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Violence Swells in Nigeria: News Roundup

In the news this week: increasing violence erupts in Nigeria, republican candidates utilize religious language, prejudice against atheists, and other stories.

A series of Christmas Day church bombings rocked Nigeria on Sunday in what appeared to be a coordinated assault by a radical Islamist sect with suspected training links to Al Qaeda, raising the sect’s violent antigovernment struggle to a new and more dangerous level that the Nigerian authorities seem powerless to contain. At least 25 people were killed. NY Times
 
Muslim organizations worldwide have condemned bomb attacks on three Nigerian churches during a Christmas Mass, saying the attackers do not represent true Islam.
 
“We condemn the unconscionable and inexcusable attacks on Nigerian churches and offer sincere condolences to the loved ones of those killed or injured,” the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said in a press release obtained by OnIslam.net on Monday, December 26. International Islamic News Agency
 
If you’re North American, there is a high statistical likelihood you already “love someone of another faith,” as Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam puts it.
 
In fact, Putnam’s studies suggest each one of us, on average, has at least two friends, as well as one extended family member, of another religion (including atheist). Vancouver Sun
 
In more overt ways than ever, Republican candidates vying for support from Iowa caucusgoers are turning to religious language and imagery in their advertisements, seeking to appeal to the Christian conservative base that will play a pivotal role in determining the victor here. NY Times
 
Naama Margolese is a ponytailed, bespectacled second-grader who is afraid of walking to her religious Jewish girls school for fear of ultra-Orthodox extremists who have spat on her and called her a whore for dressing "immodestly."
 
Her plight has drawn new attention to the simmering issue of religious coercion in Israel, and the increasing brazenness of extremists in the insular ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. CBS
 
If you took time to name a group that is still stigmatized but overlooked in the movement for mutual respect, are there any you would choose?
 
One that comes to mind is the non-religious, a group often referred to as atheists. Huffington Post
 
Catholics who have pushed back against a White House policy that would require many religious insurers to cover contraception are getting a high-profile assist from dozens of evangelical leaders.
 
“We write in solidarity, but separately — to stress that religious organizations and leaders of other faiths are also deeply troubled by and opposed to the mandate and the narrow exemption,” the leaders wrote Wednesday (Dec. 21) in a letter to President Obama. Washington Post

 

Debate About Religious Freedom in the U.S.: News Roundup

In the news this week: interesting debate and conversation about threats to religious freedom, further investigation into the anti-Sharia movement, NJ nurses settle in abortion assistance case, and other stories.

Thomas Farr and Timothy Shah, of the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, organized a discussion at the NY Times that explores threats to religious freedom in the U.S. Debaters address a number of topics including: religion in the Public Square, Sikh Americans, religious persecution, Muslim Americans, and human rights vs. religious freedom. NY Times
 
Long before he announced his presidential run this year, Newt Gingrich had become the most prominent American politician to embrace an alarming premise: that Shariah, or Islamic law, poses a threat to the United States as grave as or graver than terrorism. But he is not the only anti-Sharia activist. 
 
Opponents are numerous. Mohamed Elibiary, a Muslim and an adviser to law enforcement agencies in Texas and to the Department of Homeland Security, is a conservative Republican who said he once idolized Mr. Gingrich. He said he no longer did.
He said the anti-Shariah campaign in the United States was “propaganda for jihadists,” offering fuel for the idea of a titanic clash of faiths. Those who truly want to protect American values should talk to Muslims, he said, not demonize them.  “There are plenty of American Muslim patriots who will defend American freedoms,” Mr. Elibiary said. “But you can’t be anti-Islam and find those allies.” NY Times
 
The St. Petersburg Times explores when and where “Merry Christmas” is legal for use in the federal government. St. Petersburg Times
 
Twelve nurses who sued one of the state’s largest hospitals after claiming they were forced to assist in abortions over their religious and moral objections reached a deal Thursday with their employer in federal court.
 
