Number of those without religious affiliation growing: News Roundup

In the news this week: a study finds 1 in 6 people worldwide have no religious affiliation, HumanLight, a secular holiday, gains traction, and other news stories.

A global study of religious adherence released on Tuesday by the Pew Research Center found that about one of every six people worldwide has no religious affiliation. This makes the “unaffiliated,” as the study calls them, the third-largest group worldwide, with 16 percent of the global population — about equal to Catholics.

The study also found a wide disparity in the median age of religious populations, with Muslims and Hindus the youngest, and Buddhists and Jews the oldest. The median age of the youngest group, Muslims, was 23, while the median for Jews was 36.

Over all, Christians (including Catholics) are the largest religious group, with 2.2 billion people, about 32 percent of the world’s population. They are followed by Muslims, with 1.6 billion, about 23 percent. There are about one billion Hindus, about 15 percent of the global population, and nearly half a billion Buddhists, about 7 percent.  New York Times

Former Arkansas governor and GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee continued to speak out on Monday about the recent school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., days after making controversial statements suggesting the massacre was somehow tied to the lack of religious expression in public school.

Following the shooting on Friday, Huckabee asked why we should "be so surprised" at the violence when "we have systematically removed God from our schools."

Speaking on Fox News on Monday, Huckabee clarified that he didn't believe an increased religious presence at Sandy Hook could actually have directly prevented that particular shooting from taking place.  Huffington Post

Religious leaders across the country this week vowed to mobilize their congregants to push for gun control legislation and provide the ground support for politicians willing to take on the gun lobby, saying the time has come for action beyond praying and comforting the families of those killed.

A group of clergy members, representing mainline and evangelical Protestants, Catholics, Jews and Muslims, plans to lead off the campaign in front of the Washington National Cathedral at an event on Friday timed to mark the moment a week before when a young gunman opened fire in a school in Newtown, Conn.  New York Times

In addition to Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, secular humanists have added a new celebration to the crowded calendar. HumanLight, observed on or about Dec. 23, is a secular celebration of human potential that is growing in acceptance.

This year, at least 18 groups, from New Jersey to Florida and Pennsylvania to Colorado, have ceremonies planned. And at least one government building that displays holiday scenes has added HumanLight to the roster: the county courthouse in Wabash, Ind., displays a yellow, white and red HumanLight banner on the same lawn as the Christian creche.

“The key to understanding HumanLight is to understand it is a holiday that is humanity-based,” said Patrick Colucci, vice-chair of The HumanLight Committee, a volunteer group which helps promote awareness of the holiday.  Religion News Service

And, the last news story we feature for 2012 is…

From nuns to ‘nones,’ 10 ways religion shaped the news in 2012    Religion News Service

Pregnant Indian woman dies after being denied an abortion by Irish Hospital: News Roundup

In the news this week, thousands rally in Ireland after woman denied abortion dies, customer sues Muslim barber for refusing to cut her hair, Atheists sue IRS for failure to monitor church politicking, and other stories. 

Thousands of people rallied outside Ireland's parliament on Wednesday to demand strict abortion rules be eased after a pregnant Indian woman repeatedly denied a termination died in an Irish hospital.

Savita Halappanavar, 31, admitted to University Hospital Galway in the west of Ireland last month, died of septicaemia a week after miscarrying 17 weeks into her pregnancy. Her repeated requests for termination were rejected because of the presence of a fetal heartbeat, her husband told state broadcaster RTE. MSNBC

In case of competing rights, a Toronto woman has lodged a complaint against a barber who refused to cut her hair because he's Muslim. In June, Faith McGregor requested a man's haircut at the Terminal Barber Shop in downtown Toronto. Co-owner Omar Mahrouk told her that his Muslim faith prohibits him from touching a woman who is not a member of his family. All the other barbers in the shop said the same thing.

