Anasagasti List - Unequal Time, Aida Anasagasti, Aidita Anasagasti









Reporting on the Folly of Faith,
the Aberrations of Belief,
the Ruse of Religion


VOLUME I ~ 2009

noose coverage


VOLUME II ~ 2010



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Auguste Rodin





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the grinch who stole the story of christmas

the true story

There Goes the Sun
Author of “Chasing the Sun: The Epic Story of the Star That Gives Us Life”
The New York Times: December 20, 2010

WHAT is the winter solstice, and why bother to celebrate it, as so many people around the world will tomorrow? The word “solstice” derives from the Latin sol (meaning sun) and statum (stand still), and reflects what we see on the first days of summer and winter when, at dawn for two or three days, the sun seems to linger for several minutes in its passage across the sky, before beginning to double back.

Indeed, “turnings of the sun” is an old phrase, used by both Hesiod
(> left) and Homer (> right). The novelist Alan Furst has one of his characters nicely observe, “the day the sun is said to pause. ... Pleasing, that idea. ... As though the universe stopped for a moment to reflect, took a day off from work. One could sense it, time slowing down.”

Virtually all cultures have their own way of acknowledging this moment.
The Welsh word for solstice [Byrddydd] translates as “the point of roughness” [when Rhiannon
(left) gave birth to the sacred son, Pryderi] while the Talmud calls it “Tekufat Tevet,” first day of “the stripping time.” For the Chinese, winter’s beginning is “dongzhi,” (> left) when one tradition is making balls of glutinous rice, which symbolize family gathering. In Korea, these balls are mingled with a sweet red bean called pat jook (> right). According to local lore, each winter solstice a ghost comes to haunt villagers. The red bean in the rice balls repels him.

In parts of Scandinavia, the locals smear their front doors with butter so that Beiwe, sun goddess of fertility [and sanity] (left), can lap it up before she continues on her journey. (One wonders who does all the mopping up afterward.) Later, young women don candle-embedded helmets, while families go to bed having placed their shoes all in a row, to ensure peace over the coming year.

Street processions are another common feature. In Japan, young men known as “sun devils,” their faces daubed to represent their imagined solar ancestry, still go among the farms to ensure the earth’s fertility (and their own stocking-up with alcohol). In Ireland, people called wren-boys take to the roads, wearing masks or straw suits. The practice used to involve the killing of a wren, and singing songs while carrying the corpse from house to house.


Sacrifice is a common thread. In areas of northern Pakistan, men have cold water poured over their heads in purification, and are forbidden to sit on any chair till the evening, when their heads will be sprinkled with goats’ blood. (Unhappy goats.) Purification is also the main object for the Zuni and Hopi tribes of North America, their attempt to recall the sun from its long winter slumber. It also marks the beginning of another turning of their “wheel of the year,” and kivas (sacred underground ritual chambers,
right) are opened to mark the season.

Yet, for all these symbolisms, this time remains at heart an astronomical event, and quite a curious one. In summer, the sun is brighter and reaches higher into the sky, shortening the shadows that it casts; in winter it rises and sinks closer to the horizon, its light diffuses more and its shadows lengthen. As the winter hemisphere tilts steadily further away from the star, daylight becomes shorter and the sun arcs ever lower. Societies that were organized around agriculture intently studied the heavens, ensuring that the solstices were well charted.

Despite their best efforts, however, their priests and stargazers came to realize that it was exceptionally hard to pinpoint the moment of the sun’s turning by observation alone — even though they could define the successive seasons by the advancing and withdrawal of daylight and darkness.

The earth further complicates matters. Our globe tilts on its axis like a spinning top, going around the sun at an angle to its orbit of 23 and a half degrees. Yet the planet’s shape changes minutely and its axis wobbles, thus its orbit fluctuates. If its axis remained stable and if its orbit were a true circle, then the equinoxes and solstices would quarter the year into equal sections. As it is, the time between the spring and fall equinoxes in the Northern Hemisphere is slightly greater than that between fall and spring, the earth — being at that time closer to the sun — moving about 6 percent faster in January than in July.

The apparently supernatural power manifest in solstices to govern the seasons has been felt as far back as we know, inducing different reactions from different cultures — fertility rites, fire festivals, offerings to the gods. Many of the wintertime customs in Western Europe descend from the ancient Romans, who believed that their god of the harvest, Saturn, had ruled the land during an earlier age of abundance, and so celebrated the winter solstice with the Saturnalia, a feast of gift-giving, role-reversals (slaves berating their masters) and general public holiday from Dec. 17 to 24.

The transition from Roman paganism to Christianity, with its similar rites, took several centuries. With the Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity in the fourth century, customs were quickly appropriated and refashioned, as the sun and God’s son became inextricably entwined. Thus, although the New Testament gives no indication of Christ’s actual birthday (early writers preferring a spring date), in 354 Pope Liberius declared it to have befallen on Dec. 25.

The advantages of Christmas Day being celebrated then were obvious. As the Christian commentator Syrus wrote: “It was a custom of the pagans to celebrate on the same Dec. 25 the birthday of the sun, at which they kindled lights in token of festivity .... Accordingly, when the church authorities perceived that the Christians had a leaning to this festival, they took counsel and resolved that the true Nativity should be solemnized on that day.”

In Christendom, the Nativity gradually absorbed all other winter solstice rites, and the co-opting of solar imagery was part of the same process. Thus the solar discs that had once been depicted behind the heads of Asian rulers became the halos of Christian luminaries.

Egypt - Ra
Roman - Apollo

Despite the new religion’s apparent supremacy, many of the old customs survived — so much so that church elders worried that the veneration of Christ was being lost. In the fifth century, St. Augustine of Hippo and Pope Leo the Great felt compelled to remind their flocks that Christ, not the sun, was their proper object of their worship.

While Roman Christianity was the dominant culture in Western Europe, it was by no means the only one. By millennium’s end, the Danes controlled most of England, bringing with them “Yule,” their name for winter solstice celebrations, probably derived from an earlier term for “wheel.” For centuries, the most sacred Norse symbol had been the wheel of the heavens, represented by a six- or eight-spoked wheel or by a cross within a wheel signifying solar rays [the symbol adopted by Opus Dei,

The Norse peoples, many of whom settled in what is now Yorkshire, would construct huge solar wheels and place them next to hilltop bonfires, while in the Middle Ages processions bore wheels upon chariots or boats. In other parts of Europe, where the Vikings were feared and hated, a taboo on using spinning wheels during solstices lasted well into the 20th century. The spinning-wheel on which Sleeping Beauty pricks her finger may exemplify this sense of menace.

Throughout much of Europe, at least up until the 16th century, starvation was common from January to April, a period known as “the famine months.” Most cattle were slaughtered so they would not have to be fed over the winter, making the solstice almost the only time of year that fresh meat was readily available. The boar’s head at Christmas feasts represents the dying sun of the old year, while the suckling pig — with the apple of immortality in its mouth — the new.

The turning of the sun was perhaps even more important in the New World than the Old. The Aztecs, who believed that the heart harbored elements of the sun’s power, ensured its continual well-being by tearing out this vital organ from hunchbacks, dwarves or prisoners of war, so releasing the “divine sun fragments” entrapped by the body and its desires.

The Incas would celebrate the solar festival of Inti Raymi by having their priests attempt to tie down the celestial body. At Machu Picchu, high in the Peruvian Andes, there is a large stone column called the Intihuatana, (“hitching post of the sun,”) to which the star would be symbolically harnessed. It is unclear how the Incas measured the success of this endeavor, but at least the sun returned the following day.

Yet above all other rituals, reproducing the sun’s fire by kindling flame on earth is the commonest solstice practice, both at midsummer and midwinter. Thomas Hardy, describing Dorset villagers around a bonfire in “The Return of the Native,” offers an explanation for such a worldwide phenomenon:

“To light a fire is the instinctive and resistant act of men when, at the winter ingress, the curfew is sounded throughout nature. It indicates a spontaneous, Promethean rebelliousness against the fiat that this recurrent season shall bring foul times, cold darkness, misery and death. Black chaos comes, and the fettered gods of the earth say, ‘Let there be light.’

So there is good reason to celebrate the winter solstice — but maybe that celebration is still touched with a little fear.

Celestial Holidays
The New York Times: December 21, 2010

This is it, the shortest day of the year, the longest night. Winter, which begins Tuesday at 6:38 p.m. Eastern time, will get no darker than this. Slowly, inexorably, the days will begin to yawn wider and wider, and night will begin to contract. The change is just a few seconds at first — New Year’s Eve in Manhattan will be only 28 seconds longer than Christmas Eve. By mid-March, the days will be growing by some 2 minutes and 40 seconds apiece, and then the rate of change slows again until late June.

We come to the winter solstice with mixed feelings. It will be lovely to have more light in the day. But there’s something equally wonderful about these long hibernal nights. By 4:30 every day — just as the sun is disappearing — we start to feel a little ursine, ready to dig a hole and sleep away the winter. How different our species would be if only we’d learned that one great trick!

We are all deeply habituated, in this northern clime, to the annual accordioning of the day — so much so that an equatorial place like Quito, Ecuador, where the length of day changes only by a second from solstice to solstice, sounds almost like a city out of science fiction. In some ways, that daily constancy seems more disorienting here, where the length of day changes by almost six hours, than the reversal of seasons in the Southern Hemisphere, where Christmas comes in summer.

Another important astronomical holiday follows soon after the winter solstice (which included a lunar eclipse). At 2 p.m., New York time, on Jan. 3, the Earth reaches Perihelion — the closest approach to the Sun in our elliptical orbit, a little more than 91 million miles away.

For some reason, this is a moment that goes uncelebrated, entirely unheralded. So we say to you all,

Merry Solstice and have a Happy Perihelion!


NYC 'cross' walk
Protest march over art 'censor'
The New York Post: December 20, 2010

More than 200 protesters hit Fifth Avenue yesterday with fire in their bellies over the Smithsonian's yanking of a controversial work by famed gay artist David Wojnarowicz.

The chanting demonstrators clogged the avenue between 81st and 82nd streets to demand that the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC, restore the Wojnarowicz piece, a video called "A Fire in My Belly," which showed ants crawling over a crucified Jesus, angering Christian groups.

"We're here to send a very loud message to the Smithsonian. Put the Wojnarowicz video back now!" said Bill Dobbs, a protest organizer.

The protesters looped around the entrance to the Metropolitan Museum of Art before marching up to the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, a Smithsonian affiliate, at 91st Street.
As the group hit 84th Street, members briefly blocked eastbound traffic before cops restored order.

They waved signs and banners that included slogans such as: "Smithsonian: Stop the Censorship of Art" and
"Silence = Death."

Demonstrators chanted: "Hey, hey, ho, ho, censorship has got to go!"

Wojnarowicz's video was pulled from the portrait gallery's exhibit "Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture" on Nov. 30, after the institution received heated complaints from the Catholic League and conservative politicians.

"This street demonstration in New York reflects rising anger in the heart of the art community," Dobbs said. "Almost every professional art organization has condemned the censorship."

Smithsonian spokeswoman Linda St. Thomas
yesterday said curators had no choice but to pull "Fire," lest the greater exhibit be overshadowed by the controversy. "It was becoming all about the video," St. Thomas said. "We tried to avoid removing it. But it would have been the focal point, and everyone would have gone straight to that. It was overwhelming everything else. That's all everyone was talking about."

St. Thomas insisted the greater exhibit is "ground-breaking" and sheds a historic light on gender and sexuality in art.

(Full article)

President of the Warhol Foundation


Secretary of the Smithsonian










Warhol Foundation Says It’s Ending Smithsonian Support
The New York Times: December 14, 2010

The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts is threatening to stop its financial support of Smithsonian exhibitions if the institution does not restore a work of art that was removed from a current show following attacks by the president of the Catholic League and two Republican Congressmen. The Warhol Foundation gave $100,000 to the Smithsonian for the exhibition, “Hide/ Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture,” at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, one of the Smithsonian museums. The work was removed on Nov. 30.

In a letter sent on Monday by e-mail and FedEx to G. Wayne Clough, the secretary of the Smithsonian, Joel Wachs, the president of the Warhol foundation, said the board had voted unanimously Friday to demand that the Smithsonian reinstate the work, an excerpt of a video by the artist David Wojnarowicz, or the foundation would not finance any future Smithsonian shows.

“I regret that you have put us in this position, but there is no other course we can take,” Mr. Wachs wrote in the letter, which the foundation also sent to the news media.

“For the arts to flourish, the arts must be free, and the decision to censor this important work is in stark opposition to our mission to defend freedom of expression wherever and whenever it is under attack.”

On Monday afternoon Mr. Clough said through a spokeswoman, “While we regret the foundation’s action, the Smithsonian’s decision to remove the video was a difficult one, and we stand by it.”

“We felt it was really necessary to take this strong step, and we are going to back it,” Mr. Wachs said in a telephone interview, adding that he hoped that other donors would follow suit. The Smithsonian “can’t just bow to this kind of bigoted attack,” he said, “and not feel the consequences.”

Photo: Sara Krulwich/The New York Times
Warhol photo: Gagosian Gallery

Undersecretary for art, history and culture
National Museum of American History

R - OH

R - VA

Board member resigns over crucifix controversy
By Jacqueline Trescott
The Washington Post:12/ 9/2010

The staff at the National Museum of American History met Monday with Richard Kurin, the undersecretary for art, history and culture, and a member of the senior staff who decided the excerpt from David Wojnarowicz's video was what the Smithsonian called a "distraction" to the overall groundbreaking show.

One participant at the meeting said Kurin explained Smithsonian officials moved fast because criticism from Capitol Hill and other critics was coming so quickly.

"The Secretary had to move quickly because the news cycle moves so fast now," said the long-time employee. "He also said the video wasn't an essential part of the show and had been added late."

Because the objections on Capitol Hill came initially from two powerful Republicans, John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Eric Cantor (R-Va.), and the Congress controls 70 percent of the Smithsonian's budget, employees said they feared to go public with their viewpoints.

Since removing the video, which contained an 11-second segment that showed ants crawling over a crucifix, the Smithsonian has taken steps to control the damage. The action has also been criticized by artists, who staged a protest outside the Portrait Gallery last week, and by the Association of Art Museum Directors, an influential group.

Last week commissioner JAMES T. BARTLETT resigned from the advisory panel in protest. "I believe it is a fundamental right of museums and their curatorial staffs to make such decisions [about exhibition content], even if some art is deemed objectionable by external critics," said Bartlett in an e-mail obtained by The Washington Post. "I choose firmly and resolutely not to be part of an institution that is and can be put ad infinitum in this position."

Chair, Visual Studies Doctoral Program
SUNY, Buffalo

Co-curator, Historian
National Portrait Gallery

Nationmal Portrait Gallery

After Dispute Over Video, Curators to Discuss Smithsonian Show
The New York Times: December 9,2010

The curators of a Smithsonian art exhibition that has sparked a firestorm in the last week — first because of the inclusion of a video that included an image of ants crawling on a crucifix, then because of the video’s removal from the show — will talk about the show at the New York Public Library next Wednesday [15 Decvember].

The exhibition, at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, is titled “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture” and is devoted to representations of homosexual desire in American art. Early last week, after the head of the Catholic League and some House Republicans attacked the show, focusing on a video by the artist David Wojnarowicz that included the crucifix image, partly as a metaphor for the AIDS crisis, the Smithsonian decided to remove the video from the exhibition. That drew accusations of censorship from, among others, one of the show’s two curators, Jonathan Katz, a professor at the State University of New York, Buffalo. Mr. Katz told The Buffalo News that he was outraged not to have been consulted, and called the Smithsonian’s decision “incredibly stupid.”

On Wednesday Mr. Katz will discuss the show with the other curator, David Ward, a historian at the National Portrait Gallery. The gallery’s director, Martin Sullivan, will also be in attendance. The discussion will be moderated by Jason Baumann, who coordinates the library’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender collections.

(Full article)

New Tork Times
Op-Ed Columnist


Catholic League


R - VA


R - GA


Nationmal Portrait Gallery


R - MS


D - VT



















Gay Bashing at the Smithsonian
The New York Times: December 12, 2010

EACH Aug. 4, my wife Alex and I visit a church to light candles for two people we loved who both died tragically on that day two years apart — my mother, killed at 64 in a car crash, and Alex’s closest friend from graduate school, killed by AIDS at half that age. My mother was Jewish but loved the meditative serenity of vast cathedrals. Alex’s friend, John, was a Roman Catholic conflicted by a religion that demonized his sexuality. Our favorite pilgrimage is to an Episcopal church, Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, not as some sectarian compromise but because of its AIDS chapel, a haunting reminder of the plague that ravaged that city’s population, especially its gay men, some time ago.

What helps give us some solace is the chapel’s mesmerizing altarpiece. It was the New York artist Keith Haring’s
(left) last completed work in the weeks before his death by AIDS at age 31 in 1990, titled “The Life of Christ” (right).... You needn’t be a believer to be inspired by the beauty of his vision.

Not every artist struck down by AIDS could hit so generous a note. Such was the case with David Wojnarowicz (left), a painter, author and filmmaker, who, like Haring, was a fixture of the East Village arts scene in the 1980s. When his mentor and former lover, the photographer Peter Hujar, fell ill with AIDS in 1987, Wojnarowicz created a video titled “A Fire in My Belly” to express both his grief and his fury. As in Haring’s altarpiece, Christ figures in Wojnarowicz’s response to the plague — albeit in a cryptic, 11-second cameo. A crucifix is besieged by ants that evoke frantic souls scurrying in panic as a seemingly impassive God looked on.

Wojnarowicz would die at age 37, also of AIDS, in 1992. This is now ancient, half-forgotten history. When a four-minute excerpt from “A Fire in My Belly” was included in an exhibit that opened six weeks ago at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, it received no attention. That’s hardly a surprise, given the entirety of this very large show — a survey of same-sex themes in American portraiture titled “Hide/Seek.” It’s an exhibit that would have been unimaginable in a mainstream institution in Wojnarowicz’s lifetime.

The story might end there — like Haring’s altarpiece, a bittersweet yet uplifting postscript to a time of plague. But it doesn’t because “Fire in My Belly” was removed from the exhibit by the National Portrait Gallery some 10 days ago with the full approval, if not instigation, of its parent institution, the Smithsonian. (The censored version of “Hide/Seek” is still scheduled to run through Feb. 13.) The incident is chilling because it suggests that even in a time of huge progress in gay civil rights, homophobia remains among the last permissible bigotries in America.

The Smithsonian’s behavior and the ensuing silence in official Washington are jarring echoes of those days when American political leaders stood by idly as the epidemic raged on. The incident is also a throwback to the culture wars we thought we were getting past now — most eerily the mother of them all, the cancellation of a [Robert] Mapplethorpe exhibit (after he died of AIDS) at another Washington museum, the Corcoran, in 1989.

Like many of its antecedents, the war over Wojnarowicz is a completely manufactured piece of theater. What triggered the abrupt uproar was an incendiary Nov. 29 post on a conservative Web site. The post was immediately and opportunistically seized upon by William Donohue, of the so-called Catholic League, a right-wing publicity mill with no official or financial connection to the Catholic Church.

Donohue is best known for defending Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitism by declaring that “Hollywood is controlled by Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular.” A perennial critic of all news media except Fox, he has also accused The Times of anti-Catholicism because it investigated the church pedophilia scandal. Donohue maintains the church doesn’t have a “pedophilia crisis” but a “homosexual crisis.” Such is the bully that the Smithsonian surrendered to without a fight.

Donohue’s tactic was to label the 11-second ants-and-crucifix sequence as “anti-Christian” hate speech. “The irony,” wrote the Washington Post art critic, Blake Gopnik, is that the video is merely a tepid variation on the centuries-old tradition of artists using images of Christ, many of them “hideously grisly,” to speak of mankind’s suffering. Those images are staples of all museums — even in Washington, where gory 17th-century sculptures of Christ were featured in a recent show of Spanish sacred art at the National Gallery.

But of course Donohue was just using his “religious” objections as a perfunctory cover for the homophobia actually driving his complaint. The truth popped out of the closet as Donohue expanded his indictment to “pornographic images of gay men.” His Republican Congressional allies got into the act. Eric Cantor called for the entire exhibit to be shut down and threatened to maim the Smithsonian’s taxpayer funding come January. (The exhibit was entirely funded by private donors, but such facts don’t matter in culture wars.) Jack Kingston, of the House Appropriations Committee, rattled off his own list of exaggerated gay outrages in “Hide/Seek,” from “Ellen DeGeneres grabbing her breasts”
(above left) to “naked brothers kissing.”

It took only hours after Donohue’s initial battle cry for the video to be yanked. “The decision wasn’t caving in,” the museum’s director, Martin E. Sullivan, told reporters. Of course it was. The Smithsonian, in its own official statement, rationalized its censorship by saying that Wojnarowicz’s video “generated a strong response from the public.” That’s nonsense. There wasn’t a strong response from the public — there was no response. As the museum’s own publicist told the press, the National Portrait Gallery hadn’t received a single complaint about “A Fire in the Belly” from the exhibit’s opening day, Oct. 30, until a full month later, when a “public” that hadn’t seen the exhibit was mobilized by Donohue to blast the museum by phone and e-mail.

The Post’s Gopnik (left) has been heroically relentless in calling out the Smithsonian and the National Portrait Gallery for their capitulation. But few in Washington’s power circles have joined him, including the Smithsonian’s Board of Regents — a gilded assembly of bipartisan cowardice that ranges from Senator Thad Cochran, Republican of Mississippi, to Senator Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont.

Above right: Portrait of the Artist with Donors by Robert Coane, 1990,
attacking censorship at the height of the "culture wars" of the '80s and depicting Senators Jesse Helms and Alphonse D'Amato
the then self-appointed Senate censors and former Corcoran Gallery director Christina Orr-Cahall, who cancelled the Robert Maplethorpe exibit.
Click on image to read iconographic description

American Family Association


Catholic League


R - OH


(1575 - 1642)


(1910 - 1986)


(1905 - 1980)


New York Times
Art Critic

As Ants Crawl Over Crucifix, Dead Artist Is Assailed Again
The New York Times: December 11, 2010

In 1989, Donald Wildmon, founder of the American Family Association, mailed a pamphlet reproducing details from collages by the New York artist David Wojnarowicz (1954-1992) to every member of Congress, to various news media outlets and to religious leaders across the country.

Mr. Wildmon, a Methodist minister, had prepared the pamphlet himself; he considered the images pornographic or blasphemous. He had copied them from the catalog for an exhibition partly supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, the real object of his protest. Wojnarowicz (pronounced voy-nah-ROH-vitch), furious at having his work selectively edited, sued Mr. Wildmon for misrepresenting his art and won the case.

Twenty years later, history is repeating itself, with variations. Wojnarowicz’s work is under similar attack, this time by Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, and several members of Congress (most notably Representative John A. Boehner, R - OH, future Speaker of the House).

The offending material is again a detail of a larger work, an image of ants crawling over a crucifix, excerpted from a Wojnarowicz video [“A Fire in My Belly”] that was included in a large group show called “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture” at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington.

On Dec. 1 the gallery, part of the Smithsonian Institution, took the video off view.

A raw, moving, disturbing piece of art ... comes in two sections: one is 13 minutes; the other is 7 minutes, video of the same title found on a separate reel after Wojnarowicz’s death from AIDS. In an added complication, the two tapes were edited down to one that is roughly 4 minutes for the National Portrait Gallery show.
(Click on images above for related videos)

That “A Fire in My Belly” is about spirituality, and about AIDS, is beyond doubt. To those caught up in the crisis, the worst years of the epidemic were like an extended Day of the Dead, a time of skulls and candles, corruption with promise of resurrection. Wojnarowicz was profoundly angry at a government that barely acknowledged the epidemic and at political forces that he believed used AIDS, and the art created in response, to demonize homosexuals.

He felt, with reason, mortally embattled, and the video is filled with symbols of vulnerability under attack: beggars, slaughtered animals, displaced bodies and the crucified Jesus. In Wojnarowicz’s nature symbolism — and this is confirmed in other works — ants were symbols of a human life mechanically driven by its own needs, heedless of anything else. Here they blindly swarm over an emblem of suffering and self-sacrifice.

Am I giving the image too benign a reading? Possibly, but I’m basing it on what Wojnarowicz had to say about another image of Jesus that he used in his art, one that Mr. Wildmon and the American Family Association called blasphemous. Part of a detail of a 1979 collage called “Untitled (Genet),” (left) it is an altered version of the familiar 17th-century painting “Christ Crowned With Thorns,” by Guido Reni (right). Reni’s Jesus, who looks both agonized and ecstatic, is here shown with a heroin syringe in his arm.

But the changed image is part of a larger picture. Wojnarowicz has placed it atop an altar inside what looks like a bombed-out church swarming with antlike figures of soldiers as a flock of large angels descends into the church from the sky. In the center of everything stands a haloed figure, the French homosexual writer Jean Genet, dubbed “St. Genet” by Jean-Paul Sartre.

In response to questions during his courtroom testimony against the American Family Association, Wojnarowicz explained that he made the piece after returning to New York from a stay in France, where he had been reading Genet. Back in New York, he was struck by the rampant and rising use of hard drugs among people he knew and the self-destruction that resulted. He said that in his own upbringing as a Roman Catholic he’d been taught that Jesus took on the sufferings of all people in the world.

“I wanted to make a symbol that would show that he would take on the suffering of the vast amounts of addiction that I saw on the streets,” Wojnarowicz testified. “And I did this because I saw very little treatment available for people who had this illness.”

I don’t believe Wojnarowicz was being disingenuous. He was speaking under oath and, in any case, he was nothing if not passionate about his belief in the moral purpose of art, as passionate as his religious accusers have been in questioning his morality. It’s an interesting thing about passion, how coming from ostensibly opposite beliefs and directions, it can sometimes end up meeting in the same place.

(Above left: A protest against removing a David Wojnarowicz video from a National Portrait Gallery show)
Click on photo of Holland Cotter, left botom, for his review of “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture"

Catholic League president

Staten Island
Borough president

Baby Jesus ousted from St. George Ferry Terminal
Tom Wrobleski Friday, December 10, 2010

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- The Christ is out of Christmas at the St. George Ferry Terminal.

In what Catholics see as political correctness run amok, the city Department of Transportation (DOT) has removed a Nativity scene from the terminal, with an agency spokesman saying that the display was not authorized to be there. But a menorah, marking the celebration of Hanukkah, and a Christmas tree remain on display in the terminal.

Catholics said the move was a nightmare before Christmas. "We take this as a tremendous affront," said Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, a watchdog of religious and civil rights.

The controversy reflects church-and-state battles that erupt nationwide each Christmas over the placement of religious symbols in public spaces.

Other public institutions here balance the religious and secular themes of the season.

At Borough Hall, for example, a Nativity scene, a menorah, a Christmas tree and a display for Kwanzaa share space next to each other in the lobby.

"They’re all religious symbols," Borough President James P. Molinaro, a Catholic, said tonight as he prepared to host a Christmas-tree lighting ceremony at Borough Hall. "Remove them all, or remove none. My opinion? Leave them all there."



Naples, Italy
The New York Post: 9 December 2010

A figure of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is placed in a Neapolitan Christmas creche by Gennaro Di Virgilio depicting the Nativity of Jesus in Naples. In recent decades, artists and craftsmen who make Neapolitan creches have used them to portray the signs of the times. Assange, who is depicted holding his trusty laptop, was created by Di Virgilio, who each year chooses at least one contemporary character to sculpt and place near the scenes of the traditional story of Jesus' birth in a manger.

 poll: Dogs are Santa's favorites
Associated Press: December 8, 2010

LOS ANGELES - While fewer than half of those who attend religious services weekly or more often say they plan to buy their pets a gift, 60 percent of those who never attend services do.

DOGHOUSE Solstice pitchoors

Dallas-Fort Worth
Coalition of Reason


Fort Worth Transportation Authority Board member

Fort Worth transit bans religious ads on buses
Associated Press: Dec. 16, 2010

FORT WORTH, Texas — Fort Worth buses will no longer carry religious advertisements because of a furor sparked by an atheist group's ads that proclaim, "Millions of Americans are Good Without God."

The Fort Worth Transportation Authority unanimously voted Wednesday night to ban religious ads, a decision that many atheists and church leaders applauded during the packed meeting. Board member Gary Havener called the atheist ad divisive.

The ads, which were purchased by the Dallas-Fort Worth Coalition of Reason, will continue until the 30-day contract expires in early January. The 2.5-by-12-foot ads first appeared on the sides of four of the fleet of about 150 buses earlier this month, and are similar to those that have run in other cities nationwide in recent years.

Terry McDonald, the coalition's organizer, said Thursday that the group did not initially plan for the ads to run during the Christmas season but that he hopes the message will bring comfort to those who feel left out during the holidays. He said the ads are not intended to undermine anyone's belief in God.

He called the new ban a "secular victory," because he said churches have been buying ads on buses for years and the new policy will help keep religion and government separate.

When the controversy erupted two weeks ago, Fort Worth Transportation Authority spokeswoman Joan Hunter said the atheist ad had been approved because it was not inappropriate and "we strive to respect First Amendment rights."

The Fort Worth buses typically feature ads for local art museums' exhibits and events at Texas Christian University, which is associated with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The new policy will not prohibit TCU from buying ads for sporting events but might affect ads promoting its divinity school or any religious programs, said the transportation authority's legal counsel Sylvia Hartless.

Other agencies, including Dallas Area Rapid Transit, already have policies banning religious ads.

Chairman of Metroplex Atheists


National Director of the United Coalition of Reason


Southern Christian Leadership



















Atheist Ads on Buses Rattle Fort Worth
The New York Times: December 15, 2010

FORT WORTH — Stand on a corner in this city and you might get a case of theological whiplash.

A public bus rolls by with an atheist message on its side:

“Millions of people are good without God.”

Seconds later, a van follows bearing a riposte: “I still love you. — God,” with another line that says, “2.1 billion Christians are good with God.”

A clash of beliefs has rattled this city ever since atheists bought ad space on four city buses to reach out to nonbelievers who might feel isolated during the Christmas season. After all, Fort Worth is a place where residents commonly ask people they have just met where they worship and many encounters end with, “Have a blessed day.”

“We want to tell people they are not alone,” said Terry McDonald, the chairman of Metroplex Atheists, part of the Dallas-Fort Worth Coalition of Reason, which paid for the atheist ads.

“People don’t realize there are other atheists. All you hear around here is, ‘Where do you go to church?’ ”

But the reaction from believers has been harsher than anyone in the nonbeliever’s club expected. Some ministers organized a boycott of the buses, with limited success. Other clergy members are pressing the Fort Worth Transportation Authority to ban all religious advertising on public buses. And a group of local businessmen paid for the van with the Christian message to follow the atheist-messaged buses around town.

The face-off here follows efforts in other cities by several coalitions of atheists — American Atheists, the United Coalition of Reason and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, to name a few — that have mounted ad campaigns to encourage nonbelievers to seek out others of like mind. Some have compared their efforts to the struggle of gay men and lesbians to “come out” and win acceptance from society.

The Fort Worth group is affiliated with the United Coalition of Reason, whose local chapters have bought bus ads in Detroit, northwest Arkansas, Philadelphia and Washington, as well as billboards in more than a dozen cities, among them Chicago, Houston, New Orleans, Seattle and St. Louis. Most show a blue sky with variations on this message:

“Don’t believe in God? You are not alone.”

The ads have incited anger in some places. Vandals destroyed two bus ads in Detroit, ruined a billboard in Tampa, Fla., and defaced 10 billboards in Sacramento. One billboard in Cincinnati was taken down after the landlord received threats.

And the local rapid transit authority in Des Moines pulled atheist ads off its buses in August last year because of complaints from local religious leaders. Four days later, however, the authority reversed its position after the local group that had bought the ads threatened legal action on First Amendment grounds.

But nowhere has the reaction of believers been so forceful as in Fort Worth, to the delight of Fred Edwords, the national director of the United Coalition of Reason.

The coalition’s local chapter spent only $2,400 for four bus ads, which will run through the month in a city with about 200 buses.

“That’s more brouhaha for the buck than we have seen anywhere,” Mr. Edwords said.

Some of the fiercest criticism has come from black religious leaders. The Rev. Kyev Tatum Sr., president of the local Southern Christian Leadership Conference, has called for a boycott of the buses, saying the ads are a direct attack during a sacred time in the Christian calendar.

“It’s a season to share good will toward all men,” Mr. Tatum said. “To have this at this time come out with a blatant disrespect of our faith, we think is unconscionable.”

While Mr. Tatum and about 20 other pastors have urged their congregations to avoid the buses, a smaller group met recently with the transportation authority’s president to demand that the policy allowing religious advertising on buses be reversed Wednesday at a meeting of the authority’s board. The bus system in nearby Dallas bans all religious ads.

Mr. McDonald, chairman of the local atheist group, said the ad was intended not to insult Christians, but to console atheists. The initial plan, he said, was to run the ad on the Fourth of July, which is why it features dozens of portraits of Texas atheists in an American flag motif.

“It can be pretty lonely for a nonbeliever at Christmastime around here. There is so much religion,” Mr. McDonald said. “We thought, ‘What the heck? Nobody owns December.’ ”


Weird but true
POST WIRE SERVICES:: December 6, 2010

Cetre for Inquiry, an atheist group in Canada, is taking its message to the streets -- or, at least, to bus stops.

The Extraordinary Claims Campaign wants to roll out ads on Toronto city buses saying that Jesus and Allah are no more authentic than UFOs.

If officials approve the ads, the group hopes to post them later on buses in Calgary, Vancouver, Ottawa, Saskatoon and Montreal.



For the Holidays, an Atheism Billboard
The New York Times: November 29, 2010

Among the many advertisements lining I-495 in New Jersey en route to the Lincoln Tunnel is a new one promoting atheism for the holidays rather than another gift.

The billboard shows three crowned men riding camels toward a humble manger in which a man and woman kneel beside a straw-filled bassinet, all silhouetted beneath a prominent six-pointed star. The message — “You know it’s a myth. This season, celebrate reason!” — is emblazoned in large white letters above the nativity scene.

The provocative 14-by-48-foot billboard was rented for $20,000 by American Atheists, a national atheist organization, and went up Nov. 22. It is the latest in a series of campaigns promoting atheism in the city in recent years, most notably advertisements on city subways and buses. (Those campaigns were the work of the New York City Coalition of Reason, an umbrella group of secular organizations, and NYC Atheists, a local American Atheists affiliate, respectively.)

David Silverman, the president of American Atheists and the man behind the billboard, said it would remain in place at least until the winter solstice on Dec. 21 and possibly through Christmas. He said the billboard was partly inspired by one that American Atheists’ founder, Madalyn Murray O’Hair, set up in Dallas in the 1970s proclaiming “Atheism: It’s not what you believe.”

Mr. Silverman said the billboard served two purposes. The first was to get the many people who do not actually believe in God but practice religious rituals to “come out,” in his words.
He said the billboard’s location was especially effective because commuters “drive by this sign very slowly every day for a month, right in the Christmas season.”

“And when they go into New York to go shopping,” he said, “they’re going to see it.”
The billboard also stands up to what Mr. Silverman described as a reactionary assault on atheists driven mainly by the religious right.

“Every year, atheists get blamed for having a war on Christmas, even if we don’t do anything,” he said. “This year, we decided to give the religious right a taste of what war on Christmas looks like.”

(Full article)




Brooklyn Immigrant Congregations Clash
The New York Times: December 29, 2010

Two pastors preach from the same pulpit and live in the same parsonage next door, but they are barely on speaking terms and openly criticize each other’s approach to the faith.

In the church’s social hall, two camps eye each other suspiciously as one finishes its meal of rice and beans while the other prepares steaming pans of chicken lo mein.

Two very different congregations share the soaring brick building on Fourth Avenue: a small cadre of about 30 Spanish-speaking people who have worshiped there for decades and a fledgling throng of more than 1,000 Chinese immigrants that expands week by week — the fastest-growing Methodist congregation in New York City.

The Latinos say they feel steamrolled and under threat, while their tenants, the Chinese, say they feel stifled and unappreciated. Mediators have been sent in, to little effect. This holiday season, there are even two competing Christmas trees.

“This pastor is very rude to us,” said the Rev. Zhaodeng Peng, who heads the Chinese congregation with his wife.

The Rev. Hector Laporta, leader of the Latino church, responded, “He really has an anger problem.”

“We are trying to rely on God to see which direction the Lord is leading the two congregations,” the Rev. Kenny Yi, the denomination’s district coordinator, said. “We will find out sooner or later.”



Police Arrest 5 in Danish Terror Plot
The New York Times: December 29, 2010

A group of men arrested in Denmark on Wednesday were about to mount a “Mumbai style” attack on the Danish newspaper that ignited Muslim fury around the world by publishing satirical cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in 2005, the head of the Danish Security and Intelligence Service said.

The police said the suspects who lived in Sweden did not appear to have connections to a botched Dec. 11 suicide bombing near a crowded commercial area of downtown Stockholm. The bomber in that case was a 28-year-old Swedish citizen of Iraqi origin; in a message, he singled out Lars Vilks, a Swedish artist who has also been threatened repeatedly with death since a drawing he made of Muhammad’s head on the body of a dog was published by a Swedish newspaper in 2007.

The earlier satirical cartoons of Muhammad were commissioned and published by Jyllands-Posten as a statement of freedom of expression. But they were seen as blasphemous and a deliberate provocation by many Muslims, and prompted rioting in some countries and repeated attempts at violent retribution. In January, a Somalian man armed with an ax and a knife attacked the home of one cartoonist, Kurt Westergaard, in Aarhus, Denmark.

Religious Clashes Flare In Central Nigeria
REUTERS: December 26, 2010

JOS, Nigeria (Reuters) - Clashes broke out between armed Christian and Muslim groups near the central Nigerian city of Jos on Sunday, a Reuters witness said, after Christmas Eve bombings in the region killed more than 30 people.

Buildings were set ablaze and people were seen running for cover as the police and military arrived on the scene in an effort to disperse crowds. Injured people covered in blood were being dragged by friends and family to hospital.

The unrest was triggered by explosions on Christmas Eve in villages near Jos, capital of Plateau state, that killed at least 32 people and left 74 critically injured.

Christians, Muslims and animists from a patchwork of ethnic groups live peacefully side by side in most Nigerian cities.
But hundreds of people died in religious and ethnic clashes at the start of the year in the central Middle Belt and there are fears politicians could try to stoke such rivalries as the elections approach.

The tensions are rooted in decades of resentment between indigenous groups, mostly Christian or animist, who are vying for control of fertile farmlands and for economic and political power with mostly Muslim migrants and settlers from the north.


Greek Bishop Equates Zionism to ‘Satanism’
The New York Times: December 24, 2010

A Greek Orthodox bishop who was criticized by Jewish groups, the Greek government and some coreligionists for blaming Greece’s financial problems on a conspiracy of Jewish bankers and claiming that the Holocaust was orchestrated by Zionists issued a statement on Thursday in which he denied that he was anti-Semitic but also equated Zionism to “Satanism.”

The bishop, known as Metropolitan Seraphim of Piraeus, said during an interview on Greek television on Monday that Jews “control the international banking system.” He added: “Adolf Hitler was an instrument of world Zionism and was financed from the renowned Rothschild family with the sole purpose of convincing the Jews to leave the shores of Europe and go to Israel to establish the new Empire.”

In response to the outrage caused by his remarks, the cleric posted a statement (in Greek) on his Web site in which he stood by his theories and described himself as a friend of the Jewish people but an enemy of Zionism, a Greek newspaper, To Vima, reported.

December 23, 2010

On the occasion of the concerns raised by the European Jewish Congress with regard to my interview with the MEGA television channel on December 20, I have to say the following:

1. The things I said during my television appearance on the show “Society Hour Mega” are strictly my personal views and opinions, which I have repeatedly expressed… verbally and in writing.

2. I respect, revere and love the Jewish people like any other people of our world according to the teaching of the incarnated Son of God and the true Messiah the Lord Jesus Christ the Savior and Redeemer, who was heralded by all the Prophets and was incarnated through the Jewish nation.

3. My public vehement opposition against International Zionism refers to the organ that is the successor of the “Sanhedrin” which altered the faith of the Patriarchs, the Prophets and the Righteous of the Jewish nation through the Talmud, the Rabbinical writings and the Kabbalah into Satanism, and always strives vigorously toward an economic empire set up throughout the world with headquarters in the great land beyond the Atlantic for the prevalence of world government and pan-religion.

