Controversy at the 9/11 museum: Top 5 news stories

Last week’s top news, from our perspective:

Film at 9/11 Museum Sets Off Clash Over Reference to IslamAngry Muslims in Central African Republic call for partition • Army approves ‘humanist’ as religious preferenceBusiness Window Stickers Protest Mississippi Law • British PM accused of fueling division with Christian talk


Image credit: Flickr user kbrinker

Film at 9/11 Museum Sets Off Clash Over Reference to Islam

Past the towering tridents that survived the World Trade Center collapse, adjacent to a gallery with photographs of the 19 hijackers, a brief film at the soon-to-open National September 11 Memorial Museum will seek to explain to visitors the historical roots of the attacks.

The film, “The Rise of Al Qaeda,” refers to the terrorists as Islamists who viewed their mission as a jihad. The NBC News anchor Brian Williams, who narrates the film, speaks over images of terrorist training camps and Qaeda attacks spanning decades. Interspersed are explanations of the ideology of the terrorists, from video clips in foreign-accented English translations.

The documentary is not even seven minutes long, the exhibit just a small part of the museum. But it has over the last few weeks suddenly become a flash point in what has long been one of the most highly charged issues at the museum: how it should talk about Islam and Muslims.

Angry Muslims in Central African Republic call for partition

In this dusty town at the heart of the Central African Republic, many angry Muslims advocate a simple solution to the threat of religious violence from Christian militias terrorising the country’s south: partition.

Bambari lies near the dividing line separating Central African Republic’s Christian south – where mobs have lynched hundreds of Muslims and torn down their homes – from a northern region controlled by the mostly Muslim Seleka rebels.

Seleka seized power last year, saying they had been excluded by southern tribes from the country’s oil, gold and diamond wealth. But their 10 months in power – a murderous orgy of looting and extortion – sparked a sectarian backlash that is driving Muslims from the south despite the presence of French and African Union peacekeepers.

Army approves ‘humanist’ as religious preference

Lt. Col. Sunset R. Belinsky, an Army spokeswoman, said Tuesday (April 22) that the “preference code for humanist” became effective April 12 for all members of the Army.

In practical terms, the change means that humanists could face fewer hurdles in trying to organize within the ranks; military brass would have better information to aid in planning a deceased soldier’s funeral; and it could lay the groundwork for eventually adding humanist chaplains.

The change comes against a backdrop of persistent claims from atheists and other nonbelievers that the military is dominated by a Christian culture that is often hostile to unbelief. In recent years, activists from the broad spectrum of freethinking organizations have demanded equal treatment as the tradition-bound military grapples with the growth of the spiritual-but-not-religious population.

Business Window Stickers Protest Mississippi Law

In conservative Mississippi, some business owners who support equal treatment for gays and lesbians are pushing back against a new law that bans government from limiting the free practice of religion.

Critics fear the vaguely written law, which takes effect July 1, will prompt authorities to look away from anti-gay actions that are carried out in the name of religious beliefs — for example, photographers refusing to take pictures for same-sex couples because they believe homosexuality is a sin.

Hundreds of businesses, from hair salons to bakeries and art galleries, have started displaying round blue window stickers that declare: “We don’t discriminate. If you’re buying, we’re selling.”

British PM accused of fueling division with Christian talk

A group of scientists, academics and prominent writers accused British Prime Minister David Cameron on Monday of stoking sectarian divisions through his repeated description of Britain as a “Christian country”.

The public figures, including authors Philip Pullman and Terry Pratchett, said they respected the Conservative leader’s own religious beliefs, which he has addressed in a series of statements.

But they took issue with his characterization of Britain saying, in a letter to the Daily Telegraph, the country was actually a “plural society” of largely “non-religious” people.

Feminism in faith – revolutionizing religion: Top 5 news stories

Feminism In Faith: Four Women Who Are Revolutionizing Organized ReligionBehind the numbers: Religious ‘nones’ may not be who you think they are • For Hateful Comic in France, Muzzle Becomes a MegaphoneAnti-Muslim speakers still popular in law enforcement trainingWorldwide, Many See Belief in God as Essential to Morality

Last week’s top news, from our perspective:

Photo credit: Buzzfeed

Feminism In Faith: Four Women Who Are Revolutionizing Organized Religion

The first publicly ordained Orthodox Jewish female rabbi; an attorney leading the campaign to ordain Mormon women; a nun whose career was threatened for daring to question the Virgin Mary as a symbol of subservience; a Muslim journalist whose organization is re-translating the Qur’an’s most controversial verse. Bringing change to institutions entrenched in centuries of tradition takes a very specific kind of fighting spirit.

