Scores Dead After Church Bombed in Pakistan
On Sunday, in what is called the dead­liest attack on Chris­tians in Pak­istan to date, sui­cide bombers killed at least 78 wor­ship­pers and wounded 140 at the All Saints Church in Peshawar. Chris­tians make up about four per­cent of Pakistan’s pop­u­la­tion of 180 million.

“Mar­riage and Reli­gious Free­dom Act” intro­duced in Congress

On Sep­tem­ber 19, a bipar­ti­san group intro­duced a bill in the U.S. House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives that would pre­vent the fed­eral gov­ern­ment from dis­crim­i­nat­ing through the tax code against indi­vid­ual reli­gious believ­ers who hold the prin­ci­ple that mar­riage is a union of one man and one woman. Accord­ing to bill author, Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID)H.R. 3133, the “Mar­riage and Reli­gious Free­dom Act,” “will ensure tol­er­ance for indi­vid­u­als and orga­ni­za­tions that affirm tra­di­tional mar­riage, pro­tect­ing them from adverse fed­eral action.” The bill is co-sponsored by Rep. Steve Scalise, Chair­man of the Repub­li­can Study Com­mit­tee, Rep. Mike McIn­tyre (D-NC), and Rep. Dan Lip­in­ski (D-IL).  The under­ly­ing issue that the bill asks Con­gress to con­sider is whether reli­gious free­dom pro­tec­tions on mar­riage issues apply not only to reli­gious insti­tu­tions but also to indi­vid­u­als.  (The bill can be tracked at http://​beta​.con​gress​.gov/​b​i​l​l​/​1​1​3​t​h​/​h​o​u​s​e​-​b​i​l​l​/​3​133)

Many Amer­i­cans sup­port legal recog­ni­tion for same-sex mar­riage even though it is con­trary to their reli­gious beliefs. But as Mol­lie Ziegler Hem­ing­way writes in the Wall Street Jour­nal, tol­er­ance of same-sex mar­riage “isn’t turn­ing out to be a two-way street.” Cit­ing cases such as an Ore­gon bak­ery that closed fol­low­ing a state inves­ti­ga­tion into the own­ers’ reli­gious objec­tions to cater­ing same-sex union cel­e­bra­tions and a New Mex­ico Supreme Court rul­ing against a pho­tog­ra­pher who refused to pho­to­graph a les­bian com­mit­ment cer­e­mony, Hem­ming­way con­cludes that, in con­trast to the pro­tec­tions pro­vided to churches, there is very lit­tle pro­tec­tion for per­sonal reli­gious beliefs.

The con­cept that reli­gious free­dom only belongs to insti­tu­tions and not to indi­vid­u­als was under­scored by the Cal­i­for­nia Supreme Court deci­sion in 2008 that sug­gested that reli­gious free­dom would be pro­tected because “no reli­gious offi­ciant will be required to sol­em­nize a mar­riage in con­tra­ven­tion of his or her reli­gious beliefs.” In con­trast, gay rights pro­po­nents argue that if reli­gious and sex­ual lib­erty come into con­flict, sex­ual lib­erty should prevail.

This  con­flict of whether indi­vid­u­als really have reli­gious free­dom out­side the walls of churches will become the Amer­i­can reli­gious lib­erty bat­tle­ground of the next decade, not only on issues of mar­riage but in almost every area of per­sonal reli­gious practice. 

Michi­gan Leg­is­la­ture Con­sid­ers Reli­gious Excep­tion for Faith-Based Adop­tion Services

The Michi­gan leg­is­la­ture is con­sid­er­ing a bill that will allow faith-based adop­tion ser­vices to refuse to place a child with a cou­ple if doing so would vio­late the agency’s reli­gious beliefs. House Bill 4927 is avail­able here.

