Air Force Academy adapts to pagans, druids, witches and Wiccans: Officials say an $80,000 Stonehenge-like worship center underscores a commitment to embrace all religions.
Related: Atheists in U.S. military seek official recognition
Photo:   Cadets gather for the dedication ceremony of the Air Force Academy’s Cadet Chapel Falcon Circle worship center this spring. The center serves cadets whose religions fall under the broad category of “Earth-based.” Credit: Jerilee Bennett / The Gazette

Air Force Academy adapts to pagans, druids, witches and Wiccans: Officials say an $80,000 Stonehenge-like worship center underscores a commitment to embrace all religions.

Related: Atheists in U.S. military seek official recognition

Photo: Cadets gather for the dedication ceremony of the Air Force Academy’s Cadet Chapel Falcon Circle worship center this spring. The center serves cadets whose religions fall under the broad category of “Earth-based.” Credit: Jerilee Bennett / The Gazette

Atheists in U.S. military seek official recognition: A small but growing movement complains of religious bias and seeks the same status as Christians, Jews and Muslims.

Capt. Ryan Jean wanted to perform well on the Army’s psychological evaluation. But he also wanted to answer the questions honestly. So when he was asked whether he believed his life had a lasting purpose, Jean, an atheist, saw no choice but to say no.
Those and other responses, Jean says, won him a trip to see the post chaplain, who berated him for his lack of faith.

Photo:   Army Capt. Ryan Jean, an intelligence officer at Ft. Meade, Md., is an atheist who seeks official recognition for nonbelievers on par with that of Christians, Jews and Muslims. Credit: Algerina Perna / Baltimore Sun

Atheists in U.S. military seek official recognition: A small but growing movement complains of religious bias and seeks the same status as Christians, Jews and Muslims.

Capt. Ryan Jean wanted to perform well on the Army’s psychological evaluation. But he also wanted to answer the questions honestly. So when he was asked whether he believed his life had a lasting purpose, Jean, an atheist, saw no choice but to say no.

Those and other responses, Jean says, won him a trip to see the post chaplain, who berated him for his lack of faith.

Photo: Army Capt. Ryan Jean, an intelligence officer at Ft. Meade, Md., is an atheist who seeks official recognition for nonbelievers on par with that of Christians, Jews and Muslims. Credit: Algerina Perna / Baltimore Sun

As ultra-Orthodox flex muscle, Israel feminists see a backsliding: Women who thought Israel’s battle for gender equality was mostly won warn of a new assault from the fast-growing ultra-Orthodox, seeking to expand religious-based segregation into the public realm.
Photo:  An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man walks past a vandalized poster in Jerusalem. Images of women have been vanishing from the streets of the city. Credit: Sebastian Scheiner / Associated Press

As ultra-Orthodox flex muscle, Israel feminists see a backsliding: Women who thought Israel’s battle for gender equality was mostly won warn of a new assault from the fast-growing ultra-Orthodox, seeking to expand religious-based segregation into the public realm.

Photo: An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man walks past a vandalized poster in Jerusalem. Images of women have been vanishing from the streets of the city. Credit: Sebastian Scheiner / Associated Press

For an American pilgrim in Saudi Arabia, a discovery of fellowship: Joining Muslim faithful from around the globe, and sharing in the rituals of ages, brings joy — and reflection. (Psst… this is a first-person account from our assistant copy chief!)
Photo:   In Mecca, a crush of Muslims can be seen circling the Kaaba, Islam’s holiest site, in the early morning. Credit: Rubaina Azhar / Los Angeles Times

For an American pilgrim in Saudi Arabia, a discovery of fellowship: Joining Muslim faithful from around the globe, and sharing in the rituals of ages, brings joy — and reflection. (Psst… this is a first-person account from our assistant copy chief!)

Photo: In Mecca, a crush of Muslims can be seen circling the Kaaba, Islam’s holiest site, in the early morning. Credit: Rubaina Azhar / Los Angeles Times

Celebrities gave Kabbalah Centre cachet, and spurred its growth: The heightened profile of the L.A.-based Kabbalah Centre popularizing previously secret Jewish mysticism came with a continued emphasis on soliciting donations, sometimes in ways some found offensive. Then the IRS stepped in.
The second part of two-part Times investigation. Read the first part here.
Photos: Sandra Bernhard, left, introduced Madonna and Roseanne Barr, center, to the Kabbalah Centre. The list of celebrities attracted to the center later included big names such as Elizabeth Taylor, Gwyneth Paltrow, Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. Credit: Richard Hartog / Los Angeles Times, Associated Press, Reuters, Getty Images, Associated Press, Associated Press

Celebrities gave Kabbalah Centre cachet, and spurred its growth: The heightened profile of the L.A.-based Kabbalah Centre popularizing previously secret Jewish mysticism came with a continued emphasis on soliciting donations, sometimes in ways some found offensive. Then the IRS stepped in.

