Religious news briefs from around the world

Appeals court sides with union on religious rights

DETROIT — A federal appeals court has ruled in favor of the United Auto Workers in a dispute over dues and the religious objections of a Roman Catholic at an Indiana factory.

In a 2-1 decision, the court rejected Jeffrey Reed's claim of faith-based discrimination in the amount of money that must go to charity in lieu of paying dues to the UAW.

Jeffrey Reed, who works at AM General, a Hummer factory in Mishawaka, Ind., has been forced to pay the equivalent of full dues to a nonprofit group. He said that's unfair, especially when someone who supports the UAW but not its political activities can pay less.

Reed accused the UAW of failing to reasonably accommodate his religious objections to assisting the union. But Judge Alice Batchelder said the lawsuit fails because the union has done nothing to harm his job.

"A plaintiff does not carry his burden merely by showing that he has lost some amount of pay. ... It is not a materially adverse change in the terms or conditions of his employment," she wrote, affirming a 2007 decision from a federal judge in Detroit.

Reed began working at AM General in 2002. He quit the union two years later but still was required to pay dues. The UAW, however, did not charge him for its political activities.

Charter school to offer Arabic and French classes

COPPELL, Texas — A proposed charter school in suburban Dallas will be among the few in Texas providing Arabic and French classes to elementary students, according to school organizers.

Leaders of Manara Academy — which is scheduled to open in August in Coppell — say it's important to emphasize Arabic, especially when government officials are seeking more Arabic speakers.

"There is a domestic demand for Arabic speakers, and there is a gap in Texas," said Ehap Sabri, president of the school's board. "We are providing an edge by teaching these two languages."

School organizers said there are limited ways to learn Arabic, while Spanish dual-language schools are much more common in Texas.

Though leaders from the Islamic Center of Irving mosque have promoted the school, board members say it's open to everyone, not just Muslim students.

"We are not targeting a specific religion or a specific culture or background," said board member Michelle Alkhatib. "We're nonsectarian, nonreligious."

Several Arabic and Hebrew-focused charter schools have popped up across the country in recent years. Charles Haynes, a senior scholar at the nonpartisan First Amendment Center, said that with such schools, leaders must be vigilant and careful not to choose language texts that promote any sort of religion.

— The Associated Press

EU says religious dialogue important, slams meeting boycott by Jewish leaders

BRUSSELS — The European Union is criticizing the decision of some Jewish leaders to boycott an EU meeting of religious officials, over the inclusion of Muslim participants whom they consider objectionable.

The World Jewish Congress says that some of the Muslim attendees have made anti-Jewish statements and some of its members don't want to sit with them around the same table.

EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said after the meeting that in the face of the global economic crisis "it is time for unity and not for isolation."

This week's meeting was the fifth such annual gathering, but it was the first time that any Jewish representatives had pulled out.

Professor Tariq Ramadan — the president of the European Muslim Network — says "targeting people for their religion is unacceptable."

Maine bishop vows to help bring gay marriage to vote in November

PORTLAND, Maine — The spiritual leader of Maine's 200,000 Roman Catholics has pledged his diocese's help in bringing the state's gay marriage law to a vote in November.

Bishop Richard Malone also called the law "a dangerous sociological experiment" that will have negative consequences for society. Malone said marriage as it's been known for millennia "has served as the cornerstone of society." In a statement, Malone also expresses concern over the law's effect on teachings about same-sex marriage in schools.

Gov. John Baldacci signed the same-sex marriage bill last week. Opponents quickly filed a challenge through Maine's people's veto process.

Malone said the Catholic Diocese will work closely with a number of partners to bring the issue to Maine voters.

Judge refuses to throw out charges against DC mosque bookkeeper

WASHINGTON — A federal judge has refused to throw out charges that the former business manager at a Washington mosque embezzled $430,000.

Chief U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth ruled that defense lawyers failed to prove that the government had engaged in misconduct and refused to block testimony from a key witness.

Prosecutors say 48-year-old Farzad Darui funneled money from the Islamic Center of Washington to two Virginia companies he controlled over more than five years.

Defense attorneys alleged that Abdullah Khouj, the center's director and religious leader, lied to investigators and on the witness stand during Darui's trial last year.

The trial ended in a hung jury, and prosecutors are seeking to retry Darui on mail fraud, money laundering and theft charges.