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French Muslims to Get Out The Vote, Impact Election: News Roundup

In the news: Secularists celebrate the National Day of Reason, Libya drops its ban against parties based on religion, French Muslims to be a force in upcoming elections, and other stories.

In October, Texas megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress ignited a firestorm by calling Mormonism a "cult" and telling Republicans not to vote for Mitt Romney because the presidential aspirant was not a "competent Christian."
 
Today, Jeffress is endorsing Romney.
 
He is just one of many evangelical Christian leaders putting aside their suspicion of the former Massachusetts governor, a Mormon, to support him against President Barack Obama ahead of this November's election. Chicago Tribune
 
As millions of Americans bowed their heads on Thursday (May 3) for the annual National Day of Prayer, atheists, humanists and other nontheists marked a day of their own.
 
The National Day of Reason – or "NDR" in the shorthand of the nontheist community – was also held May 3, part protest, part celebration and totally godless. Religion News Service
 
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has announced that Family Foods, Inc., a company that operates a number of Taco Bell restaurants in North Carolina, has agreed to pay $27,000 to settle a religious discrimination lawsuit they filed last year on behalf of an employee that was fired after refusing to cut his hair for religious reasons.
 
Christopher Abbey, 27, worked at a Taco Bell in Fayetteville, N.C., from 2004 until 2010, when managers asked him to cut his long hair in accordance with the restaurant's grooming policy, Occupational Health and Safety magazine reports. But Abbey refused to comply with the policy on the grounds that getting a haircut violates the Nazirite religion, which he has been practicing since age 15. Huffington Post
 
Libya has dropped a ban against parties based on religion, tribe or ethnicity, an official said, after the law irked Islamist parties in the run up to the first free election in June.
 
Members of the ruling National Transitional Council's judicial committee on Wednesday read out an amended version of a law governing the formation of political parties, making no mention of the ban, which was announced last week.
 
"This point has been dropped and so any party or political organization will follow the law as it is now," Salwa Al-Dgheily, a member of the NTC judicial council, told Reuters. Chicago Tribune
 
They are France's millions-strong minority with a voice that usually falls silent at election time. But this year, there is a special new effort to mobilize French Muslims to speak up at the ballot box in Sunday's presidential race — amid a surge of Islam-bashing among the French right.
 
Imams and Islamic associations are calling on Muslims to do their duty as citizens and go to the polls. And while they're not officially endorsing anyone, the call itself is a bold move in a country where statistics on religious affiliation are formally banned and where secularism is enshrined in the constitution.
 
Socialist Francois Hollande — the poll favorite — is more likely to benefit from the get-out-the-vote push, because conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy has spoken out against Muslim practices in his campaign and experts say that Muslims in poor neighborhoods and Muslim youth tend to vote for the left. But the Muslim vote is diverse, and there's no guarantee that the push will bring out voters, since Muslims have tended in the past to avoid politics.  Fox News
 

 

Catholic Bishops Concerned About Religious Freedom: News Roundup

In the news this week:   Catholic bishops voice new concerns over religious freedom, a Muslim group is suing the FBI and Border Patrol, the American public says religion news is too sensitized, and other stories.

As promised, the country’s Catholic bishops are ramping up their campaign against what they see as attacks on religious liberties, particularly those of religious conservatives.
 
On Thursday the bishops released a proclamation that expands their concerns beyond those they’ve focused on in the past year — such as the White House move to require some faith-based social service groups to include contraception coverage for employees in their health care plans and a push to have them consider same-sex couples as potential adoptive or foster parents.
 
The document, which U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops staffers said last month was in the works, mentions objections to new local measures, including one in Alabama requiring churches to turn over illegal immigrants and another in New York City limiting the right of churches to use public school buildings for worship on weekends. Washington Post
 
The local Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-Michigan) has filed a lawsuit against the FBI and the Customs Border Patrol agencies for alleged "invasive religious questioning" and "prolonged detention" of Muslims at the U.S.-Canada border.
 
The line of questioning of Muslims reportedly included how many times a day they pray and who else prays in their mosques, according to CAIR-Michigan officials.
 