"For me it was just a haircut and started out about me being a woman," McGregor, 35, told the Toronto Star. "Now we're talking about religion versus gender versus human rights and businesses in Ontario." She has filed a complaint with Ontario's Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario because the incident made her feel like a "second-class citizen." Religion News Service

A First Amendment watchdog group is suing the Internal Revenue Service for failing to challenge the tax-exempt status of churches whose pastors engage in partisan politicking from the pulpit.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, which advocates total separation of church and state, filed the lawsuit Wednesday (Nov. 14) in U.S. District Court in Western Wisconsin, where the 19,000-member organization is based.

The lawsuit claims that as many as 1,500 pastors engaged in “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” on Sunday, Oct. 7, when pastors endorsed one or more candidates, which is a violation of IRS rules for non-profit organizations. The Washington Post

The faith-based Katallasso Family Health Center is set to open in York City's Salem Square neighborhood on Jan. 7. Treatment at the clinic will be free for York County residents, executive Director Brian Kreeger said. The story of Katallasso — a Greek word that means reconciliation — started a few years ago. Kreeger said he had a conviction to share Christ's love in a poor York City neighborhood. So, he headed to South Queen Street. York Dispatch

Anti-Islamic filmmaker sentenced to prison: News Roundup

In the news this week, the nones' say 2012 election proves they are a political force, election results raise questions about Christain right's influence, Buddhist, Hindu make history with elections to Congress, and other stories.

According to a Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life study released last month (October), “nones” — those who say they have no religious affiliation or do not believe in God — are the fastest-growing faith group in America, at 20 percent of the population, or 46 million adults.

In addition, nationwide exit polls conducted Tuesday show that “nones” made up 12 percent of all voters — more than the combined number of voters who are Jewish, Muslim or members of other non-Christian faiths (9 percent), and only slightly smaller than the combined number of Hispanic Catholics and Black Protestants (14 percent). The nones also skewed heavily Democratic, 70 to 26 percent. The Washington Post

On multiple levels, Tuesday’s election results raised questions about the Christian right’s agenda on American politics, eight years after the movement helped sweep President George W. Bush into a second term and opened the era of state bans on same-sex marriage.

“For the first time tonight, same-sex marriage has been passed by popular vote in Maine and Maryland,” said Robert P. Jones, a Washington-based pollster who specializes in questions about politics and religion.

“The historic nature of these results are hard to overstate,” Jones said. “Given the strong support of younger Americans for same-sex marriage, it is unlikely this issue will reappear as a major national wedge issue.” CNN

Tuesday's elections brought two historic firsts for religion in American politics: A Buddhist senator and a Hindu representative — both from Hawaii — will join Congress.

Democrat Mazie Hirono beat former Gov. Linda Lingle (R), making Hirono the first Buddhist in the Senate. In Hawaii's 2nd Congressional District, Democrat Tulsi Gabbard defeated Republican opponent Kawika Crowley, making Gabbard the first Hindu in Congress. Both elections were cheered by Hindu and Buddhist Americans, members of two faiths that share a common history that traces back to ancient India. The Huffington Post

Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., the only openly atheist member of Congress, lost his race for another term on Tuesday (Nov. 6). But secularists will not remain unrepresented in the Capitol. Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, a former Arizona state senator who was raised Mormon and is a bisexual, has narrowly won her pitch for a House seat by 2,000 votes.

“We are sad to see Pete Stark go,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association, which gave Stark its Humanist of the Year award in 2008. “He was a pioneer for us, and by being open about his lack of a belief in God we hope that he has opened the door for people like Kyrsten Sinema and others that will come after her.” Religion News Service

Anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. dropped by 13 percent in 2011, according to a report released Thursday (Nov. 1) by the Anti-Defamation League, which tracks assaults and other attacks on Jews. There were 1,080 incidents against Jews last year, according to the ADL, the lowest tallied by the non-profit civil rights group in two decades.