Behind the numbers: Religious ‘nones’ may not be who you think they are

In recent surveys, the religious “nones” — as in, “none of the above” — appear to lead in the faith marketplace. In fact, “none” could soon be the dominant label U.S. adults pick when asked to describe their religious identity.

But they may not be who you think they are. Today, “nones” include many more unbranded believers than atheists, and an increasingly diverse racial and ethnic mix.

For Hateful Comic in France, Muzzle Becomes a Megaphone

Thirty-eight times in recent years the French authorities have charged the comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala with violating anti-hate laws. The government has urged cities and towns to ban his performances, and some have done so, canceling his sold-out shows. Senior officials have condemned him as an anti-Semitic Holocaust denier who is inciting hatred.

Yet the campaign against him shows few signs of succeeding. Not only has he escaped conviction in many of the cases brought against him or, at worst, had to pay fines, he has easily circumvented limits on his public appearances via the Internet and social media. One of his videos, posted just in February, a riposte to the Interior Ministry and specifically Manuel Valls, the interior minister, received almost two million views in the first week it was up.

Anti-Muslim speakers still popular in law enforcement training

While Muslim-American activists and media reports have raised awareness about anti-Muslim trainers, occasionally resulting in curriculum reviews and canceled classes, many say the problem persists because there are too few police administrators to properly vet courses and instructors.

The consequences, critics add, go beyond political incorrectness and include undermining public safety and obscuring real dangers as police officers chase bad leads based on profiling.

Worldwide, Many See Belief in God as Essential to Morality

Many people around the world think it is necessary to believe in God to be a moral person, according to surveys in 40 countries by the Pew Research Center. However, this view is more common in poorer countries than in wealthier ones.

In 22 of the 40 countries surveyed, clear majorities say it is necessary to believe in God to be moral and have good values.

8 worst countries for religious freedom: Top 5 news stories

8 worst countries for religious freedomUK anti-Muslim hate crime soars, police figures showBill de Blasio, New York’s new ‘spiritual but not religious’ mayorMuslims Blacklisted For U.S. Citizenship Under Secret Government Program, Says ACLU • Reported Christian ‘martyr’ deaths double in 2013: report

Last week’s top news, from our perspective:

8 worst countries for religious freedom

At its core, freedom of religion or belief requires freedom of expression. Both fundamental rights are protected in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, yet nearly half of all countries penalize blasphemy, apostasy or defamation of religion. In 13 countries, atheists can be put to death for their lack of belief.

The U.S. State Department names and shames eight “Countries of Particular Concern” that severely violate religious freedom rights within their borders. These countries not only suppress religious expression, they systematically torture and detain people who cross political and social red lines around faith. The worst of the worst are:

UK anti-Muslim hate crime soars, police figures show

Hate crimes against Muslims have soared in the UK this year, figures show. Hundreds of anti-Muslim offences were carried out across the country in 2013, with Britain’s biggest force, the Metropolitan police, recording 500 Islamophobic crimes.

Many forces reported a surge in the number of anti-Muslim hate crimes after the murder of soldier Lee Rigby by two Islamic extremists in Woolwich, south-east London, in May.

But the figures could be much higher as nearly half of the 43 forces in England and Wales did not reveal how many hate crimes had targeted Muslims.

Bill de Blasio, New York’s new ‘spiritual but not religious’ mayor

From its historic black churches to large Jewish enclaves to landmark Catholic and Protestant churches, New York City is the ultimate religious melting pot. And now, overseeing it all is a new mayor whose only religious identity seems to be “spiritual but not religious.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio is now perhaps the nation’s most visible “none,” an icon of one of the nation’s fastest-growing religious groups — those without any formal religious identification.

Muslims Blacklisted For U.S. Citizenship Under Secret Government Program, Says ACLU

A government program to screen immigrants for national security concerns has blacklisted some Muslims and put their U.S. citizenship applications on hold for years, civil liberties advocates said Wednesday.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California said in a report that the previously undisclosed program instructs federal immigration officers to find ways to deny applications that have been deemed a national security concern. For example, they flag discrepancies in a petition or claim they didn’t receive sufficient information from the immigrant.

