Saturday, December 31, 2011

Religious Freedom: The Bedrock

As an old year ends and a new year begins, a friendly reminder from the best friend of religious freedom:

The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom

An Act for establishing religious Freedom.

Whereas, Almighty God hath created the mind free;

That all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens [sic], or by civil incapacitations tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and therefore are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, who being Lord, both of body and mind yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do,

That the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavouring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time;
That to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical;

That even the forcing him to support this or that teacher of his own religious persuasion is depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions to the particular pastor, whose morals he would make his pattern, and whose powers he feels most persuasive to righteousness, and is withdrawing from the Ministry those temporary rewards, which, proceeding from an approbation of their personal conduct are an additional incitement to earnest and unremitting labours for the instruction of mankind;

That our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions any more than our opinions in physics or geometry,

That therefore the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence, by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages, to which, in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right,

That it tends only to corrupt the principles of that very Religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing with a monopoly of worldly honours and emoluments those who will externally profess and conform to it;
That though indeed, these are criminal who do not withstand such temptation, yet neither are those innocent who lay the bait in their way;

That to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous fallacy which at once destroys all religious liberty because he being of course judge of that tendency will make his opinions the rule of judgment and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own;

That it is time enough for the rightful purposes of civil government, for its officers to interfere when principles break out into overt acts against peace and good order;

And finally, that Truth is great, and will prevail if left to herself, that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict, unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons free argument and debate, errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them:

Be it enacted by General Assembly that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities. And though we well know that this Assembly elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of Legislation only, have no power to restrain the acts of succeeding Assemblies constituted with powers equal to our own, and that therefore to declare this act irrevocable would be of no effect in law; yet we are free to declare, and do declare that the rights hereby asserted, are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present or to narrow its operation, such act will be an infringement of natural right.

~Thomas Jefferson (1777)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Last minute reprieve for commission

A last-minute vote on Friday (Dec. 16) has reauthorized the 13 year old USCIRF for 3 years.

The USCIRF was created by Congress when it passed the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA).  Established as an independent, bipartisan, federal government entity, USCIRF monitors the status of freedom of religion or belief abroad and provides policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress.

With nine commissioners, a staff of 17 and a $4 million annual budget, the bill had been held up in the Senate for almost four months before passing with an amendment on Tuesday, culminating with the reauthorizing resolution by voice vote on Friday.

Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin, D-Ill., who had reportedly held the bill as leverage in a dispute over federal funding for a prison in his state, proposed several tweaks to the re-authorization bill.

Durbin's amendment will limit the appointment of USCIRF's commissioners to a maximum of two, two-year terms. The term of any current commissioner who has served at least two full terms will expire 90 days after the legislation is enacted, virtually eliminating almost all of the current commissioners.

Leaders from both parties in Congress and the president appoint members to the commission.

The bill cuts the USCIRF’s budget from $4 million to $3 million and also places the commissioners under the same travel restrictions as State Department employees, which could possibly limit their ability to travel to certain areas where religious freedom abuses are acute.

The amendment also authorizes USCIRF employees who have filed a discrimination complaint against the commission to complete the proceedings.

This last measure may be a nod to a former agency policy analyst, Safiya Ghori-Ahmad, who filed a complaint against USCIRF with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in fall 2009. She charged that her contract was cancelled because of her Muslim faith and her affiliation with the Muslim Public Affairs Council.

Source: Huffington Post and Christian Post

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Dick Durbin stands alone for American Muslims

As noted here and elsewhere over the course of the last few months, the future of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) remains tenuous at best.

The commission's governing mandate originally expired in September, only to be renewed in an overall federal budget resolution that expired November 18th.

The stalemate over USCIRF's future occurred as it was part of an omnibus Senate bill on the 2012 fiscal year's budget appropriations and it is a lone Senator, Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) who halted that vote.

While Christians, in particular, are leading the outcry, the senator's reasoning seems to be firmly rooted here.