Under the agreement, 12 nurses in the same-day surgery unit of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey can remain in their current positions and not be compelled to assist in any part of an abortion procedure. The nurses must only help in a life-threatening emergency if no other non-objecting staff members are available and only until which time one can be brought in to relieve them, according to the agreement. Washington Post
 
Two Islamic religious leaders from Tennessee filed a lawsuit against two airlines Monday, claiming they were discriminated against and not allowed to fly on a plane in May because of the way they looked. Masudur Rahman and Mohamed Zaghloul, both imams, request a jury trial in the suit, filed in federal court against Delta Air Lines and Atlantic Southeast Airlines.
 
In the suit, the two said they arrived at the Memphis, Tennesseee, International Airport on May 6, wearing traditional Muslim attire, including religious garb and headgear. The two were headed from Memphis to Charlotte, North Carolina, to attend a conference on anti-Muslim bigotry. CNN

 

All American Muslim Sells Out Ads, Gains Support: News Roundup

In the news this week: thoughts on the non-believing trends, religion remains hot election topic, All American Muslim gains support, and other stories.

For a nation of talkers and self-confessors, we are terrible when it comes to talking about God. The discourse has been co-opted by the True Believers, on one hand, and Angry Atheists on the other. What about the rest of us?
 
The rest of us, it turns out, constitute the nation’s fastest-growing religious demographic. We are the Nones, the roughly 12 percent of people who say they have no religious affiliation at all. The percentage is even higher among young people; at least a quarter are Nones.
 
Apparently, a growing number of Americans are running from organized religion, but by no means running from God. On average 93 percent of those surveyed say they believe in God or a higher power; this holds true for most Nones — just 7 percent of whom describe themselves as atheists, according to a survey by Trinity College.
 
Nones are the undecided of the religious world. We drift spiritually and dabble in everything from Sufism to Kabbalah to, yes, Catholicism and Judaism.  NY Times
 
With Mitt Romney, a member of the Mormon church, quite possibly heading toward the Republican nomination, Americans may be faced with a presidential aspirant whose faith many find strange and troublesome. It would not be the first time that has happened, and during a previous campaign the response was pretty nasty. NY Times
 
A woman has filed a federal lawsuit against her school district and a high school teacher for kicking her son out of class in October 2010 because her son's religious beliefs prevent him from accepting homosexuality. USA Today
 
In cities across the nation, increasingly diverse after waves of immigration and demographic changes, it's not uncommon to find Christian, Jewish and Islamic houses of worship located just blocks away from one another.
 
But in Omaha, Neb., an interfaith organization is taking such a pattern to the next level. Tri-Faith Initiative, a partnership of Christians, Jews and Muslims that aims to foster greater interfaith relations in that Midwestern city, is kicking off a multimillion-dollar effort to bring the three Abrahamic religions onto a single 35-acre campus.   Huffington Post
 
Last week, on the 70th Anniversary of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, Representative Peter King once again sought the spotlight with a congressional hearing claiming to explore ‘homegrown terrorism’s threat to military communities inside the United States.’ Washington Post
 
Ad time for next Sunday's "All-American Muslim" episode is apparently sold out, despite Lowe's decision to pull its commercials from the TLC reality series, a TLC network spokeswoman said.
 
Hip hop mogul Russell Simmons announced his intentions Monday to buy up any unsold commercial time on the controversial show in response to the withdrawal of the home improvement giant. He would use the ads to promote his prepaid Visa "Rush Card," he said. CNN
 

 

Anti-Muslim Extremist Activites in Europe and Perry’s Questionable Statements: News Roundup

In the news this week:  extremist anti-Muslim groups ramp up in Europe, Rick Perry accused of using religion as divisive topic, a Jewish teenager is attacked because of her religion, and other stories.

As 2011 draws to a close, the Huffington Post looks at the top religion stories of 2011. Huffington Post
 
The Danish Defence League, a year-old far-right group that claims it's not opposed to foreigners in general, just Muslims, represents a new crop of right-wing radicals who don't fit the mold of the boot-stomping, Jew-hating neo-Nazis. This movement claims its fight is against Islam, and uses crusader symbols instead of swastikas. It frames its mission as a cultural struggle, although opponents say it is little more than old-fashioned xenophobia hiding beneath anti-Islamic rhetoric. Associated Press
 
Egypt's top reformist leader said Sunday the liberal youth behind the country's uprising have been "decimated" in parliamentary elections dominated by Islamists and expressed concern about the rise of hard-line religious elements advocating extremist ideas such as banning women from driving. Huffington Post
 
