We start this week in Europe, where faith leaders and human rights activists ganged up on France and its particular brand of secularism at an interfaith conference in Brussels.

From left: Bashr Qraishy, Father Aethelwine Richards, Paul Herzog Von Oldenburg, and Jasvir Singh at the Renaissance Hotel in Brussels, Belgium, on Oct. 16, 2013.

From left: Bashr Qraishy, Father Aethelwine Richards, Paul Herzog Von Oldenburg, and Jasvir Singh at the Renaissance Hotel in Brussels, Belgium, on Oct. 16, 2013. Photo courtesy Bashy Quraishy


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Apparently secularism is not the new black, or even the best thing since sliced bread. Father Aethelwine Richards of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of Europe (that’s a mouthful) said it “could be the new terrorism.” The heated comments under my write-up of the event are worth a skim.

Conference organizer Eric Roux, a minister and spokesman for the Church of Scientology, missed most of the event as France’s highest court upheld a conviction of “organized fraud” against his church. The following day, a Dutch court declared Scientology a tax-exempt, charitable organization.

Whoops! After years of debate, Catholic bishops in France decided that the version of the Lord’s Prayer their congregants recite could be considered blasphemous. Apparently French people…can’t read French? The official translation has been changed from “Do not submit us to temptation” to “Let us not enter into temptation,” absolving God of any perceived meddling.

After the Council of Europe passed a resolution calling male ritual circumcision “a violation of the physical integrity of children” earlier this month, members of Israel’s Knesset are suggesting that circumcisions in Europe might be moved to Israeli embassies. Insert “passport renewal gone wrong” joke here. Despite some claims to the contrary, Ronald Goldman of the Jewish Circumcision Resource Center explained why questioning circumcision isn’t anti-Semitic.

It’s not news that Jews face considerable discrimination across Europe, but a new study has shown that 22 percent of European Jews are afraid to wear the kippah in public. That number tops 40 percent in France and nearly 50 percent in Sweden.

Jews were up in arms about a recent ban on ritual animal slaughter in Poland. Now it’s Muslims who are upset at the ban — and animal rights activists — for disrupting their Eid al-Adha festivities. Both groups were outraged by a recent mosque torching in Gdansk, which reminded some Jewish leaders of the 1938 pogrom known as Kristallnacht.

Hackers in Russia distracted from the Eid celebrations when they defaced Muslim websites with photos of a severed pig’s head holding the Quran in its mouth.

The Church of Sweden elected its first female archbishop. “Jealous!” shouted all of the Church of England’s female bishops. Just kidding. The Church of England doesn’t have female bishops.

In Belarus, a Catholic priest has been detained since May on allegedly dubious treason charges. In Armenia, nine Jehovah’s Witnesses were released after spending more than two years in jail for refusing to perform mandatory military service. Twenty conscientious objectors remain imprisoned.

Catholic churches joined government officials in Italy, Argentina and Germany to deny a public funeral for unrepentant Nazi war criminal Erich Priebke. One church broke ranks and agreed to hold the funeral outside Rome. When protesters disrupted the ceremony, Italian authorities seized the man’s coffin. His body is set to be buried in a “secret location.”

Mixed Up Chorus director Jeremy Haneman leads potential recruits for his choir during the Shoreditch Singathon.

Mixed Up Chorus director Jeremy Haneman leads potential recruits for his choir during the Shoreditch Singathon. Photo by Cristina Pedreira courtesy 3FF

A humanist choir, a Jewish choir and a gospel choir walk into a London art gallery. I don’t know what the punch line is, but the combination made for some great music and marked the launch of a new interfaith choir.

This happened awhile ago but I missed it. Apparently undercover reporters called mosques across the U.K. to ask whether they’d marry off a 14-year-old girl. Representatives at 18 mosques said sure.

Members of a feminist group shouted “Abortion is sacred!” in Spanish Congress and marched topless through the streets of Madrid (nudity, obviously) to protest proposed changes that would limit abortion rights in the predominantly Catholic country.

In Pakistan (which I know is not in Europe, but this is newsworthy) lawyers are trying to charge former President Pervez Musharraf with blasphemy for a 2007 military operation he authorized against Islamic fundamentalists. A mosque and several Qurans were destroyed during the siege.

Onto the U.S., where Rolling Stone explores why gay teens are being expelled from Christian schools, often for violating sexual purity pledges.

Attendees at the conservative Values Voter Summit ranked religious freedom as the most important political issue. Good news for my beat, but really? The most important? Need I remind you that the government just shut down for 17 days?

Secretary of State John Kerry’s brain might have shut down, too. Speaking about Malaysia, a country with many fault lines and obstacles around religious freedom, he said:

“Here in Malaysia, people of different heritages have been in conversation for a long, long time. You see it in the open houses that you host during holidays, welcoming people of different faiths into your living rooms. … Malaysia’s diversity, tolerance and progress can be a model for countries around the world.”

No wonder the State Department’s ambassador for international religious freedom, Suzan Johnson Cook, resigned last week (…that’s not why she resigned). An op-ed in Foreign Policy suggests three things to consider when picking the next ambassador.

Surprise! “Religion in school could be hot topic in Utah legislature,” says a recent headline from The Salt Lake Tribune. Who would have thought that a bill to “better protect the religious rights of students in public schools” could ever be controversial?

Also controversial in Utah (no, not coffee) is a new billboard from American Atheists that plays on the “I’m a Mormon” ad campaign. Billboard companies have been reluctant to run the ads in the lead-up to an atheist convention in Salt Lake City next year.

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1 Comment

  1. […] Sacre secularism! * Blasphemous prayer * State circumcisions?: Religious … The official translation has been changed from “Do not submit us to temptation” to “Let us not enter into temptation,” absolving God of any perceived meddling. After the Council of … Insert “passport renewal gone wrong” joke here. Despite some claims … Read more on Religion News Service […]

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