French Gunman Kills Based on Religion and Identity: News Roundup

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

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


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


Anti-Semitic Hate Crimes In and Around NYC: News Roundup

In the news: anti-Semitic crimes in and around New York City, the UN backs a Sikh man fighting French religious headgear laws, and other news.
Satyendra Singh Huja, a Sikh American, has been unanimously elected as the mayor of Charlottesville, a historic city in Virginia.
Huja, who originally comes from Nainital in Uttarakhand, was elected Mayor of Charlottesville early this month. The Times of India
They come to talk about their families, to laugh, to learn and to praise Hilda Weiss’s famous chocolate coffee cake. Other than Mrs. Weiss’s recipe from Hungary, they never liked to go on about the past — even if this was the reason that originally brought the women together in a weekly support group for Holocaust survivors.
But in recent days, this fragile yet spirited community of elderly women in Borough Park, Brooklyn, found themselves revisiting details of that unspeakable horror, and haunted by events far too close to home.
Swastikas, as well as the words “Die Jew,” had been painted on a garage in Midwood and on the stairs of a Jewish school, part of a recent spate of anti-Semitic crimes in Brooklyn, Manhattan and New Jersey and on Long Island. NY Times
A Sikh man in France has won the backing of the United Nations Human Rights Committee in his fight over religious headgear.
It said France was violating Sikhs' religious freedom by forcing them to remove their turbans when having photos taken for passports and ID cards.
Ranjit Singh, 76, said he had turned to the UN because he found the French policy disrespectful and unnecessary. BBC
The U.S. Supreme Court said Tuesday that it will not hear Forsyth County's appeal of lower-court decisions that stopped sectarian prayers at the opening of meetings of the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners. Winston-Salem Journal

Baha’is Continue to be Persecuted in Iran: News Roundup

In the news this week: Iranian lawyer arrested for representing Baha’is, the President supports Israel at the UN, a Muslim woman declares candidacy for French President, and other stories.

As a number of Baha'is in Iran await trial for providing higher education to youth barred from university, the Baha'i International Community has been distressed to learn of the arrest of a lawyer who was preparing to defend them.
Abdolfattah Soltani – a senior member of the legal team representing the prisoners – was arrested last Saturday. Mr. Soltani was a co-founder of the Defenders of Human Rights Center along with four other lawyers including Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Shirin Ebadi. The Tehran-based Center was shut down in a police raid in December 2008.
An Amnesty International appeal calling upon Iran to release Mr. Soltani immediately has described him as "one of the bravest human rights defenders in Iran…"  Baha’i World News
President Obama is at the United Nations this week for the opening of the annual General Assembly meeting–where the U.S. is working the global precincts to avoid a vote on Palestinian statehood. Chicago Sun-Times
A woman fighting France's ban on Islamic face coverings was fined 120 euros ($162) Thursday for wearing a burqa, the first fine handed down by a French court over the controversial law.
Hind Ahmas sought out the punishment so she could take her fight to a higher court, she told CNN. A second woman, Najet Ait Ali, was fined 80 euros ($108) in the same court appearance.
"I am happy to be fined, since I can now take this to the European Court of Human Rights," Ahmas said. CNN
Kenza Drider, a Muslim woman, declared her longshot candidacy for French President Thursday, the same day that a French court fined two women who refuse to remove their veils. All three are among a group of women mounting an attack on the law that has banned the garments from the streets of France since April, and prompted similar moves in other European countries. Associated Press
In a rude shock to the Sikh community in North Carolina, a Sikh owned convenience store was damaged Sept 7, in a suspected case of hate related arson.
The Southern Poverty Law Center reported that the Sikh owned State Line Grocery convenience store was badly damaged in an early morning fire, which is under investigation as a potential hate crime specifically due to the graffiti that was spray painted on the walls of the convenience store stating, “9-11 Go Home”. India Post
Muslims in Kashmir, in the northwest of the Indian subcontinent, are supporting the re-building of a Christian school that was destroyed by fire during anti-Christian violence one year ago. ENI News
One of the world’s leading Muslim clerics will issue a global declaration against terrorism at a speech in London on Saturday. Dr Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri will make the declaration at the ‘Peace for Humanity Conference 2011’ at Wembley Arena.
The peace declaration, which will call for an end to terrorism and for the protection of human rights in new Arab regimes, is expected to be signed by major religious and political leaders. The Independent


Conversation About Religion and Presidential Candidates Intensifies: News Roundup

In the news this week: violence erupts between law enforcement and Muslim park goers, the conversation intensifies around religion and GOP candidates, another poll finds American Muslims overwhelmingly satisfied with their lives, and other stories.

In a conflict that turned violent, 15 visitors to Playland amusement park were arrested and 2 law enforcement officers were hospitalized. Over half of Parkland’s 6,000 visitors on Tuesday were attending with a Muslim tour group celebrating one of Islam’s two major holidays. Some women were denied entry to one ride because they were wearing head scarves that were forbidden by a safety policy. Things became contentious when the denied visitors sought refunds and law enforcement was called in. At some point, a physical altercation occurred between a visitor and an officer and the conflict spread between other officers and park goers. The Muslim community is displeased with law enforcement’s approach to the situation and that the safety policy was not reviewed for religious considerations. Playland park claims that the tour organizers were painstakingly told about the headgear ban and safety concerns. USA Today

A new bill intended to extend religious protections in New York City was signed into law this week. The bill, initiated by Sikh activists and enacted by the New York City council, adds momentum for such legislation at the federal level, a U.S. senator said. Motivation for the law came from Sikhs applying for city jobs and allegedly being denied based on their appearance and wardrobe, particularly with the New York City Police Department and Metropolitan Transit Authority. Sikh News Network

A New York Times editor has stirred up heated debate about the religiosity of Presidential candidates. Bill Keller proposed that candidates be questioned on their religious beliefs and how they inform their political views, but he suggested these questions only for GOP contenders. Opponents of Keller’s view contend that this line of questioning promotes religious discrimination and advocates a public pledge of allegiance to the United States over the candidate’s faith. Opponents are also questioning why Keller did not propose any questions for President Barack Obama. CNN

In an opinion piece by the Associate Editor of, the author challenges our view of Muslim women:
As Americans, we're used to thinking about Muslim women in various unflattering ways. The most common idea of a Muslim woman, for example, is that of the oppressed victim of Islam. In this manifestation, we usually find a veiled, silent woman imprisoned by her religion and policed by Muslim men. Passively waiting for her rescue, this tradition-bound woman draws significant American attention, if only to remind us how lucky we are to be Americans.