In Washington, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom announced that it will close at the end of next week unless Congress passes a re-authorization bill that one senator is blocking. Newsnet5.com
 
Rick Perry released a new religion-themed campaign ad Wednesday, promising voters that as president, he would “end Obama’s war on religion. And I’ll fight against liberal attacks on our religious heritage. ” Perry did not immediately make clear which “liberal attacks on religion” he would fight, but said “there’s something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school.” Washington Post
 
It would be easy to dismiss Perry’s message as just a typical appeal to social conservatives or the desperate strategy of a candidate who may have slipped out of contention. But this is new. The casualness with which Perry tosses off the charge about “Obama’s war on religion” is at odds with how corrosive the accusation really is. It encourages citizens to turn against one another in a way that conservatives would denounce as class warfare if the subject were economics. That leaves conservatives with a choice: they can denounce Perry’s ads, or explain why they tolerate such divisiveness when the subject is people’s faith. Time
 
A Canadian teenager was arrested for allegedly setting a Jewish classmate’s hair on fire after making anti-Semitic remarks. Winnipeg police have charged the 15-year-old boy with assault with a weapon following an investigation of the Nov. 18 incident in the hallway of a local high school. Police say he confronted a 14-year-old girl and made the slurs before pulling out a cigarette lighter and singing her hair. Jewish Daily Forward
 
A former Macy's employee who said she was fired for refusing to let a transgender woman use the women's dressing room at the Rivercenter mall location is trying to get her job back. The case, pitting freedom of religion in the workplace vs. corporations' growing acceptance for the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, has attracted national attention.
Natalie Johnson said that on Nov. 30, she confronted the customer leaving the women's fitting room and politely made clear no men were allowed. Johnson said the customer wore makeup and dressed in women's clothes but was recognizably a man. The customer argued she was a woman, but Johnson said she held her ground. San Antonio Express
 
A teaching hospital will hire additional staff to help perform abortions after a group of nurses claimed they were forced to participate in the procedures despite religious objections. Huffington Post

 

White Evangelical Protestants Would Back Romney in General Election: News Roundup

In the news this week:  the difference between being a Mormon candidate in the primaries versus general election, what it means to be a black atheist, atheists are equated to rapists in a recent study, and other stories.

About half of all voters, and 60% of evangelical Republicans, know that Mitt Romney is a Mormon. The former Massachusetts governor’s religion has implications for his nomination run but not for the general election, should he be nominated as his party’s standard bearer.
 
White evangelical Protestants – a key element of the GOP electoral base – are more inclined than the public as a whole to view Mormonism as a non-Christian faith. And this view is linked to opinions about Romney: Republicans who say Mormonism is not a Christian religion are less likely to support Romney for the GOP nomination and offer a less favorable assessment of him generally. But they seem prepared to overwhelmingly back him in a run against Obama in the general election.   PEW Forum
 
Jamila Bey, a 35-year-old journalist, said, “To be black and atheist, in a lot of circles, is to not be black.” She said the story the nation tells of African-Americans’ struggle for civil rights is a Christian one, so African-Americans who reject religion are seen as turning their backs on their history. This feels unfair to Ms. Bey, whose mother is Roman Catholic and whose father is Muslim, because people of different faiths, and some with none, were in the movement. The black church dominated, she said, because it was the one independent black institution allowed under Jim Crow laws, providing free spaces to African-Americans who otherwise faced arrest for congregating in public.
 
Recognizing the role of churches in the movement, Ms. Bey still takes issue when their work is retold as God’s. “These people were using the church, pulling from its resources, to attack a problem and literally change history. But the story that gets told is, ‘Jesus delivered us,’ ” Ms. Bey said. “Frankly, it was humans who did all the work.” NY Times
 
Distrust is the central motivating factor behind why religious people dislike atheists, according to a new study led by University of British Columbia psychologists.
 
