GENEVA—A UN panel reported Thursday it believes the Syrian government is committing a crime against humanity by making people systematically vanish, and that rebels have also recently begun making their opponents disappear.
The expert panel said it found “a consistent country-wide pattern” of Syrian security, armed forces and pro-government militia seizing people in mass arrests or house searches and at checkpoints and hospitals, then making them disappear — and denying that they even exist. Most of the victims have been young men.
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York was granted a federal injunction on Monday that blocks an Obama administration requirement to provide contraceptive care to employees at its nonprofit affiliates.
The ruling found that the regulation violated the religious freedom of the four nonprofit groups — two high schools and two health care systems — that are affiliated with the archdiocese but employ people of any faith. Under the Affordable Care Act, the nonprofit groups were required to provide the contraceptive coverage, authorize a third party to voluntarily pay for and provide the coverage, or pay steep fines.
The ruling, by Brian M. Cogan of Federal District Court in Brooklyn, found that forcing the groups to authorize a third party to provide contraceptive care still violated their religious beliefs even if they were not financially support contraception. Churches are already exempt from the mandate to provide contraceptive care.
There’s a new ripple of panic this week about religious freedom. In the National Review, Kathryn Jean Lopez, reacting to the American Civil Liberties Union’s lawsuit against the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, asks: “Is religion even legal?” Lopez worries that the lawsuit, which seeks to hold the USCCB liable for providing substandard medical care at Catholic hospitals owing to directives prohibiting abortion services, is “essentially against the concept of Catholic health care.”
As the holiday season peaks, atheist and humanist groups around the country have seen their charitable impulses rebuffed by both Christian and secular organizations. Recent incidents of “thanks, but no thanks,” include:
- A group of Kansas City, Mo., nonbelievers was told their help was not needed after they volunteered to help a local Christian group distribute Thanksgiving meals.
- A $3,000 donation to a Morton Grove, Ill., park, collected by a local atheist group, was returned. Park officials said they did not wish to “become embroiled in a First Amendment dispute.”
- A group of Spartanburg, S.C., atheists was denied the opportunity to help at a Christian-run soup kitchen. The soup kitchen’s executive director told local press she would resign before accepting the atheists’ help and asked, “Why are they targeting us?”
Roughly half of the city’s 40,000-odd cabbies are Muslims who hail from countries all over the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere — and a great number of the drivers are observant, praying five times a day.
When you spend your days driving a taxicab, it’s impossible to say where, at any given moment, you might wind up. Followers of Islam can perform their five daily prayers in any relatively clean space, even bowed down on the side of the road. But the process isn’t so simple. You first need to ritually wash with water and then to prostrate yourself facing east, toward Mecca.
I found Kamal praying alone at the BP gas station on the corner of Houston and Lafayette streets. He’d taken a prayer mat from the cardboard box kept there for drivers, laid it down in front of the pumps and was kneeling in the cold.