Aysha Khan 05-03-2016

A Pakistani refugee cries as she leaves a detention center. Image via REUTERS/Damir Sagolj/RNS

Religious freedom remains under “serious and sustained assault” around the globe, according to a new annual report from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

“At best, in most of the countries we cover, religious freedom conditions have failed to improve,” commission chairman Robert P. George said May 2.

“At worst, they have spiraled further downward.”

Image via Ross MacDonald / RNS

If Dana Carvey’s Church Lady wrote a craft book, it would look a lot like What Would Jesus Craft?: 30 Simple Projects for Making a Blessed Home. Born out of a lifelong collection of just plain wacky stuff gathered by author Ross MacDonald, the book blends tongue-in-cheek satire with tender regard for a 1950s Christian sensibility to serve up do-it-yourself craft projects that would make Jesus weep.

Paul Bhatti. Image via Rosie Scammell/RNS

Paul Bhatti, a Roman Catholic, worked as a surgeon in his home country of Pakistan and in Europe, while his brother, Shahbaz, went into politics and became Pakistan’s only Christian Cabinet member as the country’s first minister of minority affairs. Then, on March 2, 2011, Shahbaz was cut down in a hail of bullets in an attack by a militant group that called him “a blasphemer.”

Taslima Nasrin. Photo courtesy of Reuters / RNS

An internationally renowned atheist activist has relocated from India to the U.S. after receiving death threats from an extremist group that has claimed responsibility for at least one of three machete killings of South Asian atheists this year.

Taslima Nasrin, a Bangladeshi gynecologist, novelist, and poet, arrived in New York state on May 27. The move was orchestrated by the Center for Inquiry, an organization that promotes secularism and has been working with atheist activists in countries where atheism is unprotected by blasphemy laws.

Photo via dade72 /

Palace of the Vatican, "The Dome." Photo via dade72 /

The Vatican’s semiofficial newspaper blasted a series of cartoons of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad as “blasphemous” but also condemned the “mad and bloodthirsty” extremists who opened fire at a Texas exhibit of the cartoons.

The front page article in L’Osservatore Romano likened the exhibit in Garland, Texas, to pouring “gasoline on the fire” of religious sensitivities and was critical of its sponsors, the American Freedom Defense Initiative, and professional provocateur Pamela Geller.

Photo via Sadik Gulec /

Muslims waiting for the call to prayer in Aleppo, Syria. Photo via Sadik Gulec /

On May 3 in Garland, Texas, two gunmen opened fire at a “draw the Prophet Muhammad” contest sponsored by the American Freedom Defense Initiativelisted as an extremist group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Police shot and killed the two gunmen. A security guard was injured. Most Muslims consider images of the prophet highly offensive, as Islam prohibits them. The attack comes almost four months to the day that four cartoonists at the French weekly Charlie Hebdo were killed by extremists offended at the magazine’s satirical depictions of the prophet.

Why do images of the founder of Islam — even cartoons drawn by amateurs — incite so much anger in some people that they are motivated to violence?

“These terrorists are really blasphemers, I would say, theologically. They are blaspheming God.”
Naveed Ahmad 02-19-2014

Rimsha Masih, a teenage girl who was alleged to have dumped torn and burnt pages of the Quran. Photo by Naveed Ahmad. Via RNS

Mohammad Asghar, a 69-year-old paranoid schizophrenic, faces a death sentence in Pakistan for claiming to be the Prophet Muhammad in letters written to officials and police in 2010.

The retired British national of Pakistani descent is partially paralyzed after a stroke, but Pakistani courts have so far refused to acknowledge his physical and mental limitations.

The charges against Asghar recall the case of Rimsha Masih, a teenage girl who was alleged to have dumped torn and burnt pages of the Quran into a garbage heap nearly two years ago.

Qasim Rashid 02-03-2014

Qasim Rashid is the author of "The Wrong Kind of Muslim." Photo courtesy of Qasim Rashid. Via RNS

Sentenced for professing his atheism, Alexander Aan was recently released after 18 months in an Indonesian prison.

Masood Ahmad has already served over two months in a Pakistani prison for reading the Quran as an Ahmadi Muslim.

Pastor Saeed Abedini languishes in an Iranian prison for preaching Christianity.

They are but a sliver of the ongoing persecution, including murders, of Ahmadi Muslims, Shiite Muslims, Christians, Hindus, and atheists at the hands of extremists claiming Islam requires death for apostasy and blasphemy.