Reported Christian ‘martyr’ deaths double in 2013: report

Reported cases of Christians killed for their faith around the world doubled in 2013 from the year before, with Syria accounting for more than the whole global total in 2012, according to an annual survey.

Open Doors, a non-denominational group supporting persecuted Christians worldwide, said on Wednesday it had documented 2,123 “martyr” killings, compared with 1,201 in 2012. There were 1,213 such deaths in Syria alone last year, it said.

“This is a very minimal count based on what has been reported in the media and we can confirm,” said Frans Veerman, head of research for Open Doors. Estimates by other Christian groups put the annual figure as high as 8,000.

Atheists face death: Top 5 news stories

Atheists face death in 13 countries, global discrimination: study • Romanian state TV airs Christmas carol about burning Jews, celebrating Holocaust • Insisting Jesus Was White Is Bad History and Bad Theology • Rick Warren’s bogus Jewish deli analogy • Health Matters: Medicine’s Growing Spirituality

Last week’s top news stories, from our perspective:
Atheists face death in 13 countries, global discrimination: study

In 13 countries around the world, all of them Muslim, people who openly espouse atheism or reject the official state religion of Islam face execution under the law, according to a detailed study issued on Tuesday.

And beyond the Islamic nations, even some of the West’s apparently most democratic governments at best discriminate against citizens who have no belief in a god and at worst can jail them for offences dubbed blasphemy, it said.

The study, The Freethought Report 2013, was issued by the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), a global body uniting atheists, agnostics and other religious skeptics, to mark United Nations’ Human Rights Day on Tuesday.

(Photograph: Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images)
Romanian state TV airs Christmas carol about burning Jews, celebrating Holocaust

A Romanian public broadcaster distanced itself from a Christmas carol celebrating the Holocaust that aired on the new channel. TVR3 Verde, a television channel for rural communities, presented the carol on December 5 during its maiden transmission.

Sung by the Dor Transilvan ensemble, it featured the lyrics: “The kikes, damn kikes, Holy God would not leave the kike alive, neither in heaven nor on earth, only in the chimney as smoke, this is what the kike is good for, to make kike smoke through the chimney on the street.”

In a statement Tuesday, TVR3 said it did not select the carol but only broadcast songs that were chosen and compiled by the Center for Preservation and Promotion of Traditional Culture, which belongs to the eastern county of Cluj.
Insisting Jesus Was White Is Bad History and Bad Theology

Fox News television host Megyn Kelly told viewers on her December 11 broadcast that Jesus and Santa are both white men.

“Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn’t mean it has to change,” Kelly said. “Jesus was a white man, too. It’s like we have, he’s a historical figure that’s a verifiable fact, as is Santa, I just want kids to know that. How do you revise it in the middle of the legacy in the story and change Santa from white to black?”

Setting aside the ridiculousness of creating rigidly racial depictions of a fictitious character that does not actually exist—sorry, kids—like Santa, Kelly has made a more serious error about Jesus. The scholarly consensus is actually that Jesus was, like most first-century Jews, probably a dark-skinned man. If he were taking the red-eye flight from San Francisco to New York today, Jesus might be profiled for additional security screening by TSA.
Rick Warren’s bogus Jewish deli analogy

Speaking on Huffpost Live a couple of days ago, Rick Warren compared Obamacare’s contraception mandate to a law requiring Jewish deli owners to sell pork, saying that if the latter took place, “I would be out there with the rabbis protesting that. Why? I don’t have a problem with pork, but I believe in your right to not have to sell pork if it’s not in your faith.”

Let it be noted that Warren plagiarized…well, appropriated…this analogy from Archbishop William Lori, who, testifying before Congress in his capacity as chairman of the USCCB’s Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty in February of last year, delivered himself of The Parable of the Kosher Deli. As I tried to make clear, the analogy didn’t work then, and it hasn’t improved with age. If I may be permitted to cannibalize myself…
Health Matters: Medicine’s Growing Spirituality

In a health crisis, patients and families may turn to a member of the hospital staff who offers help beyond the physical aspects of medical treatment: the chaplain.

