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The Associated Press | November 28, 2012 03:08 PM EST | AP

Civil rights group calls on US authorities to explain investigation of halal foods supplier

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) – A national civil rights organization is calling on U.S. authorities to explain their investigation of a leading maker of food for observant Muslims, saying it is concerned about the secrecy surrounding the seizure of the company's bank account and records.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation's largest Muslim civil liberties group, says it wants more information about the Oct. 16 raid of the Midamar Corp. and the related investigation.

Spokesman Ibrahim Hooper says it isn't fair for the Cedar Rapids-based company to be crippled by the seizure of its funds when it hasn't been charged with a crime or even formally told what the government is investigating.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Cedar Rapids is overseeing the investigation. Spokesman Peter Deegan says he cannot comment on sealed search warrants.


Texas attorney general says state will try to seize Warren Jeffs' West Texas polygamist ranch

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) – Texas wants ownership of Warren Jeffs' massive polygamist ranch where prosecutors say the convicted sect leader and his followers sexually assaulted dozens of children, the state attorney general's office said Wednesday.

A judge will determine whether to grant the state control of the 1,600-acre property owned by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

The sect bought the land for more than $1.1 million in 2003, according to court records. The affidavit, filed Wednesday, does not provide a current value for the Yearning for Zion Ranch. Texas has spent more than $4.5 million in prosecuting the cases against Jeffs and 10 of his followers.

Jerry Strickland, a spokesman for the attorney general's office, said the warrant begins the final chapter in the state's five-year-old case against Jeffs.

Texas Rangers raided the ranch in April 2008 and took 439 children into state custody. Jeffs last year was convicted of sexually assaulting two minors whom he described as his spiritual wives.

Jeffs, 56, is serving a life prison term in Texas. He has continued to try to lead his roughly 10,000 followers from behind bars. The sect is a radical offshoot of mainstream Mormonism whose members believe polygamy brings exaltation in heaven.


Pope John Paul II's artifacts, memorabilia to come to 3 US cities in 2013

LUBBOCK, Texas (AP) – Artifacts and memorabilia of Pope John Paul II are coming to Lubbock and two other U.S. cities next year.

A Lubbock-based organization managing the U.S. stops says the exhibit will have items from throughout the popular pope's life, from his childhood in Poland through his death in 2005.

The nonprofit National Exhibits Association is to announce the other cities and ticket information at a news conference Thursday.

The exhibit called "I Have Come to You Again" opens in Lubbock March 15.

It's to have about 130 items, including historic documents, personal belongings, artwork John Paul collected, gifts and art objects given to him.

The pontiff's successor, Benedict XVI, beatified John Paul last year. Beatification in the Roman Catholic Church is the last major step before sainthood.


Egypt court sentences in absentia 7 Coptic Christians, US pastor to death over anti-Islam film

CAIRO (AP) – An Egyptian court convicted in absentia Wednesday seven Egyptian Coptic Christians and a Florida-based American pastor, sentencing them to death on charges linked to an anti-Islam film that had sparked riots in parts of the Muslim world.

The case was seen as largely symbolic because the defendants, most of whom live in the United States, are all outside Egypt and are thus unlikely to ever face the sentence. The charges were brought in September during a wave of public outrage in Egypt over the amateur film, which was produced by an Egyptian-American Copt.

The low-budget "Innocence of Muslims," parts of which were made available online, portrays the Prophet Muhammad as a fraud, womanizer and buffoon.

Egypt's official news agency said the court found the defendants guilty of harming national unity, insulting and publicly attacking Islam and spreading false information – charges that carry the death sentence.

Maximum sentences are common in cases tried in absentia in Egypt. Capital punishment decisions are reviewed by the country's chief religious authority, who must approve or reject the sentence. A final verdict is scheduled on Jan. 29.


Pasta-loving `church' challenges annual Pa. holiday display, asks to include food-themed tree

WEST CHESTER, Pa. (AP) – A group known as Pastafarians wants its religion represented in an annual holiday display near Philadelphia.

Members of the satirical Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster asked Chester County commissioners Tuesday to exhibit their pasta-decorated tree.

If approved, the offering would join the county's winter display of a menorah and nativity scene on the courthouse lawn in West Chester.

Pastafarian minister Tracy McPherson says she'd like her faith to be recognized in the same way as Christianity and Judaism. The group has also challenged displays in other states.

The Daily Local News reports commissioners plan to discuss the matter with the county attorney.

Commissioners have denied similar requests from an atheist group to place a "Tree of Knowledge" in the display.


Poland's special court rules that ritual slaughter of animals violates constitution

WARSAW, Poland (AP) – A top court in Poland said Tuesday that the ritual slaughter of animals by religious groups, including Jews and Muslims, violates the country's constitution and animal protection laws.

The ruling puts it in conflict with European Union rules that allow the practice on the grounds of religious freedom.

In a victory for animal rights activists, the Constitutional Tribunal said regulations allowing for animals to have their throats cut and then bleed to death without previously being stunned are against Polish law. It also said that in issuing regulations that allow for such practices, the agriculture minister exceeded his powers and violated the constitution.

The ruling sets the stage for more discussion when an EU law goes into effect Jan. 1 allowing the practice and setting common standards among members. It gives animal rights supporters fuel for debate next year on whether Poland must comply with EU laws and to what extent.