
Airline copilot says God spared him on 9/11
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- A copilot who was bumped from flying one of the hijacked planes on 9/11 believes he's living on borrowed time.
Steve Scheibner was a pastor in 2001, dividing his time between ministry and flying for American Airlines.
On Sept. 10, he volunteered to fly the next day's Flight 11 from Boston to Los Angeles, but a more senior pilot bumped him from one of the flights that wound up being hijacked and flown into the World Trade Center in New York.
Scheibner believes God spared his life, but can't say why the other pilot died instead.
As a Christian, Scheibner believes Jesus took his place by dying on the cross for his sins, so he says, "I know what it's like to have somebody die in my place -- not once, but twice."
He now heads a ministry called Character Health.
Praying mom back at NH school, praying silently
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) -- A mother who was told she can no longer pray on the steps of her children's high school in New Hampshire has returned, but is praying in silence.
Lizarda Urena of Concord had been praying near Concord High School for the protection of the students. In February, she started reciting Bible passages on the school's steps for about 15 minutes daily after police responded to a report of bullets found in a toilet.
After the district got questions and complaints, the principal told her she couldn't pray on campus.
The Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian group that advocates for religious rights, is providing legal services to Urena. Attorney Matthew Sharp told the Concord Monitor that it appears the issue has been resolved. But school Superintendent Chris Rath said staff will monitor Urena's actions daily to make sure they are in line with campus visitor and religious policies.
Pope visits refugees in Rome Jesuit center
ROME (AP) -- Pope Francis says members of religious orders should use empty convents and other structures to house refugees fleeing war and hardship.
The pope spoke during a visit to refugees at a Jesuit-run center in Rome's historic center.
He said, "The church does not need the empty convents to be turned into hotels to earn money. The empty houses are not ours. They are for the flesh of Christ, which are the refugees."
Many convents started opening their doors to paying guests in the run-up to the Holy Year in 2000, when the religious and millennium celebrations drew 25 million visitors to Rome. The trend has spread throughout Italy with former religious housing being offered as guest houses for contemplative vacations.
The pope noted that many refugees are Muslim and from different countries, but said, "We don't need to fear the differences."
House members defend legislative prayers
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Members of Congress are defending the prayers used to open public meetings as the Supreme Court prepares to consider their constitutionality.
The justices have agreed to review an appeals court ruling that held that the upstate New York town of Greece violated the Constitution by opening nearly every meeting over an 11-year span with prayers that stressed Christianity.
The town says private citizens offered invocations of their own choosing.
On Monday, three Republican congressmen -- Chris Collins of New York, Doug Collins of Georgia and Tim Walberg of Michigan -- defended the longstanding tradition of legislative prayers.
Before being elected to Congress, Walberg and Doug Collins were both pastors. Doug Collins also was an Air Force chaplain in Iraq.
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