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Religion briefs for Dec. 20

Obama, controversial pastors are top stories of ‘09

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. 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 Obama to withdraw his membership from 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.

Court: Religious school tuition can’t be deducted

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.

Woman says she was fired because she’s a witch

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.

Mormon church temple planned in Peru

SALT LAKE CITY — Top leaders of the Mormon church have announced plans to build a temple in Trujillo, Peru.

The temple is the third in South America in the planning and construction phases, along with others set to be built in Manaus, Brazil, and Crdoba, Argentina. Once completed, there will be 17 Mormon temples in South America.

Worldwide, the Trujillo temple will be the 146th for the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Ho-ho-who? Secret Santa delivers hundreds of gifts

STERLING, Va. — A mystery Santa Claus keeps delivering toys anonymously to a northern Virginia church.

Pastor Wayne Snead arrived Sunday at Galilee United Methodist in Sterling and found piles of presents — everything from Barbies and Elmos to electronic drum sets and Easy-Bake Ovens.

By Monday afternoon, more than half the toys had been given to organizations that will distribute them to the needy.

This is the fifth time since 1998 that the generous giver has left toys at the church. No one knows who the mystery Kris Kringle is.

The pastor thinks he knows Santa’s motivation: He imagines the benefactor wakes up Christmas morning thinking of the joy he has brought so many children.