“It is encouraging that over the past five or six years we have seen a consistent decline in the number of anti-Semitic incidents across the country and that the numbers are now at a historic low,” said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL's national director. “To the extent that these incidents serve as a barometer, the decline shows that we have made progress as a society in confronting anti-Semitism and pushing it to the far fringes, making expressions of anti-Jewish hatred unacceptable.” Religion News Service

The man behind the anti-Islamic video that is believed to have sparked protests in the Muslim world was sentenced Wednesday to a year in prison for violating the condition of his probation.

"U.S. District Court Judge Christina Snyder immediately sentenced Mark Basseley Youssef after he admitted to four of the eight alleged violations, including obtaining a fraudulent California driver's license."
"None of the violations had to do with the content of Innocence of Muslims, a film that depicts Mohammad as a religious fraud, pedophile and a womanizer. The movie sparked violence in Libya and other parts of the Middle East, killing dozens."
Federal authorities were seeking a two-year sentence. NPR


Biden and Ryan Debate Over Religion: News Roundup

In the news this week, Biden, Ryan spar over religion, Jews in France fear waves of attacks, Pastors prepare to take on IRS over political endorsement ban, and other stories. 

The topic of abortion came up toward the end of Thursday night’s vice-presidential debate, as Vice President Biden and Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan (Wis.) were each asked about their Catholic faith, and how it informs their position on abortion. The Washington Post

Jews across France say anti-Semitic threats have escalated since a deadly assault on a Jewish school in the southwestern town of Toulouse this spring. The attack on the grocery store in the Paris suburb of Sarcelles came several weeks ago, and the synagogue in nearby Argenteuil was this weekend.

In all cases, police suspect Muslim extremists. The Toulouse attacker was a Frenchman trained by Islamist paramilitaries. And anti-terrorist police killed one man and arrested 11 in raids this weekend against an Islamist cell suspected in the Sarcelles attacks.

French Jews believe the danger comes from radical messages that appeal to young Muslims in France who are unemployed, angry, alienated and looking for someone to blame. St. Louis Post

Pastor Ron Johnson’s sermon is part of a wider effort by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian legal organization that since 2008 has organized Pulpit Freedom Sunday, when they encourage and pledge to help pastors who willfully violate the Johnson Amendment by endorsing from the pulpit.

The movement is growing – and quickly. Pulpit Freedom Sunday had 33 churches participating in 2008, and 539 last year.

The goal: Force the IRS to come down on these churches so that the Alliance Defending Freedom, whose network includes 2,200 attorneys, can test the Johnson Amendment’s constitutionality. CNN

Is the importance of organized religion in American life diminishing? A recent Pew Research Center poll shows that nearly one-fifth of all U.S. adults, including over 30% of adults age 30 and under, now list their religious affiliation as "none."

Data from Pew Research's report, "Nones" on the Rise: One-in Five Adults Have No Religious Affliliation, indicates that the number of adult Americans who identify themselves as not being connected with any religion has grown from just over 15% to just under 20% in the last five years alone.

Among the religious "Nones" are more than 13 million self-described atheists and agnostics representing nearly 6% of the U.S. public, and 33 million people – 14% of the public — who say they have no particular religious affiliation.


In Church We (Do Not) Trust: News Roundup

This week in the news: we trust our churches, synagogues and temples less than our parents did; a hotly contested mosque project in Tennessee moves forward, and opposition to the Obama administration's contraception mandate grows.

According to new statistics released by Gallup this week, Americans' confidence in their religious institutions is at an all-time low:

"Today only 44 percent of Americans have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in “the church or organized religion,” Gallup said. It was 68 percent in the mid-1970s… [Gallup Senior Editor Ellen] Saad said in 1975, “the church or organized religion” was the highest-rated of the 16 institutions Gallup asked about. The top three institutions Americans have most confidence in are, in order, the military, small business and the police."