India’s “Miss­ing Girls”

On Sep­tem­ber 10, the United States House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives’ Com­mit­tee on For­eign Affairs con­sid­ered the issue of India’s “miss­ing girls.” Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Christo­pher Smith (R-NJ) opened the dis­cus­sion (watch on YouTube). Smith said, “sex-selective abor­tion and female infan­ti­cide have led to lop­sided sex ratios. In parts of India, for exam­ple, 126 boys are born for every 100 girls. This in turn leads to a short­age of mar­riage­able women, which then leads to traf­fick­ing in per­sons, bride-selling, and pros­ti­tu­tion.” Accord­ing to the 2011 cen­sus for India, there are 37 mil­lion more men than women in the coun­try. Stud­ies show that fam­i­lies that do not have enough food are feed­ing boys before girls, and the mor­tal­ity rate for chil­dren under age 5 is 75% higher for girls than boys.

Abor­tion Clinic Num­bers Declin­ing in U.S.

Bloomberg reports that since 2011 at least 58 abor­tion clin­ics in the United States have closed or stopped pro­vid­ing abor­tion ser­vices. The arti­cle attrib­utes this to a com­bi­na­tion of reg­u­la­tions, declin­ing demand, doc­tor retire­ments, indus­try con­sol­i­da­tion, and “crack­downs on unfit providers” such as Dr. Ker­mit Gos­nell who is presently serv­ing a prison sen­tence. Accord­ing to Abor​tion​Docs​.org, the source cited by Bloomberg, this is part of a gen­eral trend of decline in num­bers of abor­tion clin­ics. In 1991, there were 2,176 abor­tion clin­ics in the United States and at present, the num­bers are down to 621 sur­gi­cal abor­tion clin­ics and 167 abor­tion pill clinics.

Ani­mal Rights v. Reli­gious Rights: Rit­ual Slaugh­ter of Chick­ens in Los Angeles

Last week in the Pico-Robertson area of Los Ange­les, Ortho­dox Jews and ani­mal rights activists faced off over a rit­ual prac­tice involv­ing the slaugh­ter of thou­sands of chick­ens in makeshift stands. Known as Kaparot, the prac­tice, which began in the 16th cen­tury, involves the rit­ual killing of chick­ens in the week lead­ing up to Yom Kip­pur, the Jew­ish day of atone­ment. Accord­ing to the Los Ange­les Times, Bait Aaron, a Sephardic Ortho­dox out­reach orga­ni­za­tion set up a tent in a park­ing lot and had stacked wire cages of chick­ens. After each slaugh­ter, the blood was drained and butch­ers plucked and dressed the birds. The Los Ange­les County Depart­ment of Pub­lic Health is reluc­tant to get involved unless the prac­tice presents health and safety issues.

Rhode Island to Vote on Forced Union­iza­tion Which Would Turn Home Child Care Providers into State Employees

In Rhode Island, the Ser­vice Employ­ees Inter­na­tional Union has reached an agree­ment with the leg­is­la­ture and the gov­er­nor to set the stage for a vote on union­iz­ing 580 pri­vate con­trac­tors who pro­vide state-subsidized child care in their homes. This is one of sev­eral attempts to union­ize home-based child care providers across the United States. On June 5, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foun­da­tion filed a fed­eral law­suit chal­leng­ing a sim­i­lar law in Min­nesota on the grounds that it vio­lates the 1st Amend­ment rights of fam­ily child care providers “to indi­vid­u­ally choose with whom they asso­ciate to peti­tion the gov­ern­ment for redress of griev­ances.” The work­ers bring­ing the chal­lenge have objected to being forced to “finan­cially sup­port” through required dues, “a manda­tory exclu­sive rep­re­sen­ta­tion for pur­poses of peti­tion­ing the state.” A legal chal­lenge to forced union­iza­tion is form­ing in Rhode Island. Accord­ing to the Rhode Island Cen­ter for Free­dom & Pros­per­ity, “Child­care providers are small, inde­pen­dent busi­ness own­ers. They set their own work­ing con­di­tions and hours and hire their own employ­ees. Car­ing for chil­dren on state assis­tance does not trans­form them into pub­lic employ­ees, nor does it cre­ate an employ­ment rela­tion­ship with the state government.”