"Where there are religious majorities — that is, in most of the world — atheists are among the least trusted people," says lead author Will Gervais, a doctoral student in UBC's Dept. of Psychology. "With more than half a billion atheists worldwide, this prejudice has the potential to affect a substantial number of people." Alternet
 
The Air Force Academy dedicated an $80,000 outdoor worship center — a small Stonehenge-like circle of boulders with propane fire pit — high on a hill for the handful of current or future cadets whose religions fall under the broad category of "Earth-based." Those include pagans, Wiccans, druids, witches and followers of Native American faiths. LA Times
 
The Catholic clergy has aggressively lobbied against the Obama administration's proposed rules for contraception coverage for the past few months, arguing that a mandate that would require health plans to cover birth control at no cost to women would force Catholic hospitals and universities to abandon their religious beliefs. But many of these health care providers already cover birth control and even abortion services for their employees — a reality that undermines the clergy's alarmist approach. Huffington Post
 
Charitable giving is trickling back up as the economy heals, but it could take years to return to pre-recession levels, nonprofit leaders say. Huffington Post

Religious Advocacy Groups Boom on Capitol Hill: News Roundup

In the news this week:  a remarkable increase in religious advocacy groups in Washington, Atheism and the holidays, a Presidential candidate promotes profiling, and other stories. 

The field of religious advocacy has mushroomed on Capitol Hill in recent decades, a new survey shows, with the number of groups growing fivefold since 1970 and hundreds of millions spent each year to influence issues from school vouchers and immigration to the right of women overseas to have abortions.
 
The report, released Monday by the Pew Forum on Religious and Public Life, appears to be the most extensive research ever done on D.C.-based lobbyists and advocates on faith matters. It documents the widening range of domestic and foreign issues religious groups push and fight and shows the entrance in recent years of religious minority groups, such as Muslims, Sikhs and secular organizations, into the field. Washington Post
 
In towns all across America, individuals are called out by their very neighbors for their lack of belief, and are excluded from their community because of their nontheism. Stories of discrimination against atheists are increasingly commonplace in the media, as atheists are frequently and wrongly charged with being amoral troublemakers who seek to destroy the foundations of America.
 
This type of prejudice runs counter to the generosity that is supposed to be the hallmark of the holidays. That's why the American Humanist Association recently announced the launch of a holiday advertisement campaign aimed to raise awareness of discrimination against nonbelievers in America. Huffington Post
 
Springfield, Missouri, hosted the Skepticon IV convention over the weekend. While there, many atheists shopped at the local stores and restaurants. One of the restaurants that members of the atheist community patronized was Gelato Mio. However, it soon became clear that the owner of that establishment didn’t want to serve non-believers. He put up a sign on his window that read, “Skepticon is NOT welcomed to my Christian Business.” Examiner
 
Today, as two of Smith's adherents eye the nation's highest office, religious discrimination remains an obstacle for Mormon political candidates for president and a vexation for church members. USA Today
 
Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum said at Tuesday's CNN National Security Debate that he would improve airport security by profiling, particularly Muslims and young men.
 
"Obviously Muslims would be someone you'd look at, absolutely," Santorum said. "Those are the folks who … the radical Muslims are the people that are committing these crimes by and large, as well as younger males." Santorum said profiling was important because the American security apparatus should strive to "find the bomber, not the bomb."
 
Corey Saylor, Council on American-Islamic Relations national legislative director, put out a release on Wednesday that asked for Santorum to repudiate the comments. CNN
 
 

 

First Time That Atheists Are Included in Pope’s Interreligious Talks: News Roundup

In the news this week: the Pope hosts an interfaith dialogue event including non-believers, over 180 Muslim women, who are also community leaders, met in Istanbul, TLC is airing the “All American Muslim” series, and other stories.

When Pope Benedict XVI departs from a seldom-used railway station inside Vatican City on a train taking him to Assisi, he will follow the tricky path of interfaith dialogue first explored by his predecessor, John Paul II.
 
In the central Italian town, the 12th century birthplace of St Francis, the pontiff on Thursday is set to meet representatives of Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism and the world's other major religions. Kansas City Star
 
Four leading atheist intellectuals will take part in the inter-religious talks in Assisi for the first time in a sign of Pope Benedict's growing interest in dialogue between ''faith and reason''. Sydney Morning Herald
 
On October 24, a ceremony at the Memorial Amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia dedicated the first monument on Chaplains Hill, commemorating 14 Jewish chaplains killed on active duty in America’s armed forces. The Jewish Daily Forward
 
More than 180 Muslim women from 45 countries attended panels and seminars in İstanbul last week focusing on educating and empowering Muslim women and promoting their rights from an Islamic perspective.
 