4. I consider like any sane person on the planet the Nazi regime and the paranoid dictator Adolf Hitler as horrible criminals against humanity and take a stand with all honor and respect against the Jewish Holocaust and any other heinous genocide such as that of the Pontic Greek and Armenian people. Besides, the Greek nation mourns thousands of martyrs from the criminal Nazi atrocities.


A Greek Bishop’s Anti-Semitic Tirade
December 22, 2010

The Text of a Bishop’s Semi-Apology
February 27, 2009



Wisconsin on the Map to Pray With Mary
The New York Times: December 24, 2010

CHAMPION, Wis. — In France, the shrine at Lourdes is surrounded by hundreds of hotels and has received as many as 45,000 pilgrims in a single day. Our Lady of Guadalupe, in Mexico, draws millions of fervent worshipers a year.

Now, a little chapel among the dairy farms here, called Our Lady of Good Help, has joined that august company in terms of religious status, if not global fame. This month, it became one of only about a dozen sites worldwide, and the first in the United States, where apparitions of the Virgin Mary have been officially validated by the Roman Catholic Church.

In 1859, the year after Mary is said to have appeared in Lourdes, a Belgian immigrant here named Adele Brise said she was visited three times by Mary, who hovered between two trees in a bright light, clothed in dazzling white with a yellow sash around her waist and a crown of stars above her flowing blond locks. As instructed, Ms. Brise devoted her life to teaching Catholic beliefs to children.

On Dec. 8, after a two-year investigation by theologians who found no evidence of fraud or heresy and a long history of shrine-related conversions, cures and other signs of divine intervention, Bishop David L. Ricken of Green Bay declared “with moral certainty” that Ms. Brise did indeed have encounters “of a supernatural character” that are “worthy of belief.”

Catholic leaders described the decree in Wisconsin as a bolt of joy at a trying time for the Catholic church, which is troubled by revelations of sex abuse.

“This is a gift to the believers,” said the Rev. Johann Roten, director of the International Marian Research Institute at the University of Dayton.

“It would be devious to say that this was somehow pulled out of the attic to exorcise the problems of the church today,” Father Roten said in a telephone interview. “But hopefully this will have a beneficial impact on the people, showing them that there are ways of living with faith that are very pure.”

The Diocese of Green Bay is under fire from lawyers in an abuse-related lawsuit, who charge that it has obstructed justice by destroying potentially incriminating files on former priests.



A Matter of Life or Death
The New York Times: December 23, 2010

St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix announced on Tuesday that it will continue to provide life-saving abortion care to patients even though it means losing its affiliation with the local Roman Catholic Diocese.

This commendable decision by St. Joseph’s and the hospital network that oversees it, Catholic Healthcare West, upholds important legal and moral principles. It also underscores the need to ensure that religiously affiliated hospitals comply with their legal duty to provide emergency reproductive care.

The decision follows a standoff between the hospital and the leader of the Phoenix diocese, Bishop Thomas Olmsted. In November 2009, a 27-year-old mother of four in her third month of pregnancy arrived at St. Joseph’s. She was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension, a serious complication that might well have killed her if she had continued the pregnancy.

The hospital performed an abortion, leading Bishop Olmsted to declare Sister Margaret McBride, a member of the hospital’s ethics committee, “automatically excommunicated” because she had consented to the therapeutic abortion necessary to save the woman’s life.

Just last month, Bishop Olmsted threatened to remove his endorsement of the hospital unless he received a written acknowledgement that the abortion violated Catholic policy and “will never occur again at St. Joseph’s Hospital.” The hospital refused to bow to these demands, summing up its position with elegant simplicity: “Morally, ethically, and legally we simply cannot stand by and let someone die whose life we might be able to save.”

It is hardly reassuring that following the incident at St. Joseph’s, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops said Sister Margaret was properly punished and seconded Bishop Olmsted’s stance against providing the abortion, even to save a woman’s life. No one has suggested that Catholic hospitals should be required to perform nonemergency abortions. But as St. Joseph’s recognized, the need to accommodate religious doctrine does not give health providers serving the general public license to jeopardize women’s lives.

This is no small matter. Catholic hospitals account for about 15 percent of the nation’s hospital beds and are the only hospital facilities in many communities. Months ago, the American Civil Liberties Union asked the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services to investigate reported instances where religious doctrine prevailed over the need for emergency reproductive care, and to issue a formal clarification that denying such treatment violates federal law.


Arizona: Hospital Loses Catholic Affiliation
The New York Times: December 22, 2010

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix announced on Tuesday that St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center could no longer identify itself as Roman Catholic because it violated church teachings by ending a woman’s pregnancy in 2009. Hospital administrators said the procedure was necessary to save her life, and stood by their decision even after Bishop Olmsted excommunicated a nun on the hospital ethics committee. The hospital, which receives no money from the Phoenix diocese, can no longer hold Masses. But Catholics can continue to work and be treated there.

(full text)



Athletic Director

Belmont President






Lesbian Coach’s Exit From Belmont U. Has Nashville Talking
The New York Times: December 17, 2010

NASHVILLE — The day before Thanksgiving break, the members of the Belmont University women’s soccer team gathered in the locker room after a strength training session. Their coach, Lisa Howe, had something to say.

She told them that she was a lesbian, and that she and her partner of eight years, the team’s former assistant coach, had decided to have a baby.“She said she wanted to talk about her personal life one time only and there would never be a discussion again,” recalled Erica Carter, a senior on the team.

But the topic was far from finished. It continued the next week when the players learned that their coach was leaving her job. And it has swelled into a full-blown existential debate at this fast-growing private university.

Three years ago, the university severed its 56-year-old ties with the state Baptist convention after a debate about whether the board could include non-Baptist trustees. But the university promised to remain Christian, if nondenominational.

The university will not comment on the circumstances of Ms. Howe’s departure, nor will Ms. Howe, citing contractual reasons. They refer to her departure as a “mutual agreement.” Ms. Howe did say in an interview that her decision to become a mother is what prompted her to talk to the players, many of whom knew she was a lesbian anyway. Ms. Howe’s partner, Wendy Holleman, left Belmont in 2008 to coach at a private high school; she is due with the couple’s first child in May.

Ms. Carter said most of the players were excited about the baby. But the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, Ms. Howe called Ms. Carter and told her that the father of one player had complained over the weekend. Ms. Howe also said that she had been told by the athletic director that morning that if she did not resign, she would be fired, Ms. Carter said.

Ms. Howe had led the team to two conference championships, but the 2010 season was a disappointment, and on Dec. 1, Sari Lin, the team captain, asked the athletic director, Mike Strickland, if that was the cause for Ms. Howe’s departure.

Mr. Strickland told her that team performance was not the issue, Ms. Lin said, but that the baby “was going to be a problem” and would conflict with the university’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach.

The story has dominated headlines in Nashville, though the facts remain unclear. Students staged protests on campus. Members of the faculty passed a resolution of support for gay faculty members and students. Nashville metro council members introduced a bill to rescind an agreement that allowed Belmont to use a city park for a soccer field. The state Baptist convention commended Belmont officials for appearing to take a stand that “respected their Christian mission as well as their heritage.”

“We’ve always had gay faculty as long as I’ve been here,” said Michael Awalt, a professor of philosophy who has been at Belmont since 1970. But, he said, “it’s been a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ kind of mentality.”

Asked if having openly gay faculty and staff members could create a conflict with the university’s Christian character, Marty Dickens, the chairman of the board, said, “there could be.”

Swedish Prime Minister

Sweden’s Near Miss
The New York Times: December 14, 2010

No country is immune from terrorism in today’s world, not even Sweden, with its unusually open society, traditional commitment to peace and wariness of military alliances.

On Saturday night, Stockholm had a narrow brush with catastrophe when a man tentatively identified as an Iraqi-born Swede (who had studied in Britain) detonated an explosives-laden car on a busy downtown street at the height of the Christmas shopping season. As in New York City’s Times Square seven months ago, hundreds of innocent bystanders might have been killed. Fortunately, the would-be terrorist was the only fatality.

The bomber appears to have acted alone, incensed by the publication of Swedish cartoons he considered blasphemous and the sufferings of fellow Muslims in Afghanistan, where 500 Swedish soldiers serve under NATO command.

Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt has responded in keeping with Sweden’s finest traditions. Denouncing the attacks as “unacceptable,” he urged Swedes to “stand up for tolerance,” not jump to premature conclusions and “let the justice system do its job.”

Mr. Reinfeldt’s firm and timely championing of traditional Swedish tolerance showed political courage. In elections three months ago, his center-right coalition fell short of an absolute majority as a result of alarming gains by the misleadingly named Sweden Democrats, an anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim party of the extreme right.

Center-right politicians elsewhere in Europe — France and the Netherlands, for example — have been quick to pander to similar xenophobic parties and their supporters. Mr. Reinfeldt declared defiantly on Monday that Sweden’s open society is worth defending. We couldn’t agree more.

(Full text)

The first month of the Islamic calendar

A Kashmiri Shiite Muslim boy bleeds as he flagellates himself during a Muharram procession in Srinagar, India.
December 14, 2010



A Holiday When Needed
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: December 13, 2010

California: An Orange County inmate who disliked salami was able to receive kosher meals in jail after his lawyer cited the “Seinfeld” holiday Festivus [December 23] as his religious belief. The Orange County Register reported Monday that Malcolm A. King, 38, a convicted drug dealer, asked for kosher meals at the Theo Lacy jail in Orange to maintain his physique. County sheriff’s officials reserve such meals for inmates with religious needs, so a judge demanded a religious reason for Mr. King to get the meals. Mr. King’s lawyer, Fred Thiagarajah, cited his client’s devotion to Festivus, the holiday celebrated on the “Seinfeld” series. A sheriff’s spokesman, Ryan Burris, said Mr. King got salami-free meals for two months before the county got the order thrown out in court.

(Full article)

Nun charged with embezzling $1.2M from Iona
December 10, 2010

Talk about a really bad habit.

A nun known as Sister Susie was charged yesterday with embezzling more than $1.2 million from a Catholic college in Westchester County. Sister Marie Thornton, 62, allegedly stole the money over the course of a decade while serving as vice president of finance at Iona College in New Rochelle.

Court papers say her unholy scam included getting reimbursed for phony vendor invoices and having the college pay "credit-card bills for personal expenses."

Officials wouldn't say where the money went, but a former men's basketball coach at the school has hinted on the radio that Thornton may have gambled away at least some of it. "I think she absconded with some funds or something down to Atlantic City," Jeff Ruland, who was fired in 2007, said on WFAN-AM in March.



Social Science Palooza
The New York Times: December 7, 2010

Classic research has suggested that the more people doubt their own beliefs the more, paradoxically, they are inclined to proselytize in favor of them. David Gal and Derek Rucker published a study in Psychological Science in which they presented some research subjects with evidence that undermined their core convictions. The subjects who were forced to confront the counterevidence went on to more forcefully advocate their original beliefs, thus confirming the earlier findings.










A Blessing of the Burger to End a Restaurant Jinx
The New York Times: December 6, 2010

The three holy men made their pilgrimages to Chelsea, braving snow and frigid winds, from as far away as New Jersey and the Bronx.

But they had not come on Monday to tend to the sick or minister to the poor. They had come bearing the prayers and totems of their various faiths — Catholic, Jewish, Buddhist — to cleanse any lurking evil from that most hallowed of American institutions: a burger joint. There was to be a private Native American ceremony at some point; an Episcopalian minister, running late, would officiate later in the day.

“This is the first time I blessed hamburger,” said the Rev. Ed Sombilon of Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church in Fort Lee, N.J. “But God works in mysterious ways, even crooked ways.”

The operators of a new outpost of New York Burger Company, scheduled to open next week at 470 West 23rd Street, cooked up the ceremony along with their publicist in the hopes that the blessings — or at least the media attention they would draw — would help the restaurant succeed in a spot where so many had failed.

Holy Cow painting by Jimmy Ovadia
Holy Burgers photo by William Hundley



























In Kentucky, Noah’s Ark Theme Park Is Planned
The New York Times: December 6, 2010

Facing a rising tide of joblessness, the governor of Kentucky has found one solution: build an ark.

The state has promised generous tax incentives to a group of entrepreneurs who plan to construct a full-size replica of Noah’s ark, load it with animals and actors, and make it the centerpiece of a Bible-based tourist attraction called Ark Encounter.

Since Gov. Steven L. Beshear announced the plan on Wednesday, some constitutional experts have raised alarms over whether government backing for an enterprise that promotes religion violates the First Amendment’s requirement of separation of church and state. But Mr. Beshear, a Democrat, said the arrangement posed no constitutional problem, and brushed off questions about his stand on creationism.

“The people of Kentucky didn’t elect me governor to debate religion,” he said at a news conference. “They elected me governor to create jobs.”

The theme park was conceived by the same Christian ministry that built the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky., where dioramas designed to debunk evolution show humans and dinosaurs coexisting peacefully on an earth created by God in six days. The ministry, Answers in Genesis, believes that the earth is only 6,000 years old — a controversial assertion even among many Bible-believing Christians.

Although the Creation Museum has been a target of ridicule by some, it has drawn 1.2 million visitors in its first three years — proving that there is a sizable paying audience for entertainment rooted in a literal interpretation of the Bible.

On Friday, The Lexington Herald-Leader, Kentucky’s second-largest newspaper, criticized Mr. Beshear in an editorial for a plan that it said would result in low-wage jobs and a poor image for the state.

“Anyone who wants to believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible has that right,” the editorial said. “However, the way the Beshear administration handled this makes it appear Kentucky either embraces such thinking or is desperate to take advantage of those who do.

• • •

Ark incentives: cheap jobs, poor state image
Opinion - Editorial
The Lexington Herald-Leader: Friday, Dec. 03, 2010

The wall of separation between church and state will unlikely be breached if a private company planning an Ark Encounter theme park in Grant County qualifies for tax incentives under the Kentucky Tourism Development Act.

If a church or a religious organization sought the same incentives for the same purpose, there would be clear reason to object on constitutional grounds.

Ark Encounters is a private company seeking to make a profit off of a biblical theme.

As such, it seems as entitled to apply for incentives from promised profits as any other private, for-profit company in Kentucky. Yet, there are legitimate reasons to be concerned about the announcement.

Despite some progress in economic development, Kentucky continues to use tax incentives in pursuit of mostly low-paying, part-time seasonal jobs that would further lower the state's average wage and do little to increase the demand of higher education. This is similar to past shortsighted subsidies of chicken processing plants and customer call centers.

We understand that even low-paying jobs are welcome while rebounding from a recession and heading into an election year.

But these incentives could have been awarded without Gov. Steve Beshear's public embrace of an expansion of the Creation Museum — a project rooted in outright opposition to science.
Hostility to science, knowledge and education does little to attract the kind of employers that will provide good-paying jobs with a future.

Anyone who wants to believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible has that right. However, the way the Beshear administration handled this makes it appear Kentucky either embraces such thinking or is desperate to take advantage of those who do.

Neither is appealing.

(Full editorial)



Congressional Prayer Caucus Off Base With Attack On Obama
Church-State Watchdog Group Urges President To Ignore Missive Whining About National Motto
Americans United for Separation of Church and State: December 6, 2010

Members of the Congressional Prayer Caucus have criticized President Barack Obama for telling an audience in Indonesia last month that the phrase “E Pluribus Unum” is a good summary of the American experience.

The Prayer Caucus, led by U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.), wrote to Obama today complaining that he called “E Pluribus Unum” the national motto during a Nov. 10 speech at a university in Jakarta. The national motto, the caucus insists, is actually “In God We Trust.”

Americans United for Separation of Church and State says members of the Prayer Caucus should reconsider if they think this is an important issue.

“Given the state of the economy, the unemployment rate and the precarious state of world affairs, the president has a lot to do,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “Members of the Congressional Prayer Caucus, by contrast, appear to have a lot of time on their hands.”

AU pointed out that “E Pluribus Unum” appears on the Great Seal of the United States, which was codified in 1782, and the phrase is still used on coinage. In citing it, Obama was trying to make the point that even though Americans are of diverse backgrounds, they have joined together as one nation.

The caucus also complained about Obama omitting the word “Creator” when quoting passages from the Declaration of Independence and offered to meet with him about these issues.

“The Prayer Caucus should just admit that it is looking for any opportunity to bash the president,” Lynn remarked. “It’s not very Christian of them, but I expect nothing less from a body that takes its marching orders from the Religious Right.”

Added Lynn, “This is one of the silliest manufactured controversies I’ve ever seen, and I would advise the president to deal with it by tossing the caucus’ letter into the nearest wastebasket.”

(Full release)


Yemen Loses in Soccer, but Scores a P.R. Victory
Reuters: December 5, 2010

Saudi Arabian fans in Aden, Yemen, on Sunday for the Gulf Cup finals.
“The games are great!,” a critic of the Yemeni government said. “We are all Arabs!”

Mohammed Dabbous/Reuters


Sick pay for LI 'psychic'
Afterlife peek for the dying

The New York Post: December 5, 2010

Paging Dr. Psychic -- the afterlife is calling.

A self-proclaimed clairvoyant from Long Island says she can help sick patients find out who's waiting to greet them on "the other side."

Penelope Zannikos, 44, charges $125 for hospital "transition sessions" with seriously ill people who want to know who's behind the white light.

"Sometimes the information surprises people -- it's not always who you think will be waiting for you," said Zannikos, who believes she inherited her gift from her Puerto Rican mother -- although it could also be from her dad, who was born in Romania to Greek parents.

She says she once visited an elderly woman battling cancer who wanted a sneak peek at her guide to the Pearly Gates. The name that came to Zannikos' lips was William. William was the old woman's former flame -- and she'd spurned him, Zannikos learned.

"She said, 'Oh, my ex-boyfriend. I had to choose between him and my husband when I was young,' " the so-called seer said. "I told her he was waiting for her. And she responded, 'Well, I'm not going anywhere yet!' Some people get like that -- nervous."

Zannikos swears her gift is legit, but the hospitals she visits probably think differently, said one hospital executive. "It's certainly neither medicine nor patient care," said the exec, who works with several leading NYC facilities.

Zannikos admits she keeps the true purpose of her visits a secret from hospital staffers. "Sometimes a nurse will understand what I'm doing -- many of the Caribbean nurses seem to get it right away," she said. "They don't say anything."

(Full article)











The Junkie and the Atheist
The New York Times: December 4, 2010

As an Irish-American, I don’t usually trumpet the work of a nation that kept my ancestors under its boot heel for nearly 300 years. But having just finished the memoirs of two great exports of Britain, I rise to praise a pair of Brits in the season of book-buying.

Christopher Hitchens, the polemical polymath, is to modern American discourse what Lenny Bruce was to comedy. He changed the game, and in so doing forced us to examine our core beliefs. His story, “Hitch-22,” was hitting the best-seller lists this year just as he was diagnosed with a killer type of esophageal cancer. He has vowed to go to his grave as an intellectually curious atheist.

The beautiful ruin that is Keith Richards, guitarist and guiding musical force behind the Rolling Stones, is best known for being a living cadaver. A heroin addict during his most productive years, Richards the author is now competing with former President George W. Bush for bragging rights to the most popular nonfiction book in this country. In his story, “Life,” the United States and its black music saved him as a man and an artist.

The atheist poked the most religious of Western democracies, assailing us for flabbiness of spirit and outright ignorance. The junkie found the best of Chicago blues lost in the back alley of American pop culture, and made those soul-stirring chords mainstream forever.

Both men, on paper at least, are hard to love, but impossible to dislike. In the United States, they got what so many from other shores have obtained — renewal.

“Life in Britain had seemed like one long antechamber to a room that had too many barriers to entry,” Hitchens writes of his move across the Atlantic in 1981, becoming a citizen 26 years later.

A product of Oxford, he displays none of the educated English habit of using unnecessary modifiers and disclaimers — no “bit of cancer” or “spot of bad luck” from him. He greeted one reporter in August with, “How am I? I’m dying.”

In his words, Sarah Palin is “a disgraceful opportunist and real moral coward.” The jihadists who attacked the United States represent “the mirthless, medieval, death-obsessed barbarism of Islamic fundamentalism.” And recreational drugs — Keith Richards’s nutrients — are a form of “weak-minded escapism almost as contemptible as religion.”

Of course, he does share his countrymen’s taste for the grape and grain, describing his daily intake as at least one bottle of wine and two drinks of “Mr. Walker’s amber restorative.” And as with any English bad boy, he fell in with the wrong crowd for a time, finding common cause with President Bush in a dishonest war of choice against Iraq.

That was his one-off, and it was a big one. His lasting contribution will be his challenge to religion. Once, while waiting in line for coffee with Hitchens, I asked him why his book “God Is Not Great” was such a big hit in a nation with so many believers. He said it was because many of those believers are actually skeptics.

And, indeed, after reading his provocative but not entirely convincing tract against faith, I kept hearing the voice of a Jesuit teacher from my high school, who urged us to “be in constant search of your God and yourself.”

Hitchens may not have long to live. But he will not go gently. A few days ago he debated religion with Tony Blair, comparing God to “a kind of benign North Korea.” By audience consensus, Hitchens handily won the match with the former British prime minister.


Rabbi busted in cop 'hit'
The New York Post: December 3, 2010

A Brooklyn rabbi was charged yesterday in the contract killing of a former suburban police officer and his nephew, authorities said.

Victor Koltun, 41 -- whose rap sheet includes mortgage-fraud allegations -- is accused of hiring two ex-cons to kill Frank Piscopo, 49, and Gerald Piscopo, 28, in Newburgh, Orange County. Both Piscopos were found dead Nov. 4.

Frank had been a police sergeant in the Ulster County town of Lloyd before he quit in 1990 amid allegations he stole items from the department.He had a criminal record that included arrests for theft and drug selling, the Times Herald-Record of Middletown reported.

Gerald had been deep in credit-card debt and emerged from personal bankruptcy in March. He had spent 21⁄2 years in state prison from 2003 to 2005 on burglary charges.

Koltun, of Sheepshead Bay, already faces a possible 15-year prison term on separate charges that he pocketed proceeds of a $225,000 mortgage on several Brooklyn houses he did not own.

Newburgh cops also busted Frank Lewis, 56, of Manhattan, and Craig Fennell, 51, of Brooklyn, for allegedly carrying out the killings. Both Lewis and Fennell are parolees with convictions for violent crimes.

All three suspects were arraigned yesterday in Newburgh city court and ordered jailed without bail.

(Full article)










Catholics Fire Back At Atheists In Billboard Battle
Catholic League Takes $18,500 Shot At 'Militant Atheism'
NEW YORK (CBS 2 / 1010 WINS: December 2, 2010

An atheist group struck first. Now the Catholic League is counterpunching.
Approach the tunnel from the Jersey side and you’ll see it – a billboard from an atheist group saying of Christmas: “You know it’s a myth — this season, celebrate reason.”

On the other side of the tunnel sits the other side of the yuletide tussle — a Catholic League billboard proclaiming “You know it’s real — this season celebrate Jesus.”

“Ninety-six percent of Americans celebrate Christmas. Somebody on our side needs to put down a cultural marker, and that’s what we’ve done,” Catholic League President Bill Donohue told CBS 2.

Donohue said the billboard is a “counterpunch” against what he calls militant atheism. The big billboard cost some pretty big cash — $18,500. The Catholic League said it came from an anonymous donor who put up the cash because he was offended by the atheists’ message.

The atheists said they did not intend to offend — but to provoke debate about religious beliefs.

“Bringing the differences out is what’s important, and that’s why we put the billboard up in the first place, to get people talking to each other,” said David Silverman, President of American Atheists.

In the shadow of the Catholic billboard people were talking. “If it wasn’t for Jesus Christ, I wouldn’t be here! I love [the billboard],” James Bennett said.

“I’m scared of most organized religion and I think a lot of it is based on myth,” Mike Flannery said.

“I support what the Catholic people are doing, and kind of, the atheists, eh …” Joe Cippolone added.

The billboards, part of a Christmas culture clash, will stay up through December. American atheists also paid big money to make their billboard statement — $20,000.

Bad copy, fake beard, no reason, no rhyme

(Full article)

Nashville billboards claim Jesus will return May 21, 2011

There are 24 shopping days left till Christmas.

And 171 days left until Jesus' second coming.

That's the message on 40 billboards around Nashville, proclaiming May 21, 2011, as the date of the Rapture. Billboards are up in eight other U.S. cities, too.

Fans of Family Radio Inc., a nationwide Christian network, paid for the billboards. Family Radio's founder, Harold Camping, predicted the May date for the Rapture.

Their message is simple — "He Is Coming Again" — and their aim is to get unbelievers to turn around quickly. But critics say the billboards are a waste of time, one more failed attempt to predict the end of the world.

The Rapture is going to be a great day for God's people but awful for everyone else, said Allison Warden, 29, who orchestrated Nashville's billboard campaign. She's a volunteer with, a website set up by followers of Family Radio. She and other fans designed the billboards, along with T-shirts, bumper stickers and postcards to get Camping's predictions out.

Warden traveled from her home in Raleigh, N.C., to Nashville last week to check out the billboards, purchased through the end of the year. She wouldn't say how much they cost or name who paid for them.

She is absolutely sure that Camping's prediction is right.
"It's a certainty," she said.







Radical Constitutionalism
The New York Times: November 28, 2010

Of the newly elected Tea Party senators, Mike Lee, a 39-year-old Republican from Utah, has the most impeccable establishment legal credentials: the son of Rex Lee, a solicitor general under President Reagan, he attended law school at Brigham Young and later clerked for Samuel Alito on the U.S. Court of Appeals and then the Supreme Court. But on the campaign trail, especially during his heated primary battle with the three-term Republican incumbent Bob Bennett, Lee offered glimpses of a truly radical vision of the U.S. Constitution, one that sees the document as divinely inspired and views much of what the federal government currently does as unconstitutional.

Lee, who is a Mormon and a social conservative, also has equated the founding fathers’ invocations of a deist God with the moral values of the Mormon Church.

Like the Tea Party movement itself, Lee’s constitutional vision may appear to be an incohesive mixture of libertarianism and social conservatism, of opposition to federal power and support for tearing down the wall of separation between church and state.... Much of the Tea Party movement’s more-strident rhetoric, seen in light of this constitutional vision, may be best understood not as scattershot right-wing hostility to government but as a comprehensive, if startling, worldview about the proper roles of government and faith in American life.

Many of the positions Lee outlined on the campaign trail appear to be inspired by the constitutional guru of the Tea Party movement, W. Cleon Skousen, whose 1981 book, “The 5,000-Year Leap,” argued that the founding fathers rejected collectivist “European” philosophies and instead derived their divinely inspired principles of limited government from fifth-century Anglo-Saxon chieftains, who in turn modeled themselves on the Biblical tribes of ancient Israel.

[Skousen] wrote several volumes about the providential view of the U.S. Constitution set out in Mormon scripture, which sees the Constitution as divinely inspired and on the verge of destruction and the Mormon Church as its salvation. Skousen saw limited government as not only an ethnic idea, rooted in the Anglo-Saxons, but also as a Christian one, embodied in the idea of unalienable rights and duties that derive from God, and he insisted that the founders’ “religious precepts turned out to be the heart and soul of the entire American political philosophy.”

[Bill Norton, a contractor from Arizona who was mentored by Skousen], explained Skousen’s salvation narrative..., the founding fathers “unleashed the mind of man” by codifying religiously based free-market principles in a written constitution....

...several of Skousen’s 28 principles stress the role of religious virtue. The fourth principle, “Without religion the government of a free people cannot be maintained,” criticizes the Supreme Court for having misinterpreted Thomas Jefferson’s metaphor of a “wall” separating church and state.” Skousen argued that the First Amendment’s prohibition on a federal establishment of religion wasn’t intended to separate church and state but to prevent the federal government from disestablishing religion in the seven states that had officially established denominations during the founding era. Skousen’s view, the implications of this history are radical: Skousen would encourage the states today to require “universally accepted” religious teachings in public schools, as long as they don’t favor one denomination over another. Justice Clarence Thomas — whose wife, Virginia Thomas, stumped at Tea Party rallies and helped create the Tea Party organization Liberty Central — has argued in a similar vein that the founders intended to prevent the federal government from disestablishing state churches, not from promoting religion. “Congress need not observe strict separation between church and state, or steer clear of the subject of religion,” Thomas wrote in a 2005 concurring opinion. (Embracing religious conservatism, states’ rights and opposition to elites, Thomas can be seen as the model of a Tea Party justice avant la lettre.) This kind of thinking may help to make sense of the otherwise perplexing constitutional views of the unsuccessful Tea Party candidate Christine O’Donnell, who famously asked in a debate, “Where in the Constitution is the separation of church and state?”

“Nobody owns yoga.”
Hindu Group Stirs a Debate Over Yoga’s Soul
The New York Times: November 28, 2010

Yoga is practiced by about 15 million people in the United States, for reasons almost as numerous — from the physical benefits mapped in brain scans to the less tangible rewards that New Age journals call spiritual centering. Religion, for the most part, has nothing to do with it.

But a group of Indian-Americans has ignited a surprisingly fierce debate in the gentle world of yoga by mounting a campaign to acquaint Westerners with the faith that it says underlies every single yoga style followed in gyms, ashrams and spas: Hinduism.

The campaign, labeled “Take Back Yoga,” does not ask yoga devotees to become Hindu, or instructors to teach more about Hinduism. The small but increasingly influential group behind it, the Hindu American Foundation, suggests only that people become more aware of yoga’s debt to the faith’s ancient traditions.

That suggestion, modest though it may seem, has drawn a flurry of strong reactions from figures far apart on the religious spectrum. Dr. Deepak Chopra, the New Age writer, has dismissed the campaign as a jumble of faulty history and Hindu nationalism. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has said he agrees that yoga is Hindu — and cited that as evidence that the practice imperiled the souls of Christians who engage in it.

The question at the core of the debate — who owns yoga?

Kenneth William Storheim

Canada: Orthodox Church Leader is Charged With Sexual Assault
The New York Times: November 26, 2010

The archbishop for Canada of the Orthodox Church in America was charged with two counts of sexual assault, the police in Winnipeg, Manitoba, said on Thursday. The allegations against the archbishop, Kenneth William Storheim, who is known as Archbishop Seraphim within the church, date back 30 years, according to a statement issued last month by the church. The police declined to give any details about the charges, citing a publication ban.

(Full article)




Western Wall Feud Heightens Israeli-Palestinian Tensions
The New York Times: November 25, 2010

JERUSALEM — The prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, on Thursday strongly denounced a Palestinian Authority paper that denies any Jewish connection to the Western Wall, the iconic holy site and place of Jewish worship in the Old City of Jerusalem, describing the report as “reprehensible and scandalous.”

The episode appeared to signal a worsening atmosphere after a two-month hiatus in peace talks.

Jerusalem and its holy sites are one of the most intractable and emotional issues of the Israeli-Arab conflict. Israel conquered the eastern part of Jerusalem, including the Old City, from Jordan in the 1967 war, and annexed it in a move that was never internationally recognized. About 200,000 Jews live in areas of East Jerusalem that have been developed since 1967, among about a quarter-million Palestinians. The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

The Western Wall is a remnant of the retaining wall of a plateau revered by Jews as the Temple Mount, the site where their ancient temples once stood. The plateau is also the third holiest site in Islam. Known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary, the compound now includes Al Aksa Mosque and the golden Dome of the Rock.

In Muslim tradition, the wall is the place where the Prophet Muhammad tethered his winged steed, Buraq, during his miraculous overnight journey from Mecca to Jerusalem in the seventh century.

The Palestinian paper denying any Jewish historical connection with the site was written by Al-Mutawakel Taha, an Information Ministry official. In it, he stated that “the Al Buraq Wall is the western wall of Al Aksa, which the Zionist occupation falsely claims ownership of and calls the Wailing Wall or Kotel.”

Palestinian officials have often denied claims of Jewish heritage in Jerusalem, arguing that there is no evidence that the plateau was the site of ancient temples.


Anti-Facebook Pastor Taking Leave
CBS New York: November 24, 2010

NEPTUNE TOWNSHIP, N.J. (AP) — A New Jersey pastor who barred church officials from using Facebook, saying it can lead to adultery, is temporarily stepping down from the pulpit following his admission that he engaged in a three-way sexual relationship a decade ago.

The Rev. Cedric Miller made worldwide headlines last week when he urged congregants at his Living Word Christian Fellowship Church in Neptune, N.J., to drop their Facebook accounts because he believes the social networking site facilitates affairs.

Days later, Miller offered to step down after The Asbury Park Press reported on a 10-year-old affair of his own involving a three-way sexual relationship with his wife and a male church assistant.

On Wednesday, Miller told The Associated Press that he would be “taking some time off” following a church vote Tuesday night on his status as senior pastor. He said he will resume his pastorate “eventually.” He says church members gave him a vote of confidence, subject to some restrictions he wouldn’t list.

“For any pain that my past mistakes has caused you, I again ask for your forgiveness,” the pastor said from the pulpit.

The church had no immediate comment.


Suffering, Haitians Turn to Charismatic Prayer
The New York Times: November 24, 2010

The pastor, the Rev. Robert Robinson, likes to sing in tongues on his daily walk around the park. Certain women in his parish say so many Hail Marys on their own that he no longer assigns them the prayers as penance for sins; instead, he may prescribe a pedicure. On a Saturday night in the basement of his mostly Haitian church in Queens, in a bare white room vibrating with hymns and exclamations, a young woman may find herself channeling the Holy Spirit to reveal news from Haiti.

The earthquake that killed an estimated quarter-million Haitians 10 months ago has made the noisy devotion of the parish, SS. Joachim and Anne, even more exuberant. On Jan. 12, barely two hours after the quake visited devastation on their homeland, Haitian immigrants flooded the church, dancing, singing, waving their arms above their heads — and praising God. Amid the lamentations and the laying on of hands and the surprising deluge of thanksgiving from people who did not yet know if their relatives were alive or dead, they ran out of tissues.

The pain continued into the spring. The church overflowed as more and more survivors turned for solace to charismatic prayer, the growing, fervent brand of worship that is reinvigorating the parish and infuses much of Haitian Catholicism.

Charismatics, both Catholic and Protestant, seek an ecstatic state open to unmediated communion with God. They dance, sing, speak in tongues, issue prophecies and even, they believe, heal the sick. They call these spontaneous acts gifts — charismata in Greek — from the Holy Spirit. Catholic charismatics holler and weep beneath their stained glass like Pentecostals in their storefronts, but they begin and end with rosaries and Hail Marys.

In October, people packed into SS. Joachim and Anne, chanting and dancing and holding sick relatives’ pictures heavenward for healing as a revered nun visiting from Haiti invoked the Holy Spirit.

Photos: Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times

Sword-swinging 'Ugly Betty' actor Michael Brea slays mother for being 'sinner,' police sources say
The New York Daily News: Wednesday, November 24th , 2010

Convinced his church-going mom was possessed by Satan, a Scripture-spouting killer hacked her to death with a 3-foot sword as she knelt in their apartment, police sources said.

Deranged killer Michael Brea "told the doctors that he saw the Devil, and that the Devil was somehow in his mother," a police source told the Daily News after the gruesome slaying.

Neighbors insisted the brutal killing of Yannick Brea early Tuesday occurred as police ignored their desperate demands to kick in the dying woman's front door.

Yannick Brea, 55, was found kneeling - as if offering a final prayer - after she was butchered during her son's demented diatribe about repentance, police said.

"Sinner! Sinner!" howled Michael Brea, a bit-part actor who once appeared on "Ugly Betty," neighbors and police sources said. "You never accepted Jesus!"

The suspect, still in full "fire and brimstone" babble when carried out on a stretcher, was clutching his Bible and a Masonic ceremonial sword when cops busted into a bedroom, police sources said.
"He yelled, 'The greatest architect in the universe!' " - a term sometimes used by Masons for God - while he was being taken away.

A History of the Illuminati and Freemasonry
Click on the Dollar


Islamic Center Seeks 9/11 Recovery Grants for Lower Manhattan
The New York Times: November 23, 2010

The directors of the planned Islamic community center and mosque near ground zero have applied for grants from an agency tasked with helping Lower Manhattan recover from the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The request was for about $5 million, said a person with knowledge of the grant application.

In a statement, the developer, Sharif el-Gamal, said that the board of Park51, as the center is known, asked for the financing from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation about two weeks ago. The money, which would come from a pool of $2 billion in
FEDERAL FINANCING administered by the corporation....




Pakistani Sentenced to Death May Get a Pardon
The New York Times: November 23, 2010

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A Christian woman who was sentenced to death by a municipal court for blasphemy against Islam could be pardoned by the president in the next few days, a senior government official said Monday.

Asia Bibi, 45, an agricultural worker and mother of five, is the first woman to be sentenced to death for blasphemy, according to human rights groups.

The governor of Punjab Province, Salmaan Taseer, where Ms. Bibi has been in jail for more than a year, said he had forwarded a petition presenting the facts of the case to President Asif Ali Zardari on Monday.

Mr. Taseer, a political ally of Mr. Zardari, said he believed that Ms. Bibi had been unfairly treated since she was arrested last year. “I hope the president will pardon Asia in a day or two,” Mr. Taseer said.

The case against Ms. Bibi began in the fields of Ittan Wali, a village 60 miles west of Lahore, when agricultural workers picking berries with her protested that she had been asked by a landlord to fetch water for them to drink. The other workers declined to touch the water bowl because Ms. Bibi had carried the container, according to accounts by her husband, Ashiq Masih, and others.

“Suddenly she saw men and women walking towards her with angry gestures,” Mr. Masih, a laborer, said in a telephone interview. “They started beating her and shouting that she had made derogatory remarks against the Prophet Muhammad,” he said.

A mob dragged Ms. Bibi to a local police station, where she was jailed and charged with blasphemy, Mr. Masih said.

Announcing the guilty verdict this month, Judge Naveed Iqbal ruled in a Punjab municipal court that Ms. Bibi had not been wrongly accused, saying that “the chances of false implication of the accused are totally ruled out.”

Even if Ms. Bibi is pardoned or the Lahore High Court overturns the sentence, there are concerns about her safety. Many people acquitted on blasphemy charges continue to be hounded and are forced to move, change their identity or hide.




Lessons of Hate at Islamic Schools in Britain
The New York Times: November 23, 2010

LONDON — A British network of more than 40 part-time Islamic schools and clubs with 5,000 students has been teaching from a Saudi Arabian government curriculum that contains anti-Semitic and homophobic views, including a textbook that asks children to list the “reprehensible” qualities of Jews, according to a BBC documentary broadcast on Monday.

On the BBC TV program, a book (right) used in Islamic schools in Britain showed where to amputate hands and feet as a punishment.

The 30-minute “Panorama” program quoted the Saudi government-supplied textbook as saying that Jews “looked like monkeys and pigs,” and that Zionists set out to achieve “world domination.” The program quoted a separate part of the curriculum — for children as young as 6 — saying that someone who is not a believer in Islam at death would be condemned to “hellfire.”

On Monday, the embassy did not respond to requests for comment, but Saudi officials quoted by the BBC disavowed direct responsibility for the schools and clubs and described the teachings cited in the program as having been “taken out of their historical context.”

One of the textbooks, according to the BBC program, prescribed execution as the penalty for gay sex, and outlined differing viewpoints as to whether death should be by stoning, immolation by fire or throwing offenders off a cliff. Another set out the punishments prescribed by Shariah law for theft, including amputation of hands and feet. A BBC video accompanying an article on the program’s Web site showed a textbook illustration of a hand and a foot marked to show where amputations should be made.











A Flawed Faith-Based Fix
The New York Times: November 22, 2010

President Obama has issued an executive order revamping the rules covering religious-based and neighborhood programs receiving federal dollars. It makes some good changes to better ensure that the faith-based initiative begun by George W. Bush and extended by Mr. Obama respects religious liberty.

Most notably, last Wednesday’s order requires that government grants to religious organizations and other groups providing social services be listed on federal Web sites. The order also requires that agencies offer referrals to alternative service providers when individuals object to receiving services at a religious charity.

But the revisions have a glaring omission. Ignoring one of Mr. Obama’s own important campaign promises, and a large coalition of religious, education and civil rights groups, the new decree fails to draw a firm line barring employment discrimination on the basis of religion. The order leaves untouched a 2007 Justice Department memo that dubiously concluded that the government cannot order religious groups not to discriminate as a condition of federal financing. That memo should have been withdrawn long ago by this administration.

Missing, too, from the new decree are any standards to govern the Justice Department’s promised “case-by-case” review of employment practices by religiously affiliated grantees. It remains unclear how many such reviews have been conducted since Mr. Obama took office, and whether groups that engage in religion-based discrimination are in any real jeopardy of losing money.

What is needed is a careful constitutional balance. Groups running worthy social service programs should not be disqualified from receiving federal financing simply because they have a religious affiliation. But they should get no special exemption from antidiscrimination laws. Public money should not be used to underwrite discrimination.