With growing recognition of the role of spirituality in health care, hospital chaplains are being called on to help patients cope with fear and pain, make difficult end-of-life decisions and guide families through bereavement after a loss. They may help sick or dying patients reconnect with estranged family members. New guidelines call for chaplains to be included on teams of doctors and nurses who provide palliative care—which specializes in relieving the pain, symptoms and stress of serious illness. And chaplains often step in to help clinicians deal with their own feelings of stress and burnout.

Rise of anti-Semitism in Europe: Top 5 news stories

Jews in Europe Report a Surge in Anti-Semitism • Elderly Woman’s Killing Lays Bare Myanmar’s Religious Divisions • Minority report: Why Baha’is face persecution in Iran • Atheist ‘Megachurches’ Crop Up Around The World • Sakena Yacoobi Wins Opus Prize

Last week’s top news stories, from our perspective:

Jews in Europe Report a Surge in Anti-Semitism

Fear of rising anti-Semitism in Europe has prompted nearly a third of European Jews to consider emigration because they do not feel safe in their home country, according to a detailed survey of Jewish perceptions released Friday by a European Union agency that monitors discrimination and other violations of basic rights.

The survey, by the bloc’s Fundamental Rights Agency, focused on eight countries that account for more than 90 percent of Europe’s Jewish population and found that “while member states have made sustained efforts to combat anti-Semitism, the problem is still widespread.”

Elderly Woman’s Killing Lays Bare Myanmar’s Religious Divisions

Paralyzed from the waist down, Daw Aye Kyi was too heavy for her daughter and granddaughter to carry into the surrounding jungle when a Buddhist mob stormed through this rice-farming village hunting for Muslims.

Three men brandishing machetes and knives ignored pleas for mercy and lunged at Ms. Aye Kyi. Her daughter and her granddaughter fled. Several hours later, Ms. Aye Kyi’s body was discovered, slumped next to the smoking cinders of her wooden house. The police say she was stabbed six times. She was 94 years old.

Ms. Aye Kyi was one of five Muslims killed in the attack on Thabyu Chaing last month.

Minority report: Why Baha’is face persecution in Iran

The Islamic Republic’s 34-year rule has hurt many religious and political groups in Iran, but one community has borne an especially heavy burden: the Baha’is, a religious minority viewed as heretics by some Muslims.

Dozens of Baha’is were killed or jailed in the years immediately following the Islamic revolution in 1979. Billions of dollars worth of land, houses, shops and other Baha’i belongings were seized in subsequent years by various Iranian organizations, including Setad, the organization overseen by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Atheist ‘Megachurches’ Crop Up Around The World

It looked like a typical Sunday morning at any mega-church. Hundreds packed in for more than an hour of rousing music, an inspirational sermon, a reading and some quiet reflection. The only thing missing was God.

Dozens of gatherings dubbed “atheist mega-churches” by supporters and detractors are springing up around the U.S. after finding success in Great Britain earlier this year. The movement fueled by social media and spearheaded by two prominent British comedians is no joke.

Sakena Yacoobi Wins Opus Prize

Sakena Yacoobi, founder and president of the Afghan Institute of Learning, was announced as the winner of the 2013 Opus Prize, an award that “honors unsung heroes of any faith tradition with a $1 million award for efforts to solve today’s most persistent and pressing global issues, including poverty, illiteracy, hunger, disease, and injustice.”

(Congrats Sakena!)

Hate Crime Opponent Becomes A Victim: Top 5 News Stories

Hate Crime Opponent Becomes A Victim Abercrombie to Change "Look" Policy After Religious Discrimination Ruling Virginia candidate says non-Christians worship ‘false religions’ The Evangelical Orphan Boom Atheism starts its megachurch: Is it a religion now?

Last week's top news, from our perspective:

Hate Crime Opponent Becomes A Victim

Last year, Prabhjot Singh wrote an op-ed calling for the government to track anti-Sikh violence. This month, he became a victim of a similar attack near his home in New York City. He talks with NPR host Rachel Martin about the attack, and what he hopes comes out of it.

His gratitude is particularly hopeful: "I feel very fortunate that it wasn't worse because I've certainly seen worse. I'm deeply fortunate that my child and my wife, who I dropped off at our house just seven to 10 minutes earlier, weren't with us."

Abercrombie to Change "Look" Policy After Religious Discrimination Ruling

Following a spate of anti-discrimination lawsuits, the company will have to change its "Look" policy to accommodate all forms of religious dress. Specifically, it can no longer penalize employees for wearing hijabs, which were long considered an affront to the company's "all American" ideal.

