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Religion writers agree: Pope Francis No. 1

No surprise, Pope Francis is the top religion story of 2013 and the Religion Newsmaker of the Year, according to a poll.

More than 300 journalists were surveyed by the Religion Newswriters Association, dedicated to helping journalists write about religion with accuracy, insight and balance. The association has conducted the Top 10 Religion News Stories of the Year survey for more than three decades.

Francis beat out his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who was the No. 2 story, and evangelist Billy Graham — who recently turned 95 and is reportedly ailing — for the newsmaker designation. Benedict made news when he became the first pope to resign in almost six centuries.

Coming in third among the top religion stories was the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision permitting gay marriage in California and ending the ban on federal employee benefits for same-sex couples. Within months of the June decision, the number of states permitting same-sex marriage rose to 18, including Illinois and Hawaii.

Fourth on the list were the Obama administration’s concessions to faith-based groups and businesses that objected to the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act. While opponents have reaped mixed results in lower courts, the Supreme Court has agreed to take Hobby Lobby’s challenge.

And the fifth religion story of the year was the central role Islam has played in the Middle East after the Arab Spring. The Egyptian military ousted the Muslim Brotherhood-led government and cracked down on its supporters while Sunni Islamist fighters increased their role in Syria’s opposition.

Other stories rounding out the top 10 are:

6. The death of Nelson Mandela, 95, icon of reconciliation and nonviolence. He was remembered as a modern-day Moses who led his people out of racial bondage.

7. Religious-inspired violence killed scores of people, with extremist Buddhist monks inciting attacks on Muslims in Myanmar and Muslim extremists targeting Christians in Egypt, Kenya and Pakistan.

8. More than 1 in 5 U.S. Jews now report having no religion, according to a landmark survey from the Pew Research Center.

9. The Boy Scouts of America, after much debate, voted to accept Scouts — but not scoutmasters — who are openly gay.

10. Muslims joined other Americans in condemning a devastating bombing at the Boston Marathon by two young Muslim brothers.


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