President Obama firmly asserted that principle on the campaign trail in 2008. He seems to have forgotten.

(Full Editorial)
























Activist Relies on Islam to Fight for Animal Rights
The New York Times: November 21, 2010

CAIRO — It is never easy to be an animal rights activist in the Arab world. But on
Id al-Adha, the annual Muslim religious holiday when the streets run red with the blood of slaughtered sheep, cows and camels, it is a nightmare.

“Ah, I can’t stand it!” wailed Amina Abaza, wincing as she drove through a gantlet of hanging carcasses and entrails, with doomed sheep bleating all around her. “Islam is all about compassion, but we don’t practice it!”

An ebullient 55-year-old with a big mane of blond hair, Ms. Abaza has spent a decade campaigning to spare the animals, or at least require more humane slaughtering methods. She has a long way to go.

The scene in Cairo’s working-class Sayyida Zeinab neighborhood Tuesday morning was fairly typical: camels bellowed as blood-soaked butchers wrestled dozens of animals to the ground and slashed their throats for an admiring crowd.

Neighbors leaned out their windows to watch and cheer, or snap cellphone pictures. Little boys daubed their hands in the blood and spattered one another, and teenagers helped remove steaming entrails from the carcasses. Scores of people pressed forward to buy fresh meat for the ritual holiday meal, standing in puddles of clotted gore.

What bothers Ms. Abaza and other activists is not the principle of Id al-Adha — the Feast of Sacrifice — which commemorates the biblical story (right: Caravaggio, The Sacrifice of Isaac) in which God allows Abraham to slaughter a ram instead of his own son (Isaac).

Amateurs slaughter their own sheep at home in many Arab countries, with no special training on how to spare the animals pain. It is common to see men hurling terrified sheep into the backs of trucks, and beating the animals as they herd them to the killing grounds. In abattoirs, some workers sodomize the beasts with knives to drive them into the pens, Ms. Abaza and other activists said.

“If you want to give a good image of Muslims and the Koran, why do you do this?” Ms. Abaza said, her operatic voice rising in indignation. “Why are we Muslims the ones known for this kind of behavior?”

Egyptians gather to watch bulls be slaughtered in accordance with Eid al-Adha tradition at a streetside butchery
in the Sayeda Zeinab district of Cairo, Egypt.

Photo: Scott Nelson for The New York Times

Rutherford County Chancellor

Tennessee: Bid to Stop Mosque Fails
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS : November 18, 2010

A judge refused Wednesday to stop construction of a proposed mosque in Murfreesboro that was opposed by some local residents who tried to argue that there was a conspiracy by Muslims to impose extremist law on the United States. Rutherford County Chancellor Robert Corlew ruled that he could not find that the “county acted illegally, arbitrarily or capriciously” in approving the plan.

(Full article)


Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships

Obama Executive Order On ‘Faith-Based’ Initiative Is Disappointing,
Americans United: November 17, 2010

Today’s White House executive order on “faith-based” funding fails to correct significant constitutional problems and leaves important civil rights issues unresolved, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Americans United applauded President Barack Obama’s decision to require federal agencies to provide alternatives for people who do not want to receive social services at religious charities and also welcomed a process to create greater transparency in the program by requiring that recipient organizations be listed on government Web sites.

But AU is disappointed that the order allows public funds to go directly to houses of worship, allows publicly funded faith-based charities to display religious signs and scriptures and entirely dodges the issue of religious hiring bias by faith-based charities that receive federal funds.

“I’m disappointed,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “This leaves much of George W. Bush’s faith-based initiative in place. That’s not the change many Americans hoped for when President Obama took office.

“I am particularly frustrated that President Obama still has done nothing to ban hiring bias by publicly funded religious charities,” continued Lynn. “That’s the 800-pound gorilla in the room. No American should be denied a government-funded job because he or she holds the ‘wrong’ views about religion.”

Lynn noted that Obama, as a candidate, vowed to repeal this policy. Today’s order, however, leaves the Bush-era rules in places. A wide array of religious, civil rights and civil liberties organizations have appealed to the president to take action on the issue, and polls show that Americans overwhelmingly oppose faith-based employment bias.

Lynn said he is still hopeful Obama will see the basic unfairness of publicly funded job discrimination and rescind the Bush policy.

“I don’t believe Barack Obama wants to go down in history as the president who helped George W. Bush roll back civil rights and religious liberty,” Lynn said. “At a time when jobs are scarce, it is especially troubling that qualified applicants can be rejected from government-funded positions because they don’t go to the ‘right’ church.

“Taxpayer money should never be used to underwrite religion or religious bias,” Lynn concluded. ”That’s a fundamental constitutional principle, and it needs to be observed.” Americans United has been wary of the faith-based initiative since the concept was first introduced in the 1990s by then-Sen. John Ashcroft. AU maintains that a special government program that looks for ways to funnel public funds to religious entities is inherently problematic under the First Amendment.

(Full article)


Rumor of Coptic-Muslim Affair Leads to
Burning of Christians’ Homes

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: November 17, 2010

EGYPT - Muslims set fire overnight to at least 10 houses belonging to Coptic Christians in a southern Egypt village over rumors that a Christian resident had an affair with a Muslim girl, security officials said Tuesday. They said security forces sealed off the village of Al Nawahid in Qena Province, about 290 miles south of Cairo, to prevent the violence from spreading, and several people were arrested. The village was calm by nightfall, after religious leaders from both sides persuaded their followers to end the confrontation. Coptic Christians make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s population of 80 million. Coptic Christians and Muslims generally live in peace, though violence occasionally occurs in the south, mostly over disputes about land or church construction.

(Full article)

Waleed Al-Husseini




















Palestinian Blogger Angers West Bank Muslims
The NJew York Times: November 15, 2010

QALQILYA, West Bank — It is hard to imagine that a dingy Internet cafe buzzing with flies in this provincial Palestinian town could have spawned a blogger who has angered the Muslim cyberworld by promoting atheism, composing spoofs of Koranic verses, skewering the lifestyle of the Prophet Muhammad and chatting online using the sarcastic Web name God Almighty.

But many people in Qalqilya seem convinced that this Facebook apostate is none other than a secretive young man who spent seven hours a day in the corner booth of a back-street hole-in-the-wall here. Until recently the man, Waleed Hasayin, in his mid-20s, led a relatively anonymous existence as an unemployed graduate in computer science who helped out a few hours a day at his father’s one-chair barber shop. Several acquaintances described him as an “ordinary guy” who prayed at the mosque on Fridays.

But since the end of October Mr. Hasayin has been detained at the local Palestinian Authority intelligence headquarters, suspected of being the blasphemous blogger who goes by the name Waleed al-Husseini. The case has drawn attention to thorny issues like freedom of expression in the Palestinian Authority, for which insulting religion is considered illegal, and the cultural collision between a conservative society and the Internet.

While Mr. Hasayin has won some admiration and support abroad — a Facebook group has formed in solidarity, along with several online petitions — others on Facebook are calling for his execution.

In his hometown, the reaction seems to be one of uniform fury. Many here say that if he does not repent, he should spend the rest of his life in jail.

“Everyone is a Muslim here, so everyone is against what he did,” said Alaa Jarar, 20, who described himself as not particularly pious. “People are mad at him and will not respect the Palestinian Authority if he is released. Maybe he is a Mossad agent working for Israel.”

Aside from his Facebook pages, which have now been deleted, Mr. Husseini, the online persona, also posted essays in Arabic on a blog called Noor al-Aqel (Enlightenment of Reason) and in English translation on Proud Atheist, identifying himself as “an atheist from Jerusalem — Palestine.”

The essays offer some relatively sophisticated arguments in a blunt and racy style. In one, titled “Why I left Islam,” Mr. Husseini wrote that Muslims “believe anyone who leaves Islam is an agent or a spy for a Western State, namely the Jewish State.”

He added, “They actually don’t get that people are free to think and believe in whatever suits them.”

He went on to describe the Islamic God as “a primitive, Bedouin and anthropomorphic God,” and Muhammad as “a sex maniac” who bent his own rules “to appease his voracious desire.”

If Mr. Hasayin is to be tried, Mr. Arouri said, it would be according to a 1960 Jordanian law against defaming religion, still valid in the West Bank.



THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: November 12, 2010

TENNESSEE: Islam is suddenly on trial in a booming city south of Nashville, where opponents of a new mosque have spent six days in court trying to link it to what they claim is a conspiracy to take over America by imposing restrictive religious rule.

The hearing in Murfreesboro is supposed to be about whether Rutherford County officials violated Tennessee’s open meetings law when they approved the mosque’s site plan. Instead, Joe Brandon Jr., a lawyer for the plaintiffs, has used it as a forum to question whether the world’s second-biggest faith even qualifies as a religion. Mr. Brandon has repeatedly conflated a moderate version of Sharia law with its most extreme manifestations. At one point, Jim Cope, a lawyer for the county, objected during the proceedings, saying, “This is a circus.”

(Full article)




Glenn Beck’s Attacks on George Soros Draw Heat
The New York Times: November 12, 2010

The Fox News host Glenn Beck was criticized Thursday by the Anti-Defamation League, a leading Jewish advocacy organization, in response to a televised segment about the financier George Soros and the Holocaust.

Throughout three programs this week, Mr. Beck has portrayed Mr. Soros, a billionaire investor and philanthropist, as a “puppet master” who is “notorious for collapsing economies and regimes all around the world” and whose “next target” is the United States. Citing Mr. Soros’s statements about the decline of the dollar, Mr. Beck said, “Not only does he want to bring America to her knees, financially, he wants to reap obscene profits off us as well.”

Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, took issue with Mr. Beck’s depiction of Mr. Soros as a “Jewish boy helping sending the Jews to the death camps,” calling it “offensive” and “horrific.”

On Tuesday on his Fox program, watched by about 2.8 million people, Mr. Beck said that during the Holocaust, the 14-year-old Mr. Soros “used to go around with this anti-Semite and deliver papers to the Jews and confiscate their property and then ship them off.”

Mr. Beck continued: “I am certainly not saying that George Soros enjoyed that, even had a choice. I mean, he’s 14 years old. He was surviving. So I’m not making a judgment. That’s between him and God.” He also said that “many people” would call Mr. Soros “an anti-Semite,” though “I will not.”

Fox stood by Mr. Beck. Joel Cheatwood, a senior vice president at Fox News, said in a statement Thursday afternoon that the “information regarding Mr. Soros’s experiences growing up were taken directly from his writings and from interviews given by him to the media, and no negative opinion was offered as to his actions as a child.”

Still, Mr. Foxman asserted that Mr. Beck’s invoking of the childhood experience was “unacceptable,” adding, “To hold a young boy responsible for what was going on around him during the Holocaust as part of a larger effort to denigrate the man is repugnant.”

Writing on The Daily Beast, the author Michelle Goldberg said Mr. Beck’s Tuesday and Wednesday programs were a “symphony of anti-Semitic dog whistles.”

Mr. Beck has stirred controversy in the past for repeatedly invoking the Holocaust and Nazi Germany. But some Jewish leaders have backed him up in the past, and on Tuesday, Mr. Beck said he was “probably more supportive of Israel and the Jews than George Soros is."

(Full article)

Blogger Arrested Over Posts Seen as Heresy for Satirizing Koran
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: November 11, 2010

West Bank -- An atheist blogger whose postings satirizing the Koran set off an uproar in the Arab world has been arrested by the Palestinian authorities and faces a possible life sentence if convicted of heresy, officials said. The blogger, Walid Husayin, 26, a barber from Qalqilya, is suspected of posting atheistic rants on English and Arabic blogs and creating three Facebook groups where he spoofed the Koran, including by declaring himself God and ordering his followers to smoke marijuana. Mr. Husayin has been detained but not charged, a Palestinian security spokesman said.

(Full article)

Freedom from Religion


United Coalition
of Reason


Stiefel Freethought

Atheist Groups Promote a Holiday Message: Join Us
The New York Times: November 9, 2010

Just in time for the holiday season, Americans are about to be hit with a spate of advertisements promoting the joy and wisdom of atheism.

Four separate and competing national organizations representing various streams of atheists, humanists and freethinkers will soon be spreading their gospel through advertisements on billboards, buses and trains, and in newspapers and magazines.

The latest, announced on Tuesday in Washington, is the first to include spots on television and cable. This campaign juxtaposes particularly primitive — even barbaric — passages from the Bible and the Koran with quotations from nonbelievers and humanists like Albert Einstein and Katharine Hepburn.

The godless groups say they are mounting this surge because they are aware that they have a large, untapped army of potential troops. The percentage of American adults who say they have no religion has doubled in the last two decades, to 15 percent, according to the American Religious Identification Survey, conducted by researchers at Trinity College in Hartford and released in 2008. But the ranks of the various atheist organizations number only in the tens of thousands.

Relying on the largess of a few wealthy atheists, these groups are now capable of bankrolling efforts to recruit and organize a population that mostly has been quiet and closeted.

Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom from Religion Foundation in Madison, Wis., one of the groups running advertisements, said, “We feel the only way to fight the stigma toward atheists and agnostics is for people to feel like they know them, and they’re your neighbors and your friends. It’s the same idea as the out-of-the-closet campaign for gay rights.”

The groups’ leaders say they are trying to marshal secularists at a time when the religious right and politicians who say America is a “Christian nation” are on the march, thanks to the recent midterm elections when not only deficit hawks won seats in Congress, but many religious conservatives as well.

Several of the campaigns are pitched not just to nonbelievers, but also to liberal believers who might be alarmed about breaches in the wall of separation between church and state. The atheist groups believe that people who are religious and politically liberal have more in common with atheists and seculars than they do with religious conservatives.

“We must denounce politicians that contend U.S. law should be based on the Bible and the Ten Commandments,” said Todd Stiefel, a retired pharmaceutical company executive who is underwriting most of the ad campaign that cites alarming Scripture passages. “It has not been based on these and should never be. Our founding fathers created a secular democracy.”

United States Attorney
in Manhattan
U.S. Says Holocaust Fund Was Defrauded
The New York Times: November 10, 2010

While fleeing the Nazis in 1941, an 11-year-old girl dodged airplane bombs as she crossed the Dnieper River in Ukraine, ultimately finding refuge in Donetsk, where she and her mother lived in hiding until the liberation of 1944.
A 13-year-old boy escaped from Kiev with his mother and younger sister, shuttling from basements to barns and sometimes the forest, where they often stayed for weeks.

These tales were among thousands of similar accounts given in the name of elderly immigrants who were seeking reparations from the German government through a fund established to provide help to survivors of Nazi persecution.

But many of the stories were works of fiction or embellishment of facts, perpetrated by a group that included six employees and custodians of the fund, which is based in New York, federal prosecutors said on Tuesday. Eleven other defendants were outsiders who recruited and funneled applicants to the programs.

Over 16 years, the suspects used fake identification documents, doctored government records and a knowledge of Holocaust history to defraud the fund of more than $42 million, according to an indictment unsealed Tuesday by the United States attorney in Manhattan, Preet Bharara.

The defendants, the indictment says, would recruit applicants — many of them from Brighton Beach, Brooklyn — through Russian-language newspapers, offering help to people applying for compensation from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany. In many cases, the immigrants’ actual experiences would be manipulated or tailored to fit the requirements of the fund; once the payments were approved, the defendants would receive kickbacks from the applicants, according to the indictment.









In Grief and Defiance, Baghdad’s Christians
Return to Scene of Attack

The New York Times: November 8, 2010

BAGHDAD — To get to Mass at Our Lady of Salvation Church on Sunday, worshipers had to pass through a blockade of police trucks, past armed sentries on the rooftop, and through a security checkpoint where they were frisked for weapons and explosives. Some came in mourning black, many in tears, most in a spirit of quiet defiance.

“This gives us more strength,” said Sama Wadie, 32, a teacher, his hand wrapped in a bandage. “We’re not afraid of death because Jesus died for us. Of course we cry, but they’re tears of happiness, because we die for God.”

One week ago Our Lady of Salvation, a Syrian Catholic church, was the scene of the worst attack on Iraqi Christians since the American-led invasion in 2003. Gunmen in explosive suicide vests jumped the church’s security wall and took more than 100 worshipers hostage, identifying themselves as members of the Islamic State of Iraq, a Qaeda-linked terrorist group. It began a night of bloodshed in which 51 worshipers and two priests were killed. The terrorist group promised more attacks, declaring Christians everywhere “legitimate targets.”

In an emotional service interrupted twice by applause, the Rev. Muklis Shisha told the congregation, “The church is a martyr,” adding: “The cross needs blood, and the blood is happiness because Jesus is our happiness. I congratulate our country and ourselves for our martyrs.”

For many Christians here, the attack underscored a bitter irony of the American-led invasion. It opened the door for warfare on one of the world’s oldest Christian communities.

“I don’t think the American people care about this,” said the Rev. Meyassr al-Qaspotros of the nearby Sacred Church of Jesus, whose cousin was one of the priests killed at Our Lady of Salvation, adding, “The Americans are the cause of all this.”

In his sermon to his own congregation, he said, he planned to stress the existential meaning of human suffering and the need for forgiveness, even in the face of horrific bloodshed. “God allowed man to torture Jesus, he will allow this as well, because he gave freedom to all people,” Father Qaspotros said.

Sikh American Legal Defense
and Education Fund
American Sikhs Decry Screenings
The New York Times: November 7, 2010

WASHINGTON — Three national Sikh advocacy and civil rights organizations have said federal transportation officials plan to always search turbans at airport screening stations, even if wearers pass through state-of-the-art body imaging scanners.

The groups are calling on their constituents to lobby Congress and the Transportation Security Administration to overturn what they said was an “unjust policy.”

Officials from the Sikh Coalition, United Sikhs and the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund went public on Friday about their meeting several weeks ago with representatives of the Department of Homeland Security and the T.S.A.

“All of us jointly feel there are definitely some elements of racial profiling here,” said Jasjit Singh, associate director of the legal defense fund, a civil rights group in Washington. “While you’re spending that much time on Sikh Americans, who have absolutely no incidents of terrorism in the country, other people are getting through,” Jasjit Singh said.

Sikhs and T.S.A. officials previously worked out a protocol for removing turbans in private.

“In our faith, it’s the equivalent to being forced to be naked, effectively,” Mr. Singh said.

In School Efforts to End Bullying, Some See Agenda
The New York Times: November 7, 2010

HELENA, Mont. — Alarmed by evidence that gay and lesbian students are common victims of schoolyard bullies, many school districts are bolstering their antiharassment rules with early lessons in tolerance, explaining that some children have “two moms” or will grow up to love members of the same sex.

But such efforts to teach acceptance of homosexuality, which have gained urgency after several well-publicized suicides by gay teenagers, are provoking new culture wars in some communities.

Many educators and rights advocates say that official prohibitions of slurs and taunts are most effective when combined with frank discussions, from kindergarten on, about diverse families and sexuality.

Angry parents and religious critics, while agreeing that schoolyard harassment should be stopped, charge that liberals and gay rights groups are using the antibullying banner to pursue a hidden “homosexual agenda,” implicitly endorsing, for example, same-sex marriage.

Last summer, school officials here in Montana’s capital unveiled new guidelines for teaching about sexuality and tolerance. They proposed teaching first graders that “human beings can love people of the same gender,” and fifth graders that sexual intercourse can involve “vaginal, oral or anal penetration.”

A local pastor, Rick DeMato, carried his shock straight to the pulpit. “We do not want the minds of our children to be polluted with the things of a carnal-minded society,” Mr. DeMato, 69, told his flock at Liberty Baptist Church.



Sarah Palin defends 'favoriting' Ann Coulter's anti-Obama tweet:
It was an accident

DAILY NEWS::Saturday, November 6th 2010

After being slammed for appearing to list a controversial tweet from Ann Coulter's as a "favorite" on her Twitter account, Sarah Palin defended herself Friday by saying she didn't even know how to tag Twitter posts.

On her account, Palin had appeared to list a Coulter tweet with a photograph of a sign outside of a church that said "The blood of Jesus against Obama history made 4 Nov 2008 a Taliban Muslim illegally elected president USA: Hussein."

Palin, however, said it was simply a case of technology mismanagement.

France: Roma Expelled From Church
The New York Times: November 6, 2010

About 13 Roma were expelled Friday from a church just south of Paris, the third expulsion of Roma in the past few days. The 13, including two adolescents, had been in France for a decade and had been moved from a squat. They took refuge in the church of St.-Nicolas de St.-Maur-des-Fossés (right) hoping for better lodging, but were removed
after the priest there signed an expulsion order.

Name Debate Echoes an Old Clash of Faiths
By RACHEL DONADIO with Lucía Magi
The New York Times: November 4, 2010

CÓRDOBA, Spain — The great mosque of Córdoba was begun by the Muslim caliphs in the eighth century, its forest of pillars and red-and-white striped arches meant to convey a powerful sense of the infinite. With the Christian reconquest of Spain in the 13th century, it was consecrated as a cathedral.

Today, signs throughout this whitewashed Andalusian city refer to the monument, a Unesco World Heritage site, as the “mosque-cathedral” of Córdoba. But that terminology is now in question. Last month, the bishop of Córdoba began a provocative appeal for the city to stop referring to the monument as a mosque so as not to “confuse” visitors.

For now, the matter is largely semantic because the mayor says the city will not change its signs. But the debate goes far beyond signs. It is the latest chapter in the rich history of the most emblematic monument in Christian-Muslim relations in Europe — and a tussle over the legacy of “Al Andalus,” when part of Spain, under the Muslim caliphs, was a place of complex coexistence among Muslims, Christians and Jews.

The debate takes on greater weight ahead of Pope Benedict XVI’s planned visit this weekend to Spain, which he has identified as an important battlefield in his struggle to shore up Christian belief in an increasingly secular — and implicitly Muslim — Europe.

The polemic in Córdoba began in mid-October, when Bishop Demetrio Fernández published an opinion article in ABC, a Spanish center-right daily newspaper. “There’s no problem saying that the Muslim caliphs built this temple to God,” the bishop wrote. “But it is completely inappropriate to call it a mosque today because it has not been one for centuries, and to call it a mosque confuses visitors.” “In the same way, it would be inappropriate to call the current mosque of Damascus the Basilica of St. John or to expect that it could be both a place of Muslim and Christian worship,” Bishop Fernández added, referring to the Syrian site where an Umayyad mosque was built in the eighth century above a fourth-century church said to contain the remains of John the Baptist.

Mount Olivet Baptist pastor

To Harlem Churchgoers, Marathon Is a Nuisance
The New York Times: November 4, 2010

There is dancing along the streets. Gospel, soul and salsa music blare from speakers and bandstands. Spectators jockey for position on sidewalks and side streets, while thousands of runners pass in dribbles and waves. Crowds cheer.

The Rev. Charles A. Curtis of Mount Olivet Baptist, at Lenox Avenue and 120th Street, says, “It hurts us in many ways.”

At Mile 21, the New York City Marathon cuts through Harlem, and runners enter the home stretch, down Fifth Avenue from 138th Street. Here many runners “hit the wall” and drop out, or begin a slower hobble toward the finish line in Central Park.

And here, with Harlem essentially divided east and west at Fifth Avenue, life is seriously disrupted, especially during the midday churchgoing hours.

Attendance at many churches is cut in half on race days, ministers and congregants said. Preachers and their choirs have to compete with the whir of helicopters, the screaming of crowds and loud music. The elderly and the infirm have trouble negotiating crowded sidewalks, and even ministers have to head down to 96th Street to get to their churches across town. Finding parking nearby is virtually impossible. And with the congregations so slimmed down, tithes and church offerings are minimal, ministers said.

“What is so bothersome is that this event is always held on our day of worship,” said the Rev. Charles A. Curtis, of Mount Olivet Baptist Church at Lenox Avenue and 120th Street, a grand sanctuary a block west of the marathon route.

Adding to the inconvenience, many other street events during the year are held on Sunday, he said. “If it’s not the marathon it’s a walkathon, if not a walkathon then it’s a bikeathon,” he said. “And they are always held on our holy day.”












A Crack in the Wall
The New York Times: November 5, 2010

When the Supreme Court took up a case about a school choice program in Arizona this week, Justice Elena Kagan said she had been “puzzling and puzzling” over it. Why, she asked the state’s lawyer, instead of providing families with vouchers, is Arizona’s program “so much more complicated and complex and unusual”?

The short answer is that the state’s Constitution prohibits direct aid to private schools. A more important one is that the convolutions hide a problem we’re not supposed to see. The program appears to be unconstitutional. As the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled, it appears to violate the First Amendment’s establishment clause by disbursing state funds on the basis of religion.

Last year in Arizona, $52.1 million in scholarships helped support more than 27,500 students at private and parochial schools. The money came from letting people who owe state income taxes take a credit, up to $500. They can contribute the amount to 50 or so nonprofit tuition organizations that give money to parents who want to send their children to schools they serve.

Arizona boasts that it gives taxpayers an incentive to take part in the program, and why not? It’s a use-it-or-lose-it, free-money scheme. They can give up to $500 to a school tuition organization or add exactly that amount to their tax payment. What the state calls voluntary cash contributions are really redirected tax payments. They have to be made when a taxpayer files a state tax return.

In the first year of the program in 1998, 85 percent of the scholarship money went to students attending religious schools. By last year, when the program had grown much bigger, an estimated 70 percent went for that sectarian purpose.

The choice offered parents and children through the program sounds great but is often restricted. Most scholarships are awarded by school tuition organizations that choose students on the basis of religion, to go to religious schools. Handing out the funds on the basis of religion is unconstitutional. It is a government spending program directed by tens of thousands of taxpayers.

When Paul Bender, the lawyer for the program’s challengers and a former dean at Arizona State University’s law school, presented his argument, Justice Anthony Kennedy said dryly, “I have some difficulty that any money that the government doesn’t take from me is still the government’s money.” Justice Antonin Scalia made the point with exasperation. Justice Samuel Alito did so impatiently, as if Mr. Bender didn’t fully grasp the issue.

At 77, Mr. Bender has been around the court for more than 50 years, since the days he was a law clerk to Justice Felix Frankfurter. He is among the country’s experts on the tax-credit issue at the heart of the case.

If the court resolves the case on the merits, a split along ideological lines will not be surprising. But Mr. Bender ably exposed the Arizona program as a crack in the wall between church and state. The court should mend it by calling for the program to stop discriminating on the basis of religion.

(Full editorial)

Justices Revisit Tax Credits for Religious Schools
The New York Times: November 3, 2010

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Wednesday returned to a subject that produced a major and closely divided decision eight years ago: how far may the government go in aiding religious schools?

In 2002, in a 5-to-4 ruling, the court upheld a school voucher system in Cleveland that parents used almost exclusively to pay for religious schools.

Four new justices have joined the court since then, but there was nothing in Wednesday’s arguments to suggest that the issue has become any less polarizing.

The program at issue on Wednesday gives Arizona taxpayers a dollar-for-dollar state tax credit of up to $500 for donations to private “student tuition organizations.” The contributors may not designate their dependents as beneficiaries. The organizations are permitted to limit the scholarships they offer to schools of a given religion, and many do.

The program was challenged by Arizona taxpayers who said it effectively used state money to finance religious education and so violated the First Amendment’s prohibition on the official establishment of religion.


An Honorary Oscar Revives a Controversy
The New York Times: November 2, 2010

LOS ANGELES — Late last week, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was still coming to terms with that most deeply confounding of European filmmakers, Jean-Luc Godard.

No one had yet signed on to present an honorary Oscar to Mr. Godard, who has said he will not be on hand anyway at the academy’s awards banquet in Hollywood a week from Saturday. But there was also the touchy question of how to deal with newly highlighted claims that Mr. Godard, a master of modern film, has long harbored anti-Jewish views that threaten to widen his distance from Hollywood, even as the film industry’s leading institution is trying to close the gap.

Over the last month, articles in the Jewish press — including a cover story titled “Is Jean-Luc Godard an Anti-Semite?” in The Jewish Journal — have revived a simmering debate over whether Mr. Godard, an avowed anti-Zionist and advocate for Palestinian rights, is also anti-Jewish.


Paper Runs Photos of Gay Ugandans
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: November 1, 2010

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — A newspaper in Kampala on Monday published photographs, along with the names and home addresses, of gay Ugandans. This was the second time the newspaper has done so, prompting a human rights group to seek a legal injunction against the publication.

The newspaper’s managing editor, Giles Muhame, said he planned to continue publishing photographs of gay men so that he could “help them live responsible lives.” Earlier this month the newspaper, called Rolling Stone, published a front-page story featuring a list of what the newspaper said were Uganda’s 100 “top” homosexuals. Rights activists said the article prompted attacks against at least four gay Ugandans.

An organization called Sexual Minorities Uganda has asked the country’s highest court to issue an injunction against publishing the faces of homosexuals in future editions.

(Full article)

Halifax Chronicle-Herald: October 31, 2010

Insanity on Parade
A Call for Sanity


Syrian Boy, 5, Engaged to Girlfriend, 3
CBS News: October 25, 2010

Two Syrian children may be the youngest couple ever to get engaged.

The families of both children are not only taking the betrothal seriously, they insist the school children are in love and are already planning a wedding for 10 years down the road -- when Khalid will be 15 and Hala 12.

The parents arranged the engagement ceremony in their home town of Homs, about 100 miles north of Damascus. They invited family friends and even bought rings which the prepubescent couple exchanged in adult fashion.

According to Syria's English-language Forward Magazine, Syrian marriages are traditionally arranged at an early age for both males and females. When a boy reaches puberty, his female relatives begin searching for a suitable wife, who generally will be a few years younger than him.




Dispute Over Succession Clouds Megachurch
The New York Times: October 24, 2010

GARDEN GROVE, Calif. — The 10,664 windows did not get washed this year at the Crystal Cathedral, the iconic glass church founded by the Rev. Robert H. Schuller, one of the original religious broadcasters. Volunteers are tending the church’s 40 landscaped acres, now that the gardeners have been laid off. And its renowned Christmas pageant — with live camels and horses, and angels flying overhead on cables — has been canceled for now.

The empire that Mr. Schuller built may be in jeopardy, tarnished by an unseemly family feud and a $43 million debt that even by megachurch standards is serious.

When the Crystal Cathedral, which many church historians call the nation’s first modern megachurch, filed for bankruptcy protection last week, Sheila Schuller Coleman, the senior pastor and Mr. Schuller’s eldest daughter, blamed the bad economy.

But the church was in trouble long before the economic downturn, according to church insiders and family members interviewed last week. It was already suffering from the botched succession of Mr. Schuller, one too many vanity building projects and changes in the religious broadcasting industry.

When Mr. Schuller announced in 2006 that he was turning over the pulpit to his only son, the Rev. Robert A. Schuller, the church was already carrying a huge debt from its last lavish building project. But in a little more than two years, the son was pushed out before he ever really took the reins, and some of his sisters and their husbands stepped in.

The family feud left the church without clear leadership, just when its programs badly needed a makeover to attract a new generation of followers.


Name That Freedom
The New York Times: October 24, 2010

On Tuesday, during a debate, Ms. O’Donnell asked her opponent, Chris Coons, “Where in the Constitution is the separation of church and state?” The question drew gasps and laughter from the law school audience.

When Mr. Coons pointed out that the first words of the First Amendment, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” are the foundation of the concept, she replied, “You’re telling me that’s in the First Amendment?”

She was, she later said, attempting to point out that the actual words “separation of church and state” do not appear in the text of the Constitution. This is true in the strictest sense, and has become a popular argument among religious conservatives who believe that courts have gone too far.

Still, the moment has been held up as a flub of the first order.

Yet in her comments, Ms. O’Donnell may have been, to an extent, fulfilling a catchphrase from one of her campaign ads: “I’m you.” Because Americans really don’t know a lot about the founding documents of our republic. Later in the debate, Mr. Coons himself could not recite the five main freedoms protected by the First Amendment.

How much do we need to know? Clearly, many of us are lacking even the basics. The First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University has looked at Americans’ familiarity with its eponymous portion of the Bill of Rights, and the results would make Thomas Jefferson weep. While 61 percent of those surveyed this year knew that the First Amendment protects freedom of speech, just 23 percent volunteered that it also supports freedom of religion






Spirits blamed as girls faint in Cambodia
AFP: October 24, 2010

Teachers of 10 teenage girls who collapsed one after another at their rural Cambodian school blamed the mysterious ailment on angry spirits on Saturday.

The girls, aged between 14 and 18, were treated in hospital after fainting but doctors could not ascertain why the youngsters were struck down, said Ruos Lim Chhee, head of the high school in Pnov, northern Cambodia. He said that all of the girls were found to be healthy, with no signs of food poisoning, although two were a little low on glucose.

"We are afraid we are under a spell because we didn't offer any traditional dancing and music to the spirits on the opening day this year," he said. "But we have just offered fruits, boiled chickens and wine to the spirits today, and we hope the students will get better and the spirits will take care of us."

Mil Khim, a teacher who witnessed the string of incidents on Thursday, said one of his students started to complain of chest pains early in the morning and then suffered convulsions before falling unconscious. "The strange phenomenon lasted only a few hours, as eight seventh graders and two from eighth and ninth grade fainted subsequently," he said.

Cambodians in rural areas often believe supernatural forces are behind unexplained events.

"We think that perhaps the spirits are angry because the doctors, teachers and even police found no trace of poison or physical weakness," said district governor, Pech Sophea.

(Full article)

Praying Hands

Lord’s Prayer Dispute In NJ Town Could Continue
October 23, 2010

TOMS RIVER, N.J. (AP) — A dispute in a southern New Jersey town over the saying of the Lord’s Prayer at public meetings could take on a new life.

Point Pleasant Beach Borough’s council has already agreed to discontinue saying the prayer at the start of meetings, a practice that dates back to the mid-1990s. The action came after the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit last month after a borough resident objected to the reading, saying it was an unconstitutional endorsement of religion.

Earlier this month, the council agreed to hold a moment of silence to replace the prayer at the start of meetings. But a group of parishioners from a local church recited the prayer during that time.

Last week, the council approved a resolution that allows council members, on a rotating basis, to begin meetings with a nonsectarian prayer. An attorney representing the ACLU told the Asbury Park Press of Neptune that the resolution could lead to another lawsuit.

The two sides attended a hearing in state Superior Court on Friday. Borough attorney Kevin Riordan told state Superior Court Judge Vincent Grasso that, although he could advise council members not to say the Lord’s Prayer when their turn arose, he could not stop them.

(Full article)



Recovering Catholic

Witches Say Beer’s O.K.,
but Lose the Fire and Stake

October 23, 2010

She was not looking for controversy. Vicki Noble was just looking for a fine ale.

Ms. Noble, who is famous in the pagan and Wiccan communities for her astrology readings, shamanic healing and writings about goddess spirituality, says she discovered Witch’s Wit last week on one of her regular excursions to 41st Avenue Liquors, in Capitola, Calif.

“I like beer,” Ms. Noble said, and as a practitioner of religious traditions that revere the earth and women’s special powers, she also feels a special connection to brewing. “It was the women who brewed beer from ancient times right up to the Reformation,” she says. She thinks some were burned as witches to destroy “the ancient traditions of shamanistic medicine, which in every indigenous culture includes the brewing of medicinal fermented beverages.”

But one does not have to agree with Ms. Noble’s interpretation of history to share her offense at a picture on the label of Witch’s Wit, a limited-edition pale ale — “wit” means “white” in Dutch — produced by Lost Abbey, a division of the Port Brewing Company of San Marcos, Calif.

It was a painting of a witch being burned at the stake.

Ms. Noble went home and wrote to her e-mail list. “Can we stop this brewer from their hate imagery?” read the subject line, in all capitals. “Can you imagine them showing a black person being lynched or a Jewish person going to the oven?” she wrote. “Such images are simply not tolerated in our society anymore (thank the Goddess) and this one should not be, either.

“We have been accused of inspiring violence against women, and we have been compared to the violence in Darfur,” said Sage Osterfeld, a spokesman for Port Brewing. “It has run the gamut from people saying politely, ‘This is offensive to pagans,’ to people saying we are responsible for all that is wrong in the world.”

And far from being an attack on women, Mr. Osterfeld said, Witch’s Wit is in a line of Catholic-themed beers, like Inferno Ale and Judgment Day, conceived in the spirit of gentle satire by Tomme Arthur, another of the brewery’s owners. Mr. Arthur says he is “a recovering Catholic.”



NPR Fires Analyst Over Comments on Muslims
The New York Times: October 21, 2010

NPR has terminated its contract with Juan Williams, one of its senior news analysts, after he made comments about Muslims on the Fox News Channel.

NPR said in a statement that it gave Mr. Williams notice of his termination on Wednesday night.

The move came after Mr. Williams, who is also a Fox News political analyst, appeared on the “The O’Reilly Factor” on Monday. On the show, the host, Bill O’Reilly, asked him to respond to the notion that the United States was facing a “Muslim dilemma.” Mr. O’Reilly said, “The cold truth is that in the world today jihad, aided and abetted by some Muslim nations, is the biggest threat on the planet.”

Mr. Williams said he concurred with Mr. O’Reilly.

He continued: “I mean, look, Bill, I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”



A Question of Appearances: Obama Will Bypass Sikh Temple on Visit to India
The New York Times: October 20, 2010

NEW DELHI — The Golden Temple, a sprawling and serene complex of gleaming gold and polished marble that is the spiritual center of the Sikh religion, is one of India’s most popular tourist attractions. Revered by Indians of all faiths, it is a cherished emblem of India’s religious diversity. So it was no surprise when the gold-plated marvel was promoted as the likely third stop on President Obama’s visit to India, scheduled for early November.

The United States has ruled out a Golden Temple visit, according to an American official involved in planning. Temple officials said that American advance teams had gone to Amritsar, the holy city that is the site of the temple, to discuss a possible visit. But the plan appears to have foundered on the thorny question of how Mr. Obama would cover his head, as Sikh tradition requires, while visiting the temple.

“To come to golden temple he needs to cover his head,” said Dalmegh Singh, secretary of the committee that runs the temple. “That is our tradition.”

Mr. Obama, a Christian, has struggled to fend off persistent rumors that he is a Muslim, and Sikhs in the United States have often been mistaken for Muslims.

Baseball caps are not considered appropriate. Sikh scriptures require that men tie a piece of cloth on their heads, not simply put on a hat that can be easily taken off, because the act of tying has spiritual significance. Most non-Sikh visitors tie on kerchiefs sold by vendors outside the temple.

California’s Crystal Cathedral Files for Bankruptcy
The New York Times: October 19, 2010

Crystal Cathedral, the landmark megachurch in Orange County, Calif., where the “Hour of Power” is taped, filed for bankruptcy protection, church officials announced Monday.

“Budgets could not be cut fast enough to keep up with the unprecedented rapid decline in revenue due to the recession,” Sheila Schuller Coleman, the church’s senior pastor, said in a statement. In a news conference on Monday, church officials said ministry outreach and programs, including the weekly broadcast, would continue. But the church, which is $55 million in debt, has reduced the number of stations that it pays to broadcast the program.
Killings in Nigeria Are Linked to Islamic Sect
The New York Times: October 18, 2010

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria — A rash of mysterious killings by gun-wielding motorcycle assassins of policemen, politicians and others in this city near the desert has led authorities to declare that a radical Islamic sect thought to have been crushed by Nigerian troops last year has been revived.

Soldiers have been deployed here again, a curfew has been imposed and many residents worry about bold daylight attacks that officials call a renewal of the anti-Western sect’s strikes on police stations and soldiers that took place last year.

Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness

Don’t Stay the ‘Don’t Ask’ Ruling
The New York Times: October 17, 2010

Although President Obama and the Pentagon’s top leaders have all said they want the law repealed, the Justice Department on Thursday asked Judge Phillips to stay her injunction while it files an appeal.

As justification, the administration made overheated claims that a precipitous change in wartime would have adverse effects on morale, good order, discipline and unit cohesion. Those are the same specious arguments used to justify the benighted policy in the first place. The administration wants to leave it in place while it finishes a study on how to carry out a repeal.

Clifford Stanley, the under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness, said in a court filing that ending the antigay policy would require training, and reworking regulations on issues like housing, benefits and standards of conduct. He said the Army had to consider the “rights and obligations of the chaplain corps.”




Atheists Debate How Pushy to Be
The New York Times: October 15, 2010

LOS ANGELES — Energized by a recent Pew Research Center poll showing that atheists are more educated about religion than religious people, 370 atheists, humanists and other skeptics packed a ballroom at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel last weekend to debate the future of their movement.

They agreed on two things: People can be good without religion, and religion has too much influence. But they disagreed about how stridently to make those claims.

