Welcome back to the Religious Freedom Recap, our weekly look at top stories and developments on religious liberty around the globe. Subscribe to receive the free Recap by email here and follow my Twitter stream @brianpellot for timely updates.

Let’s start this week in the U.K., where Home Minister Jeremy Browne prompted a national debate on full-face veils by calling for, you guessed it, a national debate on full-face veils.


A veiled woman napes on the London Underground. Photo courtesy Kamyar Adl via Flickr

This image is available for Web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

This came the same day a London judge ruled that a Muslim woman could wear a veil in court but had to remove it while giving evidence to the jury.

A junior health minister in the U.K. said that doctors and nurses should also unveil to ensure “appropriate face-to-face contact” with their patients.

Top politicians weighed in on the debate. Home Secretary Theresa May said women should have the right to choose what they wear in public. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said veils shouldn’t be worn in classrooms or at airport security. And a spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron said he favors institutional dress codes rather than new laws on the issue.

Check out this slideshow on veil bans around the world.

Also up for debate in Britain is whether the Football Association was right to warn fans against chanting the word “yid.” The derogatory term for Jews  has been somewhat reclaimed by a London soccer team in a prominent Jewish community of north London.

On to the U.S., where the Freedom From Religion Foundation marked Constitution Day last Tuesday by publishing “In Reason We Trust” ads celebrating “our godless Constitution” in several small-town newspapers.

This wasn’t the only ad to ruffle a few feathers. The “least offensive atheist ad ever” (according to Friendly Atheist blogger Hemant Mehta) might have prompted a Pennsylvania public transit company to ban all religious ads. Apparently the word “Atheist” was too controversial to grace the sides of buses.

Atheists and humanists launched a new political action committee to bolster the influence of nonbelievers in public office. How many open atheists are currently in Congress? Apparently none. That might change as a London atheist church expands internationally and a new film encourages Americans to “Hug an Atheist.”

President Barack Obama hugged, or maybe fist-bumped, a few atheists last week when his administration invited members of the Secular Student Alliance to join his Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge.

Cuban religious leaders visited Washington, D.C. to discuss recent crackdowns on religious freedom in their country. Meanwhile the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to appoint a special envoy for religious minorities in Asia and the Middle East. One group was concerned that the bill did not explicitly list nonbelievers as religious minorities.

Another controversial bill to surface last week was the bipartisan Marriage and Religious Freedom Act, which aims to protect religious institutions that oppose same-sex marriage from having their tax-exempt statuses revoked. Opponents of the bill called it an attempt to “reincarnate the Defense of Marriage Act,” which was struck down as unconstitutional in June.

Can’t settle a debate? Send it to the Supreme Court. That’s what the Obama administration did last Thursday when it asked the high court to decide if Hobby Lobby and other companies can use religious grounds to opt out of the new healthcare law’s contraceptive mandate.

Now for a state-by-state blow-by-blow:

Illinois: A Bosnian Muslim congregation sued a Chicago suburb for denying it permission to build a mosque in a vacant office building. The congregation called the decision a violation of its religious freedom. The city says its a zoning issue. Let’s see what the judge says.

Texas: The State Board of Education heard testimonies from both sides of a heated debate on whether new biology textbooks should teach creationism.

Tennessee: A Cocke County judge ruled that a baby called Messiah can keep his name, overturning an earlier ruling that “‘Messiah’ is a title that is held only by Jesus Christ.”

California: A theology professor at Azusa Pacific University was asked to resign after coming out as transgender.

Oklahoma: Gov. Mary Fallin defied a Pentagon directive by ordering the National Guard to stop processing requests for gay couples seeking military benefits. She cited a 2004 state constitutional amendment that prohibits granting marriage benefits to gay couples in justifying the decision.

Hawaii: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints waded back into the gay marriage debate, asking Mormons across the state to push for “a strong exemption for people and organizations of faith” that would protect religious groups “from being required to support or perform same-sex marriages.”

Utah: Mormon and gay? That’s A-OK, according to Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young, who spoke about building bridges with his “gay brothers and sisters” at a conference for gay Mormons in Salt Lake City.

Moving on. An international snapshot:

After wishing Jews “a blessed Rosh Hashanah” on Twitter earlier this month, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani announced plans to bring the country’s only Jewish member of parliament to the U.N. General Assembly in New York this week.