The second part of two-part Times investigation. Read the first part here.

Photos: Sandra Bernhard, left, introduced Madonna and Roseanne Barr, center, to the Kabbalah Centre. The list of celebrities attracted to the center later included big names such as Elizabeth Taylor, Gwyneth Paltrow, Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. Credit: Richard Hartog / Los Angeles Times, Associated Press, Reuters, Getty Images, Associated Press, Associated Press

Chinese Jews feel more at home in Israel: Descendants of Persian traders in Kaifeng, China, move to Israel with the help of a religious group and finally learn Jewish rules and traditions.

The first family of Kaifeng Jews to immigrate to Israel was almost sent back to China. Shlomo and Deena Jin (no relation to Yecholya Jin) had overstayed their tourist visas in 2005. As they faced deportation, Shavei Israel worked with authorities to allow them to stay after going through the conversion process. Shlomo, at the time in his late 40s, endured a circumcision to complete the conversion.

Photo:  Jews from Keifeng, China, pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. The group came straight from the airport. Credit: Michael Freund

Chinese Jews feel more at home in Israel: Descendants of Persian traders in Kaifeng, China, move to Israel with the help of a religious group and finally learn Jewish rules and traditions.

The first family of Kaifeng Jews to immigrate to Israel was almost sent back to China. Shlomo and Deena Jin (no relation to Yecholya Jin) had overstayed their tourist visas in 2005. As they faced deportation, Shavei Israel worked with authorities to allow them to stay after going through the conversion process. Shlomo, at the time in his late 40s, endured a circumcision to complete the conversion.

Photo: Jews from Keifeng, China, pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. The group came straight from the airport. Credit: Michael Freund

A decision on the razor’s edge: In Sikhism, the body is a gift to be honored by leaving it in its natural state. Maintaining kesh, or hair, is one of the five articles of faith. But as Sikh women in America know, not all potential husbands appreciate that.

"The guys do the whole, ‘Wow, that’s awesome,’ " when they meet a woman who keeps kesh, Kaur said. “Then they walk away, and you know they’re never going to date you.”

Photo:   Nilofer Chariwala uses threading on the eyebrows of Stacie Negrete at Ziba Beauty, a salon in Artesia. Credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times

A decision on the razor’s edge: In Sikhism, the body is a gift to be honored by leaving it in its natural state. Maintaining kesh, or hair, is one of the five articles of faith. But as Sikh women in America know, not all potential husbands appreciate that.

"The guys do the whole, ‘Wow, that’s awesome,’ " when they meet a woman who keeps kesh, Kaur said. “Then they walk away, and you know they’re never going to date you.”

Photo: Nilofer Chariwala uses threading on the eyebrows of Stacie Negrete at Ziba Beauty, a salon in Artesia. Credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times

With free wedding, church removes a hitch to getting hitched: Parkcrest Christian Church in Long Beach provides a group wedding and reception for four couples whose plans for getting married kept getting stalled.

So it was a godsend for them when the pastor at Parkcrest Christian Church, Mike Goldsworthy, announced during his sermon two weeks ago that the church would throw a free wedding and reception for any unmarried couples in the congregation who were living together.
"If your only barrier is the cost of a wedding, we will remove that," he said.

Photo: Christopher and Angel Woodbridge, right, have their first dance as husband and wife along with three other couples after a church-financed group wedding and reception at Parkcrest Christian Church in Long Beach. Credit: Christina House / For The Times

With free wedding, church removes a hitch to getting hitched: Parkcrest Christian Church in Long Beach provides a group wedding and reception for four couples whose plans for getting married kept getting stalled.

So it was a godsend for them when the pastor at Parkcrest Christian Church, Mike Goldsworthy, announced during his sermon two weeks ago that the church would throw a free wedding and reception for any unmarried couples in the congregation who were living together.

"If your only barrier is the cost of a wedding, we will remove that," he said.

Photo: Christopher and Angel Woodbridge, right, have their first dance as husband and wife along with three other couples after a church-financed group wedding and reception at Parkcrest Christian Church in Long Beach. Credit: Christina House / For The Times

Fidel Babani, an active member of Cuba’s tiny Jewish community and president of the Cuban Scrabble Assn., sits at a Jewish community center in Havana. A former bodyguard for Fidel Castro, Babani finds that as restrictions relax, he can publicly embrace his religion and have more access to the game he practically worships. 
Photo: The map behind Babani shows where Jews once lived across the island nation. Credit: Tracy Wilkinson / Los Angeles Times

Fidel Babani, an active member of Cuba’s tiny Jewish community and president of the Cuban Scrabble Assn., sits at a Jewish community center in Havana. A former bodyguard for Fidel Castro, Babani finds that as restrictions relax, he can publicly embrace his religion and have more access to the game he practically worships

Photo: The map behind Babani shows where Jews once lived across the island nation. Credit: Tracy Wilkinson / Los Angeles Times

A few Catholics still insist Galileo was wrong: They say Earth is the center of the universe, embracing church teachings of four centuries ago.