Religious organizations are still faring far better than the Congress, which currently enjoys the support of a scant 13% of the population. (New Orleans Times-Picayune)

A federal judge overturned the order preventing Murfreesboro, Tennessee's Muslim community from occupying their mosque, just in time for the holy month of Ramadan. The mosque issue has been a stand-in for a larger ideological battle in the area:

"Since mosque construction began in 2010, the building has been at the center of a dispute over whether the public was adequately notified about the site's construction. However, opponents made clear in court hearings that they also opposed the practice of Islam… Plaintiffs in the original suit were a group of residents who made repeated claims that Islam was not a real religion and that local Muslims intended to overthrow the U.S. Constitution in favor of Islamic religious law."

The congregation is now free to pursue the normal inspection process pursuant to obtaining the Certificate of Occupancy that will allow them to begin using the space. (

The Dallas Morning News' Texas Faith Blog asked ten different religious leaders and scholars whether they believed the United States could elect an atheist president, and while most of them agree that belief in a god should not be a litmus test for public office, they remain doubtful that America is ready to take that step. (Sadly, atheists who threaten to publicly desecrate sacred texts to make a political statement aren't doing much to change perceptions – read more in the Washington Post.)

Wheaton College, the nation's premier evangelical Protestant college, is joining the 50 or so Catholic institutions suing the Obama administration for requiring religious employers to offer contraceptive coverage for employees and students in their health insurance plans. Explained college president Phillip Ryken.

'"We have a conviction we should not be providing abortion services," he said. "We have a moral conviction we should be not be coerced."

Ryken said freshmen would be arriving to Wheaton in about two weeks. It's unclear if the conflict regarding the mandate will preclude faculty, staff and students from receiving health care coverage.'

A similar suit filed by several states was recently dismissed, leaving the resolution of this one unclear. (Chicago Tribune)

French Gunman Kills Based on Religion and Identity: News Roundup

In the news this week: Jews in France killed by gunman, Americans grow uneasy with religion in politics, the largest gathering of atheists in history, and other stories.

Children spilled out of Beth Hanna Jewish school under a spring sun and the watchful eyes of armed police. Leah Chicheportiche mingled with other waiting parents in this northeastern Paris neighborhood, including many men sporting the trademark black hat of Hasidic Jews.
"We're a bit worried — even here in Paris — after the incident," said Chicheportiche, a mother of five, keeping a watchful eye on two daughters licking ice-cream cones on Tuesday (March 20).
A day after a motorcycle gunman mowed down three children and a rabbi in the southern city of Toulouse, she added: "We hope they'll arrest him quickly."
As schools across France marked a moment of silence for Monday's victims and the government notched up its terror alert for the southwestern region and increased security around religious institutions, many ordinary French are grappling for answers. Religion News Service
Back in 2001, when Pew first asked the question, just 12 percent of Americans complained that their politicians talked too much about religion.
That number has risen steadily ever since and hit a record high in the new poll: 38 percent of Americans, including 24 percent of Republicans, now say their political leaders are overdoing it with their expressions of faith and prayer. The Pew study said that between 1996 and 2006 the balance of opinion on this question consistently tilted in the opposite direction – favoring more church input on political and social issues.
And more Americans than ever, 54 percent, believe churches should keep out of politics. That's up from 43 percent in 1996, according to the Pew Research Center. Christian Science Monitor
A coalition of atheist and secular organizations are coming together on Saturday to hold what is being billed at the largest gathering of atheists in history.
David Silverman, chairman of the event committee and president of the American Atheists, said the rally is aimed at uniting atheist organizations and letting the religious know that there are nonbelievers among them. CNN
Religious leaders in Wisconsin are voicing their support for a planned mosque in Brookfield, as minor opposition to the project begins to foment in some quarters.
Members of the Brookfield-Elm Grove Interfaith Network were drafting a letter in support of Masjid Al'Noor, the mosque proposed by the Islamic Society of Milwaukee in an industrial area of the city.
"This is about the rights of decent human beings to have a place to worship," said Rabbi Steven Adams of Congregation Emanu-El in Waukesha, who was drafting the letter on behalf of the group. "Part of our mission is to foster dialogue and support for religious expression, and we feel very strongly that this is in keeping with that." Journal Sentinel
When a Sikh family in Sterling, Va., received a death threat in the form of a letter addressed to “Turban family,” on February 28, it was not the family’s first experience with religiously motivated threats to their safety.
They had seen a hate letter of this kind, demanding that the family leave the country or be killed, back in 2003: “We used to live in Gaithersburg, Md., where we got two letters, and graffiti (was scribbled on) our home. At that point it was very scary.” The graffiti said something along the lines of “Osama go back” or “Go back to your country.”
The victim, who asked that his identity be kept confidential for security reasons, said his family contacted the county police, who investigated but were unable to find any suspects. Divanee
At this point in 2011, 22 state legislatures had either passed or were considering bills to prohibit judges from considering either Islamic law, known as Shariah, or foreign law in their decisions.
What a difference a year can make.  
The wave of anti-Shariah legislation has broken in recent weeks, as bills in several states have either died or been withdrawn, raising questions about whether the anti-Shariah movement has lost its momentum. Religion News Service