"Invasive religious questioning of American citizens without evidence of criminal activity is not only an affront to the Constitution but is also a waste of taxpayers' dollars," said CAIR-MI Executive Director Dawud Walid.    The Detroit News
 
Five death-threat letters, the last of which arrived in February, have followed a Sikh American family during the last decade as they moved to various neighborhoods in metropolitan Washington.
 
“Because there seems to be a recurring threat to this family, it is of even greater concern to us,” said Jasjit Singh, executive director of the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, a Washington-based advocacy group. “Given the frequency with which this family was subjected to such incidents, (we) could not take the case lightly, or assume that it this was a childish prank.
 
The group, which is representing the family, said it also could not rule out the possibility that the family is being stalked. Sikh News Network
 
A majority of the American public says religious news coverage is too sensationalized, while less than 30 percent of journalists agree according to a survey released Thursday. Deseret News
 
Don’t believe what the national media tells you, says Dr. Richard Land, a leader with the Southern Baptist Convention, Mitt Romney doesn’t need to worry about his Mormon faith being a problem for evangelical voters at the voting booth.
 
“The fact that we don’t believe that Mormonism is a Christian faith doesn’t mean we would not vote for someone who is Mormon, if they are pro-life,” Land told TIME in an interview on Tuesday. “Romney’s biggest problem with evangelicals has been that he hasn’t been Mormon enough. If he had always held his positions on abortion on marriage that his faith holds, there would be far fewer doubts about him.”
 
Nonetheless, Land said that he expects the national news media to try to make an issue of Romney’s faith in the coming months, in an effort to damage the Republican candidate’s chances.   Time
 
The high tide of "new atheism" may have passed, the archbishop of Canterbury has said in his Easter sermon. Rowan Williams said the atheism v religion debate appeared to be moving on from what he called "a pointless stalemate".
 
"Recent years have seen so many high-profile assaults on the alleged evils of religion that we've almost become used to them; we sigh and pass on, wishing that we could have a bit more of a sensible debate and a bit less hysteria. But there are a few signs that the climate is shifting ever so slightly," he said at Canterbury cathedral. The Guardian
 

 

An Apt Convergence

Good Friday and the first night of Passover converged this year. Instead of sitting at my usual seder table, I spent this Passover taking part in a traditional three-day Easter celebration in Licata, Sicily.

A childhood friend of mine is married to a Sicilian doctor with whom she lives in Milan. Every two years, they return to his hometown, Licata, for Easter. This year, they invited my husband and me to join them for a local observance that few tourists ever see.

On Good Friday, there was an elaborate procession through town in which a wooden Christ figure, dragging his heavy cross, was borne through town on a pallette held aloft by pallbearers. From another part of town, a second group of bearers carried a wooden Madonna on a pallette. She and the bleeding Jesus dramatically rendevouzed at the top of the main square, accompanied by dirge-like music. From there, they were carried together to the bottom of the main square, where Jesus was hoisted on to the cross, with his grieving mother in attendance. The next day, Jesus was removed from the cross and carried to his burial place. On Easter Sunday, the risen Jesus was again carried through town in an elaborate procession, with the Sicilian marching band playing triumphant music.

I was deeply moved by bearing witness to this powerful reenactment of the Passion and Resurrection of Christ. But, it took place on the first two days of an important Jewish holiday – and that evoked conflicting feelings in me. On the one hand, Jesus was a Jew and the Last Supper was a Passover seder. Therefore, there was a rightness in all of this. On the other hand, Easter has historically been a time of deadly pogroms against Jews. My late husband used to tell the story of an uncle in the Ukraine, who was murdered on Easter Sunday. Christians emerging from church were so inflamed by an Easter sermon excoriating Jews as Christ- killers, that they pursued the first Jew they could find – his uncle – and forced him into the river to drown. Happily, Vatican Council II has set the record straight: it was the Romans who killed Jesus, in a uniquely Roman form of execution, and Jews bear no collective guilt for His death.

But the overriding feeling that bubbled to the surface was an awareness of the importance of memory in Christianity and Judaism. The reenactment of the Easter story brings an immediacy to the suffering of Jesus and a constant renewal of his message of redemption to the world. The annual Passover seder also calls on us to remember. It is the mandatory retelling of the story of the liberation of the Jews from bondage in Egypt, the receiving of the Ten Commandments and the journey to the Promised Land. Jews are required to retell this story as if they were actually living through this journey from slavery to freedom together with a special responsibility to repair the world.