But by challenging modern science, proponents of a geocentric universe are challenging the very church they seek to serve and protect.
"I have no idea who these people are," said Brother Guy Consolmagno, curator of meteorites and spokesman for the Vatican Observatory. "Are they sincere, or is this a clever bit of theater?"

[Updated, 1:40 p.m., Aug. 28: Just to clarify: The man above? He’s a spokesman for the Catholic Church who doesn’t believe in geocentrism.]
Photo:  Brother Guy Consolmagno of the Vatican Observatory takes a modern view of Earth’s place in the universe. Credit: Plinio Lepri / Associated Press

A few Catholics still insist Galileo was wrong: They say Earth is the center of the universe, embracing church teachings of four centuries ago.

But by challenging modern science, proponents of a geocentric universe are challenging the very church they seek to serve and protect.

"I have no idea who these people are," said Brother Guy Consolmagno, curator of meteorites and spokesman for the Vatican Observatory. "Are they sincere, or is this a clever bit of theater?"

[Updated, 1:40 p.m., Aug. 28: Just to clarify: The man above? He’s a spokesman for the Catholic Church who doesn’t believe in geocentrism.]

Photo: Brother Guy Consolmagno of the Vatican Observatory takes a modern view of Earth’s place in the universe. Credit: Plinio Lepri / Associated Press

The Sugar Feast is the traditional cap to a Ramadan meal in Turkey.
Photo:  Baklava for Ramadan. Credit: Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times

The Sugar Feast is the traditional cap to a Ramadan meal in Turkey.

Photo: Baklava for Ramadan. Credit: Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times

South Korea churches’ beacons an eyesore to some:  Red neon crosses are a common sight atop churches in South Korea. Church leaders say they are an important symbol of faith, but critics see them as an annoying source of light pollution.
Photo: Neon crosses light the South Korean sky. Government officials say that they are able to only make recommendations to churches about the light despite many complaints from residents. Credit: Matt Douma / For The Times

South Korea churches’ beacons an eyesore to some: Red neon crosses are a common sight atop churches in South Korea. Church leaders say they are an important symbol of faith, but critics see them as an annoying source of light pollution.

Photo: Neon crosses light the South Korean sky. Government officials say that they are able to only make recommendations to churches about the light despite many complaints from residents. Credit: Matt Douma / For The Times

Adapting a Ramadan tradition to the all-American diner: Pre-dawn meals, or suhoor, during Ramadan are typically quiet family affairs, but Muslims who live away from home sometimes organize group outings to all-night diners such as Fred 62 in Los Feliz.
Photo: Ahmed Abedin, 40, reads verses from the Koran, in traditional printed form, at morning prayers while Jahan Hamid, 33, left, and Adnan Akhtar, 36, read the holy book on their iPhones at the Islamic Center of Orange County. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times

Adapting a Ramadan tradition to the all-American diner: Pre-dawn meals, or suhoor, during Ramadan are typically quiet family affairs, but Muslims who live away from home sometimes organize group outings to all-night diners such as Fred 62 in Los Feliz.

Photo: Ahmed Abedin, 40, reads verses from the Koran, in traditional printed form, at morning prayers while Jahan Hamid, 33, left, and Adnan Akhtar, 36, read the holy book on their iPhones at the Islamic Center of Orange County. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times

Buddhist wonks? No, Buddhist geeks: Vincent Horn, 28, is representative of a new kind of American Buddhist: young, U.S.-born converts who have intertwined their religious practice with a certain 21st century techie sensibility.
Photo: Vincent Horn meditates at his Santa Monica home. He organized the first Buddha Geeks Conference in Rosemead last weekend. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times

Buddhist wonks? No, Buddhist geeks: Vincent Horn, 28, is representative of a new kind of American Buddhist: young, U.S.-born converts who have intertwined their religious practice with a certain 21st century techie sensibility.

Photo: Vincent Horn meditates at his Santa Monica home. He organized the first Buddha Geeks Conference in Rosemead last weekend. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times

Mexico’s Virgen de Guadalupe appears in neighborhoods across L.A. in shrines that can be humble or elaborate. To an outsider, they may all seem the same, but each is different and has its own story.
Photo: A chicken makes its way across a bench located below an altar that is at the top of a staircase off Figueroa Street in Highland Park. View more photos in the audio slide show. Credit: Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times

Mexico’s Virgen de Guadalupe appears in neighborhoods across L.A. in shrines that can be humble or elaborate. To an outsider, they may all seem the same, but each is different and has its own story.

Photo: A chicken makes its way across a bench located below an altar that is at the top of a staircase off Figueroa Street in Highland Park. View more photos in the audio slide show. Credit: Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times