High Percentage of Southern Republicans Believe Obama is Muslim: News Roundup

In the news: southern republicans believe Obama is Muslim, a court battle is waging in Britian over the right to wear crosses at work, atheists are staging a public rock festival on a military base, and other stories.

After years of battling false claims and viral emails alleging that he is a Muslim, President Obama hasn’t gotten far among Republican voters in Alabama and Mississippi – about half still believe he is Muslim and about 1 in 4 believes his parents’ interracial marriage should have been illegal, a new poll shows.
The poll of Mississippi Republicans found that 52% said they believed Obama is a Muslim, 36% weren’t sure and only 12% said they believed he is a Christian. He fared slightly better in Alabama, where 45% said he is a Muslim, 41% weren’t sure, and 14% said he is a Christian. LA Times
ABC’s new fall show, “GCB,” met with some objections from conservative and Christian groups from its inception, and Friday Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich threw in his opinion about the show, saying it was an example of the “bias of elite media.”
The show, starring Kristin Chenoweth, is based on the novel “Good Christian Bitches” by Kim Gatlin but the title was changed to “GCB” for the show.
Gingrich told a crowd of mostly teenagers at a campaign stop at Gulfport High School that the network running the show would have handled a show with the word “Muslim” differently. ABC News
Christian activists in Britain are furious at the arguments their government will use against them when Europe's highest court considers whether employees have the right to wear crosses that show over their uniforms.
Britain will argue that the two Christian women at the center of the case had the option of quitting their jobs and working elsewhere, so they are not covered by European human rights law, according to legal papers obtained by CNN.
"Employees who face work requirements incompatible with their faith, and have the option of resigning and seeking alternative employment, cannot claim for a breach of Article 9" of the European Convention on Human Rights, Britain will argue.
The government will also say that wearing a cross is not a requirement of Christianity, so wearing one in public is not protected by the law. CNN
After more than a year of planning, atheists in the military will stage a public festival and rock concert celebrating their lack of religious beliefs at North Carolina's Fort Bragg, one of the largest U.S. military bases.
Dubbed "Rock Beyond Belief," the event is believed to be the first of its kind to highlight "freethought" — atheism, humanism and skepticism — on a U.S. military base. USA Today
New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly on Thursday challenged city council members who want to create an inspector general to regulate the department's surveillance of Muslims, saying his department needs no additional oversight.
In sometimes heated exchanges with council members at a budget hearing, Kelly defended his department's counterterrorism surveillance program as well as another crime-fighting policy, the stopping, questioning and frisking of people on the street. Huffington Post


Promoting Respect For All Week in Our Schools

No one should feel excluded or face harassment at school, yet all too often, students experience this as their peers – and sometimes adults – alienate them for any number of reasons, including religion. Recognizing the frequency and severity of such instances of bullying, the New York City Department of Education and City Council launched the Respect for All initiative in 2010 with the goal of “making NYC public schools safe and supportive for all students.” The initiative includes an annual Respect for All Week, observed this year from February 13th through February 17th. Tanenbaum is proud to offer a range of materials for all grade levels to help students, educators and community members explore and discuss respect and diversity, including religious diversity.

