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News Briefs: April 07, 1997

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—The state senate in Hawaii on February 6 approved a bill calling for a constitutional amendment referendum next year on banning homosexual marriage (CT, Feb. 3, 1997, p. 84). The amendment would allow the state to authorize marriages only between couples of the opposite sex. A house version approved in January differs from the senate bill, and compromise legislation would need to be worked out in committee before the public vote.

—The Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled January 16 that invocations and benedictions at graduation ceremonies are constitutional. The ruling affirms a lower court decision that prayers given at the Indiana University exercises are legal because attendees are not coerced into participating. "The invocations and benediction," the court ruled, "serve legitimate secular purposes of solemnizing public occasions rather than approving particular religious events."

—The IRS has stripped the tax-exempt status of the Society of Separationists and the Stevens American Atheist Library, two of the five nonprofit organizations founded by Madalyn Murray O'Hair, for tax code violations. O'Hair has been missing since September 1995 (CT, Feb. 3, 1997, p. 75). In addition, the IRS on February 18 seized the $231,000 Austin, Texas, home of O'Hair to pay back taxes.

—Sparks from a welder's torch ignited old scenery, causing a fire that destroyed $15 million worth of property at Sight and Sound Entertainment Center in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, on January 28. The world's largest Christian theater, with 1,372 seats, had no sprinkler system. Around 700,000 tourists attended shows at the theater last year.

—Keith A. Fournier has been named the new president of the Catholic Alliance, an offspring ...

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