Human Rights

Heather Adams 07-10-2014

Minerva Garza Carcaño, the first Hispanic woman elected to episcopacy of United Methodist Church. Creative Commons: Paul Jeffrey

Religious leaders urged President Obama and Congress to provide funding for legal assistance to unaccompanied migrant children who are in U.S. custody after fleeing violence, murder, and extortion abroad.

The emergency funds would go toward helping children who have entered the United States without lawful immigration papers and without a parent or guardian. The money could also help meet mental health needs.

Multiple speakers, including United Methodist Bishop Minerva Carcano and the Rev. David Vasquez, spokesman for the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, took part in a national teleconference Thursday. They then sent a petition signed by more than 3,800 people to Congress.

The Gullah/Geechee Nation, extending from North Carolina to Florida, battles against corporate encroachment, environmental racism, and climate change.

Mary Ann Walsh 07-08-2014

A protester holds a sign for immigration reform in Washington, DC on May 1st, 2010. Photo: Nevele Otseog/Flickr.

Sometimes a picture says it all.

Consider the 1963 picture of fire hoses and snarling police dogs in Birmingham, Ala., used against African-American students protesting racial segregation. Surely not our civil servants at their best.

Or the 1972 picture of the little girl in North Vietnam running terrified and naked with burning skin after South Vietnamese planes accidentally dropped napalm on Trang Bang, which had been occupied by North Vietnamese troops. The world then saw how war could hurt children.

Now, in 2014, we see citizens of Murrieta, Calif., turning back buses of women and children headed for a federal processing center, a day after Mayor Alan Long told them to let the government know they opposed its decision to move recent undocumented immigrants to the local Border Patrol station.

Angie Schmitt 07-07-2014

Once an abandoned structure, the Bell Building offers "housing first"—and hope—to Detroit's homeless.

Joe Kay 07-07-2014
A United Nation. Image courtesy VectorShots/

A United Nation. Image courtesy VectorShots/

Listening to several Fourth of July discussions last week, I was struck by how many people think of freedom as the ability to do whatever they want. They think there should be few, if any, restrictions on what they choose to do or what they want to own.    

Presbyterian Church (USA) voted June 20 to divest from 3 American companies. RNS photo courtesy Danny Bolin via PC(USA)

The Presbyterian Church (USA) voted Friday to divest church funds from three American companies it cited for profiting from the oppression of Palestinians within Israel’s occupied territories.

The 310-303 vote of the church’s General Assembly in Detroit marks a victory for divestment supporters both within and without the 1.8 million-member PCUSA, now the largest American church to embrace divestment as a strategy to pressure Israel to return its illegally held lands.

The divestment resolution targets companies that divestment supporters say supply electronic and earth-moving equipment that help Israel violate Palestinian rights. Presbyterians in support of the resolution described it as a long overdue stand on behalf of Palestinians suffering under the occupation, which began in 1967 when Israel pushed back attacks from neighboring countries.

The issue has roiled the church for the last decade, and during a more than three-hour debate, many lamented the divisiveness and noted how many around the world — in the U.S., Israel, and the Palestinian territories – would be watching.

Government office in Mpeketoni, Kenya raided by attackers, leaving more than 60 people dead. RNS photo by Fredrick Nzwili.

Christian and Muslim leaders united Tuesday to demand government action after a deadly terror attack in Kenya’s coastal region.

On Sunday and Monday, armed gunmen stormed Mpeketoni town and nearby villages, killing more than 60 people — an attack described as the worst since the Nairobi Westgate shopping mall attack in September.

The gunmen held the town hostage for more than four hours, burning houses, hotels, and banks, and even attacking the local police station.

The Islamic militant group al-Shabaab said it executed the attack as revenge for the Kenyan army’s presence in Somalia, the killing of Muslim scholars in the coastal region and the oppression of Muslims.

The government has since said this was not an al-Shabaab attack but was carried out by a gang paid by politicians.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Creative Commons image by Ola Thorsen via the U.S. Department of State

Taking aim at the Boy Scouts of America’s continuing ban on gay adult leaders, Attorney General Eric Holder said the prohibition perpetuates “the worst kind of stereotypes.”

“It’s a relic of an age of prejudice and insufficient understanding,” Holder said Tuesday to Lambda Legal, an advocacy group for LGBT rights.

Referring to the group’s work a decade ago to challenge the termination of a gay assistant scoutmaster, Holder said that “too many organizations, policies, and practices that discriminate against LGBT individuals remain persistent concerns.”