Recent events illustrate the great need for school communities to proactively work to eliminate issues of disrespect, misunderstanding and closed-mindedness while creating welcoming, inclusive educational environments. Since mid-January, Rhode Island high school junior Jessica Ahlquist, an outspoken atheist, has faced severe backlash for arguing against the unconstitutional display of a School Prayer in her school’s gymnasium.  Ever since a federal judge sided with Ahlquist and ruled that her school must remove the prayer, Ahlquist reports experiencing harassment and even death threats, mostly through social media.    Ahlquist says that she has no problem with individual expressions of faith. Rather, she objects to the endorsement of a particular religious position by a public school, and to the exclusionary feeling it creates for students like Ahlquist.
Ahlquist is targeted for expressing her opinions and defending her right to religious freedom, a right protected from state infringement by the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution. By promoting religion, Ahlquist’s school violates not just the 14th amendment but also the establishment clause of the First Amendment (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…”). The school also creates an environment unwelcoming to anyone who differs from the religious norm it appears to endorse. In a diverse society, a school should promote respect for all different identities, including religious, and provide a safe space for students to express these identities.
These are the very goals of Respect for All Week: to prevent bullying, celebrate diversity and teach about the importance of respect. And in order to accomplish all of these goals, we must learn to understand and appreciate the unique backgrounds of the many individuals who make up our diverse communities. Tanenbaum supports this vision and wishes all teachers and students, in New York City and beyond, a successful and enlightening Respect for All Week 2012.
Jael Goldstein
Project Assistant, Education


Biggest Week of Religion and the Campaign Trail… So Far: News Roundup

In the news this week: a multitude of stories about religion and presidential hopefuls, the NYPD uses an anti-Muslim film, a Minnesotan boy is believed to be the reincarnation of a Buddhist spiritual leader, and other stories.

Thursday’s Republican presidential debate included a section on how religion would influence each candidate. It quoted Paul as saying his religious beliefs "affect my character and the way I treat people and how I live."
Romney said he "would also seek the guidance of Providence in making decisions."Gingrich claimed his very candidacy was driven in part by what he perceives as a "war against religion," especially Christianity, in the media. Presidents, he noted, "should go to God; they should seek guidance."
And the blog noted that Santorum called America the only nation with founding documents that include "God-given rights," adding that "faith has everything to do" with the decisions a president would make. Deseret News
At his last town hall before South Carolinians vote, Rick Santorum was discussing the concepts of freedom and equality that the nation was founded on and said the concept of equality “doesn’t come from Islam” or “Eastern religions.” Instead “it comes from “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” ABC News
Rick Santorum became annoyed at reporters for asking him why he didn’t correct a woman at a campaign event who called President Obama an “avowed Muslim.” ABC News
Mitt Romney’s newly released tax returns provide more than an accounting of the Republican presidential candidate’s remarkable personal wealth. The documents also give a rare glimpse into tithing to the Mormon church by one its most prominent members.
Mitt Romney accused President Obama of waging “the assault on religion” during a conference call with Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition on January 25th and said that the administration is “fighting to eliminate conscience clause” protections for health care works and “pave the path to same-sex marriage.” ThinkProgress
As the Republican presidential nomination fight heats up in Florida, a Mormon rite that leaves many Jews seething could prove awkward for the candidate in a state that's home to more Jewish people than any other besides New York and California.
The religious rite is proxy baptism for the dead. According to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormon Church, these posthumous "blessings" are intended to "save" ancestors and others who weren't baptized in life or were baptized "without proper authority." Huffington Post
The New York City police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, through a top aide, acknowledged for the first time on Tuesday that he personally cooperated with the filmmakers of “The Third Jihad” — a decision the commissioner now describes as a mistake.
The film, which says the goal of “much of Muslim leadership here in America” is to “infiltrate and dominate” the United States, was screened for more than 1,400 officers during training in 2010. New York Times
She is 16, the daughter of a firefighter and a nurse, a self-proclaimed nerd who loves Harry Potter and Facebook. But Jessica Ahlquist is also an outspoken atheist who has incensed this heavily Roman Catholic city with a successful lawsuit to get a prayer removed from the wall of her high school auditorium, where it has hung for 49 years.
A federal judge ruled this month that the prayer’s presence at Cranston High School West was unconstitutional, concluding that it violated the principle of government neutrality in religion. In the weeks since, residents have crowded school board meetings to demand an appeal, Jessica has received online threats and the police have escorted her at school, and Cranston, a dense city of 80,000 just south of Providence, has throbbed with raw emotion. NY Times
Minnesotan Jalue Dorjee is believed to be no ordinary boy.
According to the highest authorities of the Tibetan Buddhist order, he is the reincarnation of the speech, mind and body of a lama, or spiritual guru, who died in Switzerland six years ago. Jalue is said to be the eighth appearance of the original lama, born in 1655. Star-Telegram
Federal job discrimination complaints rose to an all-time high last year, led by an increase in bias charges based on religion and national origin.
Charges of religious discrimination jumped by 9.5 percent, the largest increase of any category. Claims of bias based on ancestry or country of origin rose 5 percent. Washington Post