The conference, sponsored by the Council for Secular Humanism, drew members from all the major doubters’ organizations, including American Atheists and the American Humanist Association. The largely white and male crowd...came to hear panels that included several best-selling atheist pamphleteers, like Richard Dawkins, author of “The God Delusion,” and Sam Harris, who wrote “The End of Faith” and is a rock star in the atheist world (he traveled with bodyguards because he receives death threats from both Christians and Muslims).

The conference came on the heels of a change in leadership at the council and a rumored rift there, which some described as a standoff between atheists, who focus on God’s nonexistence, and humanists, who are also nonbelievers but seek an alternative ethical system, one that does not depend on any deity.

Some of the weekend’s speakers alluded to the turmoil at the council, where several longtime employees have resigned or been laid off. But in general they emphasized unity: They shared common enemies, like religious fundamentalism and “Intelligent Design.” And they believed morality was possible without God.

The disagreement was not, then, between atheism and humanism. It was about making the atheist/humanist case in America. A central question was, “How publicly scornful of religion should we be?"

Those trying to find common ground with religious people were called “accommodationists,” while the more outspoken atheists were called “confrontationalists” and accused of alienating potential allies, like moderate Christians.

PZ Myers [a biologist and blogger — a confrontationalist, to put it mildly. In 2008, to make a stand for freedom of speech, he publicly desecrated a Communion wafer, a Koran and (for good measure) a copy of Mr. Dawkins’s book “The God Delusion.” He likes to say that he tries to commit blasphemy every day.] is way out of the closet as an atheist — proudly, outrageously so. "We’re here, he’s saying. And we don’t believe. And we have science and reason on our side. Get used to it."

After a Vision, Anointing Himself a Saint, if Not Exactly Assuming the Lifestyle
The New York Times: October 14, 2010

It was easy to miss, a small advertisement in The New York Times on Aug. 30 in the lower right-hand corner of Page B7: “Anthony Carpentier now entering 49 years of ‘sainthood.’ ”

The item included a West 108th Street address, and it seemed worth a trip to see what sainthood looked like in New York City today. A superintendent at the building led the way up to a third-floor apartment; the occupant answered the door in his underwear.

“There’s your saint,” the superintendent said.

Anthony Carpentier, the self-anointed saint, wrapped a towel around himself and sat at a kitchen table crowded with bills and prescription bottles. He lighted a Newport and explained his claim to sainthood.

“I had a miraculous vision, simple as that,” Mr. Carpentier, 77, said.

This vision occurred 49 years ago in the emergency room of the Hospital of Saint Raphael in New Haven, where Mr. Carpentier grew up and where he still has relatives. He was in the hospital for a minor stomach ailment, he said, and saw the face of Jesus on the ceiling, framed by colorful rays of light.

“I knew it was Jesus because it was just like in all the paintings,” Mr. Carpentier said. “He pulled me up from the hospital bed by my eyes, almost pulled them out of the sockets.”

“It only lasted about three minutes, but it was great,” he added. “When you have a vision like that, you’re qualified to be a saint.”

Rabbi Breaks With Paladino Over Apology
The New York Times: October 14, 2010

Well, that didn’t last long.

MultimediaThe alliance between the Republican Carl P. Paladino and an Orthodox rabbi from Brooklyn has fallen apart, with the rabbi denouncing Mr. Paladino on Wednesday for his apology over remarks he had made about homosexuality on Sunday.

The rabbi, Yehuda Levin, who helped write those remarks, said Mr. Paladino “folded like a cheap camera” because of the uproar they had set off. And the rabbi said he could no longer support Mr. Paladino’s candidacy for governor of New York.

“Which part of the speech that you gave in Brooklyn to the Orthodox Jewish community are you apologizing for?” Rabbi Levin asked at a news conference in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, on Fifth Avenue. “Will we see you next year with your daughter at that gay pride march?”



Assemblyman Dov Hikind snaps, lunges at inflammatory protestors from Westboro Baptist Church
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS: Tuesday, October 12th 2010

A small protest outside a Brooklyn synagogue turned heated Monday when an enraged assemblyman burst through a police barrier and screeched "You're a whore!" at a demonstrator.

Assemblyman Dov Hikind lunged at members of the Westboro Baptist Church, a fringe group known for inflammatory anti-gay and anti-Semitic rhetoric.

He ran from a counter-protest section outside Chabad Lubavitch of Kensington and charged at the small pen holding the five Westboro members demonstrating outside the synagogue.
Hikind screamed "You're a whore!" at Westboro member Shirley Phelps and warned her, "Just be careful the rest of your day in Brooklyn."

Police pulled him away but did not arrest him.

Westboro also brought its message to a Midwood yeshiva, and later, a gay and lesbian support group in lower Manhattan.

Hikind said he was incited by a vulgar sign waved by Phelps that said "Thank God for dead soldiers," a reference to the group's belief that soldiers die as punishment for America's tolerance of gay people."It was an emotional moment," Hikind said. "I just wanted to take that sign from her. They're a despicable group."

Phelps said Hikind "needs to get over himself." She said she wouldn't press charges.

(Full article)

Markham Inntermediate
Terrorized for being a Muslim
SI kid's school horror
The New York Post: October 12, 2010

They called him a "terrorist," relentlessly taunted him and beat him so hard that he bled -- all because he was a Muslim.
But this nightmare didn't unfold in some seamy torture chamber in a far-off place -- it happened in the hallways of a Staten Island middle school.

During the 2009-10 school year at Markham Intermediate, Kristian suffered nine months of abuse from callous classmates who ripped him for his religious beliefs.

As much as the taunting and teasing in the cafeteria and classroom hurt him, nothing was as painful as being kicked to the head and punched in the groin so hard he was left reeling.

A day after police arrested the four teenagers -- three are 14 and one is 15 -- who allegedly mocked his faith and rearranged his face, Kristian, 16, recounted the chilling campaign of psychological and physical torture unleashed by his tormentors.

"They punched me. They spit in my face. They tripped me on the floor. They kicked me with their feet and punched me," he said, asking that his last name not be used. "And as they were kicking and laughing, they kept saying, 'You fucking terrorist, fucking Muslim, you fucking terrorist.' "

Once, after a blow to his groin, he saw blood in his urine.

The suspects were arrested Sunday and charged as juveniles with assault and aggravated harassment as a hate crime, according to police.


Provocative Image of Christ Sets Off a Debate Punctuated With a Crowbar
The New York Times: October 11, 2010

LOVELAND, Colo. — For once, the quaint museum on Lincoln Avenue was all quiet. A sign
inside was the only indication of the recent trouble.m “This piece was destroyed by an act of violence and is no longer on exhibit,” the sign read.

For weeks now, this bucolic northern Colorado city of just over 60,000, which has a vibrant arts community, has been bitterly divided over the controversial artwork that once sat in the empty display of the Loveland Museum Gallery where the sign now rests.

Some here interpreted the small image, which was part of a lithographic print exhibition by the San Francisco artist Enrique Chagoya, as showing Jesus Christ engaged in a sex act with another man, and demanded its removal. Others argued that Mr. Chagoya, an art professor at Stanford, had the right to create what he pleased.

Last Wednesday, amid heated public debate over the exhibit and daily protests in front of the museum, a 56-year-old Montana truck driver named Kathleen Folden (left) walked into the gallery. Wearing a T-shirt that read “My Savior Is Tougher Than Nails,” Ms. Folden strode up to the exhibit, took out a crowbar and proceeded to smash the plexiglass casing. To the horror of visitors, she then ripped up the print, just as police officers arrived.

“People were asking her, ‘Why’d you do this?’ ” recalled Mark Michaels, a Colorado art dealer, who witnessed the event and grabbed Ms. Folden. “She said, ‘Because it desecrates my Lord.’

Last week, a local deacon began to help organize protests outside the museum, and last Tuesday people packed a City Council meeting to speak out on the exhibit. Mr. Klassen estimated that most in attendance were opposed to the image.

The Rev. Ed Armijo, a deacon at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Loveland, said: “It is deeply offensive to see our Lord depicted that way. It is our position that this is not art. It’s pornography.”

Republican candidate
for New York State

Paladino Attacks Gays in Brooklyn Speech
The New York Times: October 10, 2010

The Republican candidate for governor, Carl P. Paladino, told a gathering in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, on Sunday that children should not be “brainwashed” into thinking that homosexuality was acceptable, and criticized his opponent, Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo, for marching in a gay pride parade earlier this year.

Addressing Orthodox Jewish leaders, Mr. Paladino described his opposition to same-sex marriage.

Click for video

“That’s not how God created us,” he said, reading from a prepared address. “I just think my children and your children would be much better off and much more successful getting married and raising a family, and I don’t want them brainwashed into thinking that homosexuality is an equally valid and successful option — it isn’t.” reported that Mr. Paladino’s prepared text had included the sentence: “There is nothing to be proud of in being a dysfunctional homosexual.” But Mr. Paladino omitted the sentence in his speech.

“Carl Paladino is simply expressing the views that he holds in his heart as a Catholic,” his campaign manager, Michael R. Caputo, said in a telephone interview.

“Carl Paladino is not homophobic, and neither is the Catholic Church.”


Test Your Savvy on Religion
The New York Times: October 9, 2010

The New York Times reported recently on a Pew Research Center poll in which religious people turned out to be remarkably uninformed about religion. Almost half of Catholics didn’t understand Communion. Most Protestants didn’t know that Martin Luther started the Reformation. Almost half of Jews didn’t realize Maimonides was Jewish. And atheists were among the best informed about religion.

So let me give everybody another chance. And given the uproar about Islam, I’ll focus on extremism and fundamentalism — and, as you’ll see, there’s a larger point to this quiz.

Note that some questions have more than one correct choice; answers are at the end.

1. Which holy book stipulates that a girl who does not bleed on her wedding night should be stoned to death?
a. Koran
b. Old Testament
c. (Hindu) Upanishads


British government recognizeS Druidry as an official religion
POST WIRES: October 3, 2010

British government bureaucrats have recognized Druidry as an official religion because its practice of worshipping natural spirits can be considered an act of faith.

It's the first pagan belief to be given such status in Britain.

Druids are growing in numbers because of increasing concern over environmental issues, the BBC said.

(Full article)


Test of India Verdict Will Lie in Public Reaction
The New York Times: September 29, 2010

NEW DELHI — The case has existed almost as long as independent India itself. Dating from 1950, the legal battle between Hindus and Muslims over a religious site in the city of Ayodhya began as a little-noticed title dispute. With a ruling finally expected on Thursday, the case has become something altogether different: a test of India’s secular soul.

The test is not so much in the verdict, which will deal with a handful of issues, including the central question of which side controls the site of a 16th-century mosque known as the Babri Masjid. Rather, the test will come in the public reaction. In 1992, an enraged mob of Hindu extremists destroyed the mosque, asserting that the site was the birthplace of the Hindu deity, Ram. Riots erupted, claiming about 2,000 lives, mostly Muslims, and horrifying a nation founded on the ideal of religious tolerance.

The Babri Masjid mosque destroyed in 1992 by a mob of 75,000 hindu extremists

Basic Religion Test Stumps Many Americans
The New York Times: September 28, 2010

Americans are by all measures a deeply religious people, but they are also deeply ignorant about religion.

Researchers from the independent Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life phoned more than 3,400 Americans and asked them 32 questions about the Bible, Christianity and other world religions, famous religious figures and the constitutional principles governing religion in public life.

On average, people who took the survey answered half the questions incorrectly, and many flubbed even questions about their own faith.

Those who scored the highest were atheists and agnostics, as well as two religious minorities: Jews and Mormons. The results were the same even after the researchers controlled for factors like age and racial differences.

“Even after all these other factors, including education, are taken into account, atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons still outperform all the other religious groups in our survey,” said Greg Smith, a senior researcher at Pew.

That finding might surprise some, but not Dave Silverman, president of American Atheists, an advocacy group for nonbelievers that was founded by Madalyn Murray O’Hair.

“I have heard many times that atheists know more about religion than religious people,” Mr. Silverman said. “Atheism is an effect of that knowledge, not a lack of knowledge. I gave a Bible to my daughter. That’s how you make atheists.”





Baptist Minister





Victory for Families
The New York Times: September 27, 2010

A state appeals court in Florida toppled a monument to bigotry last week, declaring unconstitutional a 33-year-old state law that prohibited gay people from adopting children. The animus behind the ban is unmistakable. Its sponsor in the Florida State Senate, Curtis Peterson, declared in 1977 that its purpose was to send a message to the gay community that “we’re really tired of you” and “we wish you’d go back into the closet.”

The unanimous decision by three judges on Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal — Republican appointees — found “no rational basis” to the state’s approach of banning adoption by gay men and lesbians while allowing them to be foster parents. The court said it violated the State Constitution’s equal protection clause.

The case was brought by Martin Gill, a gay man seeking to adopt two brothers he took in as foster children more than five years ago. When they arrived, at ages 4 years and 4 months, they were in bad shape. Both had ringworm; the younger brother also had a raging ear infection while the older one did not speak for a month. Today both boys are thriving.

Mr. Gill’s side provided extensive evidence at trial to show there is no difference in the well-being of children raised by loving gay parents versus loving heterosexual parents. Reviewing that evidence, as well as Mr. Gill’s efforts, the appeals court agreed, and praised Mr. Gill for being “an exceptional parent.”

The state had nothing credible to offer to justify the adoption ban. It presented only two expert witnesses, noted Judge Gerald Cope Jr., who wrote the main opinion. One witness undercut the state’s case by saying adoption decisions should be made on a case-by-case basis. Opposing experts quickly discredited the state’s second witness, Dr. George Rekers, a Baptist minister and clinical psychologist (subsequently caught up in a sex scandal*) whose pseudo-scientific research was laughable.

The court’s decision is a victory for Mr. Gill and his family and for many hundreds of foster children in Florida in need of a good home. In recent months, there have also been several major federal court rulings voiding other discriminatory laws against gay people on equality grounds. That is heartening progress.

(Full Editorial)

* Christian right leader George Rekers takes vacation with "rent boy"
Miami New Times: May 6, 2010

For The New York Times coverage of Dr. George Rekers'
"rent-boy" story, click on photo at left, bottom.

Georgia Pastor Pledges to Fight Accusations
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: September 26, 2010

LITHONIA, Ga. (AP) — The famed pastor of a Georgia megachurch said Sunday that he will fight allegations that he lured young men into sexual relationships, stressing that he'd be back to lead the church the next week.

Addressing a New Birth Missionary Baptist Church sanctuary packed with thousands, Bishop Eddie Long neither discussed specifics of the lawsuits filed against him nor flatly denied the accusations. But he drew thunderous applause when he addressed his flock publicly for the first time since the first lawsuits were filed several days ago.

"There have been allegations and attacks made on me. I have never in my life portrayed myself as a perfect man. But I am not the man that's being portrayed on the television. That's not me. That is not me," he said as applause interrupted him during the first of two services Sunday morning.

Four young men have filed lawsuits in the past week — three who live in Georgia and one from Charlotte, N.C., who attended one of Long's satellite churches there. Two claim they were members of the church's LongFellows Youth Academy, a program that taught teens about sexual and financial discipline, when Long gave them gifts and took them on trips to seduce them.

Long — who has been an outspoken opponent of gay marriage and whose church has counseled gay members to become straight — has been named as a defendant in the lawsuits, which claim the pastor abused his "spiritual authority." But federal and state authorities have said they will not investigate the allegations because all four men said they were 17 or 18 years old when the relationships with Long began — older than Georgia's age of consent, which is 16.

"We are all subject to face distasteful and painful situations. Bishop Long, Eddie Long — you can put your name in that blank — will have some bad situations," he said. "The righteous face painful situations with a determined expectancy. We are not exempt from pain, but He promises to deliver us out of our pain."

Long's final remarks during the service invoked the biblical story of the small David doing battle with the gargantuan Goliath. "I've been accused; I'm under attack. I want you to know, as I said earlier, I am not a perfect man," he said, briefly pausing for effect. "But this thing I'm going to fight."

"I want you to know one other thing, I feel like David against Goliath. But I got five rocks, and I haven't thrown one yet."

Church members who heard Long's speech pledged to stand by their pastor. "We know and we love bishop," said Annie Cannon, who has attended New Birth for seven years, referring to Long. "We love our place of worship. My son goes to school here. We do everything here."

Cheryl Barnett has attended New Birth since Long became senior pastor more than 20 years ago. She said she agreed wholeheartedly with his remarks. "I was very much fulfilled with what he had to say," she said. "It was simple. It was direct. He's standing in the scriptures. That's what we would expect from our minister."

About 100 people waited at the doors of the church more than an hour before the first service. Some held signs of support, while others prayed for their embattled leader. A small group sang the hymn "White as Snow" while outside.

Members in their seats clapped and swayed as the first service began, with several people with microphones singing on stage. Later in the service, hundreds began dancing and chanting, "Jesus, Jesus." A small group of young people held Apple iPads high over their heads, with the screens scrolling white letters against a black background reading, "It's time to praise him."


Sex Scandal Threatens a Georgia Pastor’s Empire
The New York Times: September 26, 2010

LITHONIA, Ga. — Over the last two decades, Bishop Eddie L. Long has built a religious and financial empire from scratch, transforming a small, faltering church into a modern cathedral with one of the largest and most influential congregations in the country.

His message that God wants people to prosper has attracted celebrities, professional athletes and socialites, swelling the membership to 25,000. The church hosted four United States presidents for the funeral of Coretta Scott King in 2006.

The rapid expansion of the church — often called “Club New Birth” because it attracts so many young black singles — has also made Bishop Long a powerful political player, especially in DeKalb County, home to one of the wealthiest black communities in the country. The church has become a mandatory stop for many politicians — local, state and national — and Bishop Long supports candidates of both parties.

But Bishop Long’s reputation and sprawling enterprises now stand threatened by a sex scandal.

Four former members of a youth group he runs have accused him of repeatedly coercing them into homosexual sex acts, and of abusing his considerable moral authority over them while plying them with cash, new cars, lodging and lavish trips.

The accusations are all the more explosive because Bishop Long styles himself a social conservative, rails against homosexuality and calls for a ban on same-sex marriage. His church even holds seminars promising to “cure” homosexuals.

The accusations center on the LongFellows Youth Academy, an exclusive group of teenage boys handpicked by Bishop Long for spiritual mentoring.

The boys went through a bonding ritual, known as a “covenant ceremony,” in which Bishop Long gave them jewelry and exchanged vows with them while quoting from Scripture as ceremonial candles burned, according to court complaints filed against the pastor. Reciting Bible verses, the pastor promised to protect them from harm and called them “spiritual sons.”

But four former members of the group now say the real purpose of the academy was to provide Bishop Long with young men whom he could lure into sex.

B. J. Bernstein, a lawyer for the four young men who claim to have been coerced into sexual affairs with Bishop Long, said the pastor exerted a paternalistic and, at times, autocratic influence over young men.

The four complaints filed in court describe how Bishop Long arranged for the church to provide cars to the young men and put them on the church payroll. Two of them also said they received free lodging in church-owned houses, where, they said, Bishop Long visited them for sessions of kissing, oral sex or masturbation. He also took them on trips to other cities and abroad, sharing rooms with them, with the knowledge of several church officials, the complaints say.

“There are biblical and spiritual passages that were given to them to make them comfortable and make them believe that they were not gay,” Ms. Bernstein said.


Agency Will Not Ask Israel to Sign
Nuclear Nonproliferation

REUTERS : September 24, 2010

The United Nations nuclear watchdog narrowly rejected an Arab-sponsored resolution Friday calling on Israel to join the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The vote by the International Atomic Energy Agency was a victory for the United States after a tough diplomatic battle. Washington had urged countries to vote down the symbolically important but non-binding resolution, saying it could derail broader efforts to ban nuclear warheads in the Middle East and threaten the current Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

(Full article)

"Every time anyone says that Israel is our only friend in the Middle East, I can't help but think that before Israel, we had no enemies in the Middle East."

Secretary of the Army

Group Protests Planned Religious Rally at Fort Bragg
The Neww York Times: September 23, 2010

North Carolina - Americans United for Separation of Church and State has sent a letter to the Secretary of the Army [John McHugh] saying it is unconstitutional for the military to hold an evangelistic rally scheduled for Fort Bragg this Saturday. The event is sponsored by the base’s chaplains, local churches and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, now led by the famous evangelist’s son, the Rev. Franklin Graham. The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, said, “It is not the Army’s job to convert Americans to Christianity.”

(Full article)

Man Charged in Cabby Attack Ranted to Police, Documents Show
The New York Times: September 22, 2010

A 21-year-old film student accused of trying to kill a Muslim cabdriver called himself a “patriot” while in police custody, and accused an officer of allowing “them to blow up buildings in this country.”

A more detailed picture of the mental state of the student, Michael Enright, emerged in jumbled rants he gave to the police after his arrest, statements contained in documents that prosecutors filed during his arraignment on Wednesday in State Supreme Court in Manhattan.

When the police apprehended Mr. Enright shortly after 6 p.m. on Aug. 24, at 43rd Street and Third Avenue, he told them that the driver, Ahmed H. Sharif, had attacked him and that he was only trying to defend himself.

“I was in the military,” Mr. Enright told the police, according to the court filing. “I have to go home and see my mother. A friend of mine who works for the M.T.A. is going to help me out. My aunt is dying. You’re persecuting me because I am Irish Catholic.”

About 7:20 p.m., Mr. Enright, while riding in a police car, told the officers: “What ya going to do? Beat me up?” the documents said.

“You are a stupid broad,” Mr. Enright continued, according to the prosecution’s filing. “You allow them to blow up buildings in this country. Are you going to bang my head on the door?”

Later, at the 17th Precinct station house, Mr. Enright contradicted an earlier statement about his religion. “I’m Jewish,” he said, according to the filing. “You are going to ruin the entire Jewish race by locking me up.”

He added, “I drank a pint of Scotch starting at 2.”

In an ambulance, Mr. Enright offered an Arabic greeting and then said, “Do you like salami and bacon?” according to the court documents.

He also said to a police officer in the ambulance: “Have you ever left the country? You are a coward. You weren’t over there.”

After arriving at Bellevue Hospital Center, he announced, “I am a patriot and I want representation.”

one of eight women imprisoned on homicide charges
Many States in Mexico Crack Down on Abortion
The New York Times: September 22, 2010

GUANAJUATO, Mexico — The woman came into the hospital, bleeding, scared and barely out of her teens. But before anyone would treat her, the authorities had to be called.

Doctors believed that she had had an illegal abortion, so first, a man from the prosecutor’s office had to arrive and ask her about her sexual history. Then, after she was treated but still groggy from the anesthesia, another investigator showed up and took her statement.

The investigation is still open two months later. Prosecutors are seeking medical records to determine whether they will charge the young woman, who asked that her name not be used, as well as the person they suspect helped her.

Here in the state of Guanajuato, where Roman Catholic conservatives have controlled government for more than 15 years, it is standard procedure to investigate suspected cases of abortion. But Guanajuato is no anomaly, women’s rights advocates and some health officials say, since a broad move to enforce antiabortion laws has gained momentum in other parts of Mexico.

One reason is a backlash against Mexico City’s decision three years ago to permit legal abortion to any woman in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. After the Supreme Court upheld that law in 2008, 17 states passed constitutional amendments declaring that life begins at conception, even though abortion was already illegal everywhere but Mexico City, except in cases of rape or to save a mother’s life.


Lawsuits Accuse Megachurch Leader of Sexual Misconduct
The New York Times: September 21, 2010

ATLANTA — Two young men in Georgia said Tuesday that the pastor of a 33,000-person Baptist megachurch, Bishop Eddie L. Long, had repeatedly coerced them into having sex with him.

In two lawsuits filed in DeKalb County, the men said that Bishop Long, a prominent minister and television personality, had used his position as a spiritual counselor to take them on trips out of state and perform sexual acts on them.
Bishop Long is the pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, an Atlanta suburb. It is one of the largest churches in the country.

“Defendant Long has a pattern and practice of singling out a select group of young male church members and using his authority as bishop over them to ultimately bring them to a point of engaging in a sexual relationship,” said a suit filed by one of the men, Maurice Robinson, 20. The other man who filed suit is Anthony Flagg, 21.

Another Allegation Against Church Leader
The New York Times: September 22, 2010

A third man said Wednesday that he had been molested by Bishop Eddie L. Long, the prominent pastor of a Baptist megachurch in suburban Atlanta. A lawsuit filed by Jamal Parris, 23, a former member of the church’s congregation, alleges that Bishop Long gave him gifts in exchange for sexual acts while Mr. Parris was a teenager. Bishop Long is a nationally known author, the pastor at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Ga., and an outspoken critic of homosexuality. On Tuesday, two men who also claim that Bishop Long sexually abused them when they were teenage members of his 25,000-person congregation filed suits against him.

"Dressed Up as a Boy”

Afghan Boys Are Prized, So Girls Live the Part
The New York Times: September 20, 2010

KABUL, Afghanistan — Six-year-old Mehran Rafaat is like many girls her age. She likes to be the center of attention. She is often frustrated when things do not go her way. Like her three older sisters, she is eager to discover the world outside the family’s apartment in their middle-class neighborhood of Kabul.

But when their mother, Azita Rafaat, a member of Parliament, dresses the children for school in the morning, there is one important difference. Mehran’s sisters put on black dresses and head scarves, tied tightly over their ponytails. For Mehran, it’s green pants, a white shirt and a necktie, then a pat from her mother over her spiky, short black hair. After that, her daughter is out the door — as an Afghan boy.

There are no statistics about how many Afghan girls masquerade as boys. But when asked, Afghans of several generations can often tell a story of a female relative, friend, neighbor or co-worker who grew up disguised as a boy. To those who know, these children are often referred to as neither “daughter” nor “son” in conversation, but as “bacha posh,” which literally means “dressed up as a boy” in Dari.


Cops search for missing 'cult' members who were
awaiting the Rapture

ASSOCIATED PRESS: September 19, 2010

PALMDALE, Calif. — Deputies searched a wide swath of Southern California early Sunday for a break-off religious sect of 13 people that included children as young as three and left behind letters indicating they were awaiting an apocalyptic event and would soon see Jesus and their dead relatives in heaven, authorities said.

The group of El Salvadoran immigrants, described as “cult-like” by sheriff’s officials, was led by Reyna Marisol Chicas, a 32-year-old woman from Palmdale in northeast Los Angeles county, sheriff’s Captain Mike Parker said.
The group left behind cell phones, identifications, deeds to property, and letters indicating they were awaiting the Rapture.
This undated photo provided by Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department shows Reyna Chicas, leader of the "cult-like" group missing in Southern California.
“Essentially, the letters say they are all going to heaven to meet Jesus and their deceased relatives,” sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore said. “Some of the letters were saying goodbye.”
The items came from a purse that a member of the group had left with her husband Saturday and asked him to pray over. He eventually looked inside and he and another member’s husband called authorities, Parker said.
The men told investigators they believe group members had been “brainwashed” by Chicas, and one expressed worries that they might harm themselves, Parker said.

Missing Religious Group Found Alive in California
The New York Times: September 20, 2010

PALMDALE, Calif. — The frantic search began after police issued an alert: Members of a cult on the edge of the Mojave Desert had disappeared, leaving behind handwritten notes that raised fears they had planned a mass suicide.

Members of a breakaway religious sect prepared to leave after they were located by Los Angeles County officers at Jackie Robinson Park in Littlerock, Calif., on Sunday.
But Sunday afternoon, the search ended when the women from a small breakaway religious sect were found praying with their children on a blanket at a local park.

The police had been searching the region for the five women and eight children since Saturday afternoon, after the husbands of two of the missing women brought letters their wives had left behind, in purses filled with cellphones, identification and legal papers, to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office.

The letters mentioned “taking refuge,” “going to heaven” and wanting their families to join them. One of the husbands told the police that his wife and others were part of a cultlike group who had been “brainwashed” by the presumed leader, Reyna Marisol Chicas.

“Based upon the contents of the letters found in the purse, the missing people are possibly awaiting the rapture or some other type of catastrophic event,” Capt. Mike Parker of the sheriff’s office said. Though the letters made no specific reference to suicide, and the group has no history of violence, the apocalyptic talk incited fears of the worst in a part of the country that has seen cult suicides in the past.


Christine O'Donnell: "I Dabbled Into Witchcraft"
CBS News: September 18, 2010

Republican Senate nominee Christine O'Donnell doesn't need Facebook to dredge up her controversial past statements.

As a sometime conservative pundit a decade ago on Bill Maher's former show, "Politically Incorrect", O'Donnell said (in an appearance that wasn't aired) that she dabbled in witchcraft.

In the clip shown last night on Maher's current show, "Real Time," O'Donnell said:
"I dabbled into witchcraft -- I never joined a coven. But I did, I did. ... I dabbled into witchcraft. I hung around people who were doing these things. I'm not making this stuff up. I know what they told me they do. . . . "

"One of my first dates with a witch was on a Satanic altar, and I didn't know it. I mean, there's little blood there and stuff like that. ... We went to a movie and then had a midnight picnic on a Satanic altar."


Delaware GOP Candidate: Ask Liberals Why They're Nazis
CBS News: September 17, 2010

Delaware GOP Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell may be getting all the attention these days, but Glen Urquhart, the Republican candidate for the state's open House seat, apparently doesn't want to get left out of the action.

The Tea Party-backed candidate appears in a video in which he says: "Next time your liberal friends talk about the separation of Church and State ask them why they're Nazis." Democrats have seized on the comments and labeled Urquhart an extremist, The Hill reports.

Urquhart's full comment:

"Do you know, where does this phrase separation of Church and State come from? Does anybody know? ... Actually, that's exactly, it was not in Jefferson's letter to the Danbury Baptists. He was reassuring that the federal government wouldn't trample on their religion. The exact phrase 'separation of Church and State' came out of Adolph Hitler's mouth, that's where it comes from. Next time your liberal friends talk about the separation of Church and State ask them why they're Nazis."









Cartoonist in Hiding After Death Threats
The New York Times: September 16, 2010

A cartoonist in Seattle who promoted an “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” last spring is now in hiding after her life was threatened by Islamic extremists. The cartoonist, Molly Norris, has changed her name and has stopped producing work for a local alternative newspaper, Seattle Weekly, according to the newspaper’s editor, Mark D. Fefer.

Mr. Fefer declined an interview request Thursday, citing “the sensitivity of the situation.” But in a letter to readers about Ms. Norris on Wednesday, he said that “on the insistence of top security specialists at the F.B.I., she is, as they put it, ‘going ghost’: moving, changing her name, and essentially wiping away her identity.”
The F.B.I. declined to comment on the case.

Ms. Norris attracted attention after she published a poster on the Internet in April satirically proposing that people draw figures of the Prophet Muhammad on May 20.
She indicated that the proposal was a protest of censorship by Comedy Central, which edited out references to Muhammad from an episode of “South Park” that month. That episode also triggered threats from extremists. Islam forbids depictions of the Prophet Muhammad.

In 2005, a Danish cartoonist named Kurt Westergaard published a depiction of Muhammad that led to multiple death threats and alleged assassination attempts. He was presented an award this month for freedom of speech by Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany.

The poster by Ms. Norris spread on the Internet and spawned Facebook groups both for and against the idea. She quickly tried to tamp down the controversy, apologizing to Muslims and at one point joking that the event should be renamed “Everybody Draw Al Gore Day.” The protest movement continued in the spring largely without her involvement.

In July, Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical Yemeni-American cleric who is accused of ties to Al Qaeda, said in a document published on the Internet that Ms. Norris “should be taken as a prime target of assassination,” according to the NEFA Foundation, a private group that monitors extremist Web sites, which translated the document.

Mr. Awlaki stated that Ms. Norris and other unnamed people in the United States and Europe “are expressing their hatred of the Messenger of Islam through ridicule.”

Senate Passes Bill on Facial Veils
The New York Times: September 14, 2010

The French Senate on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a bill barring women from wearing the full facial veil anywhere in public. If the law is approved by France’s constitutional council, it will go into effect next spring and set a range of fines for women, including tourists, who wear the full veil. It also provides criminal penalties for those who force women to wear it. The vote was 246 to 1, with many abstentions from left-wing legislators; the bill passed the lower house in July.

Critics say that the measure stigmatizes one sex of one religion, but the law is very popular with the public and proponents say it defends traditional French values like women’s rights and secularism.

Kosher guy fowls out
The New York Post: September 15, 2010

It's getting less kosher to wave a chicken over your head to take away your sins.
A Brooklyn man said the ASPCA all but forced him to stop the controversial tradition at his feather-strewn business yesterday.

"[The ASPCA workers] were ready to call the Health Department," said the man, who runs the seasonal "Satmar Kapparos Center" out of a parking lot at 12th Avenue and 48th Street in Borough Park.

"They asked me what I was feeding [the birds]. I said challah and water," said the man, who refused to reveal his name. "They said, 'No, you have to feed them grain.' "

According to Jewish tradition, people wave a bird over their head to "transfer" their sins to it. It's then killed.

An ASPCA rep said the agency "visited the center . . . to investigate a cruelty complaint and found no violation of . . . laws. The man decided to remove the chickens on his own."

Ayatollah Speaks of Plot to Abuse Koran
The News York Times: September 13, 2010

DAMASCUS, Syria — Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, delivered a fiery address on Monday accusing the United States government of orchestrating desecrations of the Koran by right-wing American Christian groups last weekend, Iranian state news agencies reported.

The speech appeared to be part of an effort by Iran’s hard-line leaders to amplify Muslim outrage over scattered gestures to burn or tear pages of the Koran, in the wake of the threat — later withdrawn — by Terry Jones, a Florida pastor, to burn the Koran on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

In Tehran, about 1,000 protesters chanting “Death to America” and “U.S. pastor must be killed” clashed with the police and threw stones at the Swiss Embassy, Reuters reported. The Swiss have handled American interests in Iran ever since the United States severed diplomatic relations with Tehran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

In his speech, Ayatollah Khamenei said “the leaders of the global arrogance” — a code for the United States among Iranian conservatives — had engineered the plot to desecrate the Koran, Press TV and other agencies reported. He added that “Zionist think tanks which hold the most influence in the United States government and its security and military organizations” were also involved.

Ayatollah Khamenei warned people not to believe that isolated right-wing American Christians were to blame, calling them “puppets” of the government. “This incident and previous incidents clearly show that what the global arrogance is attacking today is the foundation of Islam and the Holy Koran,” he said.

Tensions High Across Kashmir After Koran Protests
The New York Times: September 14, 2010

NEW DELHI — The authorities expanded a strict curfew across Kashmir on Tuesday and sent more security officers across the restive Himalayan region after bloody protests erupted there a day earlier, fueled partly by a report of Koran desecration in the United States.

The bloodshed, which rippled across different districts in the region, deepened the crisis that has steadily worsened in Kashmir since protests against Indian rule began in June. In New Delhi, the Indian government called for leaders of the country’s major political parties to meet on Wednesday and seek consensus on how to quell the unrest and stabilize Kashmir, a disputed region claimed by both Pakistan and India.

The authorities said that at least 18 people and one security officer had been killed on Monday, with more than 70 people injured, as separatist protesters clashed with Indian paramilitary officers. Minor clashes also took place on Tuesday but police reported a tense calm late in the afternoon. Air links to Srinagar, the state’s summer capital, were suspended for three days.

The Monday violence was ignited by a report on an Iranian state television channel, Press TV, allegedly showing a protester in the United States tearing pages out of a Koran.

A Beninois Priest Seeks New Respect, and New Practitioners,
for Voodoo

The New York Times: September 14, 2010

COTONOU, Benin — This is not about secretive mutterings in the dead of night or freakish eccentrics, explained Dah Aligbonon Akpochihala, an eminent voodoo priest who has taken to the airwaves to preach the old messages of faith, fidelity and obedience integral to his religion. It is about bringing a younger generation on board.

“Voodoo is sabotaged, demonized, as if there was nothing good in it,” Mr. Aligbonon said in his austere office — a bare, whitewashed room, with a cracked linoleum floor and disused fan.

A slight, mild-mannered aristocrat in a blue robe, Mr. Aligbonon maintains his modest cinder-block temple on a busy commercial street in this bustling commercial capital, one of the continent’s major ports. The temple sits between a beauty parlor and a hardware stall, and offers spiritual consultation and ceremonies to Mami Wata (a water divinity) — along with photocopying, binding services and CDs in the Fon language of Mr. Aligbonon’s broadcasts. Chickens peck in the courtyard — they have multiple uses, food and sacrifice — laundry hangs on the rack and a baby bawls from within.

This mundanity is testimony enough to the integration of voodoo, or vodoun, into daily life in Benin, the country that claims to have given birth to the religion. Underneath the Christian and Muslim surface, the old-time faith persists for many here, experts on voodoo say.

Even though voodoo is widely followed in Benin — “The double practice persists, even among university people,” says Mr. Iroko — an unjustified stigma still comes with it, Mr. Aligbonon says indignantly.

“Voodoo is not the devil, and still less Satan,” he writes emphatically in one of the pamphlets for sale in his storefront, a detailed guide to the religion’s principal divinities. On the contrary, he says, voodoo is “based on natural law” and existed before Buddha, Christ and Muhammad.

Senegal Court Forbids Forcing Children to Beg
The New York Times: September 13, 2010

DAKAR, Senegal — The judge spoke quietly, and decades of custom were quickly rolled back: the Muslim holy men were to be punished for forcing children to beg.

The sentence handed down in a courtroom here last week was gentle, only six months’ probation and a fine for the seven marabouts, or holy men. Yet the result could be a social revolution, in the eyes of some commentators. By government decree, and under international pressure, Senegal has forbidden the marabouts to enlist children to beg on their behalf.

Outside the crowded courtroom, a dozen or more white-robed marabouts sat in an anxious conclave on the ground to discuss their colleagues’ predicament. More than 40 had shown up in support, and they knew the stakes. If the government here follows through, thousands of children could be released from a practice that human rights groups condemn as exploitation under the guise of education but that religious leaders defend as essential for keeping their enterprises afloat.

“Very sad, really heavy; this is a custom from our ancestors,” Chérif Aïdara, an Islamic lecturer in the group, said later. “This is how we teach the Koran.”



Dueling mosque rallies rage at Ground Zero
Cops keep order amid a raucous battle

The New York Post:September 12, 2010

Thousands of chanting, jeering protesters with dueling agendas converged on lower Manhattan yesterday in a bitter and sometimes violent clash over the planned Ground Zero mosque.
Rival demonstrations over the Islamic center were kept apart by a phalanx of cops -- though there were flare-ups between the groups even as relatives of 9/11 victims mourned just a few blocks away.
"I don't care if they build a mosque, but I don't want to hear their Islamic prayers wafting over the [Ground Zero] grave site . . . I saw the carnage of 9/11," fumed a retired firefighter who waved his middle finger at those who supported the mosque, which would sit two blocks north of the World Trade Center site.


The estimated 3,000 pro-mosque demonstrators outnumbered the mosque opponents by about 500. A crowd 15 to 20 deep packed into City Hall Park to listen to speakers including former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark before marching from City Hall to the Federal Building. The march stretched three blocks, followed by a heavy contingent of police.

Beating drums and ringing bells, the crowd chanted, "Bigots go home." The demonstrators also carried signs reading, "Tea party bigots funded by corporate $," and, "Our grief is no excuse for bigotry and racism."

A few blocks away, the mosque protesters were in full fury.

Afghan Protests Against Koran Burning Turn Violent
The New York Times: September 10, 2010

KABUL, Afghanistan — Numerous protests broke out in Afghanistan on Friday and two of them turned violent in response to plans by a Florida pastor to burn copies of the Koran, even after the pastor announced he had suspended those plans.

In western Afghanistan, one civilian was killed and three were wounded by gunshots at a protest outside a NATO base in Bala Buluk in Farah Province, according to a hospital official there.

In northern Afghanistan, five Afghan protesters were wounded by gunshots, three of them critically, when hundreds of men tried to force their way onto a NATO reconstruction base in Faizabad, the capital of Badakshan Province, Afghan officials said.

There were few details on what happened regarding the death in western Afghanistan, except that it was the result of a protest over the threat to desecrate the Koran.

Minister Wavers on Plans to Burn Koran
with Helen Cooper
The New York Times: September 10, 2010

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — First, Terry Jones, the Florida pastor who set the world on edge with plans to burn copies of the Koran on Sept. 11, said Thursday that he had canceled his demonstration because he had won a promise to move the proposed Islamic center near ground zero to a new location.

Then, hours later, after learning that the project’s leaders in New York had said that no such deal existed, Mr. Jones backed away from his promise and said the bonfire of sacred texts was simply “suspended.” The sudden back and forth suggested that the controversy — the pastor drew pointed criticisms from President Obama and an array of leaders, officials and celebrities in the United States and abroad — was not yet finished even after multiple appearances before the news media on the lawn of his small church.