Mr. Durbin's entire opening statement from that March 29, 2011 hearing is worth reading (again), but here's the gist of it:
"I had my differences with President George W. Bush, but he showed real
leadership after 9/11, when he made it clear that our war was with the terrorists
who perverted the teachings of Islam, not with Muslims who were faithful to
what he called, quote, “a faith based upon love, not hate.”
Congress too spoke with a clear voice. I cosponsored a resolution with John
Sununu, who was then the only Arab-American in the Senate, that condemned
anti-Muslim and anti-Arab bigotry and said that American Muslims “are vibrant,
peaceful, and law-abiding, and have greatly contributed to American society.” Our
resolution passed both chambers of Congress unanimously.
Today, President Obama continues to speak out as forcefully as President Bush,
even though President Obama is challenged by a chorus of harsh voices:
• A leading member of Congress states bluntly, quote, “There are too many
mosques in this country.”
• A former Speaker of the House falsely claims, quote, “America is
experiencing an Islamist cultural-political offensive designed to undermine
and destroy our civilization.”
• And a prominent religious leader says Islam is, quote, “wicked” and “evil."
Still, should such compassion for American Muslims really be the point when it comes to the much bigger picture; that of religious freedom worldwide? 

Senator Durbin, you've clearly stated your reasoning on your support for American (and non-radical) Muslims as well as your generally bipartisan approach on the matter and are hence to be congratulated.

Of all the items within any of the budget debates today,  surely you might agree that freedom itself remains uniquely priceless. Further, the principle of upholding freedom, particularly religious freedom, as it infuses the dangerous and fragile world arena currently, overrides all such considerations of either partisan or even deeply personal convictions regarding civil or societal liberties.

Therefore, please seriously reconsider your support for the omnibus bill that includes funding for the USCIRF.

This is no time for silence.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Chinese Jack-o'-lantern

(Red) Chinese origins?

Three representatives of China's house church movement in exile and Chuck Colson's musings on recent tricks amidst the treat of an exhibition of Bibles currently touring the U.S., reinforces the idea that Red China remains a land of contradiction, deception and foreboding, particularly for Christians (and other faiths, too).

Sadly, it also adds fire to those who would seek nothing better than to deter, downgrade and ultimately destroy any and all American moral stature on that most fundamental and essential freedom; that of religion.

Have we come so far as to yet be so deceived?

As ever, make up your own mind.

Read of the tour's "background," here and of its inexorable, ripening conclusion here.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Dalai Lama too inconvenient for South Africa?

The Dalai Lama has called off a planned visit to South Africa after "now [being] convinced that for whatever reason or reasons, the South African government finds it inconvenient to issue" a visa.

In a statement from New Delhi, the Dalai Lama's office said he had planned to leave his Indian exile home Thursday [October 6th], but after failing to receive a visa this week the trip has been called off.

South African foreign ministry officials have denied accusations of bowing to pressure from China . . .

Fellow Nobel Peace Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu had invited the Dalai Lama to South Africa to celebrate his 80th birthday, and bitterly criticized the delay in the issuing of a visa.

Dumisa Ntesebeza, chairman of the Desmond Tutu Peace Centre, which had planned to host a speech by the Dalai Lama on Saturday, the day after Tutu's birthday, said he could not immediately comment. The foreign ministry spokesman Clayson Monyela refused comment.

Rights groups, academics, opposition parties and newspapers in South Africa had pressed their government to grant the Dalai Lama a visa.

In a statement last week, Loyisa Nongxa, vice chancellor of Johannesburg's University of the Witwatersrand, said that instead of trying to "silence" the Dalai Lama, South Africa should "welcome the opportunity and allow all voices to be heard in our democracy -- a right for which we fought with our lives."

The university had hoped to host the Dalai Lama for a second speech during his visit.

In an editorial this week, the Sunday Times of Johannesburg said: "The government has dithered for weeks over the Tibetan spiritual leader's visa application, leading to suspicion that Pretoria has once again been put under immense pressure by China not to allow the Dalai Lama to visit."

South Africa's deputy president was on a state visit to China last month as it remains a major trade partner for South Africa.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Religious Freedom Commission faces defunding

WASHINGTON—The U.S. government’s resources for monitoring international religious freedom are already small and they may get smaller.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent government watchdog for abuses of religious freedom abroad, may cease to exist if the Senate doesn’t act over the weekend to reauthorize it. Congress leaves soon for a weeklong recess, depending on when the House and Senate resolve a spending bill to keep the government functioning, and the commission will shut down Sept. 30 without Senate reauthorization. One Democratic senator is apparently holding up the reauthorization, according to several sources.

If the 13-year-old commission does shut down next Friday (September 30th), Congress could still reauthorize it at any point, but all the commissioners would have to be reappointed and staff rehired—a process that could stall the commission’s work for a year or more. . . .