The court battles began in 2010, when a then 18 year-old Halla Banafa sued Abercrombie for denying her a stockroom job at the Abercrombie Kids store in Milpitas, on grounds that she wore a headscarf. Another Muslim woman named Hani Khan sued the company in 2011, alleging that she had been fired after a manager objected to her headscarf as well.

Virginia candidate says non-Christians worship ‘false religions’

Jewish groups called on the Republican candidate for Virginia’s lieutenant governor to explain a sermon in which he said non-Christians are engaged in a “false religion.”

E.W. Jackson, a pastor, on Sunday preached at the Restoration Fellowship Church in Strasburg, Va.

“Any time you say there is no other means of salvation but through Jesus Christ, and if you don’t know him and you don’t follow him and you don’t go through him, you are engaged in some sort of false religion, that’s controversial,” Jackson said, according to a recording first reported Monday by the Washington Post. “But it’s the truth.”

The Evangelical Orphan Boom

Evangelical adoptions picked up in earnest in the middle of the last decade, when a wave of prominent Christians, including the megachurch pastor Rick Warren and leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, began to promote adoption as a special imperative for believers.

Atheism starts its megachurch: Is it a religion now?

Yesterday, The Sunday Assembly—the London-based “Atheist Church” that has, since its January launch, been stealing headlines the world over—announced a new “global missionary tour.” In October and November, affiliated Sunday Assemblies will open in 22 cities: in England, Ireland, Scotland, Canada, the United States and Australia. “I think this is the moment,” Assembly founder Sanderson Jones told me in an email last week, “when the Sunday Assembly goes from being an interesting phenomenon to becoming a truly global movement.” Structured godlessness is ready for export.

Girl shot by Taliban speaks out: Tanenbaum’s Top 5 News Stories

Malala Yousafzai, Girl Shot by Taliban, Makes Appeal at U.N. • Report: Americans hold different views of what “religious” means COMMENTARY: The truth about religious freedom in the military • Atheist Study Reveals That Non-Believers Are Just As Varied As People Of Faith • Zimmerman trial verdict filters into pews and pulpits

Last week's top stories, from our perspective:

Malala Yousafzai, Girl Shot by Taliban, Makes Appeal at U.N.
In a speech at the United Nations on her 16th birthday, Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head by the Taliban for promoting education for girls in Pakistan, called on world leaders to provide “free, compulsory education” for every child.

“Let us pick up our books and our pens,” Ms. Yousafzai told young leaders from 100 countries at the United Nations Youth Assembly in New York. “They are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world. Education is the only solution.” (Photo credit from The Guardian, T Mughal/EPA)

Report: Americans hold different views of what “religious” means
What does it mean to be a religious person? A new study shows a divide between those who believe it's about acting morally and those who equate it with faith. Nearly six out of 10 Americans (59 percent) say that being a religious person “is primarily about living a good life and doing the right thing,” as opposed to the more than one-third (36 percent) who hold that being religious “is primarily about having faith and the right beliefs.”

COMMENTARY: The truth about religious freedom in the military
Rev. Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance, and Rev. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, challenge the assertion that there is a war against Christians in the U.S. military. An excerpt:

Our government and our military must protect the rights of all members of the armed forces regardless of faith or belief. And they must be blind to the virtues of any one faith over another. All service members should feel comfortable practicing their faith — or not practicing any faith — as they protect our nation.

Atheist Study Reveals That Non-Believers Are Just As Varied As People Of Faith
Researchers at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga report that atheists are just as heterogenous of a group as people of faith, in a study done by doctoral student Christoper F. Silver and project manager Thomas J. Coleman III.

Many previous religious surveys placed people without religious beliefs into a catch-all category known as the "religious nones," but that oversimplifies the wide spectrum of opinions that fall into that group. The report idenfified six different groups of religious non-believers: Intellectual Atheist/Agnostics (IAA), Activist Atheist/Agnostics (AAA), Seeker Agnostics (SA), Antitheists, Non-theists and Ritual Atheist/Agnostics (RAA).

Zimmerman trial verdict filters into pews and pulpits
Clergy around the country spoke to congregants about the Zimmerman trial last weekend. This Washington Post article examines some of those clergy members in and around DC.