“Unfortunately, the continuation of a policy that discriminates against gay adult leaders — by an iconic American institution — only preserves and perpetuates the worst kind of stereotypes,” he said.

Lilly Fowler 06-10-2014

Archbishop Robert J. Carlson exiting the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis. By Geerlingguy (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons.

Archbishop Robert J. Carlson claimed to be uncertain that he knew sexual abuse of a child by a priest constituted a crime when he was auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, according to a deposition released Monday.

During the deposition taken last month, attorney Jeff Anderson asked Carlson whether he knew it was a crime for an adult to engage in sex with a child.

“I’m not sure whether I knew it was a crime or not,” Carlson replied. “I understand today it’s a crime.”

Anderson went on to ask Carlson whether he knew in 1984, when he was an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, that it was crime for a priest to engage in sex with a child.

“I’m not sure if I did or didn’t,” Carlson said.

Rev. William J. Barber II, president of the North Carolina NAACP, consults with Shyrl Hinnant Uzzell. RNS photo by Yonat Shimron

Recently, I marched with McDonald’s workers from three dozen cities to the company’s corporate headquarters outside of Chicago. After they refused to leave the corporate campus of the fast-food giant with its $5.6 billion in profits last year, 101 workers were arrested.

I knew I had to come when the workers invited me to share some of the lessons we have been learning in North Carolina about civil disobedience — and moral support.

I watched my new friends sit down. I watched the police gather. I prayed with the McDonald’s workers as the police looked on and then slapped plastic handcuffs on more than 100 of the workers and arrested them.

I could not help but think of the historic arc of the civil rights movement. For all the gains we have been making, the treatment of low-paid workers by some of the most profitable corporations in the world ranks high in the more significant causes of the growing inequalities in the U.S.

Little girl resting on her father's shoulder. Photo via Dina Uretski/Shutterstock.

Author's Note: This hymn is written with gratitude for foster parents, social workers, and others who do seek to do their best for abused and neglected children and youth. It is written as a prayer for the many children and youth who are failed by a broken system that too often ignores their cries and rights. Parts of this hymn, especially, are written as a prayer for one small boy who was our foster son for nineteenth months and is no longer in our care, but who will always be in our hearts. Sojourners' January 2014 issue had several helpful articles on foster parenting.

Lord, Hear the Cries of Children
PASSION CHORALE D (“O Sacred Head, Now Wounded”)

Lord, hear the cries of children who struggle every day,
Caught up in failing systems that steal their hope away.
Some find they’re lost to violence, then lost in foster care.
They long for life’s abundance! Lord, hear their pleading prayer.

David Clohessy is national director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. Photo courtesy of David Clohessy.

Pope Francis’ announcement this week that he would meet with victims of sexual abuse by priests is dividing victim advocates, with some dismissing the move as “meaningless” and others endorsing it as a positive step, albeit taken belatedly and under pressure.

“A welcome and overdue change,” said Anne Barrett Doyle of, a prominent activist pushing the Catholic Church to overhaul its policies and practices on clergy abuse.

“Good to hear Pope Francis speak out and meet survivors,” tweeted Marie Collins, an abuse victim whom Francis named to a Vatican commission to promote reforms, on hearing that the pope compared clergy abuse to a priest celebrating a black Mass.

But others said Francis’ first-ever encounter with victims — and his pledge for “zero tolerance” for abusive clerics of any rank — was simply stagecraft aimed at distracting the public from what they say are the pope’s larger failures to address the abuse crisis.

David A. Sánchez 05-27-2014

The recent focus on the kidnapped girls in Nigeria shines a light on the suffering of women and girls all around the world.

Perhaps it is due to my ongoing fascination with Jewish and Christian apocalypses that the motif of suffering is constantly on my mind. I am always struck with John the Seer’s words of praise and encouragement in his letters to the seven churches of the Apocalypse that are patiently enduring persecution, affliction, distress, and tribulation.

It seems that from a Christian perspective, suffering is to be expected and just part of the deal of Christian membership — a real scriptural blow to prosperity gospels! Thus it should come as no surprise to us when the letter of 1 Peter 4:12-14 and 5:6-11 emphasizes the same themes of present suffering as a marker for future reward.