“There are 750 million Muslim women in the world, and there is no single institution that speaks for us,” said Daisy Khan, executive director of the American Society for Muslim Advancement (ASMA). She said that’s why this conference was organized to bring together powerful Muslim women who are making changes in their communities while working in different professions. Today’s Zaman
 
Individuals who practice religion and spirituality report better physical and mental health than those who do not.  To better understand this relationship and how spirituality/religion can be used for coping with significant health issues, University of Missouri researchers are examining what aspects of religion are most beneficial and for what populations. Now, MU health psychology researchers have found that religious and spiritual support improves health outcomes for both men and women who face chronic health conditions. Health Canal
 
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Department of Justice statistics indicate that complaints of religious harassment in the workplace are on the rise.
 
In fact, according to University of Tennessee professor Rosalind Hackett, religious harassment claims are second only to complaints about sexual harassment. "This is the second most problematic issue in the workplace," she said. Knoxville News Sentinel
 
What's life like as a Muslim-American?
A new eight-part series on TLC that premieres November 13 will try to answer that question by following the lives of five very different Muslim-American families. The show, "All-American Muslim", was filmed in Dearborn, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit that's known for its large Arab-American population. It promises to go "inside the rarely seen world of American Muslims to uncover a unique community struggling to balance faith and nationality in a post 9/11 world," according to a press release. Huffington Post
 
A Florida judge can rely on Islamic law to decide a case involving a local mosque, an appeals court has ruled.
The Florida 2nd District Court of Appeal dismissed without comment a petition to prevent Hillsborough Judge Richard Nielsen from invoking Islamic law, The St. Petersburg Times reported Tuesday. UPI.com

 

Oregonian Couple’s Religious Exemption Defense Fails: News Roundup

In the news this week: another religious exemption defense fails in Oregon, Christians fear future in Syria, a Jewish man encounters bias from a state agency, and other stories.

Another couple in Oregon is found guilty of manslaughter despite their religious exemption defense. The couple, of the Followers of Christ, prayed over their ill newborn boy for the nine hours he was alive. A pediatric expert who testified at the 10-day trial said the baby had a 99.9 percent chance of surviving if he had been taken to a hospital — the standard response for premature babies born at home. Even defense medical experts agreed hospitalization was the right choice. The Oregonian
 
An unemployed Jewish man in San Francisco received a notice to attend a “re-employment eligibility assessment appointment” on September 29, the first day of Rosh Hashanah. When he notified the EDD that he would need to reschedule for religious reasons, he was told that he was at risk of losing his unemployment benefits if he did not show up on the 29th. He appealed to the California State Employment Development department, but the EDD said that no special accommodation could be made. In the end, the local office accommodated Weinberger, but Weinberger is in touch with the Anti-Defamation League about the incident. Jewish Daily Forward
 
Kazakhstan’s upper house of parliament approved a bill Thursday that backers say will help combat religious extremism, but that critics call a blow to freedom of belief in the ex-Soviet nation.
 
The bill approved by the Senate will require existing religious organizations in the mainly Muslim nation to dissolve and register again through a procedure that is virtually guaranteed to exclude smaller groups, including minority Christian communities. Washington Post
 
Warning that Christians currently suffer more persecution because of their faith than any other religious group, the Holy See today told the United Nations the denial of religious freedom threatened peace and security and precluded integral human development. UN News Centre
 
With chaos in Syria growing, some of the country’s Christians fear that a change of power could usher in an anti-Christian regime. NY Times
 
Shoreh Rowhani, an Iranian Baha’i and promising young student, has run up against a system which – while promising opportunity on the surface – is blocking her from earning her degree. She asked officials why her application was rejected as incomplete. "They told me that this has happened because you are a Baha'i," she reported in a letter recently sent to several human rights organizations. Baha’i World News Service
 
Vanderbilt University is requiring religious student organizations to remove requirements that the groups’ leadership be of the faith the organization is affiliated with. The groups contend that this amounts to religious discrimination. The Tennessean