President Carter promotes gender equality: News Roundup

Last week's top stories from our perspective:

President Carter Says Catholic Church Should Ordain Women; All Religions Should Promote Gender Equality

President Jimmy Carter waded in the tricky waters of gender and religion in an interview with in which he said that the Catholic church was wrong not to ordain women.

In anticipation of a conference called 'Mobilizing Faith for Women' to be held at The Carter Center this week, the former President and current Sunday school teacher was asked if "religion can be a force for women’s rights instead of a source of women’s oppression" by Time's Elizabeth Dias.

The former president said that there was movement towards equality in the major world religion but that religion had done much to support discrimination by 'ordaining' that women were not equal to men.  Huffington Post

Survey finds religious freedom did not increase during Arab Spring

The Arab Spring uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa have not led to an increase in religious freedom where government restrictions and social hostilities against certain faiths were already high, a new report found.

Attacks on Coptic Christian communities in Egypt and rising violence between Muslims and Christians in Nigeria contributed to an overall increase in global religious persecution in 2011, according to an annual survey by the Pew Research Center.

The survey may be a sign that the hopes world leaders had expressed of democracy and religious freedom emerging from the uprisings in Egypt and several other countries in the region won't materialze anytime soon.    Deseret News

Some nonbelievers still find solace in prayer

New research on atheists by the Pew Research Center shows a range of beliefs. Eighteen percent of atheists say religion has some importance in their life, 26 percent say they are spiritual or religious and 14 percent believe in “God or a universal spirit.” Of all Americans who say they don’t believe in God — not all call themselves “atheists” — 12 percent say they pray.

Responding to this diversity, secular chaplains are popping up at universities such as Rutgers, American and Carnegie Mellon, and parents are creating atheist Sunday schools, igniting debate among atheists over how far they should go in emulating their theist kin.

Atheists deny religion’s claim of a supernatural god but are starting to look more closely at the “very real effect” that practices such as going to church, prayer and observance of a Sabbath have on the lives of the religious, said Paul Fidalgo, a spokesman for the secular advocacy group the Center for Inquiry. “That’s a big hole in atheist life,” he said. “Some atheists are saying, ‘Let’s fill it.’ Others are saying, ‘Let’s not.’ ”  Washington Post

Feds: Jewish groups key in foiling alleged death ray plot

ALBANY — Local Jewish organizations were instrumental in exposing the alleged plot by two men to kill Muslims and other people with lethal doses of radiation, federal prosecutors said.

Glendon Scott Crawford, 49, of Galway, and Eric K. Feight, 54, of Hudson, conceived "a mobile, remotely operated, radiation emitting device capable of killing targeted individuals silently with lethal doses of X-ray radiation," federal prosecutors said. They are charged with conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists, prosecutors said.

The alleged scheme came to light in April 2012 when a man believed to be Crawford walked into Congregation Gates of Heaven on Ashmore Ave. in Schenectady, Rabbi Matt Cutler said. The man was articulate, well-dressed, and told the staff he had a "gift" to protect the Jewish people.

"He was talking about… a weapon that would really eliminate people that he perceived were against Jews and Israel," Cutler said.  WNYT

Survey Results: A landslide vote in support of atheist seeking citizenship

Thank you to everyone who participated in our recent survey!

In a blog post last week, we asked you to weigh in on a particularly interesting news item. We asked if Margaret Doughty should be denied citizenship because she is an atheist and a resounding majority of you (98%) said “no.” Nearly all the respondents believed that her personal religiosity should not play a factor in her citizenship eligibility.  

According to the comments, it seemed the principal reason respondents disagreed was their belief in the fundamental right to freedom of religion, as guaranteed by the First Amendment.

The other major reason was the apparent conflation of morality and religion. When Margaret Doughty conscientiously objected to the pledge to bear arms in defense of the nation, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services called for evidence of her religious affiliation in a misguided attempt to establish her ethical baseline.

Judging by the fact that 98% of you replied that Doughty should not be denied, we believe it’s safe to say that there is wide support for the USCIS’ reversal (Doughty was granted citizenship days later). Your elaborations on the topic were fantastic.

Here’s a selection of what you had to say to “Why Doughty should or shouldn’t be denied citizenship?”

