A man performing the quenelle Photo by Meostil via Wikimedia Commons

French comedian Dieudonne M’bala M’bala’s racy/racist “anti-Semitic” reverse Nazi salute, A.K.A. the quenelle, stirred up more controversy last week. France’s interior minister instructed local mayors to ban Dieudonne’s shows days before a nationwide tour. France’s top judges upheld the ban after judicial flip-flopping in lower courts, and President Francoise Hollande supported it. Was he right to do so? Two experts go head-to-head, debating France’s Holocaust denial law and whether Dieudonne’s performances represent a threat to public order.

After an unsuccessful court challenge, France will continue to prohibit women from wearing the veil in public, a law many Muslims consider to be a violation of their religious liberty. It’s not violation enough to land France among the U.S. State Department’s eight worst countries for religious freedom.

North Korea, a “country of particular concern” for the State Department, topped Open Doors’ list of worst countries for Christian persecution. The Christian advocacy group reports that twice as many Christians were killed for their faith last year than in 2012. Why should non-Christians care?

Surprisingly absent from the State Department’s list of worst offenders is Pakistan, where blasphemy is still punishable by death. Asia Bibi, the Catholic woman who was sentenced to death by hanging on blasphemy charges in 2010, wrote a letter to Pope Francis from prison, thanking him for his prayers. Pakistan’s top Islamic scholars announced that they want to crack down on hate speech to curb sectarian violence in the country.

Book burning is, unfortunately, still a thing. Unknown arsonists torched a library in Lebanon, destroying more than 50,000 books amid claims that the historic building contained anti-Islamic texts.

Islamic authorities in Malaysia seized from a Christian group 321 Bibles that contained the word “Allah” in reference to God. A court ruled in October that “Allah” can only be used by Muslims.

In Bangladesh, a journalist was handed a seven-year jail sentence for writing “distorting and damaging” articles critical of Islamism. The articles in question were written a decade ago.

Two Protestants in Kazakhstan were fined for having “extremist” materials. Were the texts in question extremist, or even banned? Kazakhstan’s banned books list is private, so it’s hard to tell.

Banned texts take different forms in the digital age. From Me So Holy to iSlam Muhammad, here are five iPhone apps with religious themes that Apple deemed too controversial for download.

Melting gay wedding cake?

Melting gay wedding cake? Photo via Shutterstock

In the U.S., gay marriage is in legal limbo for some 1,300 newly hitched couples in Utah. After a federal judge gave same-sex unions the green light, Utah’s attorney general raised a fuss, and SCOTUS pulled the emergency brake, bringing Utah’s gay wedding parade to a temporary halt. On Friday, the federal government announced that it will recognize the 1,300 unions already performed, with or without Utah’s blessing.

Jessica Ahlquist, the teen at the center of a church-state separation battle that unfolded two years ago in Rhode Island, spoke to RNS columnist Chris Stedman about the backlash she faced for opposing a “School Prayer” banner. Well worth a read.

Remember that monument a Satanist group wanted to erect outside the Oklahoma State Capitol building? The designs have been released and are…interesting.

Ahhhhh! Andrew Hamblin preaches while holding a snake above his head in LaFollette, Tenn. Photo courtesy National Geographic Channels

Ahhhhh! Andrew Hamblin preaches while holding a snake above his head in LaFollette, Tenn. Photo courtesy National Geographic Channels

A grand jury in Tennessee decided not to indict the snake-handling Rev. Andrew Hamblin for violating a state ban by possessing 53 venomous snakes. Hamblin continues to argue that the ban violates his congregation’s religious liberty.

A newly elected Pomfret Town Board member in New York took the oath of office with a colander on his head as a representative of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. That woman giving the oath looks pretty unimpressed.

Unlike Quebec, I don’t care what headgear you choose to wear. You can read the Religious Freedom Recap under a colander, a kippah, a niqab or even a Yoda mask. Just sign up to receive it straight to your inbox using the blue button below.

Next Monday is Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the U.S., so no work, so no Recap. I’ll bring it back on Jan 27. Read my other posts and all of RNS’s great content in the meantime.



  1. I know Martin Luther King Day is a legal holiday and all, but it may also be one of the greatest moments in American history for religious liberty. The civil rights movement was almost completely fueled by African American Churches.

    It’s a helluva story and I hope you plan on discussing it.

    • As many Christians pat themselves on the back for the works of MLK, they tend to ignore (or deliberately blot out) the role white Christian churches (most notably the Southern Baptist Church) had in fighting the Civil Rights movement and upholding segregation.

      Conservative Christians these days constantly try to take credit for MLK’s works. This is despite the fact that they opposed him in life and did not consider him to be a “true Christian” like themselves. In about 1-2 generations from now they will do the same thing with marriage equality. They will take credit for the people they scorn now, including those liberal/progressive churches they call “Christian in name only”.

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