Read more here and also follow the progress of  HR 2867.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Religious Freedom: Myth and Reality

The debunking of myths ever preoccupies and appeals in these days of great wonder, uncertainty and plain boredom.

Witness just one instance of late from a site that bills itself as Business Insider where it is stated that "The Pilgrims did not come to the New World for religious freedom."

The truth, it seems, is that "becoming too Dutch" was even more horrid to them.

Yes, the "Pilgrims" escaped religious intolerance -- in England -- and yes, they left  -- Amsterdam-- (in part) for fear of their children becoming too Dutch.

However, foremost, above all, and easily overlooked, apparently, is the original impetus for that small, brave band:  The quest for [uncommon] religious tolerance and freedom.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Washington Times Hosts RF Conference

Faith Groups and US Government Leaders Unite to "Stop Religious Persecution Now!"

By Dan Fefferman

"Stop Religious Persecution Now!" was the theme for a one-day conference co-sponsored by the International Coalition for Religious Freedom at The Washington Times July 13. Religious leaders, human rights activists, government officials and media experts joined together for the event, which featured reports on religious persecution by representatives of 12 faith communities, ranging from Christians in Islamic lands to Muslims in China, Sikhs in the US and new religious groups in Europe.

The purpose of the event was to press the US government to increase its attention on religious freedom issues through such actions as holding hearings on Capitol Hill and putting diplomatic pressure on nations that fail to uphold international standards. An afternoon session focused on informing religious groups and non-governmental organizations how to effectively spread their messages through traditional media outlets and the new social media.

Read more . . . >>>

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

In Memory of Takako Fujita

Martyr for Religious Freedom in Japan

Mrs. Takako Fujita, who married a Korean believer and lived in Korea, visited her home in Ehime prefecture in Japan alone, to attend a Buddhist funeral ceremony. During her stay in her parents’ home, she was kidnapped and brought to Kyoto city where she was confined in an apartment for about four months in an attempt to break her faith and force her to renounce her marriage. Like many other victims, a Christian minister was apparently involved in her confinement.

Finally, in despair, she attempted suicide and was brought to a hospital, where she died on July 13, 1997, at the age of 27. The police were aware of the situation but did not treat it as a criminal investigation, despite the fact that she had been held against her will. Nor did they assist her husband in his attempt to rescue her during her confinement. In the end, no one was arrested or indicted. Her husband returned to Japan in an attempt to attend her funeral ceremony, but her family refused to admit him.

To learn more details about Takako’s story, go Here.

To read more about other victim’s cases firsthand (Takako is #8), go Here.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Toru Goto Reveals Documents in Lawsuit

Mr.Toru Goto recently posted his depositions to a Tokyo Court that is hearing his complaint against professional confinement experts who helped imprison him for 12 years and five months.

Of the 7-part deposition, the first four parts have been translated into English and posted on the blog titled “Human Rights Violations in Japan,” here.

As reported by the Unification Church, Mr. Goto filed a civil suit against the so-called deprogrammers in February 2011.

Two hearings in Tokyo District Court have been held, the first on March 22, 2011 and the second on May 17, 2011. The sessions were held for submission of the documents of the plaintiffs and the defendants and to determine the next hearing dates.  The next two sessions will be held on Aug. 16, 2011 and Oct. 11, 2011.

Takashi Miyamura, a defendant in Mr. Goto's civil lawsuit.
Mr. Goto’s depositions indicate that the abduction problem for the Unification Church was much worse in the early 1990s than it is today.

Mr. Goto writes: “For three years, from 1990 to 1992, 941 members went missing. 233 members out of 941 returned to the church.  According to the survey of the 233 members, they were kidnapped and confined against their will in an attempt to break their faith.  In 1992, only one year, there were 375 missing members. On average, more than one member was kidnapped and confined daily.” The number of abduction victims reported by Unification leaders in recent years has been from 12 to 14.

Mr. Goto has stated that he believes his own family spent up to $1 million to break his faith over a 12 year period. As has been reported, the fees charged by Japanese deprogrammers, which usually includes a team of Christian ministers and de-conversion experts, start at about $40,000. It is estimated that the deprogramming units, usually working with the cooperation of law firms that sue the Unification Church after a member renounces his or her faith, have charged parents and relatives of Unificationist victims fees of which the aggregate far exceeds $100 million.