For both Jews and Christians, their respective rites of Spring – Passover and Easter – are times of renewal of key tenets of their faith. Their occurence on the same day this year is an apt convergence. There is much to be learned and much to be gained in bearing witness to each others' rituals.
 

Georgette Bennett
President and Founder

Some American Muslims Pushing for Progressive Islam: News Roundup

In the news: progressive American Muslims reshape Islam, a mass shooting at a CA Korean-Christian college, the NYPD ups security at Jewish sites, and other stories.

Recently, members of Muslims for Progressive Values, a nascent American reformist organization, had gathered from around the country to celebrate a milestone: In four years, the group had grown from a few friends to a thousand members and spawned a string of small mosques and spiritual groups that stretched from Atlanta to Los Angeles.
 
Today, as America's Muslim leaders debate controversial topics like political radicalism inside mosques and states' attempts to ban Shariah law, this growing network of alternative mosques and Islamic groups is quietly forging a new spiritual movement.
 
They're taking bold steps, reinterpreting Islamic norms and re-examining taboos. While far from accepted by mainstream clerics, these worshippers feel that the future of the religion lies not solely with tradition but with them. Women are leading congregations in prayer, gay imams are performing Islamic marriages, and men and women are praying side by side. Huffington Post
 
An atheist-themed festival drew hundreds of people to an Army post in North Carolina on Saturday for what was believed to be the first-ever event held on a U.S. military base for service members who do not have religious beliefs.
 
Organizers said they hoped the "Rock Beyond Belief" event at Fort Bragg would spur equal treatment toward nonbelievers in the armed forces and help lift the stigma for approximately 295,000 active duty personnel who consider themselves atheist, agnostic or without a religious preference. Reuters
 
A California college where authorities say that seven people were shot dead on Monday is a religious school that caters to the burgeoning Korean American Christian community.
 
The number-one objective of Oikos University, in Oakland, California, is "to demonstrate a comprehensive knowledge of the Bible and an understanding of Christian doctrine," according to the school's website. Its number-two objective: "To develop an appreciation for the Korean and Korean-American church denomination heritage." CNN
 
The New York Police Department is beefing up security at the city's synagogues and other Jewish sites this week for the Passover holiday in the wake of a deadly attack on a religious school in France last month.
 
Authorities stressed that there have been no specific threats reported in the city for the weeklong holiday. Huffington Post
 
Hazem Salah Abu Ismail is an old-school Islamist.
 
He wants to move toward abolishing Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel and cites Iran as a successful model of independence from Washington. He worries about the mixing of the genders in the workplace and women’s work outside the home. And he promises to bring extraordinary prosperity to Egypt, if it turns its back on trade with the West.
 
He has also surged to become a front-runner in the race to become Egypt’s next president, reconfiguring political battle lines here. His success may help explain why the United States offered signs of tacit approval over the weekend when the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest Islamic group, broke its pledge not to field its own candidate. NY Times
 
The moderate Islamist Ennahda party, which leads Tunisia’s government, will not back calls by conservatives to make Islamic law, or sharia, the main source of legislation in a new constitution, a senior party official said on Monday.
 
“Ennahda has decided to retain the first clause of the previous constitution without change,” Ameur Larayed told Radio Mosaique. “We want the unity of our people and we do not want divisions.” The party has not formally announced its final position. Reuters

 

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

 

Immigration Trends for Religious Groups Worldwide: News Roundup

In the news this week: U.S. is top destination for Christian and Buddhist immigrants, some Muslims attend rally supporting NYPD, the new book Religion for Atheists gains attention, and other news.

The U.S. is the top destination for Christian and Buddhist immigrants, according to a study released Thursday by the Pew Research Center, reflecting a decadeslong surge in migration from Latin America and a quest by Chinese to improve their economic lot.
 
The study, which tallied immigrant populations around the world and broke them down by religion, tracked the movement of Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists and other groups, including agnostics and atheists. It showed 32 million Christian and 1.7 million Buddhist immigrants living in the U.S. as of 2010, and found that a quarter of all Jews are living in a country other than the one in which they were born, making them by far the most migratory religious group in the world. Wall Street Journal
 
Qazi Qayyoom, an imam in Queens, and about three dozen other people on Monday attended the first rally held by Muslims in support of the NYPD following a series of Associated Press stories detailing the police department’s secret surveillance of mosques, Muslim-owned businesses and college campuses across the Northeast since Muslim extremists attacked the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, killing thousands of people.
 