National Atheist Party Grows: News Roundup

In the news this week: a Queens man firebombs a mosque, more people are joining the National Atheist Party, Tennessee introduces a bill that could protect students who harass based on religious beliefs, and other stories.

To ring in the New Year, CNN's Belief Blog asked experts in religion, faith leaders, and a secular humanist about how the forces of faith and faithlessness will shape the world in 2012. CNN
A prominent group of Muslim leaders on December 31st made good on a pledge to boycott New York City's annual interfaith breakfast with Mayor Michael Bloomberg in protest of a controversial surveillance program.
The move stemmed from a series of news reports that raised questions about the nature of a Central Intelligence Agency partnership with the New York Police Department, pointing to the alleged surveillance of Muslim communities in New York. CNN
A Queens man confessed Tuesday to a frightening New Year’s Day firebombing spree — claiming a personal vendetta drove him to tossing the Molotov cocktails, police said. Ray Lazier Lengend, 40, appeared dazed and mumbled incoherently as he was led out of the 103rd Precinct stationhouse and into an ambulance Tuesday night.
Lengend, an unemployed truck driver, was charged with five counts of criminal possession of a weapon and five counts of arson, one considered a hate crime, police said. He made “broad anti-Muslim statements” to detectives and said each of the five attacks in Queens and Elmont, L.I., stemmed from ongoing beefs. He tried to torch a Jamaica mosque because he wasn’t allowed to use its bathroom. NY Daily News
Last March, Troy Boyle and a friend founded the National Atheist Party, which they believe to be the first American political party organized on the belief that God does not exist.
First called the Freethought Party, its original Facebook page attracted only a couple hundred members. But when the name was changed to the National Atheist Party, supporters started streaming in, currently more than 8,200.
What it stands for, Boyle said, is no governmental favoring of religion — including no religion. Boyle says the NAP has 7,500 members and a chapter in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The largest chapter is Florida, with 200 members, and the smallest is Alaska, with two. USA Today
A recent spate of campus controversies involving professors who made provocative statements about Muslims shows one of two things: a decreasing tolerance for inflammatory speech, or how easy it is for academics to get into trouble.
Or, perhaps, a little bit of both. Huffington Post
A proposed bill that will be debated in Tennessee would create a loophole in state schools' anti-discrimination laws that could protect students who engage in harassment if it falls under their religious or political beliefs. CNN