Mr. Jones seemed to be struggling with how to save face and hold on to the spotlight he has attracted for an act that could make him a widely reviled figure.

But Mr. Jones seemed to have been wrong or misled from the start. Minutes after he announced the cancellation alongside Imam Muhammad Musri, a well-known Islamic leader in Florida who had been trying to broker a deal, Mr. Musri contradicted Mr. Jones’s account. He said that Muslim leaders of the project in New York had not actually agreed to find a new location. “The imam committed to meet with us but did not commit to moving the mosque yet,” Mr. Musri said.

Even that may not be accurate. Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the leader of the New York project, said in a statement that he had not spoken to Mr. Jones or Mr. Musri, who said later that he received the pledge of a meeting from a staff member in Mr. Abdul Rauf’s office.

The saga of Mr. Jones appeared likely to continue — with more pressure likely to come as well. In just the past week, the list of his critics had come to include Mr. Obama, the Vatican, Franklin Graham, Angelina Jolie, Sarah Palin, dozens of members of Congress and Gen. David H. Petraeus, who was among the first to declare that the burning of Korans would put Americans soldiers and civilians in danger.

Planned Koran Burning Drew International Scorn
The New York Times: September 9, 2010

Before a Florida pastor canceled his plans to burn copies of the Koran on Sept. 11, the international outcry intensified Thursday, drawing vocal condemnations from world leaders and touching off angry protests in corners of the Muslim world.

Although some protests in Afghanistan and Pakistan rippled with scenes of burning American flags, the outrage in the streets seemed largely isolated. Officials in Muslim countries urged restraint, seeking to head off any violent reactions if the Florida church went ahead with its plans to set fire to several copies of the Koran on the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks this Saturday.

President Obama joined a litany of high-ranking American officials to condemn the Koran burning, saying that the act, amplified by a global media, would put American troops at risk and fan anger against the United States. Mr. Obama called the planned event “a destructive act” and said it would be a “recruitment bonanza for Al Qaeda.”

American embassies and consulates were reviewing their security policies, and several diplomatic missions in the Muslim world posted statements prominently on their Web sites condemning the planned event. The State Department issued a travel alert on Thursday saying the burning could catalyze violent anti-American demonstrations.

Koran-burning Florida pastor will cancel plans if Obama calls as 2nd pastor plans burning
NEWSCORE: September 9, 2010
As U.S. President Barack Obama condemned a Florida pastor's proposed public Koran burning, another minister planned a similar demonstration to mark the anniversary of Sept. 11, The Tennessean reported Thursday.

Rev. Bob Old of Springfield, Tenn. -- just 30 miles (48 km) north of Nashville -- said he intended to set fire to a Koran at his home Saturday and post a video of the burning Muslim holy book online.

"If they want to have their religion, they can have it somewhere else," Old reportedly said of Muslims. "I believe that other religions are a threat to our faith and our beliefs," said Old, who heads an evangelical ministry called Disciples of Christ, though he was once pastor of two Baptist congregations in Tennessee. "People may say that I am crazy, but I am not."


It’s Back to School. Then Back to Vacation
The New York Times: September 8, 2010

A quirk in the calendar is giving the first week of school the feeling of an on-again-off-again relationship, with many students in the New York area having more days of vacation than instruction.

For decades, school systems throughout the region have begun just after Labor Day and have been closed in honor of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year.

For the first time in recent memory, Rosh Hashana is coming just as the new school year has begun, falling on Thursday and Friday this week.

So in New York City, more than a million students will enter and exit the classroom Wednesday, their only day of school this week. And for thousands of students in the suburbs who went to class on Tuesday, two days of school will be followed by two days off before the weekend.

Jewish Holy Days Collide With Fashion’s Big Event
The New York Times: September 8, 2010

As Jewish families gather to celebrate the New Year on Wednesday night, there are sure to be some fashion designers whispering prayers of their own.

This year New York Fashion Week is colliding with Rosh Hashana. As a result, some designers have asked to switch dates to ensure front-row seats are filled. Others are making do, frantically scheduling private appointments with buyers and editors after Rosh Hashana, which begins at sundown Wednesday and ends at sundown Friday. One synagogue, Chabad of the West 60s, has even offered to hold services for fashionistas who are stuck at Lincoln Center and can’t get away.

Petraeus Warns Against Planned Koran-Burning
The New York Times: September 7, 2010

KABUL, Afghanistan — The top American commander in Afghanistan has warned that plans by a small Florida church to burn copies of the Koran on Saturday, the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, could play into the hands of the very extremists at whom the church says it is directing that message.

Burning copies of the Koran, the Muslim holy book, “would undoubtedly be used by extremists in Afghanistan — and around the world — to inflame public opinion and incite violence,” the commander, Gen. David H. Petraeus said in an e-mail message to The Associated Press on Tuesday.

Echoing remarks the general made in an interview with The Wall Street Journal published Tuesday, he said: “It could endanger troops and it could endanger the overall effort. It is precisely the kind of action the Taliban uses and could cause significant problems. Not just here, but everywhere in the world we are engaged with the Islamic community."

Iranian Woman Said to Be Lashed Over Photo
September 6, 2010

LONDON — A mix-up over a photograph led to a sentence of 99 lashes for the Iranian woman whose earlier death sentence by stoning from Iranian authorities caused an international outcry, a lawyer for the woman said

The lashing of the woman, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, 43, was carried out in the northern Iran prison where she is being held, according to the lawyer, Javid Kian. But another lawyer for Ms. Ashtiani disputed that account

The latest episode began on Aug. 28, when The Times of London published a photograph on its front page of a dark-haired woman wearing earrings and what appeared to be pink lipstick. The headline with the photograph said, “Revealed: true face of the woman Iran wants to stone.”

Five days later, The Times published an apology, saying the photograph “was not of Ms. Ashtiani, but of Susan Hejrat, an Iranian exile who lives in Sweden.” It blamed the mistake on confusion among journalists; another of Ms. Ashtiani’s lawyers, Mohammed Mostafaei; and her son Sajad Ghaderzadeh, 22.

But Mr. Kian said that one of two women who had been held with Ms. Ashtiani in the Tabriz prison and recently released “told me that Ashtiani said she had received 99 lashes” for “indecency” after the photograph appeared.


God and Politics, Together Again
The New York Times: September 4, 2010

The rally at the Lincoln Memorial on Saturday, Aug. 28, organized by Glenn Beck and held on the 47th anniversary of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, was billed as a strictly religious affair, untainted by any political agenda.

In keeping with the spiritual message, Mr. Beck omitted his customary attacks on President Obama and Congressional Democrats, who he has implied, more than once, are socialists (or worse) in disguise. But in an interview taped after the event and shown the next day on Fox News, which also broadcasts his popular nightly program, Mr. Beck, a Mormon, was back on the attack, this time criticizing Mr. Obama’s religious views.

“He is a guy who understands the world through liberation theology, which is oppressor and victim,” Mr. Beck said, adding, “People aren’t recognizing his version of Christianity.”

The episode was further evidence that Mr. Obama, who once looked as if he might be able to end the nation’s ideological polarization, has instead become engulfed in it, just like his two predecessors, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.


From the Other Side of Ground Zero, Anti-Muslim Venom
The New York Times: September 5, 2010

The Internet evangelist Bill Keller moved toward the dais in tiny, quick steps on Sunday, exhibiting the anticipation of a man ready to address a crowd. Roughly 60 people stood before him in a hotel meeting room in Lower Manhattan, temporary quarters of his Christian center, his response to the mosque planned for an empty building nearby.

“If we’re going to do something in New York City, we’re going to do something that’s not just bold and visible, but something that has a lasting presence,” said Mr. Keller, who is from the Tampa Bay area of Florida.

Later, he told reporters that Muslims “can go to their mosque and preach the lies of Islam and I’ll come here to preach the truth of the Gospel.”

Since its organizers attended a community board meeting four months ago, the mosque — part of a Muslim community center that would offer a day care center, an auditorium and a pool — quickly became fodder for a national debate. Much of the opposition is over its location: two blocks north of ground zero.

Mr. Keller promoted his center, which he called the 9/11 Christian Center at Ground Zero, as a religious counterweight to the mosque, which he repeatedly called a “victory mosque” or a monument to “a great Muslim military accomplishment,” as he explained it at the inaugural service at the New York Marriott Downtown Hotel on West Street, two blocks south of ground zero.

His career arc makes him a somewhat unusual standard-bearer: Mr. Keller became a preacher after serving a sentence in federal prison for insider trading.

He has also appeared on Howard Stern’s satellite radio show and once had a program on national television, which was canceled after he called Islam a “1,400-year-old lie from the pits of hell.” The program is now carried by a small station in Florida.

Mr. Keller also described the conservative broadcaster Glenn Beck, who is a Mormon, and Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam who is behind the Muslim community center, as followers of false faiths.


Syria’s Solidarity With Islamists Ends at Home
The New York Times: September 4, 2010

DAMASCUS, Syria — This country, which had sought to show solidarity with Islamist groups and allow religious figures a greater role in public life, has recently reversed course, moving forcefully to curb the influence of Muslim conservatives in its mosques, public universities and charities.

The government has asked imams for recordings of their Friday sermons and started to strictly monitor religious schools. Members of an influential Muslim women’s group have now been told to scale back activities like preaching or teaching Islamic law. And this summer, more than 1,000 teachers who wear the niqab, or the face veil, were transferred to administrative duties.

The crackdown, which began in 2008 but has gathered steam this summer, is an effort by President Bashar al-Assad to reassert Syria’s traditional secularism in the face of rising threats from radical groups in the region, Syrian officials say.

Charged with disrupting a religious service
A Mosque Invisible to Many Is a Target
The New York Times: September 4, 2010

WATERPORT, N.Y. — The small congregation established a mosque here three decades ago in a 19th-century farmhouse surrounded by apple orchards and cornfields. In the farmhouse’s simple prayer room, they prayed for many things, including peace and quiet that has never fully come.

The local sheriff said some in his county did not even know that the mosque was there. Nevertheless, over the years, burglars have stolen prayer rugs and religious tapestries from the small sanctuary, the only Islamic place of worship in rural Orleans County, which hugs the shore of Lake Ontario between Buffalo and Rochester. Vandals have shattered car windows and thrown beer bottles on the lawn. One night about five years ago, the wooden fence in front of the mosque was set afire.

And then, this week, a car filled with local teenagers sideswiped the 29-year-old son of one of the mosque’s founding members, said Joseph V. Cardone, the Orleans County district attorney. One teenager was charged with firing a shotgun into the air near the mosque a few days earlier, after driving by and shouting epithets.

The details of the harassment and the arrests on Tuesday of five teenagers brought reporters and cameras; the ugliness seemed consistent with a number of other suspected anti-Muslim attacks around the country amid an emotional and often-bitter public discussion about whether an Islamic community center should be built in New York City near the site of the World Trade Center.

The events here have left the congregants of the mosque — which practices a form of Islam that emphasizes simple living, prayer and meditation — searching for answers about why the periodic harassment persists.

Religious Outlier
The New York Times: September 3, 2010

With all of the consternation about religion in this country, it’s sometimes easy to lose sight of just how anomalous our religiosity is in the world.

A Gallup report issued on Tuesday underscored just how out of line we are. Gallup surveyed people in more than 100 countries in 2009 and found that religiosity was highly correlated to poverty. Richer countries in general are less religious. But that doesn’t hold true for the United States.

Sixty-five percent of Americans say that religion is an important part of their daily lives. That is compared with just 30 percent of the French, 27 percent of the British and 24 percent of the Japanese.I used Gallup’s data to chart religiosity against gross domestic product per capita, and to group countries by their size and dominant religions.

The cliché goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Assuming that this holds true for charts, here is mine.


A Niche of the Unreal in a World of Credulity
The New York Times: September 3, 2010

Since 2008, has emerged as the leading Internet site for ultraconservative Christian news, commentary and weather reportage.

“Hurricane Earl Projected Path, Gay East Coast of America,” ChristWire opined on Monday. One headline in late August proclaimed, “Warning! Black Music Infiltrates the Minds of Future Homemaking White Women.” Last week, referring to Ken Mehlman, the former Republican Party chairman who came out of the closet last month, ChristWire asked, “Why does Ken Mehlman think that choosing the homosexual lifestyle is more important to him than the Republican values he once held so dear?”

ChristWire has lately reached new levels of popularity, in part thanks to an Aug. 14 column, “Is My Husband Gay?” Written by Stephenson Billings, the piece is a 15-point checklist to help wives detect possibly closeted husbands. “Gym membership but no interest in sports” is one warning sign. So is “Sassy, sarcastic and ironic around his friends” and “Love of pop culture.”

“Is My Husband Gay?” was picked up on The Huffington Post and mentioned by Ryan Seacrest on his radio show; so far it has been viewed 8.3 million times.
Oh, by the way: ChristWire is all one big joke.

Not the readership — which hit a high of 27 million page views in August — but the content, the opinions and the fake authors who write the stuff. (There is no “Stephenson Billings.”) Neither of the two founders is a conservative Christian. They are just like-minded 28-year-olds who met on the Internet, have never seen each other in person, and until this week had never given their real identities to a reporter.

Bryan Butvidas is a software developer who works out of his house in Southern California. Kirwin Watson is a former Pepperdine student who moved back home to Kansas, where he now works “on the patient-care staff” of a local hospital.


Iranian Newspaper Says Carla Bruni-Sarkozy ‘Deserves to Die’ for Objecting to Stoning
Reuters: August 31, 2010

Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, the wife of the French president, at the Élysée Palace in Paris in July.

An Iranian newspaper with close ties to the country’s supreme leader has responded to a campaign by French celebrities to save the life of an Iranian woman sentenced to death by stoning by calling its most prominent member, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, a “prostitute” who “deserves to die.”

Kayhan, the Tehran daily, first denounced the French president’s wife on Saturday, after she published an open letter in support of Sakineh Ashtiani, the Iranian woman given a death sentence for the crime of adultery. The official position of the paper’s editor is representative of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The fact that Kayhan called Ms. Bruni-Sarkozy, and the French actress Isabelle Adjani, the author of a previous open letter, “prostitutes” on Saturday led Iran’s foreign ministry to distance the government from the remarks. Ramin Mehmanparast, a foreign ministry spokesman, told reporters in Tehran on Tuesday, that “insulting the officials of other countries and using inappropriate words, this is not approved of by the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

On Tuesday Kayhan responded to criticism of its first attack by going even further in a second volley against Ms. Bruni-Sarkozy, calling her “the singer and decadent actress who managed to break [up] the Sarkozy family.” The newspaper added:
Studying Carla Bruni’s record clearly shows the reason why this immoral woman is backing an Iranian woman who has been condemned to death for committing adultery and being an accomplice in her husband’s murder and, in fact, she herself deserves to die.


At Lincoln Memorial, a Call for Religious Rebirth
The New York Times: August 28, 2010

WASHINGTON — An enormous and impassioned crowd rallied at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Saturday, summoned by Glenn Beck, a conservative broadcaster who called for a religious rebirth in America at the site where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech 47 years ago to the day.

“Something that is beyond man is happening,” Mr. Beck said in opening the event as the crowd thronged near the memorial grounds. “America today begins to turn back to God.”

Many in the crowd said they had never been to a Tea Party rally, but they described themselves as avid Glenn Beck fans, and many said they had been motivated to come by faith. Becky Benson, 56, traveled from Orlando, Fla., because, she said, “we believe in Jesus Christ, and he is our savior.” Jesus, she said, would not have agreed with what she called the redistribution of wealth in the form of the economic stimulus package, bank bailouts and welfare.

Mr. Beck made a surprise visit on Friday to a convention held by FreedomWorks, a Tea Party umbrella group, for Tea Party supporters. He received a thunderous welcome from a crowd of about 1,600 in Constitution Hall.

He told the crowd that he had begun planning his march on Washington a year ago, thinking “it was supposed to be political.”

“And then I kind of feel like God dropped a giant sandbag on my head,” he said.
“My role, as I see it, is to wake America up to the backsliding of principles and values and most of all of God,” he said. “We are a country of God. As I look at the problems in our country, quite honestly, I think the hot breath of destruction is breathing on our necks and to fix it politically is a figure that I don’t see anywhere.”

Far From Ground Zero, Obscure Pastor Is Ignored No Longer
The New York Times: August 25, 2010

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — If building an Islamic center near ground zero amounts to the epitome of Muslim insensitivity, as critics of the project have claimed, what should the world make of Terry Jones, the evangelical pastor here who plans to memorialize the Sept. 11 attacks with a bonfire of Korans?

Mr. Jones, 58, a former hotel manager with a red face and a white handlebar mustache, argues that as an American Christian he has a right to burn Islam’s sacred book because “it’s full of lies.” And in another era, he might have been easily ignored, as he was last year when he posted a sign at his church declaring “Islam is of the devil.”

White House aghast over 'secret Muslim' poll
The New York Post: August 20, 2010

The White House was forced yesterday to reaffirm President Obama's Christian faith after shocking polls found that 1 out of every 4 or 5 Americans falsely believe he's a Muslim -- a considerable increase from last year.

"The president is obviously a Christian. He prays every day," White House spokesman Bill Burton told reporters.
"He communicates with his religious adviser every single day. There's a group of pastors that he takes counsel from on a regular basis. And his faith is very important to him, but it's not something that is a topic of conversation every single day."

A separate White House statement stressed that Obama's "strong Christian faith is what guides him" in facing the nation's challenges. "But he doesn't wear it on his sleeve," the press office added. The president's flacks also complained that Obama's faith is "often maligned and distorted by critics."

The White House discussed the matter after a Time magazine survey found that 24 percent of Americans -- about 1 in 4 -- believe the president is Muslim. That poll questioned 1,000 respondents on Monday and Tuesday after Obama's comments on the proposed Ground Zero mosque.

Hindu goddess of

Bonalu Festival, Hyderabad, India
REUTERS: 17 August 2010

A devotee takes part in the annual Hindu religious festival of Bonalu in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad. The word "Bonalu" is derived from the Telugu word "Bhojanalu", which refers to the food offered to Goddess Kali, the Hindu goddess of power. The main ritual in the month-long festival consists of offering cooked rice, jaggery, curd, water and other dishes brought by women in earthen pots to Goddess Kali. Devotees believe that the offerings will ward off evil and epidemics during the monsoon period.

(Full article)

Temecula, Calif.

Across Nation, Mosque Projects Meet Opposition
The New York Times: August 7, 2010

While a high-profile battle rages over a mosque near ground zero in Manhattan, heated confrontations have also broken out in communities across the country where mosques are proposed for far less hallowed locations.

In Murfreesboro, Tenn., arguments broke out over a planned Muslim center. In Murfreesboro, Tenn., Republican candidates have denounced plans for a large Muslim center proposed near a subdivision, and hundreds of protesters have turned out for a march and a county meeting. In late June, in Temecula, Calif., members of a local Tea Party group took dogs and picket signs to Friday prayers at a mosque that is seeking to build a new worship center on a vacant lot nearby. In Sheboygan, Wis., a few Christian ministers led a noisy fight against a Muslim group that sought permission to open a mosque in a former health food store bought by a Muslim doctor.

"I do believe everybody has a right to freedom of religion. But Islam is not about a religion. It’s a political government, and it’s 100 percent against our Constitution.”

Temecula, Calif.

At one time, neighbors who did not want mosques in their backyards said their concerns were over traffic, parking and noise — the same reasons they might object to a church or a synagogue. But now the gloves are off.

In all of the recent conflicts, opponents have said their problem is Islam itself. They quote passages from the Koran and argue that even the most Americanized Muslim secretly wants to replace the Constitution with Islamic Shariah law.

These local skirmishes make clear that there is now widespread debate about whether the best way to uphold America’s democratic values is to allow Muslims the same religious freedom enjoyed by other Americans, or to pull away the welcome mat from a faith seen as a singular threat.


Robertson's group sues to stop ground zero mosque
By Jennifer Peltz
The Associated Press: August 5, 2010

NEW YORK - The debate over a planned Islamic community center and mosque near ground zero became a court fight Wednesday, as a conservative advocacy group sued to try to stop a project that has become a fulcrum for balancing religious freedom and the legacy of the Sept. 11 attacks.

The American Center for Law and Justice, founded by the Rev. Pat Robertson, filed suit Wednesday to challenge a city panel's decision to let developers tear down a building to make way for the mosque two blocks from ground zero.

The city Landmarks Preservation Commission moved too fast in making a decision, underappreciated the building's historic value and "allowed the intended use of the building and political considerations to taint the deliberative process," lawyer Brett Joshpe wrote in papers filed in a Manhattan state court. The Washington, D.C.-based group represents a firefighter who responded to and survived the terrorist attack at the World Trade Center.

City attorneys are confident the landmarks group adhered to legal standards and procedures, Law Department spokeswoman Kate O'Brien Ahlers said. A spokesman for the planned Islamic center, Oz Sultan, declined to comment on the lawsuit but said organizers were continuing to work toward choosing an architect.

The mosque has become a national political flashpoint, pitting several influential Republicans and the nation's most prominent Jewish civil rights group against New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and others. In one of the latest signs of the issue's political reach beyond Manhattan, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick expressed support Wednesday for the proposed mosque.

Mosque Plan Clears Hurdle in New York
The New York Times: August 3, 2010

As New York City removed the final hurdle for a controversial mosque near ground zero, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg forcefully defended the project on Tuesday as a symbol of America’s religious tolerance and sought to reframe a fiery national debate over the project.

With the Statue of Liberty as his backdrop, the mayor pleaded with New Yorkers to reject suspicions about the planned 13-story complex, to be located two blocks north of the World Trade Center site, saying that “we would betray our values if we were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else.”

“To cave to popular sentiment would be to hand a victory to the terrorists — and we should not stand for that,” the mayor said. “The attack was an act of war — and our first responders defended not only our city but also our country and our Constitution,” he said, becoming slightly choked up at one point in his speech, which he delivered on Governors Island. “We do not honor their lives by denying the very constitutional rights they died protecting. We honor their lives by defending those rights — and the freedoms the terrorists attacked.”

But even as the mayor called for the mosque to be embraced, those opposed to the project pledged to aggressively fight it, using both litigation and public pressure. A prominent Republican and foreign policy analyst said he was working with business, civic and political leaders to organize a campaign to persuade architects, contractors and donors to steer clear of the project. He said they would also aggressively scrutinize any donors who supported it.


Brazil’s Plea for Asylum for Iranian Facing Stoning
Seems to Fail

The New York Times: August 3, 2010

WASHINGTON — Iran’s conservative establishment appears to have reacted coldly to an entreaty by Brazil’s president to allow an Iranian woman convicted of adultery to take asylum in Brazil rather than face execution by stoning at home.

The reaction to the plea over the weekend by President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva may introduce a strain into what has been an increasingly cordial relationship between Iran and Brazil. It also reinforced what critics of Iran view as a barbaric form of justice that is especially repressive toward women.

While no Iranian government officials commented on the Brazilian president’s plea, that it was a “clear interference in Iran’s domestic affairs.”

Jahan News, an ultraconservative news service in Iran that is regarded as credibly reflecting the government’s thinking, said Sunday that the Brazilian offer was made “under the influence of foreign media” and that the defendant, Sakineh Ashtiani, 43,

might not be stoned to death because Iran’s judiciary was reviewing the lower court’s sentence.

She could be hanged instead.

in Israel

Israelis Divided on Deporting Children
The New York Times: August 2, 2010

JERUSALEM — Deep divisions emerged here on Monday over the fate of about 400 children of foreign workers who have no legal status in the country and are slated for deportation. The issue has touched on sensitive nerves in Israel, which sees itself as a nation of Jewish refugees and defines itself as a Jewish and democratic state.

The government decision was widely seen here as reasonable, though many said it would be more humanitarian to let the 400 remain. Others saw the decision as a bad precedent that could encourage more foreign workers to put down roots in Israel and threaten the Jewish character of the state.

Get Out of Jerusalem
100's of Anti-gay Protestors: Sick Perverts
Get Out of Jerusalem

Vos Iz Neias: July 29, 2010

Jerusalem - Anti-gay protesters gathered Thursday next to several hundred gay activists preparing to march in the eighth annual Jerusalem Gay Pride parade, calling them to “get out of Jerusalem.”

The protesters, led by extreme rightist activists Baruch Marzel and Itamar Ben Gvir, hoisted banners reading “sick perverts - get out of Jerusalem.”

“It is a disease of choice, and a man can change his taste and his ways,” Marzel said, adding “when someone has AIDS they tell them not to infect others, so why are these people allowed to march here in Jerusalem and infect us with their disease?”

The parade, which for the first time is expected to march all the way to the Knesset building, marks a year since the deadly shooting at the Tel Aviv Gay youth center, in which two people were killed and 13 were wounded.

Meanwhile, rightists from the United Torah Judaism party organized a “donkeys’ parade,” expected to gather outside the Supreme Court, under the banner “the marchers who do what beasts do.”


A Reality Show Where Islam Is the Biggest Star
International Herald Tribune: July 28, 2010

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Bright studio spotlights illuminated the faces of four nervous young men, arms linked as they anxiously awaited their fate. Cameramen stood poised, ready to capture the climactic moment. Finally, the chief judge broke the suspense.

Reality show contestants had their hair and make up done before the filming of the show in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Two of the contestants had been eliminated. The other two had taken a step closer to their dream. Winners and losers, each clad in crisp, dark suits and formal black hats, took turns hugging each other.

The competition is called “Imam Muda,” or “Young Leader” — a Malaysian venture into religious-themed reality TV.

Indonesian Ladyboy

Edict Aims at TV and Sex Changes
July 28, 2010

JAKARTA, Indonesia (Agence France-Presse) — Indonesia’s highest Islamic authority has followed up a series of contentious edicts with a new one barring Muslims from watching television gossip shows or having sex-change operations.

The authority, the Indonesian Ulema Council, said gossip shows about the intimate details of people’s private lives — a popular genre on Indonesian television — were immoral and threatened society. Gossip shows are allowed only if they “uphold the law, warn the public and help people,” the council said.

While the council’s edicts are usually ignored, they can be cited by religious hard-liners to justify vigilante-style crackdowns on “un-Islamic” activities. It has recently issued a steady stream of edicts including bans on interfaith marriages, smoking and yoga.

It was forced into an embarrassing apology recently when it corrected an edict ordering Muslims to pray toward the west, when in fact the holy sites in Saudi Arabia are northwest of Indonesia.

(Full article)

The Moral Naturalists
The New York Times: July 22, 2010

Where does our sense of right and wrong come from? Most people think it is a gift from God, who revealed His laws and elevates us with His love. A smaller number think that we figure the rules out for ourselves, using our capacity to reason and choosing a philosophical system to live by.
Moral naturalists, on the other hand, believe that we have moral sentiments that have emerged from a long history of relationships. To learn about morality, you don’t rely upon revelation or metaphysics; you observe people as they live.
This week a group of moral naturalists gathered in Connecticut at a conference organized by the Edge Foundation. One of the participants, Marc Hauser of Harvard, began his career studying primates, and for moral naturalists the story of our morality begins back in the evolutionary past. It begins with the way insects, rats and monkeys learned to cooperate.




Moral Camouflage or Moral Monkeys?
The New York Times: July 19, 2010

Is the great show we make of morality just a civilized cover for our selfish opportunism?

After being shown proudly around the campus of a prestigious American university built in gothic style, Bertrand Russell is said to have exclaimed, “Remarkable. As near Oxford as monkeys can make.” Much earlier, Immanuel Kant had expressed a less ironic amazement, “Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe … the starry heavens above and the moral law within.” Today many who look at morality through a Darwinian lens can’t help but find a charming naïveté in Kant’s thought. “Yes, remarkable. As near morality as monkeys can make.”

So the question is, just how near is that? Optimistic Darwinians believe, near enough to be morality. But skeptical Darwinians won’t buy it. The great show we humans make of respect for moral principle they see as a civilized camouflage for an underlying, evolved psychology of a quite different kind.

This skepticism is not, however, your great-grandfather’s Social Darwinism, which saw all creatures great and small as pitted against one another in a life or death struggle to survive and reproduce — “survival of the fittest.” We now know that such a picture seriously misrepresents both Darwin and the actual process of natural selection. Individuals come and go, but genes can persist for 1000 generations or more. Individual plants and animals are the perishable vehicles that genetic material uses to make its way into the next generation (“A chicken is an egg’s way of making another egg”). From this perspective, relatives, who share genes, are to that extent not really in evolutionary competition; no matter which one survives, the shared genes triumph. Such “inclusive fitness” predicts the survival, not of selfish individuals, but of “selfish” genes, which tend in the normal range of environments to give rise to individuals whose behavior tends to propel those genes into future.


Hamas Moves to Enforce Water Pipe Ban in Gaza
The New York Times: July 18, 2010

GAZA — In its latest attempt to try to impose a conservative Islamic way of life on Gaza, Hamas started this weekend to enforce a ban on smoking water pipes in public.

A spokesman for the Hamas police, Ayman al-Batniji, said that the ban applied only to women and that it was in line with “the Palestinian people’s customs and traditions.”

But many cafe owners said they had been ordered to ban water pipes for both men and women.

Smoking large water pipes called shisha, usually with bowls of flavored tobacco, is a longstanding pastime here.

There have also been orders for female lawyers to wear Islamic head scarves in courthouses, men not to work in hairdressing salons catering to women, and girls to wear long Islamic robes at schools, but these orders either have not been enforced or were quickly reversed.

Mexico targets Death Saint popular with criminals
The Associated Press/1010WINS: July18, 2010
By Olga R. Rodriguez

Mexico City - Mexican authorities are cracking down on an icon worshipped both by drug dealers and by the terrified people who live in drug-torn neighborhoods: the Santa Muerte, or Death Saint.

A skeletal figure of a cloaked woman with a scythe in her bony hand, the Santa Muerte has become more popular in Mexico even as its drug wars have become more violent. Mexican law enforcement won't say outright it is targeting Santa Muerte, but last month soldiers stood guard while government backhoes crushed more than 30 public shrines to the saint in Nuevo Laredo, across the Rio Grande from Laredo, Texas. In the two weeks before, several altars in Tijuana and an altar built on the highway between Reynosa and Rio Bravo were razed.

"The government's line is that it promotes narco-trafficking and is a symbol to which children in particular should not be exposed," said Mexico expert George Grayson at the College of William and Mary in Virginia. "This is a marginal step against traffickers. But no doubt the government wants to take a holistic approach."

The move has drawn anger from Santa Muerte followers who say their religion is under attack. Hundreds of Santa Muerte followers protested in Mexico City during Holy Week and on Easter Sunday marched to the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the country's widely revered Roman Catholic patroness.

"There are a lot of legends about us, but none of them are true," said David Romo, founder of a Santa Muerte church, at a Mass on the first day of the month, when the Death Saint is celebrated. Romo, who calls himself an archbishop but was not appointed by the Catholic Church, urged the Santa Muerte's estimated 5 million followers to take to the streets to fight "religious intolerance."

Spanish Justice
Spain to consider banning burqas in public
Associated Press: July 18, 2010

MADRID -- Spain's leading opposition party said Sunday the country's parliament will debate a proposal to bar the use of burqas in public, joining other European countries considering similar moves on the grounds that such garments are degrading to women.

The Popular Party tabled a motion to debate total body-covering Islamic veils in the lower house on Tuesday or Wednesday. She spoke on condition of anonymity in keeping with party rules.

The Spanish government favors barring the wearing of burqas in government buildings, Justice Minister Francisco Caamano has said. The minister said garments like the burqa are "hardly compatible with human dignity" or with identifying a person in public spaces such as town halls or public schools.

Caamano said an upcoming bill on religious issues would seek to restrict the wearing of full-body Islamic veils, which he said demean women.

Op-ed Columnist


Mug shot

Mel daddy








The Good News About Mel Gibson
The New York Times: July 18, 2010

FOR Fourth of July weekend fireworks, even Macy’s couldn’t top the spittle-spangled eruptions of Mel Gibson. A true showman, Gibson offered vitriol for nearly all tastes, aiming his profane fusillade at women, blacks and Latinos alike. The invective was tied together by a domestic violence subplot worthy of “Lethal Weapon.”

There’s little we enjoy more than watching a pampered zillionaire icon (Gibson’s production company is actually named Icon) brought low. The story would end there — just another tidy morality tale in the profuse annals of Hollywood self-destruction from Fatty Arbuckle to Lindsay Lohan — were it not for Gibson’s unique back story.

Six years ago he was not merely an A-list movie star with a penchant for drinking and boorish behavior but also a powerful and canonized figure in the political and cultural pantheon of American conservatism. That he has reached rock bottom tells us nothing new about Gibson. He was the same talented, nasty, bigoted blowhard then that he is today.

Does anyone remember 2004? It seems a civilization ago. That less-than-vintage year was in retrospect the nadir of the American war over “values.” The kickoff fracas was Janet Jackson’s breast-baring “wardrobe malfunction” at the Super Bowl, which prompted a new crackdown against televised “indecency” by the Federal Communications Commission. By December Fox News and its allies were fomenting hysteria about a supposed war on Christmas, with Newt Gingrich warning of a nefarious secular plot “to abolish the word Christmas” altogether and Jerry Falwell attacking Mayor Michael Bloomberg for using the euphemism “holiday tree” at the annual tree-lighting ceremony at Rockefeller Center. In between these discrete culture wars came a presidential election in which the Bush-Rove machine tried to whip up evangelical turnout by sowing panic over gay marriage.

It was into that tinderbox of America 2004 that Gibson tossed his self-financed and self-directed movie about the crucifixion, “The Passion of the Christ.” The epic was timed to detonate in the nation’s multiplexes on Ash Wednesday, after one of the longest and most divisive promotional campaigns in Hollywood history.

Gibson is in such disgrace today that it’s hard to fathom all the fuss he and his biblical epic engendered back then. The commotion began with the revelation that his father, Hutton, was a prominent and vociferous Holocaust denier and that both father and son were proselytizers for a splinter sect of Roman Catholicism that rejected the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, including the lifting of the “Christ-killers” libel from the Jews. Jewish leaders and writers understandably worried that “The Passion” might be as anti-Semitic as the Passion plays of old. Gibson’s response was to hold publicity screenings for the right-wing media and political establishment....

Once “The Passion” could be seen by ticket buyers — who would reward it with a $370 million domestic take (behind only “Shrek 2” and “Spider-Man 2” that year) — the truth could no longer be spun by Gibson’s claque. The movie was nakedly anti-Semitic, to the extreme that the Temple priests were all hook-nosed Shylocks and Fagins with rotten teeth. It was also ludicrously violent — a homoerotic “exercise in lurid sadomasochism,” as Christopher Hitchens described it then, for audiences who “like seeing handsome young men stripped and flayed alive over a long period of time.” Nonetheless, many of the same American pastors who routinely inveighed against show-business indecency granted special dispensation to their young congregants to attend this R-rated fleshfest.

It seems preposterous in retrospect that a film as bigoted and noxious as “The Passion” had so many reverent defenders in high places in 2004. Once Gibson, or at least the subconscious Gibson, baldly advertised his anti-Semitism with his obscene tirade during a 2006 D.U.I. incident in Malibu, his old defenders had no choice but to peel off. Today you never hear conservatives mention their embrace of “The Passion” back then — if they mention Gibson at all. (Fox News has barely covered the new tapes.) But it isn’t just Gibson who has been discredited. Even as he self-immolated, so did many of the moral paragons who had rallied around him as a culture-war martyr.


Germany: First Female Elected Lutheran Bishop Quits in Handling of Abuse Complaint
July 16, 2010

The first woman ever elected as a Lutheran bishop said Friday that she had resigned from her post in northern Germany amid accusations that she failed to thoroughly investigate reports of a sexually abusive pastor. In a statement, Bishop Maria Jepsen, 65, said that questions about her credibility had led her to feel that she was no longer able “to spread the good word, as I vowed to do at my ordination.” She was elected bishop of the Lutheran church in northern Germany in 1992, the first woman worldwide to hold the post. She insisted that she could not recall being told of the abuse by a priest in the northern town of Ahrensburg. Hundreds of people claiming sexual and physical abuse of children by Protestant and Roman Catholic clergy have come forward in Germany since January.

(Full article)

in Teheran
Toll Rises From Twin Suicide Bombings at Iranian Mosque
THE NEW YORK TIMES: July 16, 2010

TEHRAN — A Sunni militant group whose leader was recently executed by Iranian authorities claimed responsibility on Friday for one of the deadliest terrorist attacks Iran has seen in years: a double suicide bombing outside a mosque that killed 26 people and wounded 300.

The bombing underscored the continuing threat of religious and ethnic violence in Iran, which is unrelated to the political upheavals of the past year. The victims included members of the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, officials said, which the militant group Jundallah has singled out repeatedly in the past.

The group claims to be fighting on behalf of Sunni Muslim members of the Baluch ethnic group in Iran and Pakistan and has been a thorn in the side of Iran’s security services for years, repeatedly bombing Zahedan and other southeastern cities. It claimed responsibility for an attack in October 2009 that killed 40 people, including 15 members of the Revolutionary Guards.

The Diaspora Need Not Apply
The New York Times: July 15, 2010

WHO is a Jew? If developments this week are any indication, the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, might soon offer an official, surprising answer: almost no one.

On Monday, a Knesset committee approved a bill sponsored by David Rotem, a member of the nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party, that would give the Orthodox rabbinate control of all conversions in Israel. If passed, this legislation would place authority over all Jewish births, marriages and deaths — and, through them, the fundamental questions of Jewish identity — in the hands of a small group of ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, rabbis.

The move has set in motion a sectarian battle that is not only dividing Israeli society but threatening to sever the vital connection between Israel and the American Jewish diaspora.

The problem is not simply that some of these rabbinical functionaries, who are paid by the state and courted by politicians, are demonstrably corrupt. (To take the most salacious of a slew of examples, an American Haredi rabbi who had become one of the most powerful authorities on the question of conversion resigned from his organization in December after accusations that he solicited phone sex from a hopeful female convert.) Rather, it is that the beliefs of a tiny minority of the world’s Jews are on the verge of becoming the Israeli government’s definition of Judaism, for all Jews.

It is hard to exaggerate the possible ramifications, first and foremost for Jewish Israelis. Rivkah Lubitch, an Orthodox woman who is a lawyer in Israel’s rabbinic court system, painted a harrowing picture of the future in a recent column on the Israeli Web site Ynet.

“Even if you didn’t go to register for marriage, and even if you didn’t go to a rabbinic court for any reason, and even if you didn’t pass by a rabbinic court when you walked down the street — the rabbinic court can summon you, conduct a hearing about your Jewishness and revoke it,” she wrote. “In effect, the entire nation of Israel is presumed to be Not-Jewish — until proven otherwise.”

Why are the rabbis doing this? What is driving this process is the desire of a small group of rabbis to expand their authority from narrow questions of conversion to larger questions of Jewish identity. Since what goes for conversion also goes for all other clerical acts, only a few anointed rabbis will be able to determine the authenticity of one’s marriage, divorce, birth, death — and every rite in between.


Bombers Strike in Uganda at Gatherings for World Cup
The New York Times: July 12, 2010

KAMPALA, Uganda - At least three bombs exploded Sunday in a synchronized attack on large gatherings of World Cup soccer fans watching the finals on outdoor screens in this normally peaceful capital, turning a boisterous night of cheering into scenes of death and panic. The police and witnesses said more than fifty people were killed.

The bombs exploded Sunday in a synchronized attack on crowds watching the televised final on outdoor screens in this normally peaceful capital, police officials said on Monday.

Ugandan police officials said they suspected that the Shabab, a militant Islamic group in nearby Somalia, might have been behind the bombings. If so, it would be that group’s first attack outside Somalia. But the police said it was premature to draw conclusions.

The Shabab, one of the more fearsome militias vying for power in Somalia, ban music, dancing and sports, have links to Al Qaeda and have repeatedly threatened targets in Uganda as well as in Burundi because both countries contribute to the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia, a lawless nation in the Horn of Africa.

'Son of Sam'
Backers Give ‘Son of Sam’ Image Makeover
The New York Times: July 12, 2010

During a yearlong string of shootings before his arrest in the summer of 1977, David Berkowitz, known as the Son of Sam, killed six people and wounded seven others in New York City.

RoxAnne Tauriello, host of a Christian TV show, with letters from Africa. She says correspondence of David Berkowitz’s led her to set up a ministry that has sent thousands of Bibles to Ghana.