The rally, held by the American Islamic Leadership Coalition outside police headquarters in downtown Manhattan, illustrated a division even among the faith’s adherents about how far authorities should go in seeking to protect the nation’s largest city from terrorists. Other Muslim groups were quick to say the coalition didn’t represent their views. Washington Post
 
After filing a religious discrimination lawsuit on Thursday, the Beren Academy boys basketball team was able to play in the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools Class 2A state semifinals on Friday.
 
The semifinals were originally schedule to be at 9 p.m. Friday at Mansfield High School. However, that coincided with the Jewish Sabbath, which begins at sundown tonight and ends at sundown Saturday.
 
After twice having an appeal to reschedule the game to accommodate the school denied by TAPPS, the parents of the players filed a religious discrimination the organization and Mansfield Independent School District.
 
TAPPS promptly rescheduled the game for 2 p.m. Friday at Nolan High. Your Houston News
 
With 500 students, increasing academic prestige and an established soccer team, Iman Academy SW, an Islamic school in Houston, was seeking membership in 2010 to the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools, a group that organizes competition among more than 200 schools in the state.
 
In addition to an application form, Iman Academy SW was given a questionnaire that included statements such as, “It is our understanding that the Koran tells you not to mix with (and even eliminate) the infidels. Christians and Jews fall into that category.” NY Times
 
Whether you're religious, an atheist, or somewhere in between, the odds are that you live a broadly secular life. None of the rhythms and structures of your modern life — from your daily routines to your workplace to your vacations — bear the imprint of the religious world. In his new book, Religion for Atheists, the writer Alain de Botton argues that this is a big mistake. Religions, he thinks, contain a lot of practical wisdom, and religious institutions were more insightful and realistic about people than their secular replacements have been. "Even if religion isn't true," he asks, "can't we enjoy the best bits?" Boston Globe
 
French President Nicolas Sarkozy marked a rightward shift in his re-election campaign on Saturday, pledging to cut the number of immigrants and calling for clear labelling of halal meat in a bid to entice voters away from the National Front.
 
Speaking to thousands of flag-waving supporters at a rally in the western city of Bordeaux, Sarkozy vowed to defend secular values in France – which has Europe's largest Muslim minority – and to send a tough message on law and order if he wins a fresh five-year term in a two-round election in April and May. Huffington Post

 

Santorum Ill Over JFK’s Speech on Religion: News Roundup

 

In the news this week: Santorum sick over JFK speech, a report in the UK claims religious illiteracy in Parliament, the number of mosques in the U.S. has grown tremendously, and other stories.
 
Rick Santorum said Sunday that John F. Kennedy's 1960 speech on the separation of church and state made him want to "throw up." On Tuesday, he said he wished he "had that particular line back."
 
When conservative radio host Laura Ingraham challenged him on the apparently off-message comments that have provoked considerable controversy, the GOP presidential candidate said, "I would agree with you on that. I wish I had that particular line back."
 
Yet Santorum went on to defend his criticism of Kennedy's speech and launched an attack on President Barack Obama. Huffington Post
 
Rick Santorum's political good fortune in the Republican presidential primaries has come about in large part because of his appeal to evangelicals. A Roman Catholic, he is a beneficiary of more than two decades of cooperation between conservative Protestants and Catholics who set aside theological differences for the common cause of the culture war. San Francisco Chronicle
 
(United Kingdom) A report from a cross-party parliamentary group will this week warn that there is a widespread lack of “religious literacy” among the country’s judges, politicians and officials.
 
It also claims that the rights of homosexuals take precedence over those of Christians.
 
The study, by the Christians in Parliament group, follows a series of rulings by judges against Christians who had claimed that following their faith brought them into conflict with the law or with their employer. The Telegraph
 
Recent video games have begun depicting religion as a violent, problematic force, according to research from a new University of Missouri study.
 