Mus­lim Group Sues for Zon­ing Law Discrimination

A Mus­lim group has filed a fed­eral com­plaint against the Chicago sub­urb of Des Plaines, Illi­nois which last month rejected a pro­posed reli­gion cen­ter in an area zoned for man­u­fac­tur­ing. The suit claims that the city vio­lated the fed­eral Reli­gious Land Use and Insti­tu­tion­al­ized Per­sons Act (RLUIPA) by deny­ing the per­mit in a man­ner which treated the group dif­fer­ently from other sim­i­larly sit­u­ated groups. The 1.8-acre site was for­merly occu­pied by an insur­ance company.

Hun­gar­ian Law Makes it Hard for Reli­gious Groups to Gain Recognition

Jura Nanuk, pres­i­dent and founder of the Central-European Reli­gious Free­dom (CERF) Insti­tute, reports on the effects of a 2011 Hun­gar­ian law on churches and its impli­ca­tions on free­dom of reli­gion. When the Law on Free­dom of Con­science and Reli­gion and the Legal Sta­tus of Churches, Denom­i­na­tions and Reli­gious Com­mu­ni­ties was first passed, only four­teen reli­gious com­mu­ni­ties, 12 Chris­t­ian and two Jew­ish, were granted the sta­tus of “reli­gion” but Mus­lims, Hin­dus, Bud­dhists, and most Chris­t­ian denom­i­na­tions were rejected. This list was later expanded but there was no guar­an­tee of free­dom of reli­gion. Reli­gious groups still must meet arbi­trary stan­dards and receive a 2/3 major­ity vote by mem­bers of the Hun­gar­ian Par­lia­ment to be rec­og­nized. CERF is call­ing for Hun­gary to restore its reli­gious free­dom to the pre-2011 level and that leg­is­la­tion involv­ing free­dom of reli­gion be adjusted with Euro­pean and UN guide­lines and recommendations.

Per­se­cu­tion on Increase in East­ern Europe

The Euro­pean Par­lia­ment in Brus­sels recently debated the threat to reli­gious free­dom in East­ern Europe, includ­ing coun­tries such as Hun­gary, Roma­nia, Ukraine, and Moldova which are restrict­ing the abil­ity of cit­i­zens to prac­tice their reli­gion. Accord­ing to CERF, reli­gious minori­ties are fac­ing sig­nif­i­cant per­se­cu­tion and dis­crim­i­na­tion because of their beliefs. For instance, in Geor­gia, reli­gious groups are report­ing that Geor­gian Ortho­dox priests were warn­ing lead­ers of minor­ity con­gre­ga­tions that after the Octo­ber 1 par­lia­men­tary elec­tions they would no longer be able to hold ser­vices in their vil­lages. Reports of anti-Semitism are also increas­ing in Hun­gary, Roma­nia, and Ukraine.

Adven­tist Church Sues City for Dis­cre­tionary Review Ordinance 

Las Cruces, New Mex­ico has an unusual ordi­nance (No. 16–131) that requires churches to reg­is­ter with the city, pay a fee and pass a dis­cre­tionary review process before gain­ing approval to con­duct wor­ship ser­vices or pro­vide pas­toral care. There is no real­is­tic appeal process if the city denies the appli­ca­tion. In response to a demand from the city that the Las Cruces Span­ish Seventh-day Adven­tist Church com­ply with the require­ments in seven days or face “court action,” the Seventh-day Adven­tist Church filed suit in fed­eral court argu­ing that the ordi­nance is “imper­mis­si­bly vague” and vio­lates the New Mex­ico Con­sti­tu­tion. The ordi­nance pro­vides excep­tions to sec­u­lar artists and ath­letic offi­cials, but there are no reli­gious excep­tions. In response, the City of Las Cruces argues that the ordi­nance is designed to pro­tect cit­i­zens and pro­vide fire and police protection.

Adven­tist Peace Fel­low­ship Launches New Website

Adven­tist Peace Fel­low­ship, founded in 2001, has launched a new web­site. APF is a 501c3 non-profit orga­ni­za­tion, not offi­cially asso­ci­ated with the church, that seeks to raise con­scious­ness about the cen­tral­ity of peace­mak­ing and social jus­tice to the beliefs and her­itage of Seventh-day Adven­tists. The orga­ni­za­tion works on peace­mak­ing and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion projects, envi­ron­men­tal projects, free­dom of con­science, and health and human rights among others. ###


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