Japanese lawyers reportedly have boasted at academic conferences that they have won hundreds of millions of dollars in “lost-youth” cases advanced on behalf of former Unification Church members. In all cases, the lawyers have denied that coercion was used to confine the members who were persuaded to leave the Unification Church.

The defendants facing the lawsuit of Mr. Goto have insisted that Mr. Goto was not held against his will and that he starved himself voluntarily after he left the apartment where he says he was confined, according to Mr. Luke Higuchi, president of Survivors Against Forced Exit (SAFE), a group that is exposing the religious freedom scandal in Japan.

There are approximately 100 Unification Church members in Japan who fear that they are at great risk of being abducted and coerced to renounce their faith, according to Mr. Higuchi.

Contributed by Douglas Burton

Battle for circumcision heats up in SF

A developing story makes it appear that even America still struggles to remain true to its most basic, founding principles:

"A San Francisco ballot measure to ban circumcision is spurring charges of anti-Semitism while galvanizing faith leaders and politicians who believe the initiative threatens religious freedom.

"It's almost unbelievable that this made the ballot," said Rabbi Reuven Taff of Mosaic Law Congregation in Sacramento. "It's discriminatory. Not only against Jewish families but also against Muslims and anybody else who has a strong tradition of circumcising their male children."

The initiative, which qualified for the San Francisco ballot in May, has drawn national attention. The measure would make circumcision illegal for boys under 18. Violators could face a year in jail or a fine of $1,000, or both.
If approved, it would become the first of its kind in the country."

Read more here.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Australian study reveals religious freedom tensions

Some interesting conclusions from a unique study by the Australian Human Rights Commission, in association with the Australian Multicultural Foundation, RMIT University and Monash University.  The report, Freedom of Religion and Belief in the 21st Century involved consultations with Australian heads of faith, national and state/territory governments, NGOs, the Australian public via a national call for submissions (more than 2000 reportedly received) as well as a series of commissioned papers related to faith and society.

Overall results purportedly reveal "a vastly more complex religious landscape than 1998," when the last similar survey was done.

Of particular note, though perhaps not completely surprising, "distrust of Muslims as well as hostility towards homosexuals and pagans" (e.g., Aboriginals) apparently remain widespread (or concerns) throughout the nation.

The Australian Multicultural Foundation director and co-author, Hass Dellal, noted that the report's role was to record the varying views, so that every group could hear its own voice represented. It did not make recommendations but would be a resource for governments and faith communities.

According to co-author Gary Bouma, "Over the past 15 years - so it's not a result of September 11 - religious voices have re-entered the political domain vigorously. It's the resurgence of religion around the world - but it doesn't mean people are going back to church."

"Faith in general, and specific faiths, are often misunderstood or feel misrepresented, and this report highlights the importance of faith to many Australians, and the central role faith plays in Australian society," Dr Dellal said.

The report can be found and downloaded in its entirety here with several of the papers available here.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Tyranny of the majority endures in Indonesia

If nothing else, some level of press freedom apparently does yet exist in Indonesia.

Otherwise, if you're not part of the Muslim majority, continue to speak, act and walk very softly.

A revealing, anguish ridden piece on the frustrations of at least one Indonesian in The Jakarta Globe . . . >>>

Friday, March 11, 2011

Statement of the Dalai Llama on Anniversary of Uprising

This statement on "the 52nd anniversary of the Tibetan people’s peaceful uprising of 1959 against Communist China’s repression in the Tibetan capital Lhasa, and the third anniversary of the non-violent demonstrations that took place across Tibet in 2008," yesterday, seems to be of some significance:
"One of the aspirations I have cherished since childhood is the reform of Tibet’s political and social structure, and in the few years when I held effective power in Tibet, I managed to make some fundamental changes. Although I was unable to take this further in Tibet, I have made every effort to do so since we came into exile. Today, within the framework of the Charter for Tibetans in Exile, the Kalon Tripa, the political leadership, and the people’s representatives are directly elected by the people. We have been able to implement democracy in exile that is in keeping with the standards of an open society.