Richard S. Ehrlich 09-24-2013

A Quran photographed in a Kansas City, Mo. mosque (2012). RNS photo by Sally Morrow

Pakistan’s constitutionally mandated Council of Islamic Ideology told the government anyone who wrongly accuses a person of blasphemy against Islam must be executed — a measure intended to protect innocent people who are often killed by mobs.

The CII demanded the measure after endorsing Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, which allow a death sentence for people found guilty of desecrating the Quran, the Prophet Muhammad, mosques, or Islamic beliefs.

An international consortium of nonbelievers is planning rallies Thursday outside Bangladeshi embassies and consulates to demand the release of several Bangladeshi bloggers who were arrested on charges of blasphemy.

The rallies are in support of four Bangladeshi men arrested earlier this month for “hurting religious sentiments,” a crime tied to an 1860 law that can carry up to 10 years in jail.

The four men — all bloggers — staged a sit-in at a public square demanding a ban on the country’s largest Islamic political party; Islam is the official state religion in Bangladesh.

Religious rights activists are hailing the release over the weekend of an Iranian pastor accused of apostasy and a Pakistani girl who was charged with blasphemy.

Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani was released on Saturday after a six-hour hearing, reported the American Center for Law and Justice, which worked to garner American support for the minister’s release. The Christian convert had faced possible execution.

“Your prayers, your advocacy, and your voice has been heard,” read an online announcement from ACLJ.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom welcomed Nadarkhani’s release “after being unjustly imprisoned for three years because of his faith,” said its chair, Katrina Lantos Swett.

Rose Marie Berger 08-17-2012

Three women from the Russian feminist punk collective Pussy Riot were convicted today of "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred."

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, Marina Alyokhina, 24, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, were arrested in February following an uninvited “punk prayer” of protest against the iron fist and faux democracy of Russian president Vladimir Putin and calling to account the theological rubber-stamping of Putin's repressive regime by the Russian Orthodox Church.

Their "performance prayer" titled "Hail Mary, Putin Run!" (see video and lyrics) was offered to the Virgin Mary at the altar of Christ the Savior Orthodox Cathedral in Red Square. After spending five months in jail since the event, they were sentenced today to two years — time served credited against the sentence, so they've got another 19 months to go. While some have directly attacked the band as anti-religious, others have attempted to more subtly undercut them by saying their actions are just publicity stunts to get money. I say, Wrong and wrong. Acts of ecclesial disobedience are called for when institutions that are supposed to represent God fail to do so. And spending two years in a Russian prison - as a woman - is not the kind of thing we do for money.

Christian Piatt 08-17-2012

Members of the all-girl punk band sit in a glass-walled cage after being sentenced in Moscow. AFP/GettyImages

The all-female Russian punk band whose name shall not be mentioned (kind of like Voldemort in Harry Potter) was arrested following an uninvited “punk prayer” of protest against Russian president Vladimir Putin and his iron-fisted grip on the forthcoming election. Their boisterous prayer-performance was offered to the Virgin Mary at the altar of a Russian Orthodox church. They’ve been serving five months in jail since the event, and on Friday were sentenced to two years — time served credited against the sentence.

On the surface, I appreciate the demonstration. One could argue that even Jesus engaged in rather shocking prophetic displays inside temple walls to make a powerful point. And I appreciate that the band members were willing to go to jail (not a surprise they got arrested, really) for what they believe. On one level, it’s exactly the kind of thing that the punk ethos is all about: shocking people into awareness about the injustices around them, stirring people to action.

QR Blog Editor 06-13-2012 reports:

TEHRAN, IRAN — Iran has released Pastor Mehdi “Petros” Foroutan who served about one year in prison following a police crackdown on his and other house churches,  a spokesman told BosNewsLife late Tuesday.

Jason DeMars, who helped the 27-year-old pastor with advocacy, explained that Forouton was released on June 10. He added that the pastor "In total served about one year in prison for 'crimes against national security' because of his Christian faith."

At least two other Christian clergymen — Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani and another Christian leader, Behnam Irani — remain imprisoned. Nadarkhani faces the death penalty for refusing to abandon his Christian  faith and return to Islam. He remains in Lakan Prison in the city of Rasht where he is still awaiting an official response from the local court about his future, DeMars said. Irani is held in Ghezal Hezar prison in Karaj city, despite his poor health.  Prison officials reportedly refuse to allow him to visit a doctor.

Read more HERE.





Elissa Elliott 06-08-2011
Not too long ago, a family member told me in hushed sad tones that he was praying for me. I wasn't ill. I wasn't going through a tough time. No.