An image released by the Quebec government showing, top three, "non-ostentatious" religious symbols that could be worn by public employees, and, bottom five images, "ostentatious" symbols that would be banned under the proposed Charter of Quebec Values. Photo courtesy Quebec government

An image released by the Quebec government showing, top three, “non-ostentatious” religious symbols that could be worn by public employees, and, bottom five images, “ostentatious” symbols that would be banned under the proposed Charter of Quebec Values. Photo courtesy Quebec government

Quebec’s proposal to ban “overt and conspicuous” religious symbols in public continues to make headlines. Someone cited it while ranting at a veiled Muslim woman on a Montreal bus last week. Determined to distance itself from the controversy, Ontario’s parliament unanimously supported a motion to reinforce the province’s commitment to freedom of religion and expression.

Apparently tired of pope-dialing™ unsuspecting Catholics, Pope Francis wrote a letter to the grand imam of Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo calling for “mutual understanding between the world’s Christians and Muslims in order to build peace and justice.”

That doesn’t sound very controversial, especially considering what he said about charting a course for the Catholic Church that’s less “obsessed” with a few doctrines like homosexuality and abortion. Read David Gibson’s analysis of the pope’s remarks here.

Pakistani clerics suggested a groundbreaking solution to stop needless deaths — more needless deaths. Rather than just killing blasphemers, anyone who falsely accuses someone of blasphemy should also be killed. Hmm…

Miss World Muslimah

Obabiyi Aishah Ajibola of Nigeria was crowned Miss World Muslimah 2013. Photo courtesy The World Muslimah Beauty / Facebook

This image is available for Web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

Indonesia’s constitutional court reviewed and ultimately upheld its blasphemy law last week. The religiously conservative predominantly Muslim country has been in the news lately for local protests around its hosting of the Miss World pageant. A Nigerian woman was crowned Miss World Muslimah on Wednesday in Indonesia at the third annual rival pageant.

I don’t know which pageant this somewhat scantily clad tattooed model in a denim burqa would be eligible for. The Diesel jeans ad has been stirring up quite a bit of controversy.

Before I go on forever, some Tweet-sized updates (if Tweets were > 140 characters…):

An Australian judge ruled that a Jehovah’s Witness boy with Hodgkin’s lymphoma must receive a blood transfusion against his family’s religious convictions. A similar case unfolded this summer in neighboring New Zealand.

A Scottish man who threw bacon into an Edinburgh mosque was sentenced to 10 months in jail for breaching the peace.

Tensions flared in India as the country’s Hindu nationalist party selected Narendra Modi, a man accused of encouraging the mass slaughter of Muslims, as its candidate for prime minister in next year’s general election.

A Roman Catholic priest in majority-Muslim Zanzibar was burned in an acid attack, the latest assault on Christian clergy on the Tanzanian island.

Brazil is reportedly seeing a surge in the number of people who self-identify with Afro-Brazilian faiths. Some hope this uptick signals less persecution against non-Christians in the country.

An Istanbul court gave Turkish pianist Fazil Say 10 months in jail for retweeting “blasphemous” remarks about Islam.

More than 80 people were killed when two suicide bombers from the Pakistani Taliban blew themselves up in a Peshawar church.

At least 68 people were killed when the Somali militant group al-Shabab targeted non-Muslims with grenades and guns at a shopping mall in Nairobi.

Anglicans appointed Rev. Pat Storey as their first female bishop in the U.K. and Ireland.

The Greek government is working to ban the far-right and often anti-Semitic Golden Dawn party after some of its members were linked to the murder of a prominent anti-fascist musician in Athens.

In our first On Freedom country profile, I look at the state of religious liberty in Malaysia.

That’s all, folks. Feel free to post anything I missed in the comments section below. And don’t forget to sign up to get the weekly Recap straight to your inbox (blue button below).


  1. David Lloyd-Jones

    One of the Top Laws: modesty is sexy. I learned that in Japan, but I gotta add what I’m learning from the Middle Eastern immigration to Canada: the attention — and very successful attention at that — that some Islamic women put into burquas and eye-make up gets well over into vanity, temptation, and covetousness territory!


  2. I believe this sentence should read:

    At least 68 people were killed when the “islamist” Somali militant group al-Shabab targeted non-Muslims with grenades and guns at a shopping mall in Nairobi. –

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