As early as the 1960s, I have repeatedly stressed that Tibetans need a leader, elected freely by the Tibetan people, to whom I can devolve power. Now, we have clearly reached the time to put this into effect. During the forthcoming eleventh session of the fourteenth Tibetan Parliament in Exile, which begins on 14th March, I will formally propose that the necessary amendments be made to the Charter for Tibetans in Exile, reflecting my decision to devolve my formal authority to the elected leader.
Read the entire statement here . . . >>

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Kidnap victims tell their stories

Interview of SAFE President Luke Higuchi and US survivor Gail Veitch on the local Time-Warner Cable station in Bergen County, New Jersey that aired last week.

Kidnap Victims Tell Their Stories on New Jersey TV from UC on Vimeo.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Christian critic of Pakistan's blasphemy laws killed by assassins

Self-described Taliban gunmen have shot dead Pakistan's minorities minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, an advocate of reform of the country's blasphemy laws, as he left his Islamabad home.

Two assassins sprayed the Christian minister's car with gunfire, striking him at least eight times, before scattering pamphlets that described him as a "Christian infidel." The leaflets were signed "Taliban al-Qaida Punjab."

Bhatti's assassination was the second killing of a politician in Islamabad over blasphemy in as many months, following the assassination of the Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer outside a cafe a few miles away on 4 January.

Dismayed human rights activists said it was another sign of rising intolerance at hands of violent extremists. "I am sad and upset but not surprised," said the veteran campaigner Tahira Abdullah outside Bhatti's house. "These people have a long list of targets, and we are all on it. It's not a matter of if, but when."

The only Christian in Pakistan's cabinet, Bhatti had predicted his own death. In a farewell statement recorded four months ago, to be broadcast in the event of his death, he spoke of threats from the Taliban and al-Qaida.

But he vowed not to stop speaking for marginalised Christians and other minorities. "I will die to defend their rights," he said on the tape released to the BBC and al-Jazeera. "These threats and these warnings cannot change my opinions and principles.

Last November Bhatti joined Salmaan Taseer in championing the case of Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman who was sentenced to death last November for allegedly committing blasphemy against the prophet Muhammad.

"This law is being misused," Bhatti told Open magazine at the time. "Many people are facing death threats and problems. They're in prison and are being killed extra-judicially."

The government later distanced itself from the blasphemy reformists, repeatedly stressing that it had no intention of amending the law, leaving Bhatti and Taseer politically isolated. Now that both men are dead, angry supporters say the government bears some responsibility for not protecting them politically, if not physically.

"The government distanced itself from anyone who took a stand on blasphemy. I blame them for being such chickens," said Abdullah.
Ali Dayan Hasan of Human Rights Watch said Bhatti's death represented "the bitter fruit of appeasement of extremist and militant groups both prior to and after the killing of Salmaan Taseer".

Read more, watch the video . . . >>>

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Japanese religious freedom battle goes back to school

In mid-September 2006, with the heat of summer still not over, a master's student named “N” of Osaka University was stepping out of a research ward when he was surrounded by six waiting individuals, including his parents and other relatives. The stunned N was not only kept immobile as his belt was tightly grabbed by two of his captors, but he was also held incommunicado as his cellular phone was confiscated, making it impossible to signal an SOS to his friends.

N was placed in the middle seat of an apparently rented van and was flanked on both sides., Parked in the campus lot, the vehicle's navigation system was covered with a handkerchief so as not to reveal the abductors' destination.

Due to this kidnapping, N was deprived of the opportunity to give a presentation at an academic society, for which he had ardently worked. "I was at a loss when he went missing," N’s faculty advisor later reported. N's academic career was hampered by a barbaric act against his will.

Similar barbarism was rampant in Okayama University in 2002. When Ms. “I” was coming out of her department building after class, she was kidnapped by about 15 people, led by her relatives. (During that period at Okayama, there were at least seven confirmed cases in a row, in which students were abducted by their families.) Several of Ms. I’s friends tried to rescue her in the ensuing scuffle, but her relatives forced her into a vehicle and drove away.

Okayama University Library (Tsushima Campus)
But it was after the year 2006 that many universities across the country began to witness ominous “persecution” against members of religiously-oriented on-campus clubs under the pretext of “anti-cult measures.”

The targets included a new Korean Christian group called "Setsuri” (Providence), the Buddhist group "Jodo Shinshu Shinrankai" affiliated with the Jodo Shinshu Buddhist sect, the group "Fuji Taishakuji Kenshokai," which challenged the administration of a Nichiren Shoshu Buddhist sect, as well as "John's Waseda Church," of the Protestant line.