Upon his confession to the shootings, the portrait of the serial killer that emerged was of a deeply disturbed loner, a man with a .44-caliber handgun who said he took orders from a demonic black Labrador retriever owned by a neighbor.

But in the years Mr. Berkowitz has been serving a 25-year-to-life sentence, he has been anything but alone. He has, it turns out, attracted an array of individuals from outside prison who, though they deplore his murderous past, have become friends, acquaintances and in some instances a kind of ad hoc set of assistants.

This circle of admirers, to a great degree, is made up of evangelical Christians, including a Town and Village Courts judge in upstate New York and a financial adviser in Manhattan, who have been moved by Mr. Berkowitz’s story of becoming a born-again Christian 23 years ago, and many of them have sought to publicize his account of redemption.


Clerics to Work Within Schools of Iran’s Capital
The New York Times: July 12, 2010

Iran’s educational authorities will send 1,000 religious clerics into schools in Tehran to tamp down Western influence and political opposition, newspapers reported on Sunday.

The newspapers quoted the deputy director of Tehran’s education department, Mohammad Boniadi, as saying that the clerics would start work at schools in the capital in September to make students “aware of opposition plots.”

Mr. Boniadi did not say what grade levels would be affected, but a similar plan was put into place in elementary, middle and high schools immediately after the 1979 revolution. At that time, thousands of morality teachers were sent to schools to promote the government ideology.

Last month, the government reinstituted its ban against teaching music in schools, which was imposed after the revolution but had been lifted in recent years, the semiofficial ILNA news agency reported. Cultural authorities have also issued guidelines for permissible male haircuts.

Last year’s protests, Ali Akbar Mousavi Khoini, a former reformist member of the Iranian Parliament, said, showed that despite efforts to Islamize universities for several years, youths had already developed their own political and cultural views.





Art Trial Reveals Clash of Russian Cultures
The New York Times: July 8, 2010

MOSCOW — Two prominent intellectuals, facing a verdict of up to three years’ imprisonment over a museum exhibition in 2007, issued dire warnings on Thursday that Russia was starting to resemble Nazi Germany, contemporary Iran and the Soviet Union in the harshness of its growing nationalism, dominance of the Russian Orthodox church and fear of modern art.

Yuri Samodurov, former director of Moscow’s Sakharov Museum, and Andrei Yerofeyev, a former curator of the Tretyakov Gallery, have been on trial for nearly two years on charges of fomenting ethnic and religious hatred.

Mr. Yerofeyev opened a news conference on Thursday by showing a video against contemporary art produced by Narodny Sobor, or People’s Council, a nationalist organization that he said was the driving force in the charges against him and Mr. Samodurov.

“We have the classic situation of a fascist party that is attacking contemporary culture,” he said. “Through destruction it is trying to get attention, your attention.”
“The verdict will be a verdict on our whole future, on our current authorities,” Viktor Yerofeyev, a writer and the older brother of the curator, said. He defended the works shown at the exhibition, saying Iron-Caviar (right) by Alexander Kosolapov, which depicts an icon of the Mother of God made out of caviar, is an indictment of post-Soviet materialism and a call to spirituality rather than an attack on the Russian Orthodox Church.

The prosecutor stated during oral arguments that he regarded Mr. Samodurov’s and Mr. Yerofeyev’s activities as extremist and directed at inflaming religious strife, and that they intentionally sought to offend believers.

Mr. Samodurov was convicted and fined on similar charges in 2005 for a 2003 exhibition at the museum called “Caution, Religion!” which he said was meant to provoke discussion about religion and modern society, but enraged the Russian Orthodox Church and was vandalized by fundamentalists, who damaged some of the art on display.

The trial, held in Moscow’s Tagansky District Court, has become almost a site of pilgrimage for fundamentalist Russian Orthodox believers. Women attend in head scarves and with prayer books to express support for the prosecution.

He warned that Russia had not shed the shackles of Soviet ideology and called for some understanding among liberals toward the Kremlin, where some officials, he said, are just as concerned about the nationalists.

“We have the grounds for a spiritual leader to take power here,” Mr. Yerofeyev said. “According to our canons, you know who this is.”

Mr. Yerofeyev did not name Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church, but he and the influence of the church were constantly referenced at the news conference.


Sakineh Mohammadie Ashtiani, Iran Mother, Could Be Stoned To Death At Any Moment
By Nicholas Sabloff
Huffington Post: 07-6-10

A 42-year-old mother of two faces the punishment of death by stoning in Iran after authorities convicted her of adultery. And according to Mina Ahadi, who heads the International Committee Against Stoning and the Death Penalty, only international pressure can help save her.

As Ahadi told CNN: "Legally it's all over. It's a done deal. Sakineh can be stoned at any minute."

The woman, Sakineh Mohammadie Ashtiani, who is from Tabriz, was convicted of "adultery while being married" in 2006 and has already received a punishment of 99 lashes. Should the execution go forward, Ashtiani will be buried up to her chest (for men it is to the waist) and then pelted with stones that are large enough to inflict severe damage but no so large as to kill the person instantly, says Amnesty International, citing Article 104 of Iran's Penal Code.

Here's how Ashtiani's case reached this point, as reported in the Guardian:

Sakineh already endured a sentence of 99 lashes, but her case was re-opened when a court in Tabriz suspected her of murdering her husband. She was acquitted, but the adultery charge was reviewed and a death penalty handed down on the basis of "judge's knowledge" - a loophole that allows for subjective judicial rulings where no conclusive evidence is present.

Mohammad Mostafaei told CNN last week that Ashtiani may not have been fully capable of understanding the court proceedings due to the fact that she speaks Turkish and not Farsi.

Her son Sajad told the Guardian recently, "She's innocent, she's been there for five years for doing nothing."

Amnesty International, citing Ashtiani's case among others, called for Iran to halt all executions last week.

(Full article)

Gay priest commits '$1.3M sin'
By JOE MOLLICA in Waterbury, Conn., and DAN MANGAN in New York
The New York Post: July 7, 2010

A Catholic priest stole $1.3 million from his Waterbury, Conn., parish to finance a gay old time in New York, authorities charged yesterday.

The Rev. Kevin Gray allegedly blew the money he looted from his financially struggling parish over seven years on male escorts, rooms at hotels, including the Waldorf, designer clothes, trendy restaurants and tuition for several young studs.

Gray, 64, regularly shacked up in an Upper East Side apartment that he rented for a 35-year-old man, court documents charge.

The priest not only paid for the apartment, but also the Harvard tuition for his male friend, authorities said. Gray told that man for years he was a Catholic Charities lawyer and was suffering from colon cancer -- both of which he later admitted were lies, cops said.

He "was leading a double life," said Waterbury Police Capt. Christopher Corbett. "People are shocked by this news . . . He was a well-respected priest."




A Little Off the Top? Only if Tehran Approves
The New York Times: July 6, 2010

WASHINGTON — The photos, disseminated on Iran’s semiofficial news sites, look ordinary enough: young men with short haircuts, some with 1950s-style quiffs and a touch of gel on top.

But these haircuts are not just a summer fashion. They are being promoted by Iran’s Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance as Islamically permissible models, part of an effort “to halt the spread of unconventional styles and promote Islamic culture.” More styles are set to be unveiled Sunday as part of the ministry’s Veil and Chastity Day festival.

The haircut catalog is part of the Iranian government’s long-running battle against Western cultural influence. Every summer, the country’s morality police renew their crackdown on “un-Islamic” dress and styles, including loose veils on women and long hair or ponytails on men.



You Say God Is Dead? There’s an App for That
The New York Times: July 3, 2010

An explosion of smart-phone software has placed an arsenal of trivia at the fingertips of every corner-bar debater, with talking points on sports, politics and how to kill a zombie. Now it is taking on the least trivial topic of all: God.

Publishers of Christian material have begun producing iPhone applications that can cough up quick comebacks and rhetorical strategies for believers who want to fight back against what they view as a new strain of strident atheism. And a competing crop of apps is arming nonbelievers for battle.

“Say someone calls you narrow-minded because you think Jesus is the only way to God,” says one top-selling application introduced in March by a Christian publishing company. “Your first answer should be: ‘What do you mean by narrow-minded?’ ”

For religious skeptics, the “BibleThumper” iPhone app boasts that it “allows the atheist to keep the most funny and irrational Bible verses right in their pocket” to be “always ready to confront fundamentalist Christians or have a little fun among friends.”

The war of ideas between believers and nonbelievers has been part of the Western tradition at least since Socrates. For the most part, it has been waged by intellectual giants: Augustine, Spinoza, Aquinas, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche.

Yet for good or ill, combatants entering the lists today are mainly everyday people, drawn in part by the popularity of books like Richard Dawkins’s “The God Delusion” and Christopher Hitchens’s “God Is Not Great.”

The fierceness of their debate reflects the fractious talk-show culture unintentionally described so aptly in the title of the Glenn Beck best seller “Arguing With Idiots.”

"We’d be better off if these people were studying Nietzsche and Kant,” said Michael Beaty, chairman of the philosophy department at Baylor University.

Family of 'Harry Potter' actress charged with threatening to kill her over boyfriend
Muslim fury over beau
The New York Post: July 3, 2010

The strict Muslim father and brother of "Harry Potter" actress Afshan Azad have been charged with threatening to kill her because she has a boyfriend.
Azad, 22, fled the suburban English home she shared with her father, Abdul, 54, mother, Nilofar, and three brothers after the bizarre incident on May 21, authorities said.
A spokesman for prosecutors said her brother Ashraf, 28, physically attacked her and both he and their father threatened to kill her because of her relationship with an unidentified Hindu man.
They confronted her in her bedroom and left her "badly bruised" when she refused to stop seeing the man, the Daily
Afshan, who appeared in four Potter movies is believed to have taken refuge at the London home of friends.



'Cruel' Mel Gibson unleashed racist tirade against his baby mama: report
Todd Venezia

In a series of expletive-laced outbursts caught on tape, actor Mel Gibson reportedly told his baby mama that the way she was dressed would get her "raped by a pack of n------," according to a new report.

The jaw-dropping tapes, obtained by, are the latest chapter in the couple's bitter legal feud. Gibson's vile comments, caught on audio tape, are a mix of racist and misogynist statements aimed at former girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva, RadarOnline reported.

"You're an embarrassment to me," Mel told her at one point. "You look like a f---ing pig in heat, and if you get raped by a pack of n-------, it will be your fault."

The self-styled conservative Catholic thought that she was going out in a too-revealing outfit.

He then warned her: "I am going to come and burn the f---ing house down ... but you will blow me first," according to RadarOnline.

Danish prosecutor charges Somali who attacked prophet cartoonist with terrorism
Associated Press: Jul 2, 2010

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) -- Denmark's top prosecutor on Friday charged a Somali man with terrorism for allegedly trying to kill a cartoonist who caricatured the Prophet Muhammad.
Joergen Steen Soerensen said the man, who cannot be named under a court order, wanted to "seriously frighten the population" and destabilize Denmark in the January attack on Kurt Westergaard.
The 28-year-old allegedly forced himself into Westergaard's home - armed with a knife and an ax - trying to break into the panic room where the Danish cartoonist was hiding.
Police, who had been alerted to the scene, shot the attacker in the hand and leg as he tried to escape. Westergaard, age 74, was not hurt in the attack.











Seeking God’s Help for a Wounded Gulf
The New York Times: June 27, 2010

BON SECOUR, Ala. — In a small white building along the baptizing Bon Secour River, a building that once housed a shrimp-net business, the congregation of the Fishermen Baptist Church gathered for another Sunday service....

The assistant pastor at the Fishermen Baptist Church in Bon Secour, Ala., asked the men of the congregation to come forward for a prayer. After the singing of the opening hymn, “Ring the Bells of Heaven,” and the announcement that an engaged couple was now registered at Wal-Mart, the preacher read aloud a proclamation from Gov. Bob Riley that declared this to be a “day of prayer” — a day of entreaties to address the ominous threat to the way of life just outside the church’s white doors.

Whereas, and whereas, and whereas, the proclamation read. People of Alabama, please pray for your fellow citizens, for other states hurt by this disaster, for all those who are responding. And pray “that a solution that stops the oil leak is completed soon.”

In other words, dear God, thank you for your blessings and guidance. And one other thing, dear God: Help.

The governor’s words hung a moment in the fan-turned air. Then the preacher, Shawn Major, summoned the men of the church to the front to “ask God to do something special.”

Two dozen men, many of them wearing short-sleeve shirts in summery colors, knelt and sat with heads bowed and eyes closed, while a half-mile down the street, other men — and women — underwent training in the use of a more secular form of hope, the laying of boom.

The wall between church and state came a-tumbling down on Sunday, as elected leaders from the five states on the Gulf of Mexico issued proclamations declaring it to be a day of prayer.

In the two months since the deadly Deepwater Horizon explosion began a ceaseless leak of oil into the gulf, damaging the ecosystem and disrupting the economy, the efforts by mortals to stem the flow have failed. So, then, a supplementary method was attempted: coordinated prayer.

In Texas, Gov. Rick Perry encouraged Texans to ask God “for his merciful intervention and healing in this time of crisis.” In Mississippi, Gov. Haley Barbour declared that prayer “allows us an opportunity to reflect and to seek guidance, strength, comfort and inspiration from Almighty God.” In Louisiana, Gov. Bobby Jindal invoked the word “whereas” a dozen times — as well as the state bird, the brown pelican — but made no direct mention of God. In Florida, Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp asked people to pray that God “would guide and direct our civil leaders and provide them with wisdom and divinely inspired solutions.”

The suggestion by government to beseech God for help — to petition a power higher than any elected official — rang out in churches and halls from Pensacola, Fla., to Galveston, Tex., as well as here, in Bon Secour....

Obama's race-rant Rev. rages on
'White folk done took this country'

The New York Post: June 27, 2010

CHICAGO -- During a five-day seminar Rev. Jeremiah Wright taught last week in Chicago, he was back at it, claiming that whites and Jews are controlling the flow of worldwide information and oppressing blacks in Israel and America.

"White folk done took this country," Wright said. "You're in their home, and they're gonna let you know it."

The course, advertised as focusing on politics and public policy in South Africa and America, was taught in a small, ground-floor room at the Chicago Theological Seminary, where Wright's voice echoed out an open window. The class was composed of about 15 to 20 students, mainly older African-American women who would arrive early and giddily linger during lunch breaks and after class, looking for the reverend's attention. (The course cost a little over $1,000 if taken for college credit and $300 if taken without.)

The absence of young people was telling: The lectures seemed ossified, relics of a pre-civil-rights America -- a point that Obama himself made during his famous speech on race in March 2008, prompted by the incendiary comments ("God damn America!") made by his former pastor and mentor.

"Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect," Obama said.

Yet during this course -- which was described as asking, "What is the response and public witness of persons of faith to ongoing developments in both countries?" -- Wright made many statements about what he believes are the true aims of whites and Jews.

"You are not now, nor have you ever been, nor will you ever be a brother to white folk," he said. "And if you do not realize that, you are in serious trouble."

Wright referred to Italians as "Mamma Luigi" and "pizzeria." He said the educational system in America is designed by whites to miseducate blacks "not by benign neglect but by malignant intent."

He said Ethiopian Jews are despised by white Jews: "And now the Knesset [Israeli parliament] is meeting with European Jews, voting on whether or not these African Jews can get into [Israel]."

The civil-rights movement, Wright said, was never about racial equality: "It was always about becoming white . . . to master what [they] do." Martin Luther King, he said, was misguided for advocating nonviolence among his people, "born in the oven of America."


American Jews Who Reject Zionism Say Events Aid Cause
The New York Times: June 26, 2010

One day nearly 20 years ago, Stephen Naman was preparing to help the rabbi of his Reform Jewish temple in South Carolina move the congregation into a new building. Mr. Naman had just one request: Could the rabbi stop placing the flag of Israel on the altar?

Stephen Naman, president of the American Council for Judaism, which was formed in 1942.
“We don’t go to synagogue to pray to a flag,” Mr. Naman, 63, recalled having said in a recent telephone interview.
That rabbi acceded to the request. So, after being transferred to North Carolina and joining a temple there six or seven years later, Mr. Naman asked its rabbi to remove the Israeli flag. This time, the reaction was more predictable.

“The rabbi said that would be terrible,” recounted Mr. Naman, a retired paper company executive who now lives outside Jacksonville, Fla., “and that he’d be embarrassed to be rabbi of such a congregation.”

The arguments that the council has consistently levied against Zionism and Israel have shot back into prominence over the last decade, with the collapse of the Oslo peace process, Israel’s wars in Lebanon and Gaza, and most recently the fatal attack on a flotilla seeking to breach the naval blockade of the Hamas regime. One need not agree with any of the council’s positions to admit that, for a certain faction of American Jews, they have come back into style.

“My sense is that they believe that events are proving they were right all along,” Jonathan D. Sarna, a historian at Brandeis University and author of the seminal book “American Judaism,” said in a telephone interview. “Everything they prophesied — dual loyalty, nationalism being evil — has come to pass.”

If the 1967 and 1973 wars shoved the council toward obsolescence, then Israel’s controversial wars since 2000 have brought it back from the grave.

Pakistan: Web to Be Watched for Anti-Islamic Content

Pakistan will monitor seven major Web sites, including Google and Yahoo, to block anti-Islamic links and content, an official said Friday. Seventeen lesser-known sites are being blocked outright, said Khurram Mehran, a spokesman for the government’s Telecommunication Authority. In May, Pakistan placed a temporary ban on Facebook for the same reason. That ban and the move announced Friday were in response to court orders. The sites to be monitored are Yahoo, Google, MSN, Hotmail, YouTube, Amazon and Bing.

Any link to offensive content will be “blocked immediately without disturbing the main Web site,” Mr. Mehran said.

(Full article)

German Court Liberalizes Rules for Right to Die Cases
The New York Times: June 25, 2010

BERLIN — In a landmark ruling that will make it easier for people to allow relatives and other loved ones to die, Germany’s highest court ruled Friday that it was not a criminal offense to cut off life-sustaining treatment for a patient.

The court overturned the conviction of a lawyer who last year was found guilty of attempted manslaughter for advising a client to sever the intravenous feeding tube that was keeping her mother alive, although in a persistent vegetative state. The mother had told her daughter that she did not wish to be kept alive artificially.

The verdict is likely to spur significant changes in the practice of assisted suicide and is certain to restart the debate over euthanasia and the right to die in Germany.

In its decision, the court clearly distinguished between “killing with the aim of terminating life” and an action that “let a patient die with his or her own consent.” The ruling strengthens an individual’s right to die with dignity, since terminating life-sustaining treatments will no longer be a crime if patients have declared their wishes.
The lawyer, Wolfgang Putz, an expert in patient rights at the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich, called the decision “outstanding.” “It protects against abuse and it sets down clear boundaries,” Mr. Putz said in a telephone interview on Friday after the verdict. “It helps the patients and it helps the doctors. It takes away at last the fear of punishment.”


Pakistan Bans a Satirical Play on the Burqa
The New York Times: June 22, 2010

For some, "Burqavaganza" is a funny love story in the time of jihad. For others, it mocks Islam. The government's recent ban on the play highlights Pakistan's liberal-conservative divide.

BURQAVAGANZA: A love Story in the Time of Jihad


A Draft of the Past Remains on Tap in Egypt
The New York Times: June 20, 2010

ALEXANDRIA, Egypt — These two women were veiled, true. They are religious, too, or at least as religious as their community expects them to be. But do not tell them they cannot stop into Sheik Ali’s bar and sit at a table and eat fried calamari and laugh over a glass of juice while surrounded by men drinking beer and whiskey.

The bar is officially called Cap d’Or, and is described by the hand-stenciled words over the storefront as a “Touristic Restaurant.”

There is a lot of pressure out on the street, here and around Egypt, to at least appear pious. For women to wear a veil. For men to have a prayer bump, a dark callus in the middle of the forehead from bowing to the ground five times a day. And definitely, especially for women, to stay away from alcohol, and especially in a bar filled with men.

“It’s not a Muslim tradition,” Muhammad Suleiman, 32, complained as he sat in a barbershop next door to the bar. “It should not be there. I don’t like it. It’s not our religion. I’d like it closed.”

That is not so much the case anymore, though it still remains a place where people go who want a break from the demands of the community and to find like-minded friends.

“This is a community center for the open-minded,” said Karim, 49, who also said he did not want to reveal his family name because outside of that community it is not considered so respectable to be in a bar.

Like the city around it, the bar’s better days are behind it, a fact that has done little to diminish the loyalty of the remaining long-timers. “Life outside these doors is difficult,” said Osama Tantawi, 40, an accountant who said he visited Sheik Ali’s the day he turned 21 and has been a regular ever since. “The advantage to coming here is it separates you from life out there.”

A Wisconsin woman kept a nonworking freezer filled
with 100 dead cats.

Weird but true
The New York Post: June 19, 2010

Gabriella Bernabei said she is a Wiccan and has been collecting the cats with the intention of "returning them to Mother Earth" as soon as the time is right.

The police were apparently not in touch with nature and seized the carcasses -- which she called a violation of her religious freedom.


Markowitz sued over Coney Island concert series
By Rich Calder
The New York Post: June 18, 2010

Local synagogues and worshipers filed a lawsuit filed today that threatens to pull the plug on Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz’s longtime Coney Island summer concert series – along with his $64 million plan to expand them with a new amphitheater.

The suit, filed in Brooklyn Supreme Court, contends that the existing series violate a city law prohibiting amplified sound within 500 feet of religious institutions when they are in session. It seeks a court order to block future concerts.

Two synagogues -- Sea Breeze Jewish Center and Temple Beth Abraham – are across the street and about 300 feet away from the existing band shell used for concerts at Asser Levy Park. Both say they host services daily.

Markowitz, however, fired back, saying “The show will go on!”
“These popular concerts have been happening for 32 years, since 1991 at this location with the synagogue’s blessing,” he said. “The synagogue’s own members regularly come to the shows to enjoy acts like Neil Sedaka, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Liza Minnelli, the Beach Boys, and so many more. I never would have thought that in my lifetime a Jewish synagogue would try to take away joy and happiness from tens of thousands of Brooklynites out of spite. “They are shamefully using religion to hold these concerts hostage in a misguided attempt to stop renovations that will only make this park even better for the community, for nearby residents and families, and enhance Coney Island as a fun-filled destination. They should be ashamed. As we say in Yiddish it is a ‘shonda.’”

Staten Island Church Reconsiders Deal to Sell Vacant Convent for Use as a Mosque
The New York Times: June 17, 2010

A plan to sell a Roman Catholic convent on Staten Island to a Muslim group for use as a mosque is faltering in the face of community opposition.

In a letter sent on Thursday to Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, the Rev. Keith Fennessy, the pastor of St. Margaret Mary Church, which owns the convent in the Midland Beach neighborhood, said he had given the deal a second look and “concluded that the contemplated sale would not serve the needs of the parish.”

Many members of the parish joined other community residents last week in loudly expressing disapproval of the sale at a heated public meeting that drew about 400 people. Many of them expressed distrust of Muslims and fears that the mosque would harbor terrorists.

Israel’s Ultra-Orthodox Protest Schools Ruling
The New York Times: June 17, 2010

JERUSALEM — Tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews took to the streets of this city on Thursday to accompany dozens of Hasidic parents who were on their way to prison for two weeks after refusing to comply with a Supreme Court ruling against ethnic segregation in their children’s school.

This latest battle in Israel’s simmering culture war, pitting ultra-Orthodox Ashkenazim of European origin against their slightly less stringent ultra-Orthodox Sephardic peers from Arab and North African backgrounds, has raised accusations of racism on one side and infringement of religious freedom on the other.

But on Thursday, most ultra-Orthodox were united in protest against what they see as the state’s meddling in their religious affairs and in their conviction that the religious law of the Torah — or at least their interpretation of it — transcends that of any Israeli court.


Kurdistan Is Urged to Ban Genital Cutting
The New York Times: June 16, 2010

SULAIMANIYA, Iraq — Human Rights Watch urged Kurdistan’s government on Wednesday to ban genital cutting of women and girls, a practice the organization said is widespread and dangerous there, but which they said Kurdish officials had failed to move aggressively to stop.

Human Rights Watch, an advocacy organization based in New York, interviewed 31 girls and women last year and combined its findings with recent surveys by other organizations that found that at least 40 percent of girls and women in Iraq’s Kurdistan region had undergone the procedure, which typically involves cutting off external genitalia with a dirty razor blade.

One of the studies, of about 1,400 girls and women interviewed during 2007 and 2008, found that almost 73 percent of women 14 years and older said that at least a portion of their genitals had been removed.

Mariwan Naqshbandi, a spokesman for Kurdistan’s Ministry of Endowment and Religious Affairs, dismissed the study, saying that it had distorted reality and that Kurdistan had “issues far more important” to confront.

“The report is extremely exaggerated,” he said. “It is so unfair. It relied solely on some local reports. It relied on rumors.”

He added: “Circumcision exists as an isolated occurrence, rather than as a phenomenon in Kurdistan. It only exists in certain places.”


The Boring Speech Policy
The New Yourk Times: June 17, 2010

On Monday night in Ohio, a 62-foot-tall statue of Jesus got hit by lightning and burned to the ground. (The adult bookstore across the street was unscathed.) Less than 12 hours later, Gen. David Petraeus — who is not God, although certain members of Congress have been known to worship at his altar — semifainted at a Senate Armed

Then Bravo announced that the White House gate-crashers were getting a TV show. Al and Tipper remained in Splitsville. And the oil kept on spilling.

All we got from President Obama was a vague call for some sort of new energy policy. Plus a Gulf Coast Restoration Plan, an oil spill study commission, a reminder that the secretary of energy won a Nobel Prize in physics
17 references to God, prayer, blessings or faith.


Ohio: Lightning Destroys 6-Story Statue of Jesus
June 15, 2010

A six-story statue of Jesus Christ was struck by lightning and burned to the ground, leaving only a blackened steel skeleton and pieces of foam that were scooped up by curious onlookers on Tuesday. The “King of Kings” statue, one of southwest Ohio’s most familiar landmarks, had stood since 2004 at the evangelical Solid Rock Church along Interstate 75 in Monroe, just north of Cincinnati.

Lightning set the statue ablaze around 11:15 p.m. Monday.

The sculpture, about 62 feet tall and 40 feet wide at the base, showed Jesus from the torso up and was nicknamed Touchdown Jesus because of the way the arms were raised, similar to a referee signaling a touchdown. It was made of plastic foam and fiberglass over a steel frame, which is all that remained Tuesday.

(Full article)

Thou shalt not make thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the waters beneath the earth.”
Deuteronomy 5:8

Somali Insurgents Detain Soccer Fans
The New York Times: June 15, 2010

MOGADISHU, Somalia — As South Africa proudly held the continent’s first World Cup, a Somali insurgent group, Hizbul Islam, detained dozens of fans for watching the tournament in recent days south of Somalia’s capital, residents said.

“They have arrested 25 people on Saturday and Sunday nights from their homes during World Cup games on television screens,” said Abdulle Mayow, a resident in Afgooye. “They are still in prison. We are really scared.”

In some rebel-held areas, Somali soccer fans, mindful of the insurgents’ threats, have been compelled to watch the games in a clandestine manner, using makeshift satellite dishes or tuning in to local FM televisions.

“Its really horrible; you cannot even do anything in your home,” Mr. Mayow said.

Talk of Women’s Rights Divides Saudi Arabia
The New York Times: June 12, 2010

JIDDA — Roughly two years ago, Rowdha Yousef began to notice a disturbing trend: Saudi women like herself were beginning to organize campaigns for greater personal freedoms. Suddenly, there were women asking for the right to drive, to choose whether to wear a veil, and to take a job without a male relative’s permission, all using the Internet to collect signatures and organize meetings and all becoming, she felt, more voluble by the month.

The final straw came last summer, when she read reports that a female activist in Saudi Arabia’s eastern province, Wajeha al-Huwaider, had been to the border with Bahrain, demanding to cross using only her passport, without a male chaperon or a male guardian’s written permission. Ms. Huwaider was not allowed to leave the country unaccompanied and, like other Saudi women campaigning for new rights, has failed — so far — to change any existing laws or customs.

But Ms. Yousef is still outraged, and since August has taken on activists at their own game. With 15 other women, she started a campaign, “My Guardian Knows What’s Best for Me.” Within two months, they had collected more than 5,400 signatures on a petition “rejecting the ignorant requests of those inciting liberty” and demanding “punishments for those who call for equality between men and women, mingling between men and women in mixed environments, and other unacceptable behaviors.”


Heated Opposition to a Proposed Mosque
The New York Times: June 11, 2010

A church may be a church, and a temple a temple, but through the prism of emotion that still grips many New Yorkers almost a decade after 9/11, a mosque can apparently represent a lot of things.

In the last few months, Muslim groups have encountered unexpectedly intense opposition to their plans for opening mosques in Lower Manhattan, in Brooklyn and most recently in an empty convent on Staten Island.

Some opponents have cited traffic and parking concerns. But the objections have focused overwhelmingly on more intangible and volatile issues: fear of terrorism, distrust of Islam and a linkage of the two in opponents’ minds.

“Wouldn’t you agree that every terrorist, past and present, has come out of a mosque?” asked one woman who stood up Wednesday night during a civic association meeting on Staten Island to address representatives of a group that wants to convert a Roman Catholic convent into a mosque in the Midland Beach neighborhood.

The tenor of the inquiry became so fraught that the meeting eventually collapsed in shouting around 11 p.m., prompting the police and security guards to ask everyone to leave.

But just 20 minutes earlier, as Bill Finnegan stood at the microphone, came the meeting’s single moment of hushed silence. Mr. Finnegan said he was a Marine lance corporal, home from Afghanistan, where he had worked as a mediator with warring tribes.
After the sustained standing ovation that followed his introduction, he turned to the Muslims on the panel: “My question to you is, will you work to form a cohesive bond with the people of this community?” The men said yes.

Then he turned to the crowd. “And will you work to form a cohesive bond with these people — your new neighbors?”

The crowd erupted in boos. “No!” someone shouted.

Virginia: Diocese Wins a Battle Over Property
The New York Times: June 10, 2010

The State Supreme Court ruled Thursday against nine conservative congregations that split from the Episcopal Church and tried to take their church properties with them. The Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia fought hard in court to retain the properties, worth tens of millions of dollars, in part to deter other breakaway parishes from running off with their assets. The Supreme Court unanimously dismissed the ruling of a lower court that had sided with the conservatives in applying a law on how to divide church property when congregations fracture. But the battle is not over. The Supreme Court sent the case back to a lower court to decide a different legal question: whether the denomination or the parish actually owns the properties.

(Full article)




Empire State Building: No Lights for Mother Teresa

NEW YORK -- When the Empire State Building lights up, reaching 102 stories into the Manhattan sky, people lift their eyes and guess what that night's colors might mean -- a holiday, a charitable cause, maybe a Yankees win or a birthday. But sometimes, color turns to controversy.

Tens of thousands of people are in an uproar about the building owner's refusal to light New York City's tallest skyscraper in blue and white to honor Mother Teresa in August on what would be her 100th birthday.

"The Empire State Building celebrates many cultures and causes in the world community with iconic lightings, and has a tradition of lightings for the religious holidays of Easter, Eid al Fitr (marking the end of Ramadan), Hanukkah, and Christmas," owner Anthony E. Malkin said in a statement Wednesday.

But the real estate mogul said the privately owned building "has a specific policy against any other lighting for religious figures or requests by religions and religious organizations."

• • •

I’m not a social worker. I don’t do it for this reason.
I do it for Christ.

I do it for the church."



Afghanistan Suspends Two Aid Groups
The New York Times: May 31, 2010

KABUL, Afghanistan — The Afghan government suspended the operations of two church-based relief groups on Monday over suspicions that they were involved in converting Afghans to Christianity, even though the evidence against them apparently consisted of nothing more than a listing in a telephone directory.

An Afghan television station, Noorin TV, broadcast photographs that it claimed showed Westerners’ baptizing Afghans, both men and women, and other Afghans’ praying to Jesus at private prayer meetings. It mentioned the two groups in the same report, although it had no evidence tying them to such activities, officials at Noorin TV confirmed.
Converting to any religion from Islam is a crime in Afghanistan, and proselytizing is also outlawed.

The suspended groups, Church World Service, an American organization, and Norwegian Church Aid, say they do not proselytize.

• • •

There is a story, which is fairly well known, about when the missionaries came to Africa. They had the Bible and we, the natives, had the land. They said 'Let us pray,' and we dutifully shut our eyes. When we opened them, why, they now had the land and we had the Bible."


At Least 10 Are Killed as Israel Halts Flotilla With Gaza Aid
with Mark McDonald in Hong Kong, Sebnem Arsu in Istanbul, Alan Cowell in London
and Steven Erlanger in Paris
The New York Times: May 31, 2010

JERUSALEM — Israeli naval commandos raided a flotilla carrying thousands of tons of supplies for Gaza in international waters on Monday morning, killing at least 10 people, according to the Israeli military and activists traveling with the flotilla. Some Israeli news reports put the death toll higher.

The confrontation drew widespread international condemnation of Israel, with Israeli envoys summoned to explain their country’s actions in several European countries.

The criticism offered a propaganda coup to Israel’s foes, particularly Hamas, the militant group that holds sway in Gaza, and damaged Israel’s ties to Turkey, one of its most important Muslim partners and the unofficial sponsor of the Gaza-bound convoy. Turkey recalled its ambassador to Israel, and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan cut short a visit to Latin America to return home.

The killings also coincided with preparations for a planned visit to Washington on Tuesday by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Israeli Defense Forces said more than 10 people were killed when naval personnel boarding the six ships in the aid convoy met with “live fire and light weaponry including knives and clubs.” The naval forces then “employed riot dispersal means, including live fire,” the military said in a statement.

Greta Berlin, a leader of the pro-Palestinian Free Gaza Movement, speaking by telephone from Cyprus, rejected the military’s version. “That is a lie,” she said, adding that it was inconceivable that the civilian passengers on board would have been “waiting up to fire on the Israeli military, with all its might.”

Television footage from the flotilla before communications were cut showed what appeared to be commandos sliding down ropes from helicopters onto one of the vessels in the flotilla, while Israeli high-speed naval vessels surrounded the convoy.

A military statement said two activists were later found with pistols they had taken from Israeli commandos.

Named the Freedom Flotilla and led by the Free Gaza Movement and a Turkish organization, Insani Yardim Vakfi, the convoy was the most ambitious attempt yet to break Israel’s three-year blockade of Gaza. About 600 passengers were said to be aboard the vessels, including the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Mairead Corrigan-Maguire of Northern Ireland (above left), and a Holocaust survivor, Hedy Epstein (above right) , 85.

“What we have seen this morning is a war crime,” said Saeb Erakat, the chief Palestinian negotiator for the government in the West Bank. “These were civilian ships carrying civilians and civilian goods — medicine, wheelchairs, food, construction materials. “What Israel does in Gaza is appalling,” he added. “No informed and decent human can say otherwise.”

left, and
Malawi President Pardons Gay Couple
The New York Times: May 29, 2010

JOHANNESBURG — A gay couple in Malawi sentenced to 14 years in prison for “unnatural acts” was pardoned Saturday shortly after Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations met with that country’s president.

“These boys committed a crime against our culture, our religion and our laws,” President Bingu wa Mutharika said at a news conference in Lilongwe, the capital, before adding that he nevertheless was ordering the couple’s unconditional release on “humanitarian grounds.”

The two men, Tiwonge Chimbalanga, 33, and Steven Monjeza, 26, were arrested Dec. 28, two days after holding an engagement party in Blantyre, the nation’s largest city.


Bloomberg defends Ground Zero mosque as freedom-of-faith issue
By DAVID SEIFMAN, City Hall Bureau Chief
The New York Post: May 29, 2010

In his fiercest defense yet of the mosque proposed near Ground Zero, Mayor Bloomberg declared yesterday that it must be allowed to proceed because the government "shouldn't be in the business of picking" one religion over another.

"I think it's fair to say if somebody was going to try, on that piece of property, to build a church or a synagogue, nobody would be yelling and screaming," the mayor said. "And the fact of the matter is that Muslims have a right to do it, too."

Placing the proposed mosque two blocks from the World Trade Center site has led to an outcry from opponents, including family members of 9/11 victims, who contend the holy place at 45 Park Place would defile the memories of those who perished in the worst terror attack in US history.Read more:



Attackers Hit Mosques of Islamic Sect in Pakistan
The New York Times: May 28, 2010

LAHORE, Pakistan — Hafeez Malik heard the gunfire outside the mosque, then shots inside the prayer hall.

“People were dying one after the other,” said Mr. Malik, a 55-year-old architect. “I could count more than 20 people dead around me.”

From inside another mosque several miles away near the central train station, his brother, Abdul Rashid Malik, 65, an engineer, called his family on his cellphone. He was a hostage and had been shot in the leg, he said. He has not been heard from since, Hafeez Malik said.

More than 80 worshipers of a minority Muslim sect, the Ahmadis, were killed and more than 110 wounded Friday in a coordinated assault by seven well-trained attackers on two mosques in Lahore, Pakistan’s second largest city, the authorities said.

The target was the Ahmadis, a group of about two million Muslims in Pakistan who are considered heretical by many mainstream Muslims because the Ahmadis believe that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who founded their movement in 1889, was the messiah foretold by Muhammad, the prophet of Islam.

The assault, which began during Friday Prayer and lasted more than three hours at the Dar-ul-Zakir Mosque, and about an hour at the Bait-ul-Noor Mosque, occurred amid a surge of sectarian violence in Pakistan in the last two years.

Minority sects like the Ahmadis and the Shiites and have come under increasing pressure as religious extremism has taken hold, fomented by sectarian groups like Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, formerly state-sponsored organizations.

The Ahmadis were declared a non-Muslim minority in the 1970s during the rule of the military dictator Muhammad Zia ul-Haq, a period during which jihadist ideology became ingrained in Pakistan’s state and religious education system.


Sister Margaret’s Choice
The New Yoprk Times: May 26, 2010

We finally have a case where the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy is responding forcefully and speedily to allegations of wrongdoing.

But the target isn’t a pedophile priest. Rather, it’s a nun who helped save a woman’s life. Doctors describe her as saintly.

The excommunication of Sister Margaret McBride in Phoenix underscores all that to me feels morally obtuse about the church hierarchy. I hope that a public outcry can rectify this travesty.

Sister Margaret (right) was a senior administrator of St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix. A 27-year-old mother of four arrived late last year, in her third month of pregnancy. According to local news reports and accounts from the hospital and some of its staff members, the mother suffered from a serious complication called pulmonary hypertension. That created a high probability that the strain of continuing pregnancy would kill her.

“In this tragic case, the treatment necessary to save the mother’s life required the termination of an 11-week pregnancy,” the hospital said in a statement. “This decision was made after consultation with the patient, her family, her physicians, and in consultation with the Ethics Committee.”

Sister Margaret was a member of that committee. She declined to discuss the episode with me, but the bishop of Phoenix, Thomas Olmstead, ruled that Sister Margaret was “automatically excommunicated” because she assented to an abortion.

“The mother’s life cannot be preferred over the child’s,”
the bishop’s communication office elaborated in a statement.

Let us just note that the Roman Catholic hierarchy suspended priests who abused children and in some cases defrocked them but did not normally excommunicate them, so they remained able to take the sacrament.

A statement from the bishop’s office did not dispute that the mother’s life was in danger — although it did note that no doctor’s prediction is 100 percent certain. The implication is that the church would have preferred for the hospital to let nature take its course.

Politicized Curriculum in Texas
The New York Times: May 25, 2010

The social conservatives who dominate the Texas State Board of Education backed down last week from a few of their most outrageous efforts to tilt the state’s social studies curriculum. They dropped a proposal that President Obama be referred to as “Barack Hussein Obama” and lost in their efforts to rename the “slave trade” the “Atlantic triangular trade,” a clear attempt to downplay slavery’s horror and spread the blame.

The changes they did force into the standards for such subjects as history, government and economics were bad enough and bear no relationship to neutral pedagogy. The original curriculum standards were drawn up by teams of teachers and scholars who spent nearly a year on the huge undertaking. The board eagerly exercised its power to amend those requirements.

In what looks like an effort to justify injecting more religion into government, it voted to require students to examine why the founding fathers protected religious freedom — and how that approach contrasts with
“separation of church and state.”

Rising vs. Saudi zealots
Tackling morals cops

Times of London: May 22, 2010

It has not been a good week for Saudi Arabia's morality police, defenders of the kingdom's strict Islamic values and the scourge of young men and women who dare to meet in public out of wedlock.

The zealous, all-male volunteer force from the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice patrols shopping malls, harassing unescorted women and arresting others for not wearing suitably modest dress, their religious authority unchallenged.

