U.S. Muslim pleads guilty to threatening TV show over Prophet Mohammad image

(Eric Cartman, one of the stars of the animated TV series South Park, 22 February 2010/Hunter Kahn)

A Muslim convert from New York pleaded guilty on Thursday for his role in threatening the writers of the satirical “South Park” television show for their depiction of the Prophet Mohammad and to other criminal charges, the U.S. Justice Department said. It said Jesse Curtis Morton, who is also known as Younus Abdullah Muhammed, admitted his guilt at a federal court hearing in Alexandria, Virginia. He ran a website that encouraged Muslims to engage in violence against enemies of Islam.

Morton pleaded guilty to making threatening communications, using the Internet to put others in fear and using his position as leader of the Revolution Muslim organization’s Internet sites to conspire to commit murder. He worked on website postings with Zachary Chesser, a Virginia man who pleaded guilty in October 2010 to sending threatening communications to the writers of the comedy show and to other charges.

Morton, 33, was arrested in Rabat, Morocco, last year and brought back to the United States. He faces up to 15 years in prison when sentenced on May 18.

Morton admitted that he aided Chesser in taking repeated steps in April 2010 to encourage violent extremists to attack the South Park writers for the episode on the cable channel Comedy Central that featured Mohammad in a bear suit.

Islamist MPs clash in Egypt’s parliament over call to prayer during session

(Salafi members of parliament are seen during the first Egyptian parliament session, after a revolution ousted former President Hosni Mubarak, in Cairo January 23, 2012. REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih)

The Islamist speaker in Egypt’s parliament has reprimanded a hardline Salafi for reciting the call to prayer during a legislative session, telling him “you are no more of a Muslim than I am”. In an angry exchange broadcast on live TV, parliament speaker and Muslim Brotherhood member Saad al-Katatni told Mamdouh Ismail he had violated protocol by interrupting the session to recite the call for afternoon prayer.

The argument laid bare tensions among the Islamist groups that won 70 percent of the seats in the first parliament elected since Hosni Mubarak was ousted from power a year ago. Belonging to a school of Islamist thought calling for a strict application of Islamic law, the Salafis have emerged as a major rival to the long-established Brotherhood in the last year. The Muslim Brotherhood has the biggest parliamentary bloc.

Iran’s President Ahmadinejad wants Pope Benedict to visit Tehran

(Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad holds up copies of the Koran (L) and the Bible as he addresses the 65th United Nations General Assembly at the U.N. headquarters in New York, September 23, 2010. REUTERS/Mike Segar )

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would like Pope Benedict to visit Iran, Tehran’s ambassador to the Vatican has said.

“If the pope decides to come, we will welcome him in an excellent way, and, as far as the government is concerned, we will welcome him with enthusiasm,” Ali Akbar Naseri told reporters  on Wednesday. Benedict has a standing invitation to visit the Islamic Republic but has so far not accepted.

Obama’s birth-control rule stokes U.S. election-year fight

(U.S. President Barack Obama discusses about the economy at Fire Station Number Five in Arlington, Virginia February 3, 2012. REUTERS/Larry Downing)

The top Republican in the U.S. Congress have denounced President Barack Obama’s new rule on contraceptives as an assault on “religious freedom” and vowed to overturn it, as the White House sought to prevent the issue from becoming an election-year liability. Fanning a political firestorm, House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner joined an outcry from religious leaders and social conservatives on Wednesday over a requirement that health insurance plans, including those at Catholic hospitals, charities and universities, offer birth control to women.

Seeking to ease a controversy that has roiled the 2012 presidential race, White House spokesman Jay Carney appeared to leave the door open to compromise. He said Obama was sensitive to religious beliefs on contraception and hoped to find a way to implement the rule that can “allay some of the concerns.” But Obama, at a meeting with Senate Democrats, reaffirmed his decision and was “not equivocating,” Senator Frank Lautenberg, who attended the closed-door session, told Reuters.

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill calls Putin era a “miracle of God”

(Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (R) kisses Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill during an Orthodox Easter service in the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow April 23, 2011. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin)

The head of the Russian Orthodox Church has called the 12 years of Vladimir Putin’s rule a “miracle of God” and criticised his opponents, at a gathering where religious leaders heaped praise on the prime minister. Putin wants support from spiritual figures for his campaign to win his third term in the Kremlin in a March 4 election. He is facing a growing protest movement and needs to consolidate his core support to avoid a runoff.

Putin has built his campaign on a contrast with the turbulent 1990s, when millions were thrown into poverty after the collapse of the Soviet Union while ethnic conflicts such as the war in Chechnya threatened to tear Russia apart.

Church of England takes another step towards allowing women bishops

(Members of the Church of England General Synod attend the opening at Church House in London February 6, 2012 . REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly )

The Church of England has moved closer to the consecration of women bishops  by voting against giving strengthened legal protection to traditionalists who favor an all-male clergy, a decision that could lead more to switch to Rome. The vote on Wednesday was the last chance for the church’s parliament, or synod, to influence the draft legislation in its long legislative process before it heads to the House of Bishops for consideration in May.

The draft will return to synod in July for a final vote – 20 years after it voted in favor of women priests. That women will get to wear the miter is in little doubt. What the synod had to consider was how much extra provision traditionalist Anglo-Catholics and conservative evangelicals would get and how much more authority liberals should cede.

from Tales from the Trail:

Santorum courts Texas conservatives

By Judy Wiley

Roughly  1,000 supporters filled the Fairview Farms Corral Barn in Plano, Texas and spilled out the door  of the party hall where they'd come to see the man in the day's political spotlight -- Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum.

Those who stood outside in the cold could only hear bits and pieces of Santorum's talk, but that didn't stop them from cheering after he raised his voice to declare, "Now is the time for America to rise up and say, "Enough!"

They took up a chant of "We pick Rick," after he asked, "Are you going to give me the opportunity?"