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Religious groups take on gun lobby at Capitol Hill: News Roundup

In the news this week, religious coalitions take on gun lobby, Hindus enter world's largest religious festival, anti-semitism threatens Jewish presence in France, and other stories. 

Dozens of the nation’s faith leaders said Tuesday (Jan. 15) that they’re ready to take on the gun lobby and demanded that politicians take quick and concrete steps to stem gun violence.

At a Capitol Hill press conference and in a letter to Congress, more than 45 clergy and heads of religious groups — representing the spectrum of American religious life — petitioned lawmakers to reinstitute a ban on assault weapons, require background checks on all gun buyers, and make gun trafficking a federal crime. Religion News Service

Once every 12 years, tens of millions of pilgrims stream to the small northern city of Allahabad from across India for the Maha Kumbh Mela, or Grand Pitcher Festival, at the point where the Ganges and Yamuna rivers meet with a third, mythical river.

Officials believe that over the next two months as many as 100 million people will pass through the temporary city that covers an area larger than Athens on a wide sandy river bank. That would make it larger even than previous festivals. After a slow start, police chief Alok Sharma said 1.5 million people had gathered by 8 a.m. (0230 GMT) on Monday, with more on their way. The Huffington Post

Anti-Semitism could destroy the history of French Jewry, the leader of France's Jewish communities said. “Not long ago, the notion that resurgent anti-Semitism could endanger the presence of Jews in France would have been considered absurd,” Dr. Richard Prasquier, president of the Jewish CRIF umbrella group, said Sunday in Paris at the organization's annual national conference. 

“This has changed” due to “parties and groups which are at times explicitly racist, and at other times ultra-secular [and in opposition to] ritual slaughter and circumcision," he said. "There is new anti-Semitism, and it complements the old.”

Planned as French Jewry's main event of the year, the conference was devoted to combating anti-Semitism and drew a predominantly Jewish crowd of approximately 1,000 people. CRIF's first annual event was held last year under the banner "Tomorrow, the Jews of France.” The Global News Service of the Jewish People

NPR published a story about making marriage work when only one spouse believes in God. Bixby and Peyer have known each other since they were young, but got married only a few years ago. Bixby and Peyer live in Longview, Wash. They have been married for two and half years but have known each other since 1981. Peyer is a church-attending Lutheran, and Bixby is an atheist. 

Europe's top human rights court ruled on Tuesday that equality laws and safety concerns trumped religious freedom in three cases where British Christians were sacked or sanctioned for expressing their beliefs at work.

The European Court of Human Rights ECHR.L ruled employers did not violate the religious rights of a registrar who refused to officiate for civil partnerships of same-sex couples and a counsellor deemed unwilling to offer sex therapy for gays.

It also turned down an appeal by a nurse whose hospital barred her from wearing a cross around her neck. In the fourth case in the verdict, a British Airways clerk suspended for wearing a cross won her appeal and was awarded damages. Reuters

“Spiritual but not Religious” are more likely to suffer poor mental health: News Roundup

In the news this week "spiritual but not religious" are more likely to suffer poor mental health, Africa rises and China falls on Christian persecution list, the first Atheist church opens in London, and other stories. 

People who are "spiritual but not religious" are more likely to suffer poor mental health, according to a study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry. Michael King of University College London and his colleagues examined 7,400 interviews with folk in Britain, of whom 35% had a religious understanding of life, 19% a spiritual one and 46% neither a religious nor spiritual outlook. The analysis led to one clear conclusion. "People who have a spiritual understanding of life in the absence of a religious framework are vulnerable to mental disorder [dependence on drugs, abnormal eating attitudes, anxiety, phobias and neuroses]." The work supports evidence from other studies too.

All the usual weaknesses associated with asking individuals about religion are at play here, as the authors acknowledge. Nonetheless, the study prompts a number of speculations. The Guardian 

 The persecution of Christians “vastly rose” in 2012 as radical Islamists consolidated power in Africa, according to Open Doors, a Christian missionary organization that publishes an annual list of offending nations.

Increasing threats to African Christians can be seen in focused attacks, such as the killings of Christians in Nigerian churches by the radical Muslim group Boko Haram, but also in the greater prevalence of radical Muslims in government, according to the California-based Open Doors.

