Nation digest 04/17/02

Wednesday, April 17, 2002

Church incorporation ban ruled unconstitutional

ROANOKE, Va. -- In a lawsuit brought by the Rev. Jerry Falwell, a federal judge has ruled that an 18th-century Virginia law banning the incorporation of churches unconstitutionally restricts the free exercise of religion.

U.S. District Judge Norman Moon ordered the State Corporation Commission to grant Falwell's Thomas Road Baptist Church a corporate charter.

SCC spokesman Ken Schrad said Tuesday he did not know whether the commission would appeal or grant Falwell a charter.

A charter would give Falwell's church added protection from liability lawsuits, the ability to sue as an organization and the power to enter contracts. It also would allow Falwell to include his entire ministry under one umbrella; currently, it is controlled by a dozen or so mini-corporations under separate charters and boards of directors.

Tornadoes, strong storms hit north Texas region

FORT WORTH, Texas -- Tornadoes and strong thunderstorms slammed into northern Texas on Tuesday night, damaging at least two dozen homes, ripping the roof off a church and snarling air and ground traffic.

There were no immediate reports of fatalities or life-threatening injuries.

Annette Brown, 42, said she and her mother sought shelter in the bathroom of their Fort Worth home. When they emerged to survey the damage, they saw their carport had been tossed from the front yard to the back yard.

"But the Lord was good," Brown said. "It didn't land on the roof. It went on over."

Two tornadoes touched down briefly in Johnson County, but no damage was reported, said Sheriff Bob Alford. The storm brought intense hail and rain, he said.

At Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, spokesman Ken Capps said incoming and outgoing flights were halted for about 45 minutes.

Drug tunnel found under Arizona parking lot

TUCSON, Ariz. -- An 85-foot drug tunnel that was strung with bare light bulbs and ended near a parking lot used by Customs Service employees was discovered underneath the Mexican border.

The tunnel, found on Monday, is at least the ninth discovered in Nogales since 1995, and the second in the border city to run directly beneath the international boundary.

No drugs were found in the tunnel, which was reinforced with two-by-fours, Customs spokesman Roger Maier said.

Investigators believe smugglers punched a hole through the asphalt and would pass narcotics up into a waiting vehicle, then seal the hole with an asphalt plug.

Two sentenced in morgue photos case

CINCINNATI -- A commercial photographer was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison Tuesday for taking pictures of corpses posed with various objects in the county morgue.

Judge Norbert Nadel also sentenced former Hamilton County Deputy Coroner Dr. Jonathan Tobias to five months in prison and 250 hours of community service for letting Thomas Condon photograph the bodies.

Condon has said he was attempting an artistic portrayal of life and death.

Prosecutors said Condon posed bodies with sheet music, a key, an apple and other objects. A jury in October convicted Condon, 29, and Tobias, 31, of abuse of a corpse.

Post office evacuated when worker gets sick

DAVIE, Fla. -- About 75 workers and customers were evacuated from a U.S. Postal Services building for three hours Tuesday after a worker became sick while handling a letter from India.

The 35-year-old male worker became nauseated, dizzy and began sweating after the letter came open by accident. He was taken to a hospital.

Field tests came back negative for any biological or chemical agents, but the letter was sealed in an airtight container and sent to a lab for further testing.

Davie is about 20 miles southwest of Boca Raton, where a tabloid photographer became the nation's first fatality during last year's still unsolved anthrax attacks.

-- From wire reports

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