This week, however, two separate reports emerged of Saudi women not just fighting back but besting the intimidating guardians of public morality.

Banning the burqa
Veil is anti-woman

The New York Post:May 22, 2010

The French government this week decided to fine Muslim women who wear a full-face veil in public -- and France is only the latest in a series of European countries seeking to ban the religious garb. Is this an infringement of religious liberty intended to discriminate against Muslims? Or is the measure necessary to protect the security of others? The answers are a lot more complicated than you might think.

A minority of Muslim women actually wear the burqa or niqab in Muslim countries or the West. The garb consists of a gown and headdress that covers the woman head to foot, revealing only her eyes. Obviously, it is impossible to determine who is under the veil -- even whether the person is male or female.

In Paris recently, a group of armed robbers pulled a heist wearing burqas, which made it not only impossible to identify them but easy for the criminals to conceal their weapons when entering the bank

As Jean-Francois Cope, majority leader in the French National Assembly, wrote in a recent New York Times op-ed, the burqa "is not an article of clothing -- it is a mask, a mask worn at all times, making identification or participation in economic and social life virtually impossible." And that is also its intent: to isolate the wearer from all aspects of public life.

Texas School Board Set to Vote Textbook Revisions
The New York Times: May 20, 2010

AUSTIN, Tex. — After facing months of protest, conservative members of the Texas Board of Education were expected Thursday night to vote to teach schoolchildren a version of American history that emphasizes the roles of capitalist enterprise, the military, Christianity and modern Republican political figures.

The scheduled vote was a preliminary tally, with the final vote by the same group planned for Friday. The decision, expected to fall largely along the party lines — the board has 10 Republicans and 5 Democrats — followed tens of thousands of public comments, a protest rally and a daylong hearing where about 200 speakers addressed the board.

By sheer force of its population size, Texas has long held outsize influence on national textbook publishers, some of whom sent curriculum writers to take notes in the boardroom. That influence has waned somewhat in recent years, with the digital age allowing editors to tailor versions of their textbooks to individual states. But Texas has only increased in stature as a symbolic battleground over the politicization of education, largely because of the emergence of a conservative voting bloc on the board.


Pakistan Widens Online Ban to Include YouTube
The New York Times: May 20, 2010

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistani authorities broadened what started as a ban on a social networking site on Thursday, blocking YouTube and about 450 individual Web pages over what they described as “growing sacrilegious content.”
The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority blocked YouTube after a special Internet monitoring unit within the agency determined that “objectionable content” was increasing, according to a spokesman, Khurram Mehran.
“Earlier we were blocking the links,” he said of YouTube, “but when content increased we had to block the whole Web site.”
The ban, which also included certain pages on the Flickr and Wikipedia sites, occurred a day after access to Facebook was suspended on orders from a Pakistani court. A group of Islamic lawyers won that injunction, arguing that a contest, started by users for drawings of the Prophet Muhammad and called “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day,” was offensive. Depiction of Muhammad is considered blasphemous by some Muslims.
The ruling demonstrated the power of hard-line Islamic groups in Pakistan . Although they rarely garner many votes in elections and represent a minority of the country’s population, the groups are often able to impose their will on the more peaceful majority by claiming a defense of Islam.


Prosecutors: Newark Pastor Made Teens Tape Sex Acts
Associated Press/ 1010 WINS
Wednesday, 19 May 2010

ELIZABETH, N.J.   -- Union County prosecutors say the pastor of a Newark church and one of his congregants forced teenage girls to videotape them engaged in sexual acts at a motel.

The Rev. Moises Cotto, a 55-year-old East Orange resident who leads the Congregation of Yahweh Templo El Candelero in Newark, and 37-year-old Brenda Pabon of Middlesex County both face kidnapping and child endangerment charges. Cotto also was charged with aggravated assault and attempted aggravated sexual assault.
Prosecutors say Cotto and Pabon began an affair after she sought counseling from Cotto.

Cotto was being held Wednesday on $1.3 million bail at the Union County Jail, while Pabon was being held on $750,000 bail. Prosecutors were not sure if either had retained a lawyer.

(Full article)


Catholic Museum’s Angels Fail to Save It
The New York Times: May 18, 2010

In many ways, the opening of the National Museum of Catholic Art and History in East Harlem was a kind of miracle.

The closed National Museum of Catholic Art and History.
It was founded by a single mother without a college degree, much experience in arts administration or any affiliation with the New York Archdiocese. But the woman, Christina Cox, had a deep passion for the project and a number of powerful friends.

In 2001, a year before the state began aiding the museum, The Village Voice published articles that questioned her credentials. But she defended them in an interview several weeks ago. “I know how to write a press release, how to hang, have a fund-raiser and how to manage,” she said. “I have a passion, a personal concern for what to do with all this Christian art.”

From the outset, the museum was an improbable pursuit. Its collection was spotty, Ms. Cox’s training was slim, and the chosen site, in an old parish school building, was far from the culture world’s beaten path.

After the building opened to the public in 2003, visitors found an eclectic collection held together by its mission of illustrating Roman Catholic influence on art and history: bronze angels by Salvador Dalí ; a portrait of John F. Kennedy ; a collection of 17th- and 18th-century Latin American paintings; a gallery of works that depicted nuns, including one of Sally Field as the Flying Nun.

Despite the money and the promises, “we end up with nothing,” said Rafael Merino, director of marketing for the nonprofit East Harlem Business Capital Corporation. The Catholic museum was never a prominent cultural attraction. But its short life in New York is a parable of what can go wrong in the distribution of public funds for the arts.

Jesus Boy
By Preston L. Allen
Book Review
The New York Times: May 16, 2010

What is it about church that is so damn sexy? The question has bugged me for a long time. An erotic current runs just below the displays of rectitude and purity, despite the hard pews and organ repertory. I suspect it has to do with the congregants’ concerted effort to suppress carnality in favor of distant heavenly rewards. Denying the flesh only makes it throb harder. It’s tricky to defeat one’s own biology, especially when young. It bubbles up during sermons as eyes and thoughts wander. The nape of a boy’s neck sitting two rows up — that modest strip of naked flesh between hairline and suit jacket — can surprisingly arouse.

Sixteen-year-old Elwyn Parker, the protagonist of Preston L. Allen’s novel “Jesus Boy,” is smitten by something just as banal: the glimpse of a twice-pierced, yet unadorned earlobe. The ear belongs to Elaine Morrisohn, 42, a freshly widowed member of his black community’s church, Our Blessed Redeemer Who Walked Upon the Waters. The widow’s earlobes lend credence to rumors that she lived a life of “singular wickedness” before she accepted the Lord. As Elwyn boasts to his high school principal, in this church “we don’t drink, don’t smoke, and our women don’t wear pants.” Jewelry is forbidden, as is coffee, dancing, secular music and most forms of fun.

But these strictures do nothing to repress the congregation’s primal urges, and generations of illicit sex run through this clever and wide-ranging book in which the flesh always triumphs.

(Moreira De Melo)

Pope Decries Gay Marriage in Portugal Visit
The New York Times: May 14, 2010

FÁTIMA, Portugal — Pope Benedict XVI used a famous Portuguese shrine to the Virgin Mary on Thursday as a stage to denounce abortion and gay marriage, just days before Portugal is expected to join five European countries that have legalized same-sex weddings.

Although it is 90 percent Catholic, Portugal has seen a notable shift away from Catholic teaching in recent years. The country legalized abortion in 2008 and its Parliament recently approved a bill permitting same-sex marriage . President Aníbal Cavaco Silva is expected to sign the bill into law in the coming days.

Portugal would be the sixth country in Europe to legalize same-sex marriage, after the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Norway and Sweden. France and Denmark recognize same-sex unions, which convey many but not all of the rights enjoyed by married couples.

The church has opposed the measure, but Portuguese society appears to be largely supportive.

In a speech here to Catholic social service groups, Benedict called for initiatives aimed at protecting “the family based on the indissoluble marriage between a man and a woman, help to respond to some of today’s most insidious and dangerous threats to the common good.”

He also said he expressed his “deep appreciation for all those social and pastoral initiatives aimed at combating the socioeconomic and cultural mechanisms which lead to abortion, and are openly concerned to defend life and to promote the reconciliation and healing of those harmed by the tragedy of abortion.”

The audience in a chapel at the shrine gave the pope a standing ovation.

New Jersey



Kenyan Constitution Opens New Front in Culture Wars
The New York Times: May 14, 2010

NAIROBI, Kenya — The push to pass a new constitution in Kenya , a cornerstone of the effort to correct longstanding imbalances of power and prevent the kind of upheaval that followed deeply flawed elections here, has attracted some unexpected interference — from more than 7,000 miles away.

Before Kenyan lawmakers had even finished drafting the proposed constitution, American Christians organized petition drives in Kenya against it, objecting to a provision recognizing Islamic courts.

Now that the draft is done, three Republican members of Congress -- Christopher H. Smith of New Jersey, Darrell Issa of California and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida --contend that it significantly expands abortion rights, and are accusing the United States Embassy in Kenya of openly supporting it in violation of federal rules.

It is the latest battle in the American culture wars playing out in Africa. Last year, American Christians helped stoke antigay sentiments in Uganda; later, Ugandan politicians proposed the execution of some gay people. That debate is still raging, though it looks as if the Ugandan government is backing down and will not pass the antigay bill after all.
Massachusetts Catholic school won't admit lesbians' son
Associated Press: May 13, 2010

BOSTON — A Roman Catholic school in Massachusetts has withdrawn its acceptance of an 8-year-old boy with lesbian parents, saying their relationship was "in discord" with church teachings, according to one of the boys' mothers.

It's at least the second time in recent months that students have not been allowed to attend a U.S. Catholic school because of their parents' sexual orientation, with the other instance occurring in Colorado.

The Massachusetts woman...said she planned to send the boy to third grade at St. Paul Elementary School in Hingham in the fall. But she said she learned her son's acceptance was rescinded during a conference call Monday with Principal Cynthia Duggan and the parish priest, the Rev. James Rafferty.

"I'm accustomed to discrimination, I suppose, at my age and my experience as a gay woman," the mother said. "But I didn't expect it against my child."

Rafferty said her relationship "was in discord with the teachings of the Catholic Church," which holds marriage is only between a man and woman, the woman said. She said Duggan told her teachers wouldn't be prepared to answer questions her son might have because the school's teachings about marriage conflict with what he sees in his family.

Rafferty and Duggan did not respond to requests for comment.


Cross at Center of Legal Dispute Disappears
The New York Times: May 12, 2010

LOS ANGELES — A seven-foot-tall Latin cross in the middle of both the Mojave Desert and a Supreme Court case on the separation of church and state has been stolen, federal officials said Tuesday.

The cross , made of metal tubing reinforced with concrete and bolted to a base on a rock, about 200 miles east of here, was discovered missing Monday.















Muhammad cartoonist 'head-butted' during lecture
Associated Press: May 11, 2010

STOCKHOLM (AP) -- A Swedish artist who angered Muslims by depicting the Prophet
Muhammad as a dog was assaulted Tuesday as furious protesters interrupted his university lecture about the limits of artistic freedom.

Lars Vilks told The Associated Press a man leaped from the front row and head-butted him as he was delivering his speech, breaking Vilks' glasses but leaving him uninjured. Two people were arrested but it wasn't immediately clear whether the attacker was among them.

A video clip of the incident by a Swedish newspaper showed police using pepper spray and batons to hold off an angry crowd shouting "God is great" in Arabic after Vilks was escorted out of the lecture hall.

Vilks has faced numerous threats over his controversial drawing of Muhammad with a dog's body, [was temporarily moved to a secret location after al-Qaida in Iraq put a $100,000 bounty on his head in September 2007] but Tuesday's incident was the first time he has been physically assaulted
. *

* While we at NOOSE & NAIL respect Lars Vilks' artistic integrity we must point out
that we, as
CANINISTS, find the depiction of Muhammad as a Dog offensive to Canids worldwide.


Imam’s Path From Condemning Terror to Preaching Jihad
The New York Times: May 8, 2010

WASHINGTON — In the weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, the eloquent 30-year-old imam of a mosque outside Washington became a go-to Muslim cleric for reporters scrambling to explain Islam. He condemned the mass murder, invited television crews to follow him around and patiently explained the rituals of his religion.

“We came here to build, not to destroy,” the cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki , said in a sermon. “We are the bridge between Americans and one billion Muslims worldwide.”

At first glance, it seemed plausible that this lanky, ambitious man, with the scholarly wire-rims and equal command of English and Arabic, could indeed be such a bridge. CD sets of his engaging lectures on the Prophet Muhammad were in thousands of Muslim homes. American-born, he had a sense of humor, loved deep-sea fishing, had dabbled in get-rich-quick investment schemes and dropped references to “Joe Sixpack” into his sermons. A few weeks before the attacks he had preached in the United States Capitol. Nine years later, from his hide-out in Yemen , Mr. Awlaki has declared war on the United States.

This year Mr. Awlaki became the first American citizen on the C.I.A.’s list of terrorists approved as a target for killing, a designation that has only enhanced his status with admirers like Shahidur Rahman, 27, a British Muslim of Bangladeshi descent who studied with Mr. Awlaki in London in 2003. “He said suicide is not allowed in Islam,” Mr. Rahman said in an interview, “but self-sacrifice is different.”

He was a nonviolent moderate until the United States attacked Muslims openly in Afghanistan and Iraq, covertly in Pakistan and Yemen, and even at home, by making targets of Muslims for raids and arrests. He merely followed the religious obligation to defend his faith, he said.


Albino Mother and Son Are Killed in Continuing Violence

BURUNDI - Attackers chopped off the limbs of a 5-year-old albino boy and pulled out his mother’s eye, killing them in the belief that their body parts would bring wealth and success, human rights activists said Friday. Those deaths and other attacks in Tanzania are part of a long pattern of violence against African albinos. At least 10,000 have been displaced or gone into hiding, and 71 have been killed in Tanzania and Burundi since attacks against them spiked in late 2007, according to the International Federation of the Red Cross.

(Full article)

Marquette University President


Marquette Rescinds Offer to Sociologist
The New York Times: May 7, 2010

Marquette University on Thursday abruptly rescinded an offer to a sociologist to serve as dean of one of its colleges, angering some students and faculty members who said the university did so after learning she was a lesbian who wrote about sexuality.

Marquette, a Roman Catholic university run by Jesuits in Milwaukee, said the professor lacked “the ability to represent the Marquette mission and identity.”

The professor, Jodi O’Brien , who teaches sociology at Seattle University, is openly gay and writes frequently about sexuality in academic journals.

Nancy E. Snow , a professor of philosophy at Marquette, said of the decision,“This is discrimination based on sexual orientation, and is a complete betrayal of our commitment to human dignity and diversity.”

The Rev. Robert A. Wild , the Marquette president, denied in an interview that the decision to revoke the offer was based on the candidate’s sexual orientation. Instead, Father Wild said, the decision came after he and other university leaders read academic writings by the candidate.

“We found some strongly negative statements about marriage and family,” Father Wild said.

A Newly Religious Immigrant Is Linked to a Militant
Yemeni-American Cleric

The New York Times: May 7, 2010

WASHINGTON — The Pakistani-American man accused of trying to detonate a car bomb in Times Square has told investigators that he drew inspiration from Anwar al-Awlaki , a Yemeni-American cleric whose militant online lectures have been a catalyst for several recent attacks and plots, an American official said Thursday.
The would-be bomber, Faisal Shahzad , was inspired by the violent rhetoric of Mr. Awlaki, said the official, who would speak of the investigation only on condition of anonymity.

“He listened to him, and he did it,” the official said, referring to Saturday’s attempted bombing on a busy street in Times Square.

Friends of Mr. Shahzad have said he became more religious and somber in the last year or so, and asked his father’s permission in 2009 to join the fight in Afghanistan against American and NATO forces.


Money Woes, Long Silences and a Zeal for Islam
The New York Times: May 5, 2010

Theirs was an arranged marriage: two well-educated children of prominent Pakistani families set up through a mutual friend. He was the quiet one; she was the one who laughed at parties.

The husband, Faisal Shahzad , put photographs of his wife, Huma Mian, on his desk at the Arden office in Stamford, Conn. They bought a brand-new house for $273,000, 35 miles away on Long Hill Avenue in Shelton. By the time they moved in, she was pregnant, the neighbors recalled.

As another day passed with Mr. Shahzad talking to investigators about the car bomb he had admitted driving into Times Square on Saturday, details emerged on Wednesday about the couple and their life together, along with speculation about his radicalization. People who knew them, both in Connecticut and in Pakistan , said he had changed in the past year or so, becoming more reserved and more religious as he faced what someone who knows the family well called “their financial troubles.”

Last year, one Pakistani friend said, he even asked his father, Bahar ul-Haq, a retired high-ranking air force pilot in Pakistan, for permission to fight in Afghanistan.

As a newlywed, the wedding guest said of Mr. Shahzad by e-mail from Pakistan, “there was no sign of him being extremist or, for that matter, he wasn’t a bit religious.” But in the past couple of years, after changing jobs and fathering two children, Mr. Shahzad “started talking more of Islam.”


Muslim Woman in Italy Is Fined for Wearing Veil
REUTERS: May 4, 2010

MILAN — A 26-year-old Tunisian woman has been fined for wearing a face veil while walking to a mosque in northern Italy , adding to the growing debate on the integration of Muslim minorities in Europe.

The police in the city of Novara, a stronghold of Italy’s anti- immigration Northern League, stopped the woman on Friday while she was walking with her husband to prayers. The woman, who is Muslim, was wearing a black niqab that covered her face but left her eyes exposed. house of Belgium’s Parliament voted last week to outlaw veils and France said it would start debating a possible ban soon.

Tearing Away the Veil
The New York Times: Paris , May 4, 2010

MOMENTUM is building in Europe for laws forbidding the wearing of garments that cover the face, like the Islamic burqa and niqab, in public. Just last week, the lower house of the Belgian Parliament overwhelmingly passed a ban on face coverings. And next week, the French Assembly will most likely approve a resolution that my party, the Union for a Popular Movement, has introduced condemning such garments as against our republican principles, a step toward a similar ban.

Amnesty International condemned the Belgian law as “an attack on religious freedom,” while other critics have asserted that by prohibiting the burqa, France would impinge upon individual liberties and stigmatize Muslims, thereby aiding extremists worldwide.

This criticism is unjust. The debate on the full veil is complicated, and as one of the most prominent advocates in France of a ban on the burqa, I would like to explain why it is both a legitimate measure for public safety and a reaffirmation of our ideals of liberty and fraternity.


Supreme Court declines to hear Lesbian couple's suit against Boy Scouts
By Warren Richey
CS Monitor: May 3, 2010

A lesbian couple and an agnostic couple are suing to prevent the Boy Scouts from using public land. The Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal in the case, which returns to the Ninth Circuit.

[The two couples in San Diego have legal standing to sue the Boy Scouts to force the group to stop using prime city land for camping and other scouting activities.

The US Supreme Court on Monday let stand an earlier ruling by the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals, which sided with the two couples. The couples object to Boy Scout policies that exclude boys and adults who are atheists, agnostics, or homosexuals.

In refusing to take up the Boy Scouts’ appeal, the high court action returns the case to the San Francisco-based Ninth Circuit.


In Uganda, Push to Curb Gays Draws U.S. Guest
The New York Times: May 3, 2010

KAMPALA, Uganda — As storm clouds brewed in the near distance, about 1,300 people gathered at the grassy Makerere University sports grounds here for a special Sunday afternoon rally and prayer service that, its organizers said, was to discuss homosexuality, witchcraft, corruption and the fear of violence leading up to the country’s presidential election next year.

The guest of honor, Lou Engle, an American evangelical from Kansas City, bowed up and down from his knees at the front of the stage.

Mr. Engle, who helped found TheCall Ministries, a prayer group that focuses on moral issues, arrived last week in Uganda , where TheCall has opened a new chapter. His trip comes amid a heated debate throughout the country over a bill that would ban advocacy of gay rights and suggests the death penalty for homosexuals who have AIDS and engage in sexual relations.

Before arriving here last week, Mr. Engle came out with a statement condemning the harsh penalties proposed in the bill, and said that his ministry could not support it. But when he took the stage late on Sunday afternoon, with Ugandan politicians and pastors looking on, he praised the country’s “courage” and “righteousness” in promoting the bill.

“NGOs, the U.N. ,Unicef , they are all coming in here and promoting an agenda,” Mr. Engle said, referring to nongovernmental organizations. “Today, America is losing its religious freedom. We are trying to restrain an agenda that is sweeping through the education system. Uganda has become ground zero.”

Church Counsels Women Addicted to Pornography
The New York Times: May 2, 2010

LENEXA, Kan. — It was the final session for the women at Westside Family Church ’s Victory Over Porn Addiction group, and the youngest member, a 17-year-old named Kelsie, had not had a good week.

“I slipped two nights this week,” she said, to nods of support from the other women in the group. “I decided that every time I’m tempted I’ll just let everything out to God,” she said.

The group’s leader, Crystal Renaud, offered gentle counsel. “Pray for yourself, too,” she said. To the wide array of programs offered by evangelical megachurches like Westside, the group adds what Ms. Renaud says is something long overdue.

“In the Christian culture, women are supposed to be the nonsexual ones,” said Ms. Renaud, who also runs an Internet site called Dirty Girls Ministries , choosing the name to attract people searching for pornography. “It’s an injustice that the church is not more open about physical sexuality. God created sex. But the enemy has twisted it.”


Courage of the Sisters
The New York Times: April 30, 2010

In the fierce closing debate over health care reform, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops charged that the legislation didn’t do enough to restrict insurance coverage of abortions. Many Catholic nuns and the Catholic Health Association of the United States, which represents hundreds of Catholic hospitals, looked at the same bill and concluded that it would have no effect on abortion financing. They signed a letter urging its passage, saying the reform was “life-affirming” and consistent with Catholic values.

Now one bishop is punishing the nuns who supported reform. Bishop Lawrence E. Brandt of Greensburg, Pa., has decreed that “any religious community” that signed the letter would be forbidden to use the diocese’s offices, parishes or newspaper to promote programs that encourage young people to consider the religious life


Justices’ Ruling Blocks Cross Removal
The New York Times: April 29, 2010

WASHINGTON — A badly fractured Supreme Court , with six justices writing opinions, reopened the possibility on Wednesday that a large cross serving as a war memorial in a remote part of the Mojave Desert may be permitted to remain there.

The 5-to-4 decision provided an unusually vivid glimpse into how deeply divided the court is on the role religious symbols may play in public life and, in particular, the meanings conveyed by crosses in memorials for fallen soldiers.

“A Latin cross is not merely a reaffirmation of Christian beliefs,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote in a plurality opinion joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. “It evokes thousands of small crosses in foreign fields marking the graves of Americans who fell in battles, battles whose tragedies would be compounded if the fallen are forgotten.”

Justice John Paul Stevens rejected that view. “The cross is not a universal symbol of sacrifice,” he wrote in a dissent joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor . “It is the symbol of one particular sacrifice, and that sacrifice carries deeply significant meaning for those who adhere to the Christian faith.”

Justice Stevens said he had no quarrel with war memorials. But a “solitary cross,” he said, “conveys an inescapably sectarian message.”

“Making a plain, unadorned Latin cross a war memorial does not make the cross secular,” he added. “It makes the war memorial sectarian.”



Strict Abortion Measures Enacted in Oklahoma
The New York Times: April 27, 2010

HOUSTON — The Oklahoma Legislature voted Tuesday to override the governor’s vetoes of two abortion measures, one of which requires women to undergo an ultrasound and listen to a detailed description of the fetus before getting an abortion.

Though other states have passed similar measures requiring women to have ultrasounds, Oklahoma’s law goes further, mandating that a doctor or technician set up the monitor so the woman can see it and describe the heart, limbs and organs of the fetus. No exceptions are made for rape and incest victims.

A second measure passed into law on Tuesday prevents women who have had a disabled baby from suing a doctor for withholding information about birth defects while the child was in the womb.

Opponents argue that the law will protect doctors who purposely mislead a woman to keep her from choosing an abortion. But the bill’s sponsors maintain that it merely prevents lawsuits by people who wish, in hindsight, that the doctor had counseled them to abort a disabled child.

Gov. Brad Henry, a Democrat, vetoed both bills last week.

Oklahoma’s new law says that the monitor must be placed where the woman can see it and that she must listen to a detailed description of the fetus.

“The goal of this legislation is just to make a statement for the sanctity of human life,” State Senator Todd Lamb, the majority floor leader, said in an interview after the vote. “Maybe someday these babies will grow up to be police officers and arrest bad people, or will find a cure for cancer.”

South African Jews Relent on Bar Mitzvah
The New York Times: April 24, 2010

JOHANNESBURG — Richard Goldstone, the South African judge who had said threatened protests at his grandson’s bar mitzvah would keep him from attending , has reached an agreement with Jewish groups here that will allow him to go to the ceremony after all. “I am delighted that I will be able to attend the bar mitzvah,” the judge said in an e-mail message on Saturday.

A day earlier, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies , which represents most of the country’s synagogues, issued a statement that outlined something like a quid pro quo: a promise of no protests on the bar mitzvah boy’s big day, in exchange for a meeting between the judge and leaders of the South African Zionist Federation and other Jewish organizations.

Judge Goldstone, a former member of this country’s highest court, led a United Nations investigation into Israel’s invasion of Gaza that concluded that Israel and Hamas had taken actions amounting to war crimes.

Though the findings rebuked both sides, the sharper criticism was aimed at Israel. The Israeli government disputed the conclusions, and many Jewish groups argued that the report was not only wrongheaded but that it was also part of vicious international efforts to defame Israel and deny its legitimacy.

TV Mystic Lingers in Saudi Jail
The New York Times: April 24, 2010

CAIRO — The sorcerer still has his head.

The execution of Ali Hussain Sibat, shown here with his wife, Samira Rahmoun, has been postponed several times.

But for how long?
For more than two years, Ali Hussain Sibat of Lebanon has been held in a prison in Saudi Arabia , convicted of sorcery and sentenced to death. His head is to be chopped off by an executioner wielding a long, curved sword.

His crime: manipulating spirits, predicting the future, concocting potions and conjuring spells on a call-in television show called “The Hidden” on a Lebanese channel, Scheherazade. It was, in effect, a Middle Eastern psychic hot line.




Sarkozy Wants Ban of Full Veils
The New York Times: April 22, 2010

PARIS — President Nicolas Sarkozy of France told his cabinet on Wednesday that he would put forward a bill in May to ban the wearing of the full veil in public places in France, despite a warning from senior legal authorities that the bill may be unconstitutional.

Mr. Sarkozy wants a bill that goes farther than initial proposals, including a ban on wearing the full veil — the niqab, which leaves only the eyes uncovered, and the burqa... from streets, markets and shops, according to his spokesman, Luc Chatel.

The full veil “hurts the dignity of women and is unacceptable in French society,” Mr. Chatel quoted Mr. Sarkozy as telling the cabinet.

An earlier proposal from a panel of the National Assembly suggested a bill banning the full veil in public places belonging to the state, like schools and public buildings, and in areas where facial recognition is vital for security reasons: airports, banks and even public transport.

In 2004, France banned the wearing of head scarves in public schools but at the same time banned all signs of religious affiliation.

Belgium is also preparing to vote on legislation to ban the full veil....

Law Banning Blasphemy Is Upheld in Indonesia
The New York Times: April 20, 2010

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Indonesia ’s Constitutional Court ruled 8 to 1 Monday that a controversial 45-year-old law banning religious blasphemy was constitutional.

The law allows the attorney general’s office to ban religious groups that “distort” or “misrepresent” official faiths and calls for up to five years in prison for anyone found guilty of heresy.




A Church Mary Can Love
The New York Times: April 18, 2010

I heard a joke the other day about a pious soul who dies, goes to heaven, and gains an audience with the Virgin Mary. The visitor asks Mary why, for all her blessings, she always appears in paintings as a bit sad, a bit
Mary reassures her visitor: “Oh, everything’s great. No problems. It’s just ... it’s just that we had always wanted a daughter.”

That story comes to mind as the Vatican wrestles with the consequences of a patriarchal premodern mind-set: scandal, cover-up and the clumsiest self-defense since Watergate. That’s what happens with old boys’ clubs.
It wasn’t inevitable that the Catholic Church would grow so addicted to male domination, celibacy and rigid hierarchies. Jesus himself focused on the needy rather than dogma, and went out of his way to engage women and treat them with respect.

The first-century church was inclusive and democratic, even including a proto-feminist wing and texts. The Gospel of Philip, a Gnostic text from the third century, declares of Mary Magdalene: “She is the one the Savior loved more than all the disciples.” Likewise, the Gospel of Mary (from the early second century) suggests that Jesus entrusted Mary Magdalene to instruct the disciples on his religious teachings.

St. Paul refers in Romans 16 to a first-century woman named Junia as prominent among the early apostles, and to a woman named Phoebe who served as a deacon. The Apostle Junia became a Christian before St. Paul did (chauvinist translators have sometimes rendered her name masculine, with no scholarly basis).

Yet over the ensuing centuries, the church reverted to strong patriarchal attitudes, while also becoming increasingly uncomfortable with sexuality. The shift may have come with the move from house churches, where women were naturally accepted, to more public gatherings.

The upshot is that proto-feminist texts were not included when the Bible was compiled (and were mostly lost until modern times). Tertullian, an early Christian leader, denounced women as “the gateway to the devil,” while a contemporary account reports that the great Origen of Alexandria took his piety a step further and castrated himself.


Senegal Urged to Rein in Religious Schools
The New York Times: April 16, 2010

DAKAR, Senegal — Thousands of children in Senegal are forced to beg on the streets under the pretext that they are receiving religious instruction, Human Rights Watch said in a report Thursday that urged the government to crack down on the long-established phenomenon.

At least 50,000 such children are on the streets of this impoverished West African nation’s cities, the report said, “subjected to conditions akin to slavery.”

Brandishing begging bowls and tin cans at passers-by and motorists, they collect coins for religious leaders who have promised their parents that they will be given instruction in the Koran. In fact, the children’s principal duty is often to support the religious leaders, the report said.

Militants Ban School Bells in a Town in Somalia
The New York Times: April 15, 2010

MOGADISHU, Somalia — The Shabab ,Somalia ’s most powerful Islamist insurgent group, outlawed school bells in a southern town on Thursday after deciding that they conflicted with Islam, residents said.

School principals in the town, Jowhar, about 55 miles north of Mogadishu, the capital, had been summoned to a meeting and informed that the bells could no longer be used because they sounded like church bells, according to one principal.
Somali Radio Stations Halt Music
The New York Times: April 14, 2010

MOGADISHU, Somalia — At least 14 radio stations here in the capital stopped broadcasting music on Tuesday, heeding an ultimatum by an Islamist insurgent group to stop playing songs or face “serious consequences.”

The threat left radio stations scrambling to scrub even the briefest suggestion of music from their daily programming. “Bam! Bam! Bam!” — the sound of gunshots that Somalis in Mogadishu have grown accustomed to hearing — was played by Radio Shabelle on its news broadcast to replace the music it usually uses to introduce the segment.

Similarly odd sounds — like the roar of an engine, a car horn, animal noises and the sound of water flowing — were used to introduce programs on some of the other radio stations that stopped playing music.

“We have replaced the music of the early morning program with the sound of the rooster, replaced the news music with the sound of the firing bullet and the music of the night program with the sound of running horses,” said Osman Abdullahi Gure, the director of Radio Shabelle radio and television, one of the most influential stations in Mogadishu.

“It was really a crush,” he said. “We haven’t had time to replace all the programs at one time; instead, we have chosen these sounds.”

The insurgent group, Hizbul Islam, issued its ultimatum 10 days ago and set Tuesday as the deadline to comply, saying that music was “un-Islamic.” In other parts of the country, insurgents have taken over or shut down some radio stations. Last week, the Shabab , the country’s most powerful insurgent group, said it was banning foreign programs like those broadcast by the BBC and Voice of America , calling them Western propaganda that violated Islam.

July 7, 1294 to
December 13, 1294

1406 to 1415

Do Popes Quit?
The New York Times: April 9, 2010

VATICAN CITY - He is elected for life, by a group of elderly men infused with the will of God. People address him as Holy Father, not Mr. President. After bishop of Rome, his second title is vicar of Jesus Christ.

A smattering of voices suggest that Pope Benedict XVI can, and should, as outrage has built in recent weeks over clerical abuses in the Catholic Church. The calls — from some lay Catholics, bloggers, secular publications like the German magazine Der Spiegel and street protesters — have been fueled by reports that laid blame at his doorstep, citing his response both as a bishop long ago in Germany and as a cardinal heading the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which handles these cases. In the most recent disclosure, on Friday, the news emerged that in 1985, when Benedict was Cardinal Ratzinger, he signed a letter putting off efforts to defrock a convicted child-molesting priest. He cited the priest’s relative youth but also the good of the church.

Vatican officials and experts who follow the papacy closely dismiss the idea of stepping down. “There is no objective motive to think in terms of resignation, absolutely no motive,” said the Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, in an interview before Friday’s disclosure. “It’s a completely unfounded idea.”

Of course, popes have resigned before — the last a mere 595 years ago, when Gregory XII stepped down to heal a schism. Before that, Celestine V, a fiercely ascetic former hermit who wore his temporal power heavily, resigned in 1294 (Dante consigned him to hell for cowardice, some interpreters of the “Inferno” believe).

Alabama Preacher Guilty in Freezer Murder Trial April 10, 2010

Anthony Hopkins, a traveling pastor, has been found guilty in the freezer murder trial. He was found guilty on all counts including murder, rape, sodomy, sex abuse and incest. He is scheduled for sentencing on May 6.

Dubai jail sentence upheld for UK kissing couple
Associated Press: Apr 4, 2010

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) -- A Dubai appeals court on Sunday upheld a one-month prison sentence for a British couple convicted of kissing in a restaurant.
The pair landed in court after an Emirati woman complained about the public kiss, which the couple insisted was just a peck on the cheek. They were arrested in November and convicted of inappropriate behavior and illegal drinking.

No image available
New Vatican abuse shocker
Associated Press: April 3, 2010

The future Pope Benedict XVI took over the abuse case of an Arizona priest, then let it languish at the Vatican for years despite repeated pleas from a bishop for the man to be removed from the priesthood, according to church correspondence.

Documents reviewed by The Associated Press show that in the 1990s, a church tribunal found that the Rev. Michael Teta of Tucson, Ariz., had molested children as far back as the late 1970s.

The panel deemed his behavior -- including allegations that he abused boys in a confessional -- almost "satanic." The tribunal referred his case to then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who would become pope in 2005.

But it took 12 years from the time Ratzinger assumed control of the case in a signed letter until Teta was removed, a step only the Vatican can take.

Archbishop of Canterbury

Anglican Says Irish Church Has Lost Credibility

LONDON -- The Roman Catholic church in Ireland has lost its credibility because of its mishandling of abuse by priests, the leader of the Anglican church said in remarks released Saturday. A leading Catholic archbishop said he was ''stunned'' by the comments.

It was the first time Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams , the spiritual leader of the Church of England, has spoken publicly on the crisis engulfing the Catholic church. The remarks come ahead of a planned visit to England and Scotland by Pope Benedict XVI later this year.

''I was speaking to an Irish friend recently who was saying that it's quite difficult in some parts of Ireland to go down the street wearing a clerical collar now,'' Williams told the BBC . ''And an institution so deeply bound into the life of a society, suddenly becoming, suddenly losing all credibility -- that's not just a problem for the church, it is a problem for everybody in Ireland, I think.''

Preacher of the Papal Household

Vatican Priest Likens Criticism Over Abuse to Anti-Semitism
The New York Times: April 2, 2010

ROME — A senior Vatican priest, speaking before Pope Benedict XVI at a Good Friday service, compared the world’s outrage at sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church to the persecution of the Jews, prompting angry responses from victims’ advocates and consternation from Jewish groups.

The Vatican spokesman quickly distanced the Vatican from the remarks, which came on the day Christians mark the Crucifixion. They underscored how much the Catholic Church has felt under attack from recent news reports and from criticism over how it has handled charges of child molesting against priests in the past.

Speaking in St. Peter’s Basilica, the priest, the Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa, took note that Easter and Passover fell during the same week this year, and said he was led to think of the Jews.

“They know from experience what it means to be victims of collective violence, and also because of this they are quick to recognize the recurring symptoms,” said Father Cantalamessa, who serves under the title of preacher of the papal household. Then he quoted from what he said was a letter from a Jewish friend he did not identify.

and Husband

Lured Into Russian Jihad, 17-Year-Old Avenges Slain Husband
The New York Times: April 2, 2010

MOSCOW — Baby-faced, she looks barely a teenager. But the pistol she is holding in the photograph suggests the violent destiny that she would choose: blowing herself up in a subway station in Moscow during the morning rush on Monday.

In this photo distributed by Newsteam, a Russian news agency, and published in Kommersant, a Russian daily newspaper, Dzhennet Abdullayeva is identified posing with her husband Umalat Magomedov. Russian investigators have said that Ms. Abdullayeva, 17, was one of the suicide bombers who blew themselves up in the Moscow subway on March 29, and Mr. Magomedov was a militant Islamist who was killed in 2009. The agency did not give a date for the photo or explain the circumstances in which it was taken.

And posing with his arm around this 17-year-old woman is the man who would put her on this path, a 30-year-old militant leader who lured her from her single mother, drew her into fundamentalist Islam and married her. He was killed by federal forces in December, driving her to seek revenge.

On Friday, as the photograph circulated widely, the couple turned into an unsettling symbol of Islamic militancy in Russia — deeply repugnant to most people but also likely to be embraced by other extremists as a propaganda coup, a kind of Bonnie and Clyde of the insurgency.

(the living god)

Church Hires Hundreds, but Doubts Surround Project
The New York Times: March 29, 2010

In December, the pastor of a fledgling storefront church in Red Hook, Brooklyn, began spreading word among several dozen evangelical Christian congregations that he was hiring employees for a huge new social service program. Hundreds of applicants packed meetings where, many people say, the pastor declared that he had a grant from World Vision , the international relief agency, to help the poor and spread the Gospel.

Since then the pastor, the Rev. Isidro Bolaños, has told several hundred people that they have been hired. He has collected their Social Security numbers, their birth dates and other personal data. And after several delays, he has told them that the program will open on Wednesday, in 150,000 square feet he is renovating in Building 3 of the Brooklyn Army Terminal.

But there is no Building 3. World Vision says it does not know of any such project. Nor do city officials or several heads of other faith-based programs.

David Lombino, a spokesman for the city’s Economic Development Corporation , which oversees rentals at the terminal, said his agency had never heard of Mr. Bolaños, his project, his church or any benefactor. The city agency, he said, had to turn away 100 people who showed up this month to inspect their new, nonexistent office.

The spokesman for the project, the Rev. Carlos Torres (right), said there was nothing unusual about a small, recently formed church receiving a large grant. “Man cannot comprehend what is of God,” he said. “God does what He wants, with whom He wants and how He wants.”

Asked what the church was doing with the trove of personal data, Mr. Torres asked if the conversation was being recorded, then suggested meeting the reporter later that night. An hour later, he called to cancel the meeting, saying he was not authorized to speak.















Christian Militia Charged With Plotting to Murder Officers
The New York Times: March 29, 2010

WASHINGTON — Nine members of a Michigan-based Christian militia group have been indicted on sedition and weapons charges in connection with an alleged plot to murder law enforcement officers in hopes of setting off an antigovernment uprising.

In court filings unsealed Monday, the Justice Department accused the nine people of planning to kill an unidentified law enforcement officer, then plant improvised explosive devices of a type used by insurgents in Iraq to attack the funeral procession.

The defendants were identified as members of Hutaree, described by federal prosecutors as an anti-government extremist organization based in Lenawee County, Mich., and which advocates violence against local, state and federal law enforcement. The group saw local and state police as “foot soldiers” for the federal government, which it viewed as its enemy, along with participants in what they deemed to be a “New World Order.”

A Web site for the Hutaree group talks about a coming battle against the putative forces of the Antichrist but does not appear to focus explicitly on recent political events. The Web site, which describes the group as “preparing for the end times,” featured video clips of people running through woods in camouflage gear and firing assault rifles, along with links to gun stores and far-right media. It also features an elaborate system of military ranks for its members. The site says it coined the term Hutaree, intended to mean Christian warrior.

“Jesus wanted us to be ready to defend ourselves using the sword and stay alive using equipment,” the Web site says, adding, “The Hutaree will one day see its enemy and meet him on the battlefield if so God wills it.”