In Mali, for example, which made the biggest leap on the "World Watch List," from unranked in 2011 to No. 7 in 2012, a coup in the north brought fundamentalist Muslims to power. “The situation in the north used to be a bit tense, but Christians and even missionaries could be active,” said Open Doors spokesman Jerry Dykstra. Now, he said, Christians there are in grave danger. Religion News Service

The first atheist church has opened in London, and it serves as yet another reminder of three important facts connected to the ongoing cultural struggle between many believers and non-believers. First, principled atheism is as much a faith as is theism; no matter how much many atheists would have us believe otherwise. Second, the human longing for community transcends the often bitter divides about where to find it and how to celebrate it. Third, like most so-called firsts in the world of faith and no-faith, this one is not really new.

Very few, if any, ideas or institutions are truly new. Virtually everything that we celebrate as new has its roots in something else, and that is especially true when it comes to religion. For example, before there was Christmas, there was Hanukkah. And before there was Hanukkah there were yet older celebrations of light in the midst of darkness – some Greco-Roman and others Zoroastrian. Of course, each of these traditions is unique, but none simply fell from the sky as fully formed novelties. Each emerged from a context which included predecessors which they both mirrored and altered, and the same can be said for this “first” atheist church. The Washington Post

The “Rise of the Nones,” which was based on survey of nearly 3,000 Americans and more than 500 follow-up interviews, included questions on beliefs. But in the “Global Religious Landscape” report, belief was not a central focus. The report includes but three sentences on belief in the “Religiously Unaffiliated” section. That is, it offers precious little insight into global patterns of religious belief or unbelief.

The Pew report on the religiously unaffiliated in the United States does focus substantially on belief, offering a number of significant findings among Nones:

  • 68% of the Unaffiliated in general believe in God or a Universal Spirit
  • Among those who self-identify as Atheist/Agnostic, 38% say they believe in God or a Universal Spirit
  • Among those who self-identified as “Nothing in Particular”—the majority of Nones (71%) in general—some 81% say they believe in God or a Universal Spirit

Religion Dispatches

The head of a controversial Catholic sect says that Jews are "enemies of the Church," but the sect has denied any anti-Semitic intentions.

Bishop Bernard Fellay, head of the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X, declared Jews "enemies of the Church" during a talk that aired on a Canadian radio station, the Catholic News Agency recently reported. Fellay's remarks took place on Dec. 28 at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Chapel in New Hamburg, Ontario.

Fellay, discussing negotiations with the Vatican in 2012 concerning the Society's future, said the following during the address: “Who, during that time, was the most opposed that the Church would recognize the Society? The enemies of the Church. The Jews, the Masons, the Modernists.” The Huffington Post

The new Egyptian constitution will no longer receive help from its’ churches: News Roundup

In the news this week, Egyptian churches give up on helping create new constitution, Oklahoma teen Tyler Alred sentenced to go to church after manslaughter conviction, Sikh religion joining California universities' curriculum, and other stories.

In another blow to Egypt’s democratic transition, representatives of the Muslim nation's three main Christian bodies jointly decided to end their participation in writing a new constitution.

“The constitution … in its current form does not meet the desired national consensus and does not reflect the pluralistic identity of Egypt,”said Bishop Pachomious, acting patriarch for the Coptic Orthodox Church. The announcement was made one day before Pope Tawadros II assumed the papal throne of St. Mark, the gospel writer.

A primary complaint is over the role of shari'ah. Article Two of Egypt's 1971 constitution, as well as the current draft of the new constitution, enshrines the "principles" of shari'ah to be the primary source of legislation. Pope Tawadros does not dispute the article as currently defined—including its designation of Islam as the religion of the state. But all churches reject its expansion. Christianity Today

An Oklahoma teen convicted of manslaughter has sentenced to 10 years of probation, with requirements that include regularly attending church. Tyler Alred, now 17, had been drinking when he crashed a pickup truck at around 4 a.m. on Dec. 3, 2011, Tulsa World reports. The accident killed Alred's friend, 16-year-old John Luke Dum, who was a passenger in the vehicle.

Instead of sentencing the teen to prison time, Judge Mike Norman gave him a 10-year deferred sentence. In order to stay out of prison, Alred must graduate from high school; graduate from welding school; take drug, alcohol and nicotine tests for a year; wear a drug and alcohol bracelet, take part in victim's impact panels, and attend church for the next 10 years. The Huffington Post

Mistaken for Muslims — and targeted — after 9/11, members of the faith have sought to educate Americans about the religion. UC Santa Cruz is the latest to offer a course.

The first slide professor Nirvikar Singh flashed on his PowerPoint showed the faces of six Sikh worshipers gunned down the previous month in Oak Creek, Wis., by a man with white supremacist ties. As after other attacks since 9/11, the UC Santa Cruz professor explained to students in this fall introductory course, the Wisconsin shooting revealed an abiding ignorance over who Sikhs are — and aren't.

