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Presbyterian Church membership declines

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Membership in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) declined again last year, dropping by more than 46,000 in 2006, the denomination says.

The number of active Presbyterians fell from 2,313,662 in 2005, to 2,267,118 in 2006, according to an annual church survey released June 7. Baptisms in the same period also declined — by 946 for adults to 8,297, and by 234 for children to 30,493.

In addition, the number of congregations fell by 56 to 10,903.

Like other mainline Protestant denominations, the Presbyterians have seen membership rolls shrink over the last couple of decades. In 2004 and 2005 alone, the denomination lost 48,474 active members.

The latest drop comes as fighting intensifies within the church over how Presbyterians should interpret Scripture. Congregants are divided over whether the Bible bars homosexual relationships, among other theological issues.

The largest congregation in the Pittsburgh Presbytery, Memorial Park Presbyterian Church in McCandless Township, recently voted to leave the denomination and join the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, a smaller, more conservative group.

French Sikhs sue to wear turbans

BRUSSELS — Sikhs asked Europe's human rights court Monday to support their call for the right to wear turbans in ID photos in France.

France's highest administrative court has ruled that for public security reasons, Sikhs must remove their turbans when photographed for driver's licenses. France has also banned wearing conspicuous religious apparel in schools.

Shingara Mann Singh, a 52-year-old French national, was twice refused a replacement driver's license unless he removed his turban for the photo. On his original license, which he said was stolen from him, he was pictured with the turban.

"I will give up my head but not my turban, which covers my unshorn hair," Mr. Singh said.

The complaint was filed with the Strasbourg, France-based European Court of Human Rights on his behalf by the United Sikhs organization.

Sikhs are required by their religion to have their hair covered at all times by a turban.

"Sikhs wear their turbans throughout the day, when driving and when at work. Asking them to remove their turbans for a photo ID is absurd and shows an absolute lack of respect and sensitivity," said Neena Gill, a British member of the European Parliament.

Shanghai bishop hopes for Vatican-China ties

ROME — The government-backed Catholic bishop of Shanghai says he hopes the Vatican and China can restore ties, but warns that reconciling believers from the official and underground churches won't be easy.

In an interview with the Italian religious affairs magazine 30 Days, Bishop Aloysius Jin Luxian said members of China's official church were eagerly awaiting an upcoming letter from Pope Benedict XVI on the state of the Catholic Church in China.

But members of the underground church were worried, he said.

"The underground faithful cannot help but have some concerns, or the fear of being repudiated," he said, according to the magazine.

China forced its Roman Catholics to cut ties with the Vatican in 1951, shortly after the officially atheist Communist Party took power. Worship is allowed only in government-controlled churches, which recognize the pope as a spiritual leader but appoint their own priests and bishops.

Millions of Chinese, however, belong to unofficial congregations loyal to Rome. Many unofficial congregations hold services openly, but in some regions they are routinely harassed and their priests and bishops arrested.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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