From top left, David Brian Stone Sr., of Clayton, Mich,;
David Brian Stone Jr., of Adrian, Mich,; Jacob Ward, of Huron, Ohio;
Tina Mae Stone; from bottom left, Michael David Meeks, of Manchester, Mich.;
Kristopher T. Sickles, of Sandusky, Ohio; Joshua John Clough, of Blissfield, Mich.
and Thomas William Piatek, of Whiting, Ind.


Editorial Cartoon
by Mike Luckovich
The New Kork Post: March 28,2010



A Nope for Pope
The New York Times: March 28, 2010

Yup, we need a Nope.

A nun who is pope.

The Catholic Church can never recover as long as its Holy Shepherd is seen as a black sheep in the ever-darkening sex abuse scandal.

Now we learn the sickening news that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, nicknamed “God’s Rottweiler” when he was the church’s enforcer on matters of faith and sin, ignored repeated warnings and looked away in the case of the Rev. Lawrence C. Murphy, a Wisconsin priest who molested as many as 200 deaf boys.

The church has been tone deaf and dumb on the scandal for so long that it’s shocking, but not surprising, to learn from The Times’s Laurie Goodstein that a group of deaf former students spent 30 years trying to get church leaders to pay attention.

It was only when the sanctity of the confessional was breached that an archbishop in Wisconsin (who later had to resign when it turned out he used church money to pay off a male lover) wrote to Cardinal Ratzinger at the Vatican to request that Father Murphy be defrocked.

The cardinal did not answer. The archbishop wrote to a different Vatican official, but Father Murphy appealed to Cardinal Ratzinger for leniency and got it, partly because of the church’s statute of limitations.

Since when does sin have a statute of limitations?


Catholic Order Admits Its Founder Abused Boys Over Decades
The New York Times: March 27, 2010

ROME — A powerful Roman Catholic religious order acknowledged in a statement on Friday that its founder, a close ally of the late Pope John Paul II , molested seminarians and fathered several children, and it expressed “sorrow and grief” to anyone “damaged by our founder’s actions.”

The statement was the first official admission by the Legionaries of Christ that its charismatic Mexican founder, the Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado, who died in 2008, was responsible for many “grave acts.” Around two dozen people had claimed that Father Maciel’s molesting of boys continued for decades.

The statement was viewed as an important development because Father Maciel was a beloved friend of Pope John Paul, and the accusations of abuse against him were vetted personally by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger , now Pope Benedict XVI.


For Years, Deaf Boys Tried to Tell of Priest’s Abuse
The New York Times: March 26, 2010

They were deaf, but they were not silent. For decades, a group of men who were sexually abused as children by the Rev. Lawrence C. Murphy at a school for the deaf in Wisconsin reported to every type of official they could think of that he was a danger, according to the victims and church documents.

They told other priests. They told three archbishops of Milwaukee. They told two police departments and the district attorney. They used sign language, written affidavits and graphic gestures to show what exactly Father Murphy had done to them. But their reports fell on the deaf ears of hearing people.

This week, they learned that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger , now Pope Benedict XVI, received letters about Father Murphy in 1996 from Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland of Milwaukee, who said that the deaf community needed “a healing response from the Church.” The Vatican sat on the case, then equivocated, and when Father Murphy died in 1998, he died a priest.


Protests disrupt Ann Coulter speech in Canada after 'camel' joke* bombs
Associated Press: March 24, 2010

OTTAWA — A protest by hundreds of students led organizers to cancel a Tuesday night speech by American conservative commentator Ann Coulter at the University of Ottawa.

A spokesman for the organizers said Coulter was advised against appearing after about 2,000 "threatening" students crowded the entrance to Marion Hall, posing a security threat.

A protest organizer, international studies student Mike Fancie, said he was pleased they were able to stop Coulter from speaking. "What Ann Coulter is practicing is not free speech, it's hate speech," he said. "She's targeted the Jews, she's targeted the Muslims, she's targeted Canadians, homosexuals, women, almost everybody you could imagine."

University academic vice-president Francois Houle...had written Coulter to warn her that Canadian laws make provisions for hate speech. "Promoting hatred against any identifiable group would not only be considered inappropriate, but could in fact lead to criminal charges," he warned her in the letter, which Coulter quickly leaked to the media.

* [ During an appearance Monday at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario, a female Muslim student noted that Ms. Coulter had once said that Muslims should be banned from airplanes and should use flying carpets instead. Ms. Coulter responded by telling the student that she could “take a camel.” ]


(no, he's NOT a priest)

Eraser Duty for Bart?
The New York Times: March 20, 2010

Angry nuns have been calling Congressman Bart Stupak’s office to complain about his dismissive comments on their bravura decision to make a literal Hail Mary pass, break with Catholic bishops and endorse the health care bill.

As a Catholic schoolboy, the Michigan Democrat had his share of nuns who rapped his knuckles when he misbehaved, like the time he crashed a kickball through the school window.

Stupak got in hot holy water when he told Fox News, “When I’m drafting right-to-life language, I don’t call up nuns.” He followed that with more scorn for sisters, telling Chris Matthews that the nuns were not influential because they rarely try to influence — which makes no sense — and because “they’re not the recognized spokesperson for the Catholic Church.” He listens to the bishops, he said, and antiabortion groups.











German Priest in Church Abuse Case Is Suspended
The New York Times: March 15, 2010

MUNICH — The priest at the center of a German sexual-abuse scandal that has embroiled Pope Benedict XVI continued working with children for more than 30 years, even though a German court convicted him of

The priest, Peter Hullermann, who had previously been identified only by the first letter of his last name, was suspended from his duties only on Monday. That was three days after the church acknowledged that the pope, then Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger, had responded to early accusations of molestation by allowing the priest to move to Munich for therapy in 1980.

Hundreds of victims have come forward in recent months in Germany with accounts of sexual abuse from decades past. But no case has captured the attention of the nation like that of Father Hullermann, not only because of the involvement of the future pope, but also because of the impunity that allowed a child molester to continue to work with altar boys and girls for decades after his conviction.

Benedict not only served as the archbishop of the diocese where the priest worked, but also later as the cardinal in charge of reviewing sexual abuse cases for the Vatican . Yet until the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising announced that Father Hullermann had been suspended on Monday, he continued to serve in a series of Bavarian parishes.

Cardinal Who Didn’t Report Abuse Won’t Quit
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: Published: March 15, 2010

Ireland: Cardinal Sean Brady, left, the leader of Ireland ’s Roman Catholics, said Monday that he would not resign, despite admitting that he helped the church get evidence against a child-molesting priest but never told the police about it. He said that as a priest in 1975, he interviewed two children who said they had been abused by the Rev. Brendan Smyth, who was eventually accused of molesting and raping scores of children in Ireland, Britain and the United States. Both children were required to sign oaths promising not to tell anyone outside the church of their accusations, Cardinal Brady said. He said that church officials had not notified the police because of “a culture of silence about this, a culture of secrecy.”


Jonathan Phillips












HOLY WARRIORS: A Modern History of the Crusades
By Jonathan Phillips
The New York Times/Book Review: March 14, 2010

The villains of history seem relatively easy to understand; however awful their deeds, their motives remain recognizable. But the good guys, those their contemporaries saw as heroes or saints, often puzzle and appall.

They did the cruelest things for the loftiest of motives; they sang hymns as they waded through blood.

Nowhere, perhaps, is this contradiction more apparent than in the history of the Crusades. When the victorious knights of the First Crusade finally stood in Jerusalem, on July 15, 1099, they were, in the words of the chronicler William of Tyre, “dripping with blood from head to foot.” They had massacred the populace. But in the same breath, William praised the “pious devotion . . . with which the pilgrims drew near to the holy places, the exultation of heart and happiness of spirit with which they kissed the memorials of the Lord’s sojourn on earth.”

It’s tempting to dismiss the crusaders’ piety as sheer hypocrisy. In fact, their faith was as pure as their savagery. As Jonathan Phillips observes in his excellent new history — in case we needed reminding at this late date — “faith lies at the heart of holy war.”

In the rigid, polarized mentality of the holy warrior, any deviation can signify a dangerous otherness. This is the best recent history of the Crusades; it is also an astute depiction of a frightening cast of mind.



"The Greatest"


Gospel exec says the Lord told her to cancel singer's deal
Record exec's holy excuse in contract dispute
March 14, 2010

It was an immaculate rejection.
A gospel-music exec had a divine reason to cancel a contract with one of her singers -- God told her to. Label boss April Washington-Essex allegedly refused to put out a second CD with singer Isaiah D. Thomas, saying, "God has not confirmed His approval."

"I have been seeking God about the timing of your next recording. To date, God has not confirmed His approval for Habakkuk Music to participate," she wrote to Thomas, according to a lawsuit he filed last week in Manhattan federal court.

Thomas' attorney, Chris Brown, said he had never seen a "God clause" invoked to end a contract.


"Jesus was a Nazi. So's your preacher"
By Roger Ebert
Chicago Sun-Times: March 14, 2010

Pretty near everything Glenn Beck says strikes me as absurd, but he scored a perfect 10 when he warned his viewers against the dangers of Christianity. You already know all about it. Well, maybe not, because the usual defenders of Christianity, like James Dobson and Pat Robertson, were very quiet on the topic. Not even a peep from Pat about this man who showed every sign of having hired the best lawyers to draft his pact with Satan.

What were Beck's unifying words? "I beg you, look for the words social justice or economic justice on your church web site," he told his audience. "If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words. Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes! If you have a priest that is pushing social justice, go find another parish. Go alert your bishop and tell them, 'Excuse me are you down with this whole social justice thing?' If it's my church, I'm alerting the church authorities: 'Excuse me, what's this social justice thing?' And if they say, 'yeah, we're all in that social justice thing'--I'm in the wrong place."

Driving Drunk in Jerusalem
The New York Times / Op Ed: March 13, 2010

I am a big Joe Biden fan. The vice president is an indefatigable defender of U.S. interests abroad. So it pains me to say that on his recent trip to Israel, when Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu’s government rubbed his nose in some new housing plans for contested East Jerusalem, the vice president missed a chance to send a powerful public signal: He should have snapped his notebook shut, gotten right back on Air Force Two, flown home and left the following scribbled note behind: “Message from America to the Israeli government: Friends don’t let friends drive drunk. And right now, you’re driving drunk. You think you can embarrass your only true ally in the world, to satisfy some domestic political need, with no consequences? You have lost total contact with reality. Call us when you’re serious. We need to focus on building our country.


Pilgrim Non Grata in Mecca
The New York Times: March 9, 2010

I was tempted to turn my abaya into a black masquerade cloak and sneak into Mecca, just hop over the Tropic of Cancer to the Red Sea and crash the ultimate heaven’s gate.

So on my odyssey to Saudi Arabia, I tried to learn about the religion that smashed into the American consciousness on 9/11 in a less sneaky way. And that’s when the paradox sunk in: It was nearly impossible for me to experience Islam in the cradle of Islam.

and his brother

Vatican on Defense as Sex Scandals Build
The New York Times: March 9, 2010

ROME — Defending itself against a growing child sexual abuse scandal in Europe, one that has even come close to the brother of Pope Benedict XVI , the Vatican said Tuesday that local European churches had addressed the issue with “timely and decisive action.”

Pope Benedict XVI, right, with his brother, Monsignor Georg Ratzinger, in Regensburg, Germany in 2006.
In a note read on Vatican Radio , the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, cautioned against limiting the concerns over child sexual abuse to Roman Catholic institutions, noting that the problem also affected the broader society.

A wave of church sexual abuse scandals has emerged in recent weeks in Germany , Austria, and the Netherlands , adding to the fallout from a broad abuse investigation in Ireland .

of the Westboro
Baptist Church
in Kansas









Marine Lance Cpl.

Matthew Snyder's





'Thank God for dead soldiers': Supreme Court to rule on free speech in case of soldier's funeral
Anti-gay church sparks free-speech fight
Associated Press: Mon, March 8, 2010

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court is getting involved in the legal fight over the anti-gay protesters who show up at military funerals with inflammatory messages like "Thank God for dead soldiers ."

Members of a Kansas-based church picketed military funerals to spread their belief that U.S. deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq are punishment for the nation's tolerance of homosexuality.

The funeral for Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder in Westminster, Md., was among many that have been picketed by members of the fundamentalist Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas. Westboro pastor Fred Phelps and other members have used the funeral protests to spread their belief that U.S. deaths in the Iraq war are punishment for the nation's tolerance of homosexuality.

Signs carred by members of the Topeka, Kansas-based church said, "America is Doomed," "God Hates the USA/Thank God for 9/11," "Priests Rape Boys" and "Thank God for IEDs," a reference to the roadside bombs that have killed many U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.


Justices to Hear Case of Protest at Marine Funeral
The New York Times: March 8, 2010

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to decide whether the father of a Marine killed in Iraq may sue protesters who picketed his son’s funeral with signs that read “God Hates You” and “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.”

Dylan Slagle/Carroll County Times, via Associated Press:
A motorcyclist supporting the family of Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder
drove by protesters at his funeral in Westminster, Md., in 2006.


















Jos, Nigeria


Death Toll From Nigeria Violence Hits 500
The New York Times: March 8, 2010

DAKAR, Senegal — Officials and human rights groups in Nigeria sharply increased the count of the dead after a weekend of savage ethnic violence, saying Monday that as many as 500 people — many of them women and children — may have been killed near the central city of Jos, long a flashpoint for tensions between Christians and Muslims.

The dead were Christians and members of an ethnic group that has been feuding with the Hausa Fulani, Muslim herders who witnesses and police officials identified as the attackers. Officials said the attack was a reprisal for violence in January, when dozens of Muslims were slaughtered in and around Jos, including more than 150 in a single village.

Early Sunday, the attackers set upon the villagers with machetes, killing women and children in their homes and ensnaring the men who tried to flee in fishnets and animal traps, then massacring them.

Akintunde Akinleye/Reuters
Mass grave in Dogon Na Hauwa, Nigeri, 8 March 2010

ectarian Clashes Kill Dozens in Central Nigeria
The New York Times: March 7, 2010

DAKAR, Senegal — Dozens of villagers in central Nigeria were killed early Sunday, victims of apparent reprisal attacks over recent clashes between Christians and Muslims. A government spokesman said there were more than 300 dead, but that figure that could not be independently verified.

The killings took place near the city of Jos, for years a hotbed of ethnic and religious violence near the dividing line between the country’s mainly Christian south and Muslim north. Hundreds on both sides were killed as recently as January, though the victims this time were Christians, according to the information commissioner for Plateau State, Gregory Yenlong, and a local human rights organization.

A portrait of founder
in a church retreat center in Clearwater, Fla.

Defectors Say Church of Scientology Hides Abuse
The New York Times: March 6, 2010

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Raised as Scientologists , Christie King Collbran and her husband, Chris, were recruited as teenagers to work for the elite corps of staff members who keep the Church of Scientology running, known as the Sea Organization, or Sea Org.

They signed a contract for a billion years — in keeping with the church’s belief that Scientologists are immortal. They worked seven days a week, often on little sleep, for sporadic paychecks of $50 a week, at most.

But after 13 years and growing disillusionment, the Collbrans decided to leave the Sea Org, setting off on a Kafkaesque journey that they said required them to sign false confessions about their personal lives and their work, pay the church thousands of dollars it said they owed for courses and counseling, and accept the consequences as their parents, siblings and friends who are church members cut off all communication with them.
No oath, no conviction, Mich. court says
The New York Post/Wire Srevices: March 6, 2010

Ann Arbor, Mich. - What happened to the separation between church and state?

A Michigan court tossed out an assault conviction after the judge in the original case failed to make the jury swear to God to return an honest decision.

Timothy Becktel will now get a new trial, instead of 15 years in jail for nearly beating a man to death.

Vatican Enmeshed in Gay Sex Allegations
The New York Times: March 4, 2010

ROME — A singer in an elite Vatican choir and a jailed Italian public works executive who served as a papal usher were let go by the Vatican this week amid allegations that they were involved in what prosecutors believe was an organized network of gay prostitution, Italian news media reported.

Ghinedu Ehiem, a Nigerian who sang in a choir that performs at St. Peter’s Basilica, was dismissed after the center-left daily newspaper La Repubblica reported Wednesday that he had procured men, including seminarians, for Angelo Balducci, a former member of the board of Italy’s public works department who was arrested and jailed last month on corruption charges.

home in Lindale, TX

From Churchgoer to Charges as Church Burner
The New York Times: March 1, 2010

LINDALE, Tex. — Jason R. Bourque grew up in a house full of crosses.

At his grandparent’s spacious home here, where he was raised, a small forest of crosses stands on a table by the front door, and one wall of the living room is filled with more than a dozen decorative crosses of wrought iron, ceramic and wood.

This was not his character — he was raised Christian,” his mother, Kimberly Bourque, said.

On the streets of the small towns around Tyler, where the two young men grew up and lived, people are trying to fathom how boys who had been raised in religious families and, until recently, were regular churchgoers could end up accused of such a crime.

There were several signs that Mr. Bourque, described by many people as a bright student and a voracious reader in high school, was rebelling against the strict Christian upbringing he had been given by his grandparents, Bob and Brenda Steele.

Mr. McAllister’s mother, Wanda, was extremely devout and ran the nursery at the church, members of the congregation said. Mr. McAllister was schooled at home, along with his younger sister, for religious reasons, they said. He never went to high school....



2 Men Charged in Texas Church Fire
The New York Times: February 21, 2010

Two men were charged Sunday morning with setting fire to a church in east Texas and federal authorities said the men may face charges in nine other church fires.

The men, Jason Robert Bourque, 19, of Lindale, Tex., and Daniel George McAllister, 21, of Ben Wheeler, Tex., were arrested and charged with arson of a building in the Feb. 8 fire at Dover Baptist Church, located 15 miles northwest of Tyler, Tex.

Because the building was a church, the charges were elevated to a first-degree felony....

Some Phone Calls, 2 Big Checks, and Rabbi Is Charged
The New York Times: February 19, 2010

Rabbi Milton Balkany, the director of a Brooklyn Jewish day school, was on the phone last month with a proposition for a man he had never met, the president of a giant Connecticut hedge fund, SAC Capital Advisors.

The matter required tact. The rabbi, who often counsels Jewish inmates, had recently met a prisoner at the Otisville Federal Correctional Institution, a prison in Orange County, N.Y., who had told him that the hedge fund had been trading on illegal information. Rabbi Balkany was calling now, the government contends, to make a deal: $4 million for two religious schools in Brooklyn — one of them his own — in exchange for the prisoner’s silence.
'Psychically cleansed' out of 10G
The New York Post: February 18, 2010

A Greenwich Village fortune teller is actually a fortune taker, a client claims.
In a suit filed in Manhattan Supreme Court, a woman says Sylvia Mitchell conned her out of over $10,000 with schemes to cleanse her of "impurities."

Dane Chan only caught on to Mitchell's act after the psychic got her to fork over $9,000 for items from a Polo Ralph Lauren store that the supposed seer said were needed for a "ritual."

The 36-year-old Upper West Side woman says she first went to Mitchell's lair -- Zena Psychic on Seventh Avenue South at Bleecker Street -- in October 2008, when she was down in the dumps over problems at work and a recent breakup.


Missionaries Go to Haiti, Followed by Scrutiny
The New York Times: February 15, 2010

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Their holy books vary widely and so does their disaster apparel. Devotees of Supreme Master Ching Hai, a Vietnamese spiritual leader, wore fluorescent yellow vests on their way into quake-damaged Haiti . Mormons wore their trademark white shirts and ties. And an array of others — Scientologists , Presbyterians, Lutherans, Jews and Muslims — each printed T-shirts of a different hue declaring which faith had inspired them to help save Haiti.

Moved by awful images of the Jan. 12 earthquake , a broad band of religious groups has swept down here in recent weeks. But rather than fostering a universal spirit of interfaith cooperation, the hasty assemblage of religious organizations has sometimes created tensions among them.

Bride Is a Harem Scare 'em
The New York Post: February 11, 2010

An Arab ambassador lifted his "beautiful" bride's veil to find that she was really as ugly as a camel's behind.

The unnamed envoy from the United Arab Emirates -- who immediately demanded an annulment -- had only seen his wife before their wedding while she was wearing a niqab , a veil that completely covered her face.

The powerful Arab was enticed to marry the falafel-faced woman after her mom had showed him what appeared to be a pretty picture of her. But he now claims that the woman in the photo turned out to be the homely bride's beautiful sister.

Protesters at the Capitol Hill house of





National Prayer Breakfast Draws Controversy
The New York Times: February 3, 2010

For more than 50 years, the National Prayer Breakfast has served as a prime networking event in Washington, bringing together the president, members of Congress, foreign diplomats and thousands of religious, business and military leaders for scrambled eggs and supplication.

Usually, the annual event passes with little notice. But this year, an ethics group in Washington has asked President Obama and Congressional leaders to stay away from the breakfast...
The objections are focused on the sponsor of the breakfast, a secretive evangelical Christian network called The Fellowship, also known as The Family, and accusations that it has ties to legislation in Uganda that calls for the imprisonment and execution of homosexuals.

The Family has always stayed intentionally in the background, according to those who have written about it. In the last year, however, it was identified as the sponsor of a residence on Capitol Hill that has served as a dormitory and meeting place for a cluster of politicians who ran into ethics problems, including Senator John Ensign, Republican of Nevada, and Gov. Mark Sanford, Republican of South Carolina, both of whom have admitted to adultery.

More recently, it became public that the Family also has close ties to the Ugandan politician who has sponsored the proposed anti-gay legislation.


American Missionary Ordered Freed
REUTERS: March 5, 2010

A judge signed an order on Friday to free one of two American missionaries imprisoned on child kidnapping charges. The order will allow Charisa Coulter to leave Haiti but the leader of the group of missionaries, Laura Silsby, is to remain in jail pending further investigation.






Judge Releases Eight Americans Jailed in Haiti
The New York Times: February 17, 2010

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — A Haitian judge on Wednesday ordered the release of 8 of the 10 Americans arrested here on child abduction charges but decided that two members of the group, including its leader, would remain in jail for additional questioning.

The judge, Bernard Saint-Vil, told lawyers for the Americans that he freed the members of the group, five of whom were from a Baptist congregation in Idaho, after parents of some of the 33 children with the Americans testified that they had voluntarily handed over their children to them. The Americans said they were planning to house the children in an orphanage across the border in the Dominican Republic.

While Judge Saint-Vil’s ruling allows eight of the Americans to leave Haiti on the condition that they return to the country to answer further questions in the case, it requires that Laura Silsby , the Idaho businesswoman who led the group, and her live-in nanny, Charisa Coulter, remain in jail to answer questions about traveling to Haiti before the Jan. 12 earthquake.

Some of the freed Americans had already contended this month that they were misled by Ms. Silsby , who had faced more than a dozen legal complaints connected to her online shopping business before she persuaded fellow Baptists from Idaho to assist her in setting up an orphanage for Haitian children


Haitian Judge





Trafficking Charges for Adviser to Jailed Americans
in Haiti

The New York Times: February 15, 2010

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — As the 10 Americans imprisoned in Haiti for trying to remove children from the country awaited a decision on their fate Monday, the legal woes of the man who falsely portrayed himself as the group’s lawyer mounted.

Jorge Puello falsely portrayed himself as a lawyer in Haiti and is now at large.
The one-time legal adviser, who calls himself Jorge Puello, now acknowledges that he faces sex trafficking charges in El Salvador under the name Jorge Anibal Torres Puello. He remained at large on Monday, as Dominican, Salvadoran and American law enforcement officials worked with Interpol to interview his relatives and search border and immigration records to find him.

Mr. Puello is wanted by the police in at least four countries in connection with charges including sex trafficking of girls and women, and making counterfeit documents and violating parole.

On Monday, Bernard Saint-Vil, the Haitian judge who is handling the case of the detained Americans, said he intended to further question Laura Silsby , the group’s leader, about any connection she might have with Mr. Puello.






Adviser to Detained Americans in Haiti Is Investigated

The New York Times: February 12, 2010

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The police in El Salvador have begun an investigation into whether a man suspected of leading a trafficking ring involving Central American and Caribbean women and girls is also a legal adviser to many of the Americans charged with trying to take 33 children out of Haiti without permission.

In Idaho, Questions on How Aid Mission Went Awry (February 6, 2010)
When the judge presiding over the Haitian case learned on Thursday of the investigation in El Salvador, he said he would begin his own inquiry of the adviser, a Dominican man who was in the judge’s chambers days before.

The inquiries are the latest twist in a politically charged case that is unfolding in the middle of an earthquake disaster zone. A lawyer for the group has already been dismissed after being accused of trying to offer bribes to get the 10 Americans out of jail.



Like Daniel in the Babble






Americans Jailed in Haiti Plead for Aid From U.S.
The New York Times: February 9, 2010

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The 10 Americans detained on kidnapping charges are pleading for the United States government to do more on their behalf and for the news media to focus on them less.

“Help us,” one of the detainees, Carla Thompson, said Monday as she lay on a bed in a scorching Port-au-Prince jail cell of about 8 feet by 5 feet, her ankles bandaged from infected mosquito bites. “That’s the message I would give to Mr. Obama and the State Department. Start helping us.”

Sitting on a dirty concrete floor in the cell, another detainee, Corinna Lankford, nodded in agreement, a frustrated look on her face. “I have faith in God,” Ms. Lankford said. “But maybe the U.S. government could help a little more, too.”

American officials have said they intend to let the Haitian justice system take its course. Judge Saint-Vil has said he intends to investigate the case fully.

For Laura Silsby , the leader of the group of Americans, that process began on Monday. Sitting on a brown tattered couch in Mr. Saint-Vil’s office, she waited to discuss her fate. A Bible lay on her lap, and her hands shook. “I’m nervous,” said Ms. Silsby, 40, furtively glancing at the judge.

...they were passing the time reading the Bible, napping, praying and snacking on sugared cereal and potato chips provided to them by missionaries.

the Babble



Americans Held in Haiti Are Divided Over Leader
The New York Times: February 7, 2010

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Divisions emerged within the group of 10 Americans jailed in Haiti on child abduction charges, with eight of them signing a note over the weekend saying that they had been misled by Laura Silsby, the leader of the group.“Laura wants to control,” said the scribbled note handed to a producer for NBC News. “We believe lying. We’re afraid.”

The infighting came amid a shakeup in the legal representation of the Americans, who have been charged with trying to remove 33 Haitian children from the country without government permission.

The note signed by the group, which is affiliated with a Baptist church in Twin Falls, Idaho, made clear that they were emotionally distraught and divided. “We fear for our lives here in Haiti,” said the letter, which was signed by everyone except Ms. Silsby and Charisa Coulter, Ms. Silsby’s former nanny and co-founder of the group.





Haiti Charges Americans With Child Abduction
The New York Times: February 4, 2010

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Ten Americans who tried to take 33 Haitian children out of the country last week without the government’s consent have been charged with child abduction and criminal conspiracy, as Haitian officials sought to reassert judicial control after the Jan. 12 earthquake.
The Americans, most of them members of a Baptist congregation from Idaho, had said they intended to rescue Haitian children left parentless in the quake and take them to what they described as an orphanage across the border in the Dominican Republic. But they acknowledged failing to seek approval to remove the children from Haiti, and several of the children have at least one living parent.
The Americans will face a potentially extended legal proceeding in Haiti and could, if convicted, face prison terms of up to 15 years.
Ms. Silsby, who had helped organize the group’s mission, sounded a hopeful note as she waited to be taken into court, saying, “We’re just trusting God for a positive outcome.”
Ms. Silsby asked the prosecutor not only to release the group, whose members range in age from 18 to 55, but also to allow them to continue their work in Haiti.
“We simply wanted to help the children,” she said. “We petition the court not only for our freedom, but also for our ability to continue to help.”


was given by her parents to a group of Americans

Parents Tell of Children They Entrusted to
Detained Americans

The New York Times: February 3, 2010

FERMATHE, Haiti — Guerlaine Antoine pushed aside a tub full of laundry, wiped her soapy hands on her T-shirt and rushed barefoot to bring out photos of the 8-year-old boy she entrusted to 10 American Baptists.

As a Haitian judge on Tuesday questioned five of the 10 Americans who were detained after trying to exit the country illegally with 33 children, the questions swirling around the case threw this town high in the mountains overlooking Port-au-Prince into confusion.

The Americans said that the children had been orphaned in the earthquake, and that they had authorization from the Dominican government to bring the children into the country.
But it became clear on Tuesday that at least some of the children had not lost their parents in the earthquake.

And while the Americans said they did not intend to offer the children for adoption, the Web site for their orphanage makes clear that they intended to do so.


Group Organizers










Case Stokes Haiti’s Fear for Children, and Itself
Reuters: February 2, 2010

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — “God wanted us to come here to help children, we are convinced of that,” Laura Silsby, one of 10 Americans accused of trafficking Haitian children, said Monday through the bars of a jail cell here. “Our hearts were in the right place.”

Whatever their intentions, the Americans who were detained late Friday at the Dominican border with 33 children struck a deep emotional chord in this earthquake-ravaged country.

Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive angrily denounced them as “kidnappers” who “knew what they were doing was wrong.” Justice Minister Paul Denis said, “We may be weakened, but without laws the Haitian state would cease to exist.” And the chief of the National Judicial Police, Frantz Thermilus, said: “What surprises me is that these people would never do something like this in their own country. We must make clear they cannot do such things in ours."

The group was founded by [Laura] Silsby, 40, and Charisa Coulter, 24, Ms Silsby's live-in nanny, who was also among those jailed in Port-au-Prince. Most of the group who went to Haiti belonged to Eastside Baptist Church or Central Valley Baptist in Meridian, Idaho, while others came from Texas and Kansas, Ms. Silsby said.

Mel Coulter, Ms. Coulter’s father, said of the group, “It was never their intent to establish an adoption agency or anything similar to it. I can’t at all question where they went and what they did because I’m really convinced it was at God’s direction,” he said. “They were acting in faith. That may sound trivial, but they were acting not only in faith but God’s faith.”

Smarmy, isn't she, Ms Silsby (second from left)?
Who's smirking now?


head of the the
Baptist church group



Haitians Detain Ten Americans
Accused of Kidnapping 33 Children

NPR/AP: January 31, 2010

The Haitian government was largely missing in action immediately after the Jan 12 earthquake because of the heavy toll the disaster took on its own workers and ministry buildings.

But it is finally able to exert itself as ten U.S. missionaries now in Haitian police custody are learning firsthand and the hard way.

The Baptist missionaries from Idaho have been accused of attempted kidnapping for trying to take 33 Haitian "orphans" across that nation's border with the Dominican Republic.

Prime Minister Max Bellerive on Sunday told The Associated Press that the group was arrested and is under judicial investigation "because it is illegal trafficking of children and we won't accept that."

"This is an abduction, not an adoption," Haitian Social Affairs Minister Yves Christallin said Sunday.

“the American”
aka Omar Hammam
























The Jihadist Next Door
From a Bible camp in America
to Terrorist training camps in Somalia

The New York Times Magazine: ANDREA ELLIOTT
January 31, 2010

ON A WARM, cloudy day in the fall of 1999, the town of Daphne, Ala., stirred to life. The high-school band came pounding down Main Street, past the post office and the library and Christ the King Church. Trumpeters in gold-tasseled coats tipped their horns to the sky, heralding the arrival of teenage demigods. The star quarterback and his teammates came first in the parade, followed by the homecoming queen and her court. Behind them, on a float bearing leaders of the student government, a giddy mop-haired kid tossed candy to the crowd.

Omar Hammami had every right to flash his magnetic smile. He had just been elected president of his sophomore class. He was dating a luminous blonde, one of the most sought-after girls in school. He was a star in the gifted-student program, with visions of becoming a surgeon. For a 15-year-old, he had remarkable charisma.
• • •
Yet for all of his social triumph, Hammami was consumed with a profound internal conflict. He didn’t know whether to be Muslim or Christian. On rare trips to Damascus when they were little, Omar and Dena were warned by relatives that they would go to hell if they weren’t Muslim, Dena recalled. In Perdido, their mother’s family insisted that hell was reserved for non-Christians.

Omar Hammami
Al-Amriki, "the American"

“I have become a Somali you could say,” he wrote in the December e-mail message. “I hear bullets, I dodge mortars, I hear nasheeds ” — Islamic songs — “and play soccer. Sometimes I live in the bush with camels, sometimes I live the five-star life. Sometimes I walk for miles in the terrible heat with no water, sometimes I ride in extremely slick cars. Sometimes I’m chased by the enemy, sometimes I chase him!”
“I have hatred, I have love,” he went on. “It’s the best life on earth!”

"They could not look at women, listen to music, be photographed...."

G.O.P. Adopts ‘Purity’ Pledge After Revisions
The New York Times: January 30, 2010

HONOLULU — The Republican National Committee on Friday approved a watered-down resolution designed to deal with a demand by conservative committee members that candidates agree to support a list of conservative positions as a condition of receiving financial support from the party.
Atheist group slams Mother Teresa stamp
The Freethinker: 29 January 2010

AMERICA’S Freedom from Religion Foundation has blasted the US Postal Service for its plan to honour soon-to-be-sainted Mother Teresa – aka The Albanian Prune – with a commemorative stamp.
The FFRF insists that the plan violates postal regulations against honouring:
Individuals whose principal achievements are associated with religious undertakings.

The atheist organisation is urging its supporters to boycott the stamp — and also to engage in a letter-writing campaign to spread the word about what it calls the “darker side” of M T.

The stamp — set to be released on August 26, which would have been the wizened old fraud’s 100th birthday — will recognise the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize winner for her “humanitarian work”, the Postal Service announced in a press release.

The Foundation is encouraging its supporters to purchase the new stamp honoring the late actress Katharine Hepburn, who was an atheist, instead — or any of the other 2010 stamps, which include cartoonist Bill Mauldin, singer Kate Smith, filmmaker Oscar Micheaux, painter Winslow Homer and poet Julia de Burgos.

Murderer of
Dr. George Tiller


During trial












Jury Reahes Guilty Verdict in Murder of Abortion Doctor
The New York Times: January 29, 2010

WICHITA, Kan. — It took jurors 37 minutes on Friday to c
onvict Scott Roeder , an abortion opponent, of first-degree murder in the death of George R. Tiller , one of the few doctors in the country to perform late-term abortions.

• • •

Doctor’s Killer Puts Abortion on the Stand
The New York Times: January 28, 2010

WICHITA, Kan. — Scott Roeder , the man charged with murder in the shooting of George R. Tiller , one of the few doctors in the country to perform late-term abortions, took the witness stand in his own defense on Thursday, and said that, yes, he did it.

Yes, he bought a gun. Yes, he took target practice. Yes, he had learned about Dr. Tiller’s habits, his home address, his security precautions. And, yes, he shot Dr. Tiller last May 31 as Dr. Tiller stood inside his church.

“That is correct, yes,” Mr. Roeder told the jurors, in a calm,
matter-of-fact voice.

But there was a twist.

Outside the courthouse, Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue,
demonstrated in favor of the man accused of the killing.

John Paul II Whipped Self
AP: January 27, 2010

VATICAN CITY -- Pope John Paul II whipped himself with a belt, even on vacation, and slept on the floor as acts of penitence and to bring him closer to Christian perfection, according to a new book by the Polish prelate spearheading the late pontiff's sainthood case.

Teacher With Bible Divides Ohio Town
The New York Times: January 20, 2010

MOUNT VERNON, Ohio — Most people in this quiet all-American town describe themselves as devoutly Christian, but even here they are deeply divided over what should happen to John Freshwater.

Mr. Freshwater, an eighth-grade public school science teacher, is accused of burning a cross onto the arms of at least two students and teaching creationism, charges he says have been fabricated because he refused an order by his principal to remove a Bible from his desk.

John, Chapter 8,
Verse 12.


Bible verses on
combat rifle sights

Firm to Remove Bible References From Gun Sights
The New York Times: January 22, 2010

Bowing to Pentagon concerns and an international outcry, a Michigan arms company said Thursday that it would immediately stop embossing references to New Testament Scriptures on rifle sights it sells the military.

Michigan Defense Contractor Has God in Its Sights
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: January 19, 2010

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Army officials said Tuesday they will inves
tigate whether a Michigan defense contractor violated federal procurement rules by stamping references to Bible verses on combat rifle sights used by American forces to kill enemy fighters in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Marine Corps, another major customer of the telescoping sights that allow troops to pinpoint targets day or night, says service acquisition officials plan to meet with the contractor, Trijicon of Wixom, Mich., to discuss future purchases of the company's gear.

Man Who Shot Pope in 1981 Is Freed
The New York Times: January 18, 2010

ISTANBUL — Almost three decades after he shot and wounded Pope John Paul II, Mehmet Ali Agca walked free from prison on Monday, heading to a luxury hotel and proclaiming himself to be “Christ eternal.”


Pope Quiz: Is Every Pontiff a Saint?
The New York Times: January 17, 2010

Should any pope be made a saint?

The church counts less than a third of all 264 dead popes as saints, and most were canonized by popular acclaim in the first centuries of Christianity, often because they were martyrs. Only five were canonized in the entire second millennium, and when Pius X, who died in 1914, was made a saint in 1954 — by Pius XII — he was the first pope so honored in nearly 400 years.

Now nearly every recent pope is on the canonization track. John Paul II beatified Pius IX, the 19th-century pope who is a polarizing figure because of his belief in the power of the papacy and his views on Judaism. But like Benedict, John Paul did a little ticket-balancing. He simultaneously beatified the popular John XXIII, who convened the liberalizing Second Vatican Council in 1962. The canonization process for Paul VI, who followed John XXIII, is underway, and there is a campaign to beatify John Paul I, who reigned a mere 33 days before his death in 1978.

Religion and Women
The New York Times: January 9, 2010

Religions derive their power and popularity in part from the ethical compass they offer. So why do so many faiths help perpetuate something that most of us regard as profoundly unethical: the oppression of women?

It is not that warlords in Congo cite Scripture to justify their mass rapes (although the last warlord I met there called himself a pastor and wore a button reading “rebels for Christ”). It’s not that brides are burned in India as part of a Hindu ritual. And there’s no verse in the Koran that instructs Afghan thugs to throw acid in the faces of girls who dare to go to school.

Yet these kinds of abuses — along with more banal injustices, like slapping a girlfriend or paying women less for their work — arise out of a social context in which women are, often, second-class citizens. That’s a context that religions have helped shape, and not pushed hard to change.

Churches Attacked in Malaysian ‘Allah’ Dispute
The New York Times: January 8, 2010

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Three Christian churches were attacked with firebombs Friday as tensions rose in a dispute over whether Christians could use the word “Allah” in this largely Muslim nation.

Later in the day, small crowds rallied outside two major mosques in the capital, in a growing protest over a court ruling that overturned a government ban on the use of “Allah” by Roman Catholics as a translation for God.

Malaysia: Government Appeals Ruling on ‘Allah’ Use
January 4, 2010

The government filed an appeal on Monday to fight a court ruling that allows non-Muslims to use the word Allah to refer to God, a decision that set off protests in the Muslim-majority country. The government says that Allah is an Islamic word and that its use by others could mislead Muslims into converting. Authorities recently confiscated 10,000 Malay-language Bibles containing the word Allah. An Arabic word, Allah predates Islam and is used by Arabic-speaking Christians.

Proponent of
Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009
U.S.Evangelicals’ Role Seen in Uganda Anti-Gay Push
The New York Times: January 3, 2010

KAMPALA, Uganda — Last March, three American evangelical Christians, whose teachings about “curing” homosexuals have been widely discredited in the United States, arrived here in Uganda’s capital to give a series of talks.

The theme of the event, according to Stephen Langa, its Ugandan organizer, was “the gay agenda — that whole hidden and dark agenda” — and the threat homosexuals posed to Bible-based values and the traditional African family.

For three days, according to participants and audio recordings, thousands of Ugandans, including police officers, teachers and national politicians, listened raptly to the Americans, who were presented as experts on homosexuality.

CALEB LEE BRUNDIDGE International Healing Foundation
Defend the Family International



Attempt to Kill Danish Cartoonist Fails
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: January 1, 2010

COPENHAGEN (AP) — The police foiled an attempt to kill an artist who drew a cartoon depicting the Prophet Muhammad that sparked outrage in the Muslim world, the head of Denmark’s intelligence service said Saturday.

Cartoonist in Denmark Calls Attack ‘Really Close’
The New York Times: January 2, 2010

LONDON — A heavily bandaged 28-year-old Somali man was wheeled into a Danish court on a stretcher on Saturday and was charged with attempting to kill a Danish artist whose 2005 cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad was one of a series that ignited riots across the Muslim world, as well as firebombing attacks on Danish and other Western diplomatic missions.


ROBERT COANE 2010 © All rights reserved