"Despite being in this country for more than 100 years, I think Sikhs are not well understood," said Singh, a 58-year-old economist, dressed in jeans and a midnight blue turban. LA Times

A federal judge on Monday denied a legal challenge to President Barack Obama's signature health reforms, ruling that the owners of a $3 billion arts and crafts chain must provide emergency contraceptives in their group health care plan.

The owners of Hobby Lobby asked to be exempted from providing the "morning after" and "week after" pills on religious grounds, arguing this would violate their Christian belief that abortion is wrong. Judge Joe Heaton of the U.S. District for the Western District of Oklahoma denied the request for a preliminary injunction. Chicago Tribune

A Protestant man overlooked for a top job with Norther Ireland Water because of his religion has been awarded £150,000 (€116,600) in compensation.

Alan Lennon said the substantial sum reflected the seriousness of the discrimination he endured. "I am pleased that this case has finally been resolved," Dr Lennon said. "I took the case primarily to challenge what I believe to be serious flaws in the public appointments system and the level of compensation agreed marks the seriousness of what occurred." Irish Independent

On Monday, President Obama will become the first U.S. President to visit the long-isolated nation of Burma (Myanmar)—home to some of the world's longest-running persecuted Christians.

In response, leaders from the American Baptist Church, The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), and Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) urged the President to advocate for religious freedom in the Buddhist nation. Christianity Today

Survey Results: Did religion play a part in the 2012 election?

Thanks to all who took the time to complete our first online survey!

Nearly 70% of you said that religion played a role in the election, yet almost 90% stated that the candidates’ faiths did not influence your voting decision. But while the candidates’ religion did not have substantial sway among respondents, what they had to say on the topic did have an impact. Sixty-six percent of you reported that what the candidates said about religion influenced your voting decision.

What was perhaps most interesting is what you had to say to us in the final question of the survey, where we asked if you’d like to elaborate. We received great responses. Here’s a sampling:

  • I would consider voting for a candidate of any faith group if I believed that s/he shared and would officially uphold values I believe in. I would, however, choose against any candidate, even one who shared my faith, if s/he expressed exclusive and religiously xenophobic views.
     
  • Religion is important; however, more important is the aspect of freedom of religion. No one has the right to denigrate the religious beliefs of others, lest they forget what our country is all about.
     
  • Obama's disdain for "those that value their guns and religion" surely had some effect.
     
  • It was not what was said specifically about religion that influenced my choice. It was other topics that are influenced by religion that influenced me.
     
  • I think religion became a secondary issue to political ideology.
     
  • Religion has no place in government. It is an intimate relationship between an individual and his/or her god(s).
     
  • I was deeply offended by the Republican attempts to suggest that Mr. Obama was Muslim, as if that would be a negative!
     
  • I'm a Roman Catholic & some of our bishops tried to make religious freedom & health care – i.e., contraceptives – an issue, but their arguments did not resonate with the faithful.
     
  • Separation of "church" and state is very important to me. When a political party wants to mandate things that fall into the religious realm, I'm alarmed.

In addition to our survey, the Pew Forum recently released a preliminary analysis of how the faithful voted.  We also found interesting stories about religion and the presidential election, including a Huffington Post story about both candidates’ appeal to religious voters during the final days of the campaign and a CNN story that raised questions about the Christian right’s influence on the electorate.

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 send your ideas our way.

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

 

SURVEY: Religion and the 2012 Election

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey, the world's leading questionnaire tool.

Religion looms large in election: News Roundup

In light of tomorrow's election, the news roundup this week will be focused on religion and politics: a look at Mitt Romney's faith journey, Obama's evolving Christian faith, Mike Huckabee tells Christians to "stand the test of fire", religious voting groups could determine the next president, and other stories. 

Romney hopes the nation is ready to embrace a president who happens to be Mormon. But he has faced questions about his faith since first getting into politics in 1994, when he ran for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts against Democratic stalwart Ted Kennedy. When Kennedy’s nephew, Joe, attacked Romney’s Mormonism, the insult drew a strong public response from Romney’s father – a former governor of Michigan who’d himself run for president – and failed to gain traction.