The most victims by far, however, have been from the Collegiate Association for the Research of Principles (CARP), a student organization affiliated with the Unification Church. In the past five years, about 40 confirmed cases of kidnappings and confinement involving CARP members took place within college campuses.

Read more . . . >>

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Interfaith dialogue encouraged in Indonesia

A European Union (EU) delegate, Werner Langen, visiting Indonesia this week states that "Freedom of worship is a basic human right much like freedom of speech and freedom of expression. We encourage religious freedom and tolerance toward people practicing their beliefs."

He, along with nine other EU delegates, are in Indonesia for 5 days to discuss the country’s diversity, democracy and development and profess belief that Indonesia’s President together with the government can solve the problems related to religious divisions in the country.

Indonesia has recently experienced a surge in religion-based problems. Two violent incidents, the lynching of Ahmadis in Cikeusik and the destruction of churches in Temanggung, rocked the nation earlier this month.

“We have full trust in the government and President Susilo Bambang Yudoyhono,” Werner said Tuesday.

The delegation is in Indonesia to learn about its continuing efforts at democratization while forging ties that will also include several other Southeast Asian countries.

Source: The Jakarta Post

Obama health care mandate ruled not to violate RF

Religion News Service (RNS) reports (Feb. 22) that a federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by Christians who argued that President Obama's health care overhaul violates their religious freedom.

The Christians said they believe that God will heal them from disease and that the requirement to purchase health insurance in the new Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act forces them to demonstrate a lack of faith. The lawsuit argued the health care law also violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

But, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler said, "It is unclear how (the new health care law) puts substantial pressure on plaintiffs to modify their behavior and to violate their beliefs, as it permits them to pay a shared responsibility payment in lieu of actually obtaining health insurance."

More here.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Denial of service and credible authority

(USCIRF) expresses concern today that Greek Orthodox Christians were refused the right to celebrate a Christmas Liturgy service in the village of Rizokarpaso, in the area of the Republic of Cyprus under the control of Turkish troops and administered by Turkish Cypriot authorities. Turkish Cypriot police entered the Church of Saint Sinesios and demanded that worship activities cease because the government had not granted the congregation permission for the service.
“It is wrong and a symbol of religious intolerance and repressive policies of the Turkish Cypriot authorities supported by Turkey’s occupation troops to require such a small church community to seek permission to hold Christmas Liturgy,” said Leonard Leo, USCIRF chair.

“Requiring such permission is simply a bureaucratic ploy that violates the universally protected right to freedom of religion and belief. The Greek Orthodox population has declined steadily in the area of Cyprus under the control of the local Turkish Cypriot authorities and Turkey’s occupation troops. The Turkish Cypriot authorities’ suggestion that such a small religious community would require advanced crowd control planning is not credible. We urge the U.S. government to press Turkish Cypriot authorities to remove any hurdles imposed on Greek Orthodox Christians that prevent them from freely practicing their faith.”

In 1960, the Greek Orthodox population in Rizokarpaso was estimated at 3,000 and was part of approximately 180,000 Greek Orthodox living in the northern part of Cyprus. Today, there are approximately 350 Greek Orthodox adherents enclaved in Rizokarpasso.  According to State Department reports, the church was one of seven religious sites in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots where religious services could be performed on a regular basis without receiving advanced permission.  The denial of the Christmas service runs counter to those claims.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Tolerance . . . . toward freedom

As the year 2011 (solar) enters in, the current dominant force of intolerance toward religious minorities seems to be prevailing. The latest news or evidence of this comes from Egypt where 21 Christian believers were killed in a car bomb explosion that also injured 79 people (with numbers increasing as reports continue) just after midnight Saturday in east Alexandria, Egypt.

How are people of faith - any faith - to cope with or deal with such blatant acts of hatred?

The answer seems to lie somewhere between tolerance and freedom.

As in either case, more involvement by more people of good conscience and loving hearts is certainly required.

Which comes to that ultimate question (and conundrum) that has perplexed human beings since that first night of looking up at a celestial firmament while situated upon an earthly one: How do I get there from here?

The path from simple, uncommon tolerance to freedom seems forever wrought with obstacles. And leaving one or a few of those for -- the next one -- seems never, truly, to be the best possible option.

Hence, is it actually possible that discovery of that pure, genuine path, toward -- freedom; "religious," here in particular -- lies, yet ahead?

This be my (everlasting) prayer.

"Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom."  (2 Corinthians 3:17)