Human Rights

Meeting Madiba — An Unlikely Encounter with Nelson Mandela

South African stamp of Nelson Mandela. Photo courtesy Neftali/shutterstock.com

South African stamp of Nelson Mandela. Photo courtesy Neftali/shutterstock.com

Mr. Venter’s question is a constant thought during these declining days of Nelson Mandela’s life, especially today — his 95th birthday.  I pray daily for my South African daughter Eliza, husband Jonathan, and their four sons Noah, Aidan, Luke, and Sam, along with the many dear South African friends gathered over the past 30 years.   Will they live the on-going dream or in an emerging nightmare? 

In 1994, during Bill Clinton’s presidency, I had the honor of meeting President Nelson Mandela in a most unexpected way — just two months after his April inauguration as the first democratically-elected President of South Africa. 

Refusing Service in The Name of Religion is Never Acceptable

Photo courtesy Andrii Chetvertak/ Shutterstock.com.

Door with the "do not enter" sign. Photo courtesy Andrii Chetvertak/ Shutterstock.com.

In Vermont, a country inn declined to provide a wedding reception for a same-sex marriage. In Hawaii, the owner of a bed and breakfast refused a double room to a lesbian couple. Both said providing service would violate their religious faith.

More recently, a federal appeals court judge ruled that the evangelical owners of the Hobby Lobby arts-and-crafts chain may have the right, based on their religious beliefs, to refuse to include contraceptive coverage as part of employees’ health insurance plans. For some time now, pharmacists have asserted — and in many states won — the right to refuse to provide contraception based on religious grounds.

Refusal to serve — and using religion to discriminate — isn’t new. In the mid-1960s, Lester Maddox claimed biblical justification for his refusal to serve blacks at his Atlanta restaurant, which he famously defended with ax handles in his campaign to become Georgia’s governor. Throughout the 19th century, women were refused entry to taverns, professions, and, really, to anything a proprietor decided to exclude them from. The second-class status of women was often, if not always, justified by biblical text.

Gov. Chris Christie, a Catholic, Tiptoes on Gay Marriage

Photo courtesy RNS/Shutterstock.com.

NJ Gov. Chris Christie – red gov in a blue state – is walking a fine line on gay marriage. Photo courtesy RNS/Shutterstock.com.

As activists push states to recognize gay marriages, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — conservative Republican governor in a blue state and a 2016 presidential possibility — is walking a fine line between two electorates and two elections.

Christie vetoed same-sex marriage legislation last year and severely criticized the Supreme Court’s decision striking down a ban on federal rights for same-sex married couples. At the same time, he is “adamant” that same-sex couples deserve equal legal protection, wants a referendum on gay marriage, and vows to abide by a same-sex marriage law if New Jersey voters approve it.

He’s tiptoeing between constituencies. First are the voters of New Jersey: polls show they favor same-sex marriage, and Christie wants them to re-elect him in November by a big margin.

Queen Approves Same-Sex Marriage Bill in England, Wales

Photo courtesy RNS.

Queen Elizabeth II on May 8, 2007. Photo courtesy RNS.

England and Wales became the 16th and 17th countries in the world to recognize gay marriage after Queen Elizabeth II gave “royal assent” to a same-sex marriage bill.

Under the new law, gay men and women will be able to join together in civil ceremonies or in church services — although no religious denomination will be forced to carry out such services.

Cheers, laughter, and clapping broke out in the House of Commons when Speaker John Bercow announced the bill had been approved.

Vatican’s New Legal Guide Adds Offenses for Abuse, Leaking Documents

Photo courtesy RNS.

Newly elected Pope Francis appears on the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. Photo courtesy RNS.

Pope Francis on Thursday approved a major overhaul of the Vatican’s criminal laws, introducing specific offenses for child sexual abuse and leaking confidential documents.