  • One can be a good citizen and not believe in God. The government should not be in a position to dictate that a person belong to a prescribed religion.
  • A person's faith or lack of same in no way reflects their ability to be a "good" citizen. To further complicate this matter, however, the initial denial of her citizenship seems to have been based primarily on her conscientious objection to bear arms or contribute to warfare in any way. My understanding is that conscientious objectors have always been required to confirm that such beliefs stem from their religion – as if one can't object to the insanity of war without church doctrine having instructed one to do so. I find this specific point reprehensible as well as the overall principal behind the original decision to deny citizenship.
  • Because ethics and morality are not necessarily connected to a belief in God.
  • Because America offers people the freedom of choosing their religion — or not.
  • Religious preferences have no relevance in the decision. We have freedom OF religion which also encompasses freedom FROM religion. It is personal conscience which is protected under our constitution. PERIOD. Their initial response is unconstitutional.
  • Religious faith is a personal, not social or national, choice.
  • Both the first amendment clauses prohibiting the establishment of religion and protecting the free exercise of religion seem to be directly opposed to this position. So, too, does the clause in Article VI of the Constitution that bars any religious qualification … For the U.S. government to take this stance in a case so obviously absurd–hypothetical compulsory military service by a 64 year old– is deeply troubling.

Again, thank you all of your responses. And, although we only printed a small sample of the comments, we are using every response to inform our work. We look forward to hearing from you in our next survey. 

If you have a suggestion for a survey topic or question, we’d love to hear it! Please comment below or send the questions our way!


Atheist approved for residency: News Roundup

Last week's top stories from our perspective:

Margaret Doughty, an atheist and legal resident whose application for U.S. citizenship was nearly rejected this month over her non-religious opposition to war, will become a naturalized citizen next week, the blog Divided Under God first reported on Thursday.

According to Divided Under God, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services decided to retract a demand that Doughty show proof "on official church stationery" that her stated conscientious objector status was a function of her being a "member in good standing" of a pacifist religious group.  Huffington Post

Egypt’s prosecutors have been flooded with blasphemy complaints since 2011 as Islamists exercising their new societal clout have pushed for prosecutions and courts have handed down steep fines and prison terms for insulting religion.

This month alone, a Christian teacher in Luxor was fined $14,000 for insulting the Prophet Muhammad in class, a writer was given five years in prison for promoting atheism and a Christian lawyer was sentenced to one year for insulting Islam — in a private conversation.

Blasphemy cases were once rare in Egypt, and their frequency has increased sharply since the revolution. More than two dozen cases have gone to trial, and nearly all defendants have been found guilty. At least 13 have received prison sentences.  New York Times

The New York Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on Tuesday against the New York Police Department over its surveillance of Muslim communities, accusing the police of trampling on religious freedoms and constitutional guarantees of equality.

The surveillance by the NYPD's intelligence division has extended beyond New York City's five boroughs into neighboring New Jersey and other nearby states. The police department says that surveillance of Muslims is legal under an earlier federal court order.

The lawsuit is the latest skirmish in an ongoing battle between the NYPD and civil liberties advocates over the department's aggressive policing tactics – including its stop-and-frisk practices, which are the subject of a separate federal lawsuit.  Yahoo News

Abercrombie & Fitch is having a hard time proving in court that the Muslim headscarf worn by an employee who was fired in 2010 hurt the clothing company's sales, Law360 reports.

On Tuesday, when a federal judge in California pressed attorney Mark Knueve, who is representing Abercrombie, if he or any of his witnesses had financial records to show the woman's hijab hurt sales, Knueve said he didn't.

"A defendant says we're harmed but provides no real evidence?" Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers retorted, according to the report. "And you want me to grant summary judgment [in your favor]?"  Huffington Post

Surrounded by sleigh bell-ringing Santa Claus impersonators, Gov. Rick Perry on Thursday signed a law protecting Christmas and other holiday celebrations in Texas public schools from legal challenges — but also stressed that freedom of religion is not the same thing as freedom from religion.

It was a serious tone for an otherwise fun bill-signing and should bolster the governor’s Christian conservative credentials before he travels to Washington for the Faith & Freedom Coalition’s “Road to Majority” conference with the likes of tea party darlings and U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Kentucky’s Rand Paul and fellow Texan Ted Cruz.

Dubbed the “Merry Christmas bill,” the bipartisan measure sailed through the state House and Senate to reach Perry’s desk.  Washington Post