Greg Perreault, a doctoral student at University of Missouri's School of Journalism, studied five extremely popular games from the last few years that incorporate religion heavily into their storylines: "Mass Effect 2," "Final Fantasy XIII," "Assassin's Creed," "Castlevania: Lords of Shadow," and "The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion."
 
In each case, Perreault found that religion became equated with violence within the video games' narratives. Christian Post
 
A measure to ban the use of foreign laws in domestic courtrooms is progressing in Florida's statehouse, one of dozens of similar efforts across the country that critics call an unwarranted campaign driven by fear of Muslims.
 
Forty such bills are being pursued in 24 states, according to a tally by the National Conference of State Legislatures, a movement backers say is a response to a glaring hole in legal protections for Americans. Opponents say the bills simply address a made-up threat and could threaten agreements made under Jewish or other religious law.
 
The Florida measure passed the House on Thursday 92-24. It awaits a full vote in the Senate. The Detroit News
 
In the decade since 9/11, American Muslims and mosques have come under a close lens, from congressional hearings on radicalization to campaigns against mosque construction projects and anti-Sharia legislation proposals in dozens of states.
 
Despite such difficulties, a comprehensive survey of American mosque leaders released Wednesday reveals that the number of mosques in the country has grown tremendously, with more than 900 new centers being established since 2000. Another finding from the survey reveals that compared to the turn of the millennium, fewer Muslims see America as "hostile" to Islam today. Huffington Post

 

U.S. Troops Trash Korans in Afghanistan: News Roundup

In the news this week: Afghans protest U.S. amid Koran mistreatment, a judge rules Washington State can’t force Pharmacies to sell emergency contraceptives, a Holocaust survivor calls on Romney to denounce the Mormon practice of posthumously baptizing Jews, and other news.

Thousands of enraged Afghans have taken to the streets for a fourth day, after US soldiers inadvertently set fire to copies of the Koran. In the deadliest day of unrest so far, at least 12 people died across the country, as mobs charged at US bases and diplomatic missions.
 
More than 20 people have been killed since the unrest began, including two US soldiers who died on Thursday. 
President Barack Obama has apologised for the Koran-burning incident. In a letter to his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai, Mr Obama said the books had been "unintentionally mishandled". US personnel apparently put the books into a rubbish incinerator at Bagram air base, near Kabul. BBC
 
A hotly disputed proposal to build a 66,000-square-foot church in California drew accusations of everything from a secret agenda to build a convention center to religious discrimination during an emotional, all-day hearing Tuesday that again pitted neighbor against neighbor.
 
More than 700 people packed the Lesher Center for the Arts on Tuesday for the special Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors meeting to consider the Sufism Reoriented sanctuary. Supervisors heard hours of public testimony, but made no decision whether the 350-member religious group can build its church just outside Walnut Creek city limits. Mercury News
 
In a ruling that appears headed toward appeal, a federal judge has ruled that Washington State cannot force pharmacies to sell Plan B or other emergency contraceptives.
 
The state's true goal in adopting the rules at issue was not to promote the timely access to medicine, but to suppress religious objections by druggists who believe that such drugs can have an effect tantamount to abortion, U.S. District Judge Ronald Leighton said in his ruling Wednesday. Modern Healthcare
 
Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust survivor and Nobel Prize laureate, whose name was entered into a database so that he could be baptized in a Mormon ritual after his death, said yesterday he wants Mitt Romney to speak out against the Mormon practice of posthumously baptizing Jews.
 
“He is a Mormon, and since he’s running for president – the highest office in the world, not only in America – he should know what is happening, and he should have said simply, ‘It is wrong,’ ’’ Wiesel, a professor at Boston University, said in an interview.   Boston Globe
 
Several Jewish groups joined an interfaith coalition calling on presidential candidates to refrain from using religion as a political wedge issue.
 
Fifteen religious organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee and the Union for Reform Judaism, issued an Interfaith Statement of Principles advising the candidates to abide by principles of religious liberty and avoid religious discord as they campaign for the November race.
 
The principles included calls for candidates to be responsive to constituents of all religions, conduct campaigns without appeals for support based on religion, reject messages that reflect religious prejudice and avoid actions that encourage religious division in the electorate. JTA

 

War on Christians?

