Happy holidays! Season’s greetings! Merry Christmas! Americans are pretty divided on which greeting they prefer, so I thought I’d cover all the bases.

Let’s start this week’s recap with holiday/seasonal/Christmas news from around the U.S.

The Flying Spaghetti Monster display in the Wisconsin State Capitol building.

The Flying Spaghetti Monster display in the Wisconsin State Capitol building. Photo by Becky Bailey

Pastafarian deity the Flying Spaghetti Monster has taken up residence in both the Florida and Wisconsin state capitol buildings alongside more traditional displays…like the Festivus pole. WAR ON CHRISTMAS?! Not so much, says Charles Haynes.

Atheist and secular groups are erecting these displays to criticize the fact that Nativity scenes have long been allowed in the halls of government, a space they think should be secular. Despite Florida’s recent streak of inclusivity, the state stopped short of allowing a Satanic Temple display, deeming it “grossly offensive.”

Oklahoma’s also showing no love for Satanists. The New York-based Satanic Temple wanted to erect a statue next to the Ten Commandments monument outside the Statehouse. A Hindu group planned to do the same, until Oklahoma placed a moratorium on new monuments.

Some Hindus were upset when they spotted their deity Lord Ganesh stitched onto pairs of Urban Outfitters socks. The clothing retailer responded quickly to criticism, removing the item from stores.

The U.S. Navy agreed to remove Nativity scenes from Guantanamo Bay’s dining halls after some troops complained that they improperly promoted Christianity above other faiths.

Nonbelievers are having a tough time getting their message out this month. Kimberly Winston reports that Christian and secular groups are turning down money and shunning volunteers from atheist and humanist groups.

A New York state senator compared an atheist billboard to religious persecution like the kind that led to the Holocaust. At least he didn’t torch the billboard, as two men tried to do to an atheist sign in New Jersey. Why can’t we all just get along?

Duck Dynasty

Cast members of “Duck Dynasty.” Photo courtesy Duck Commander

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

Moving on from the holidays, the Aflac duck made some racist and homophobic comments in an interview, so TV execs voted him off the island, leading the Quack family without a papa drake (…the word for a male duck, which I admittedly had to Google). I’ve clearly never seen Duck Dynasty, but I’ve been told it’s somewhere between Here Comes Honey Boo Boo and PBS’ NOVA on the culture spectrum (you can probably guess at which end). Go read Sarah Pulliam Bailey’s story on the controversy if you somehow missed the wall-to-wall coverage this dust-up got in America last week.

Pundits and politicians including Sarah Palin, Bobby Jindal and even Jon Stewart framed the Duck Dynasty controversy as #freespeechgate. The First Amendment Center lent some sanity to the discussion:

  1. Phil Robertson had the right to state homophobic views.
  2. A&E had the right to suspend him for expressing those views.
  3. Free speech is not an “endangered species.”

So can we please move on?

Surprise! Same-sex marriage became legal in Utah and New Mexico.

United Methodist church officials defrocked the Rev. Frank Schaefer on Thursday for refusing to surrender his credentials after officiating his gay son’s wedding in 2007.

Cover photo of "The Advocate"

Cover photo of “The Advocate” Courtesy Advocate.com

LGBT rights advocates rallied around Schaefer and his rainbow stole this year, but The Advocate magazine named Pope Francis its Person of the Year, along with basically every media outlet on Earth.

The pope may be a darling to the media, but clergy get no respect from the American public. In a recent poll, fewer than half of respondents said clergy have “high” or “very high” moral standings.

In school news, a panel of experts in Texas rejected objections from creationists that a biology textbook contained factual errors about evolution. After a long battle, the book was approved for use in public schools.

A fifth-grader in Florida whose speech on religious violence won first place in a school contest was stripped of his title by the assistant principal, who wanted him to remove reference to religiously motivated murder. Parents of fourth- and fifth-grade students at the school are due to decide whether the boy can deliver his speech to classmates.

Amish families in Wisconsin are pushing back on requirements that they install smoke detectors in new buildings, saying the forced use of electricity would violate their religious freedoms.

On the international stage, Prince Charles says he’s “deeply troubled” by difficulties Christians face in parts of the Middle East, including Egypt.

I’m deeply troubled by the persecution of pedestrians and shop owners in my neighborhood of East London. Sixty Muslim protesters marched down my block last week, demanding that Muslim-owned businesses stop selling alcohol or face 40 lashes for violating Shariah law.

A London jury disagreed with two men who claimed they were not murderers but “soldiers of Allah.” The two killed and tried to behead a man in broad daylight in Woolwich, right next to Greenwich where I lived at the time. London is generally a fine place to live, I promise…

Elsewhere in the U.K., Northern Ireland lifted its ban on gay couples adopting children, and a Scottish priest who was dismissed from the job after speaking out against sexual abuse is suing the Catholic Church.

Belgium continues to debate whether gravely ill children should be granted the right to die. A recent poll shows that two-thirds of Americans support such rights for adults in certain circumstances.

In Pakistan, a British Ahmadi doctor was jailed for “posing as a Muslim.” Ahmadis consider themselves to be Muslim. Pakistani officials disagree.

After nearly a year offline, YouTube is back in Pakistan. That’s not all good news. Google, which owns YouTube, has localized the site, meaning more content deemed “blasphemous” can and likely will be blocked.

Russian President Vladimir Putin granted amnesty to two Pussy Riot rockers who were jailed last year for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred or hostility.”

In propaganda, “Azerbaijan is a role model in secularism and religious tolerance.” Land of candy canes and unicorns it most certainly is not. A Muslim man was recently fined the equivalent of one year’s salary for praying.

Malaysia also likes to pretend it’s a beacon of religious tolerance. Not true, says a former politician, alleging it’s more like a “religious-fascist state.”

Journalists have to sift through a lot of propaganda. They also face “religious straitjackets” in half of the world’s countries, where blasphemy, apostasy and defamation of religion laws exist.

We at RNS are committed to bringing you the best reporting on faith, religion, spirituality, belief and spaghetti monsters from all around the world. We sift through the crap so you don’t have to. If you appreciate our work, consider supporting it. Oh, and sign up to receive my recap straight to your inbox every week. Blue button below.

I’m taking a few days off, so no recap next week. See you in 2014!


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