Since then Romney, who was elected governor of Massachusetts in 2003, has played down his faith on the campaign trail. But he did  address it in a December 2007 speech, hoping to stem voter concerns about his religion and how it might influence him as a president. It was a speech he likened to John F. Kennedy’s famous 1960 address, when Kennedy was running to be America’s first Catholic president. CNN

Whether or not Obama has been spiritually “reborn” in the evangelical sense, his spiritual counselors say the president’s faith has helped shape his first term in ways that haven’t been appreciated by voters or the news media. And they say the presidency is bringing Obama to a new place in his faith – building on a system of belief and practice that helped bring him to the White House in the first place. CNN

Mike Huckabee has a dire warning for Christians: When you vote on Nov. 6, hell's fire awaits, and a vote for President Barack Obama will not stand up to the flames.

In a new ad, the former Arkansas governor and ordained Southern Baptist minister warns Christians that their votes "will affect the future and be recorded in eternity" and they must cast a ballot that will "stand the test of fire." The Huffington Post

President Obama and former governor Mitt Romney have mostly avoided any mention of their own religious identities and, to the extent that they have engaged in religious-based discourse, it has been of a very general nature regarding their commitments to belief in God and to how faith guides their personal and public lives.

Each candidate recognizes the downsides of emphasizing his own faith tradition, as surveys show substantial-sized minorities of voters expressing discomfort with Romney’s Mormon faith or not accepting the authenticity of Obama’s identity as a Christian. Religious identity nonetheless remains a key factor in the election. The Washington Post

Hindu Americans have run America's major companies and universities, won Nobel prizes and Olympic gold medals, directed blockbuster movies, and even flown into space. But one profession has so far been out of reach: Member of Congress.

That may change next week in Hawaii's 2nd congressional district, where Democrat Tulsi Gabbard is poised to win an out-of-nowhere bid over Republican opponent Kawika Crowley. Gabbard was leading Crowley 70 percent to 18 percent, according to an Oct. 12 poll by the Honolulu Civil Beat.

The heavily Democratic district also elected one of two Buddhists to have ever served in Congress, Mazie Hirono, who won her seat in 2006 but is now running for the U.S. Senate. Gabbard, 31, was born in American Samoa to a Catholic father and a Hindu mother, and moved to Hawaii when she was 2. In 2002, at age 21, she was elected to the Hawaii state legislature. The Huffington Post

A right-wing Super PAC is running attack ads against a Syed Taj, a Democratic congressional candidate in Michigan, in an attempt to portray the Muslim doctor as un-American and tied to terrorism. The 30-second ad charges that Taj "wants to advance Muslim power in America," has ties to Hamas, and is "too extreme for America."

The race to represent Michigan's 11th congressional district was already unusual—the seat became open when five-term Republican congressman Thaddeus McCotter failed to qualify for the primary ballot last spring and was subsequently investigated for allegedly submitting election petitions with fraudulent signatures. McCotter, who also pursued a bizarre and short-lived campaign for the GOP presidential nomination, abruptly resigned from Congress one month before the primary. The New Republican

 

From New York to San Fransisco subways, anti-jihad ads now in D.C.: News Roundup

In the news this week, three arrested over teen peace activist shooting in Pakistan, French investigators find bomb making materials, anti-jihad ads make it to D.C. subways, and other stories. 

Three suspects in the shooting of 14-year old Pakistani peace campaigner Malala Yousufzai have been arrested, police in Swat Valley claimed Friday.

Police said the suspects, aged between 17 and 22, had claimed the person who organized the attack Tuesday — in which two other young girls were shot and injured — was a man called Attaullah.  NBC News

French police officers investigating a group of young Islamic radicals have uncovered bomb-making materials and weapons, the Paris prosecutor, François Molins, said in a statement on Wednesday.

“We are clearly and objectively facing an extremely dangerous terrorist cell,” Mr. Molins said in the statement, adding that it was necessary to “avoid the risk of a terrorist attack in France.”

He said that the detention of 12 suspects pending charges would be extended to at least a fifth day. They are reportedly not cooperating with the police. The New York Times

An anti-jihad ad that has caused a stir in other cities now has another destination for its message: the subways of Washington.

The ad by the American Freedom Defense Initiative states, “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.”

Jihad – Arabic for "struggle" – is considered a religious duty for Muslims, although there are both benign and militant interpretations of what it means. Last month, the American Freedom Defense Initiative posted the ads in the subways of New York and San Francisco. CNN

A French nonprofit said it was considering making complaints against some Twitter users following an explosion of French-language anti-Semitic messages. 

SOS Racisme, a Paris-based anti-discrimination organization, made the statement on its website after the phrase UnBonJuif on Oct. 10 became the third most popular hashtag among French Twitter users.