In her Newsweek cover story, The Global War on Christians in the Muslim World, Ayaan Hirsi Ali forcefully states that there is “a spontaneous expression of anti-Christian animus” across the Muslim world. This collective hate surpasses other social, political, economic, and geographic factors. It hangs over the “Muslim World” like a dark storm cloud.

Though Tanenbaum works specifically to overcome violence based on religious identity; we do so from a more nuanced, studied perspective. Painting multifaceted issues, such as conflict, with a broad brush leaves us no room for seeing the complexity in people grouped together by identity. For example, while Tanenbaum condemns violence against Christians in Iraq, we also celebrate the individuals working for peace across religious boundaries.
 
We choose not to overlook Muslims working to end violence, such as the Sunni leaders who work with Canon Andrew White and who issued a Fatwa condemning violence against Christians. These individuals—and so many unknown others who work to end conflict every day—are the hope for a more peaceful tomorrow. As Canon White says, “When religion goes wrong, it goes very wrong. But if religion is part of the problem, it must form part of the solution.”
 
I urge you to read Ms. Ali’s article and some counterpoints:

Clayton Maring
Assistant Program Director, Conflict Resolution

Obama Adjusts Contraception Mandate, Attempts Compromise: News Roundup

In the news this week: Obama offers compromise to contraception mandate, one writer explores anti-Christian sentiment in Muslim-majority nations, a group of Marines pose in front of an SS flag, and other stories.

President Barack Obama, in an abrupt policy shift aimed at quelling an election-year firestorm, announced on Friday that religious employers would not be required to offer free birth control to workers and the onus would instead be put on insurers.
 
But Catholic Church leaders and Obama's Republican opponents, who had railed against the Democratic president's new rule on contraceptives as a violation of religious freedom, signaled that divisions remain over the hot-button social issue. Reuters
 
We hear so often about Muslims as victims of abuse in the West and combatants in the Arab Spring’s fight against tyranny. But, in fact, a wholly different kind of war is underway—an unrecognized battle costing thousands of lives. Christians are being killed in the Islamic world because of their religion. It is a rising genocide that ought to provoke global alarm. Newsweek
 
Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich inserted himself into the long-running controversy about whether religious groups should be allowed to hold services in New York City public schools, and accused Mayor Michael Bloomberg of being "anti-religious." Chicago Tribune
 
More than 30 Muslim and legal advocacy groups are urging New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman to investigate the New York City Police Department after the second scandal in as many weeks involving Muslim Americans.
 
On Thursday (Feb. 2), The Associated Press reported that it had obtained a secret 2006 NYPD report, “U.S.-Iran Conflict: The Threat to New York City,” which recommended that officers “expand and focus intelligence” at Shiite mosques. Washington Post
 
A shocking photo shows a U.S. Marines team posing in front of an SS flag in Afghanistan, drawing comparisons to a Nazi symbol. The Marine Corps confirmed one of its scout sniper teams posed in front of the notorious flag in September 2010 in Sangin province but insisted the issue has since been addressed internally.
 
Former Marines have been left outraged by the picture and are calling for a full investigation, but military officials say they have already probed the photo and confirmed it was not racially-motivated. Daily Mail
 
A billboard campaign funded by a secular, atheist and humanist organization called the African Americans for Humanism, is facing an outpouring of hate and criticism by the religious. iNEWP
 
A Sikh house of worship under construction on Dequindre just north of 14 Mile was vandalized with what appears to be anti-Muslim graffiti.
 
The Sikh building, known as a gurdwara, was defaced Sunday evening or Monday morning, said a Sikh advocacy group. Some of the graffiti read: "Don't Builed" and "Mohmed," which appears to refer to Mohammed. The graffiti also included a Christian cross, a pistol and the letters R and A. It's unclear what the letters refer to. Detroit Free Press
 
Hindus want Diwali be declared a school holiday in Jersey City, Edison, Woodbridge, Parsippany-Troy Hills, West Windsor-Plainsboro, North Brunswick, Monroe and Bernards school districts in New Jersey (USA).
 
Hindu statesman Rajan Zed, in a statement in Nevada (USA) today, said that since it was important for Hindu families to celebrate Diwali day together at home with their children, we did not want our children to be deprived of any privileges at the school because of thus resulting absences on this day. Closing schools on Diwali would ensure that and it would be “a step in the right direction”. Eurasia Review