“A colossus of unimpeachable moral character and integrity, he was the world’s most admired and most revered public figure.” — Desmond Tutu, archbishop emeritus of Cape Town, on the passing of Nelson Mandela.
We start this week’s Recap in the Litigious States of America, where everyone’s getting sued over religious freedom.
The U.S. Supreme Court decided to hear Hobby Lobby’s religious freedom challenge to the Obamacare contraception mandate but passed on a similar challenge from Liberty University. The Fighting Irish (Roman Catholic Notre Dame University) are stepping in with a lawsuit of their own. Suing the government is oh so trendy right now.
The Los Angeles Kabbalah Centre, where celebrities hung out before switching to Scientology, is being sued for fraud. Former supporters say the center misused more than $1 million in contributions.
A trial challenging the government’s infamous no-fly list (which ridiculously included the late Sen. Ted Kennedy) began Monday with a Malaysian professor claiming she was blacklisted on account of her national origin and Muslim faith. The woman, barred from entering the U.S. because of the list, testified by video from London.
First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes…divorce. This could turn into a lawsuit. Two women married in Massachusetts, where gay marriage is legal, now want to get divorced in Kentucky, where it’s not. Kentucky doesn’t recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere, making the case pretty complicated. In related news, a Colorado judge ruled that a Christian baker will face fines if he continues to refuse to make wedding cakes for same-sex ceremonies. No word on whether he’ll bake gay divorce cakes.
An atheist group and a Mississippi school district settled a lawsuit over allegations that students were forced to attend relig-ish assemblies. Lawmakers in Ohio want to make such assemblies legal, despite the First Amendment.
It looks like an Amish girl who has leukemia won’t be forced to resume chemotherapy treatment. The girl’s parents opposed the treatment on religious grounds.
’Tis the season for some baby Jesus/virgin mama drama at state capitols across the country. The Freedom From Religion Foundation is wishing everyone Heathen’s Greetings with a “natural nativity scene” at the Wisconsin State Capitol. The group is also putting up a banner with wisemen Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison in the Florida State Capitol to counter a more traditional Nativity scene. Also: more atheist billboards in Times Square, but none for Vancouver.
On the international stage, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said the Christian cross has become little more than a fashion symbol. Not true. It’s also now a tasty treat and may be a religious symbol, a cultural symbol or a badge of identity. The Economist isn’t quite sure.
Speaking of cultural symbols, Hopi Indians of Arizona are trying to stop the sale of 70 sacred tribal masks in Paris. The U.S. government can’t do much to help their cause.
New research shows that an estimated 1.2 million students in England are placed in state-funded faith schools based on the religious affiliations of their parents. Some Brits worry these placements are dividing Britain.
Prime Minister David Cameron thinks “Islamist extremism” is dividing Britain and plans to classify it as a distinct ideology to be tackled. Last week three Muslim vigilantes were jailed for “enforcing sharia law” in my neighborhood of east London.
After much flip-flopping, Dutch parliament finally decided to scrap the Netherlands’ blasphemy law. Before you go on a blasphemous rampage through Amsterdam, know that another law could be coming “to protect people from serious insult to their religion.” Is this just a rebranding exercise?
Sri Lanka’s Federal Sharia Court decided that life imprisonment wasn’t harsh enough for blasphemers, making death the only punishment for the crime. Sunni clerics in Pakistan think that sounds like a good idea.
Despite what Jenny McCarthy might have told you, medicine is usually a good thing. In Syria, Pakistan, Somalia, Afghanistan and Nigeria, polio is resurfacing due to war, religious edicts and ignorance. In Kenya, some Pentecostal pastors are inviting people with HIV to burn their meds in favor of prayer, charging them exorbitant sums for the “service.”
Saudi Arabia banned a popular sci-fi novel about a genie who falls for a human, alleging the book is charged with “blasphemy and devil-worshiping.” Despite the country’s much-publicized ban on women driving, gradual societal shifts seem to be underway, with 15 percent of Saudi women now working.
Temple Mount in Jerusalem was closed to visitors for the third time in recent months after Muslims attacked Jews who were praying and singing Hanukkah songs at the site.
I mentioned two weeks ago that some Turkish leaders want to turn the Hagia Sophia museum back into a mosque. I failed to mention that two Byzantine-era museums in the country have already been converted into mosques.
In the world of minority religions, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is turning his back on the Gulen movement, an influential religious organization he once considered an ally. Jehovah’s Witnesses in Armenia are heading to court after being denied building permits for three houses of worship. And the Russian Orthodox Church is urging an inquiry into the unregistered Russian sect Kuzya-the-God, which they say “imitates Orthodoxy.” According to one report:
“the so-called Kuzya-the-God sect was founded by 36-year-old Andrei Popov, who calls himself Kuzya in honor of his late parrot. His followers believe that Kuzya is the reincarnation of both Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary.”
Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that a group named after a parrot is being accused of imitating another faith tradition…
In India, a petitioner is arguing to the Supreme Court that army recruitment based on region equates to recruitment based on caste and religion because of the country’s demographic landscape.
A Hindu American group is protesting a U.S. resolution on religious freedom in India, saying it disproportionately blames Hindu nationalism for communal violence. Another new resolution urges the government of Myanmar to end persecution of the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority.
That’s all, folks. I’ll be in Rome this week for a conference on Christianity and religious freedom around the world. Hope I get to see my buddy Frank. We were bouncers together back in the day and still sneak out on occasion. Frank got this big new fancy job recently and is apparently too busy calling random people to remember little old me. Oh well, if he’s too busy “being pope” to see me, I’ll just go check out his new wax figure.
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