Literally meaning “a good Jew,” it served thousands of Twitter users to enter what the French daily Le Monde termed “a competition of anti-Semitic jokes.” The Global News Service of the Jewish People

Cheerleaders from a small eastern Texas town have won the first battle in their crusade to display Christian religious messages on banners at their high school's football games.

State District Judge Steve Thomas of Hardin County implemented a temporary injunction Thursday in favor of the Kountze High School cheerleaders, and by setting a trial date of June 24, 2013, Thomas effectively allows the cheerleaders to keep displaying Bible-quoting signs at Kountze athletic events through the end of this current school year. CNN

Romney is a lifelong member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, members of which are known as Mormons.

The theological question of where Mormons fit on the religious spectrum has drawn more attention because of Romney's candidacy. Mormons consider themselves to be strong Christians. Many traditional Christian denominations disagree, though rank-and-file members have their own views on the matter.

The removal of the post from the Graham group's website was first noted by the New Civil Rights Movement website and then later by the Asheville Citizen-Times, which reported that the information on cults was accessed as recently as Thursday afternoon. CNN

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. About.com

 

TV Station Backing Anti-Muslim Film Outed: News Roundup

In the news this week, anti-Muslim film puts Christian TV in global spotlight, new Egyptian Constitution offers fewer religious freedoms, Michele Bachmann's Chicago Synagogue visit drives attendees to leave, and other stories. 

The Way satellite TV channel in Los Angeles creates evangelical Christian programming that beams across the Arabic-speaking world. Until recently, the business was so anonymous that even city officials didn't know the television studio was operating there.

But that all changed a few weeks ago, when The Way was revealed as a key filming location for "Innocence of Muslims," whose YouTube trailer has sparked ongoing violent anti-American protests in dozens of cities throughout the Middle East and beyond.

The anti-Islam film has shed light on The Way and other U.S.-based, Arabic-language satellite TV stations whose programming is aimed at converting Muslims to Christianity. Though little noticed in the English-speaking world, the stations' programming had been controversial among Middle Eastern Christians and Muslims — both in the U.S. and abroad — long before the low-budget movie popularized their message. LA Times
 
Members of Egypt’s Constituent Assembly, the body tasked with drafting Egypt’s post-uprising constitution, are purportedly finished with drafting the chapter on the freedoms, rights and duties of citizens.

The assembly is largely seen as being dominated by Islamist forces, which have won large gains in legislative and presidential elections after the 2011 January Revolution.

Liberals and secularists have expressed concerns about the impact an Islamist-dominated drafting body will have on the character of the future charter, in particular in relation to key freedoms. Ahram Online

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) swung by a Chicago-area synagogue for a worship service on the eve of Yom Kippur last week, upsetting congregants and provoking one man to mount a campaign for her Democratic challenger before the end of the night, the Chicago Tribune reports.

According to the Tribune, Rabbi Michael Siegel of Anshe Emet Synagogue observed protocol by offering a customary greeting to Bachmann during the services. While elected officials are traditionally acknowledged during such events at the temple, the presence of the conservative Minnesota firebrand prompted particular displeasure.

A strong fundraiser and prominent Tea Party figurehead, Bachmann's congressional seat has long been thought of as secure. According to a recent poll, however, Bachmann's once large lead over Graves is now within the margin of error. The Huffington Post

Muslim worshipers are reeling from an arson fire at the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo, Ohio but are grateful for an outpouring of support from the local interfaith community.

Perrysburg Township police ruled that the Sunday evening (Sept. 30) fire was arson. Surveillance footage from the mosque shows a “person of interest” — a white middle-aged male wearing a camouflage sweatshirt and hat — at the mosque’s entrance shortly before the fire, which was reported about 5 p.m.

The Rev. Steve Anthony, executive director of Toledo Area Ministries, said he and his organization that represents 125 Christian churches and nonprofit agencies are outraged by the arson attack and will do what they can to help local Muslims. Religion News Service

Manhattan bank manager Grace Sung Eun Lee is paralyzed from the neck down, tethered to breathing and feeding tubes — but was able to mouth four words Wednesday. “I want to die.”

Doctors are trying to honor Lee’s wish, but her devout parents believe that removing the tubes is suicide — a sin that would condemn the 28-year-old to hell. They’ve gone to court to keep the terminally ill brain-cancer patient on life support, turning a heartbreaking family tragedy into a right-to-die legal battle.

The case has put medical ethics and religion on a collision course, with lawyers arguing in two courtrooms while the patient at the center of the fight can do little more than blink her eyes. New York Daily News