But if Americans could see beyond the media, or at least see a media willing to highlight the truth about the Muslim world, then we would find that women of the Islamic hue are far from passive or silent. In fact, just a glimpse beyond the surface of American media stereotypes reveals that there are some pretty heroic Muslim women in the world doing some pretty amazing things, especially in the cause for peace. Huffington Post

In another poll on the attitudes of Muslim Americans, this one by the Pew Research Center, Muslim Americans are found to be overwhelmingly satisfied with their lives. NPR


The Most Dangerous Countries for Women: News Roundup

In the news this week: the Thompson Reuters Foundation lists the most dangerous countries for women, the City of Francisco issues its first response to the proposed circumcision ban, and other news.

Forbes reported on countries that the Thompson Reuters Foundation listed as the five most dangerous for women. Experts ranked the countries on six high-risk categories and found Somalia, India, Pakistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Afghanistan to be the most dangerous. The categories were “health threats, sexual violence, non-sexual violence, harmful practices rooted in culture, tradition and/or religion, lack of access to economic resources and human trafficking.”

The City of San Francisco has issued its first response to the proposed circumcision ban. The city’s attorney’s office argued that the proposed law would be unconstitutional if it applies to religious figures, but not medical professionals. This is relevant because opponents of the ban have brought a lawsuit at the state level asserting that local governments do not have the authority to restrict medical procedures. If the state agrees, then medical professionals would be exempt from the ban. According to the city, if medical professionals are exempt, then prohibiting religious figures from performing circumcisions would be unconstitutional. San Jose Mercury News is reporting that, “The Sikh Coalition testified in support of a proposed law that would significantly enhance religion-based protections for New York City employees. The proposed law, introduced by Council Member Mark Weprin (D-Queens), would significantly increase the obligations of city employers to respect the right of Sikhs to maintain their articles of faith in the workplace without discrimination.”

Santa Rosa County School District became a battle ground between the American Civil Liberty Union and Liberty Counsel, a conservative Christian legal group, three years ago. The two groups have finally come to an agreement. The ACLU and the school originally signed a consent decree that ensured school employees would not promote religion, but the Liberty Counsel saw the decree as too stringent. After years of litigation and negotiation, the two organizations have agreed to language that satisfies both parties.

In New Zealand, a Saudi Arabian student was refused boarding on a public bus because of her Muslim attire. Just two days earlier, another woman was told to remove her veil by a different driver. "Both drivers … claim it's not religious … but they genuinely have a phobia of people wearing masks, hence why we have not dismissed them," general manager Jon Calder said. Both drivers have been sent to counseling programs (The Dominion Post). Meanwhile, the New South Whales (Australia’s most populous state) Premier has announced that police will soon be able to demand removal of any head covering, regardless of religious significance. The Premier was quoted as saying, "I have every respect for various religions and beliefs, but when it comes to enforcing the law the police should be given adequate powers to make a clear identification." The Australian

In other news:


Dalai Lama Relinquishes Power and Much More: News Roundup

In the news this week: the Dalai Lama relinquishes his political role, an Australian school forces Sikh student to shave, two alleged cases of religious discrimination in the workplace and other stories.

The Dalai Lama has officially given up his political and administrative powers, possibly in an attempt to avoid chaos after his death, but remains the spiritual leader of the global Tibetan community. Regarding the decision, the Dalai Lama stated that, “in order for our process of democratization to be complete, the time has come for me to devolve my formal authority to an elected leadership.” CNN
Federal judges are listening to arguments about whether two principals should be held responsible for denying students their First Amendment Rights. Specifically, the principals kept students from passing out candy canes and pens that included the words "God" or "Jesus". Star Local News
A Sikh student in Australia, who had already been given administrative approval to keep his beard, was forced to shave by one of his teachers. The incident and resulting outrage among the Indian community has influenced the school to allow facial hair on all Sikh students at the school. The Hindu
“New York City may again block religious groups from using school facilities outside of regular school hours for ‘religious worship services,’ a federal appeals court in Manhattan ruled on Thursday.” The case was initially decided against an evangelical Christian church, then overturned in an appeals court, and now the original decision has been reinstated. New York Times
Oregon is trying a couple for neglecting to provide their daughter medical care for a baseball sized tumor had grown over her left eye. The prosecutors are arguing that the tumor could have caused blindness and that the parents had no intention of seeking proper medical attention. The defense is arguing that the suit infringes on the defendants' religious rights and that the parents would have sought medical care in a critical health situation. New York Times
This week’s news also includes two new stories of alleged religious discrimination in the workplace. A California woman is suing Macy’s for firing her on account of her adherence to faith traditions. She had worked for the company for 15 years, keeping Sunday as a Sabbath day, but was terminated when assigned to a new supervisor (Standard News Wire). In Alaska, two women are suing the Matanuska Creamery for firing them because they are Mormon. Specifically, they are claiming that they were terminated after notifying the company that one of the co-owners made disparaging remarks about Mormons. Anchorage Daily News