LISTEN: Urban Christian News Network #607

1. According to USA Today, A “religious freedom” measure similar to Indiana’s is close to becoming law in Arkansas, despite the national uproar and economic boycott Indiana faces as Gov. Mike Pence scrambles to change his state’s law. Arkansas lawmakers approved the bill, and Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson previously said he would sign the measure. The governor’s office said he would not comment until Wednesday. Indiana has been in the national spotlight since Pence signed into law last week legislation saying there has to be a compelling government interest to burden someone’s guarantee under the First Amendment to freely exercise their religion.

2. According to Religion News Service, Congregations in New York City that rent space in public schools will be able to hold Easter services this Sunday despite a ruling on Monday by the U.S. Supreme Court rejecting an appeal from an evangelical church in the Bronx that sought to overturn a ban on after-hours worship services at public schools. A spokesman for Mayor Bill de Blasio also said that the mayor would work to ensure that houses of worship could continue to rent space like any other group. Pastor Robert Hall of the Bronx Household of Faith, which was the plaintiff in the case, said he was cautiously optimistic after the administration’s response.

3. According to Reuters, Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi said Iraqi troops aided by Shi’ite paramilitaries have driven the Islamic State out of central Tikrit, but the fight to retake all of Saddam Hussein’s hometown continued. Government forces have been in a month-long fight for the city, which became a bastion for the Sunni jihadists who are at war with Baghdad and have been targeted by U.S.-led air strikes. Hundreds of insurgents ready to fight to the death are still holed up in Salahuddin province’s capital city and at least three neighbourhoods remain under Islamic State control, along with a palace complex in the city’s north.

4. According to the Associated Press, President Obama on Tuesday released military aid to Egypt that was suspended after the 2013 overthrow of the government, in an effort to boost Cairo’s ability to combat the extremist threat in the region. The White House said Obama notified Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi that the U.S. would be sending 12 F-16 fighter jets, 20 missiles and up to 125 tank kits, while continuing to request $1.3 billion in military assistance for Egypt. The White House said Egypt will remain the second-largest recipient of U.S. foreign military financing worldwide.

5. According to Haaretz, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said early on Wednesday that the six world powers and Iran have found solutions to most of the issues being negotiated in Swizerland over Iran’s nuclear program. He said, “I hope that we can finalize the work on Wednesday and hopefully start the process of drafting [a framework agreement].” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov confirmed that progress was made and that a framework agreement is due to be drafted on Wednesday.

6. According to Reuters, An Istanbul prosecutor died from his wounds after security forces stormed the office where members of a far-left Turkish group took him hostage on Tuesday, killing his two captors. The Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C) had published a picture of the prosecutor with a gun to his head and said it would kill him unless its demands were met. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said Mehmet Kiraz had been shot three times in the head and twice in the body. He died despite being rushed to hospital for emergency surgery.

7. According to Reuters, A Singapore teenager, who criticized Lee Kuan Yew on social media soon after the former leader’s death, has been arrested and will be charged with making “insensitive and disparaging” comments about Christians. Police did not give the teenager’s name, saying only that he was 16, but Singapore’s Straits Times newspaper and other media identified him as Amos Yee. The case has reignited concerns about censorship in the Asian financial hub. In a widely viewed YouTube video, Yee celebrated the death of Singapore’s founding father who died last week aged 91 and was cremated after a state funeral on Sunday. Yee also made insensitive remarks about Christianity in the video, which was seen by hundreds of thousands before it was taken down.

8. According to Reuters, A House of Representatives committee subpoenaed two U.S. Secret Service agents on Tuesday after an incident this month when agents allegedly drove a car past White House barricades after drinking at a party. Republican Jason Chaffetz, head of the House Oversight Committee, said the Department of Homeland Security had declined to cooperate. The move was criticized by Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, who said he regretted that Chaffetz had taken “the unprecedented and unnecessary step of subpoenaing two members of the U.S. Secret Service,” which is charged with protecting the president.

9. According to the Associated Press, Niger said on Tuesday that soldiers fended off an attack on a border town in Niger by Boko Haram and destroyed a base used by the Islamic militants inside neighboring Nigeria in recent days. The two confrontations came as Nigeria elected a former military dictator as its new president amid anger over the Islamic insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives. The militants have terrorized northern Nigeria and also attacked towns in neighboring countries, prompting nations in the region to mount a force to combat them.

10. According to the Associated Press, French diplomatic officials see a window of opportunity after Israel’s elections to get the United States on board with a new push for Mideast peace, and is preparing a draft U.N Security Council resolution in about 12 days. One official tells The Associated Press that the draft would define the pre-1967 frontier as a reference point, designate Jerusalem as capital of both Israel and a Palestinian state and call for a fair solution for Palestinian refugees. After Benjamin Netanyahu’s election win and tough campaign comments against Palestinian statehood, the White House said it would re-evaluate its approach to the conflict.

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