Vatican laws against money laundering, corruption, and the financing of terrorism were updated to respond to the recommendations of the European financial transparency watchdog Moneyval. The Vatican submitted to Moneyval oversight as part of its bid to use the euro as its currency.

Under the new norms, which will go into effect on Sept. 1, the Vatican also abolished life imprisonment, substituting a maximum jail term of 30 to 35 years.

Gay Marriage Fight Shifts to the States

Photo courtesy RNS.

LGBT supporter at the Supreme Court on June 26. Photo courtesy RNS.

The legal battle over same-sex marriage has shifted from the Supreme Court to state capitals and lower courts as supporters seek to build on their recent victories and opponents hope to thwart that progress.

Armed with Justice Anthony Kennedy’s decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act, lawyers representing same-sex couples filed a lawsuit in Pennsylvania on Tuesday, and vowed to follow with others in North Carolina and Virginia.

Those cases will be added to at least 11 pending from New Jersey to Hawaii.

Yeshiva Hit with $380 Million Abuse Lawsuit

Photo courtesy RNS/Wikimedia Commons.

Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm. Photo courtesy RNS/Wikimedia Commons.

Nineteen former students of a high school run by Yeshiva University, the flagship school of Orthodox Judaism, have filed a $380 million federal lawsuit over what they claim are hundreds of acts of abuse by two rabbis in the 1970s and 1980s.

The lawsuit, which was filed Monday in U.S. District Court in White Plains, N.Y., follows the resignation of Rabbi Norman Lamm, the chancellor and head of the Yeshiva seminary. In his resignation letter, the 85-year-old Lamm, who was president of the university when the abuse took place, said he was doing penance for mishandling allegations against staff members.

The 148-page lawsuit accused Lamm and various other Yeshiva officials, trustees, board members, and faculty of a “massive cover-up of the sexual abuse of students” at a university-run high school.

Catholic Hospitals at Odds with Bishops Over Birth Control Mandate

The organization representing Catholic hospitals across the country says it no longer objects to the Obama administration’s mandate that all employees receive free birth control coverage.

The decision by the Catholic Health Association puts the hospitals at odds with the Catholic hierarchy, which last week rejected the White House’s final regulations on an issue that many church conservatives view as evidence of the administration’s hostility to Catholicism and religious freedom.

Sister Carol Keehan, head of the CHA, disagreed. “If you look at the final regulations it is very clear that we do not have to contract for, or pay for, or arrange for” contraception coverage, Keehan said in an interview on Tuesday.

Who Would Jesus Drone?

A drone launches a missile. Photo courtesy Paul Fleet/shutterstock.com

Dear Liberty University,

I want to write truthfully about God. I know many will find that an odd way to begin a letter about U.S. drone warfare, but I see no other way. This morning, I was discouraged to read that Liberty University has been training Christians to pilot armed U.S. drones since 2011 in your School of Aeronautics (SOA). The reasons for my discouragement are many — not least of which is the idea that Liberty graduates can somehow "serve the Lord" by targeting and killing their neighbors. Here, I would like to outline some of my concerns in detail with the hope that Liberty might reconsider, or at least restate theologically, its position regarding U.S. drone warfare.

African Religious Leaders Reject Obama’s Call to Decriminalize Homosexuality

Photo courtesy RNS.

Cardinal John Njue addresses journalists at a news conference in Nairobi on June 29. Photo courtesy RNS.

Religious leaders in Africa strongly rebuked President Obama’s call to decriminalize homosexuality, suggesting it’s the reason why he received a less-than-warm welcome during a recent trip to the continent.

In a news conference in Senegal during his three-nation tour, just as the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal ban on same-sex marriage, Obama said African nations must grant equal protection to all people regardless of their sexual orientation.

“My basic view is that regardless of race, regardless of religion, regardless of gender, regardless of sexual orientation, when it comes to how the law treats you, how the state treats you … people should be treated equally,” Obama said. “And that’s a principle that I think applies universally.”

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