On April 15th more than 300 teenage girls were abducted from the Chibok Government Girls Secondary School in northeast Nigeria. #UpliftNigeria is a social media campaign calling on people of faith to Uplift the schoolgirls, their families and the country of Nigeria in prayer. PLEASE JOIN US SAY A PRAYER AND #UPLIFTNIGERIA Stay tuned as members of the faith community share video messages and prayers. Follow us on Twitter -#UpliftNigeria Want to submit a video message? Email us at Videos should be 30 seconds to 2 minutes in length. (Webcam or Mobile Phone videos are welcomed) Or simply tweet using the hashtag #UpliftNigeria
Oren Dorell 05-08-2014

Illustration of Boko Haram. Photo courtesy of AK Rockefeller via Flickr.

Boko Haram is among the most vicious terrorist groups operating in North Africa, home to some of the worst Islamist extremists in the world.

The group is responsible for more than 4,000 deaths in 2014, according to the Nigeria Security Tracker at the Council on Foreign Relations.

The group was begun in 2002 by Mohammed Yusuf, a cleric whose aim is an Islamic state in Nigeria. He was killed in 2009. The group’s current leader, Abubakar Shekau, surfaces sporadically in videotaped messages.

An Afghan security guard allegedly shot and killed three Americans at a hospital in Kabul on Thursday. The three killed were doctors, including a visiting father and son.

Another doctor and a U.S. nurse were wounded in the attack.

District Police Chief Hafiz Khan said a guard suddenly turned his weapon on the staff he was supposed to be protecting at Cure International Hospital and started shooting.

“Five doctors had entered the compound of the hospital and were walking toward the building when the guard opened fire on them,” said Kanishka Bektash Torkystani, a spokesman for the Ministry of Health. “Three foreign doctors were killed.”

Ron Stief 04-15-2014

Rev. Ron Stief, is executive director of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. Photo courtesy of the Rev. Ron Stief.

At Easter, Christians celebrate Jesus’ rising from the dead. But in light of new revelations of the CIA’s abhorrent acts of torture, it’s the United States that needs resurrection, too.

Details of the CIA’s post-Sept. 11 torture campaign — made worse, if that is possible, by evidence of official deception — are described in key portions of the report on CIA-sponsored torture that the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee voted last week to release.

Though the public has not yet seen the report, current and former U.S. officials who have read it have disclosed information to The Washington Post, Human Rights Watch, and other sources that ought to disturb all of our consciences.

Amy Tracy 03-20-2014

Amy Tracy is a writer for global mission at David C Cook in Colorado Springs. Photo courtesy of Amy Tracy. Via RNS.

A “fringe hatemonger” — that’s what I called Fred Phelps in a letter to the editor of The Washington Times in 1999. In response he announced in a news release that he was coming to Colorado Springs to protest the “… false prophet James Dobson and his fag-infested Focus on the Family scam.”

It felt almost “out of body” to pull into the Focus campus one morning and see people holding explicit neon signs telling me I was going to hell. I was a fairly new believer at the time, and managing media relations for Focus on the Family. With my salvation came the holy conviction to begin the difficult journey to battle against my own same-sex attractions. The chants, the signs, the venom — it all felt uncomfortably familiar. Christians were once again protesting me. I couldn’t get away from it.

It also challenged my immature understanding of theology. “What if Phelps is right?” I worried. I buried these thoughts for years — though truth be told, they’d surface at nearly every mention of his name.

Emily Nielsen Jones 03-19-2014
Jesus Sanz  /

Illustration of women and girls of different ethnicities, Jesus Sanz /

Editor's Note: This post is an excerpt from the report "Peering Under Our Collective Burqa: How Do Our Own Religious 'Personal Status' Codes Cover and Diminish the Full Humanity of Women?" Read the full piece HERE.

March 8 came and went, the 39th observation of International Women's Day, a day set aside to collectively take stock of how the world’s women are doing. The theme for this year — Equality for women is progress for allcaptures the spirit of this day to invite and remind us all that the better world we want to create for girls and women is indeed a better world for us all. This blog asks people of faith to hold a mirror up to ourselves to ask if we are in fact part of this “us.”

By nature an optimist, I do enjoy this day set aside to celebrate women’s accomplishments. Everywhere, women are bravely rising up above patriarchal customs and cruel forms of highly prevalent violence to “lean in” to their own economic and social and spiritual empowerment. There is indeed incredible momentum afoot in our world in so many sectors of society to really mainstream women's equality/gender balance not just as a "women's issue" per se but rather as a shared human concern, i.e., what is good for girls/women is also good for global development, good for society, good for relationships, good for families, good for healthy teams, good for organizational dynamics and even good for the "bottom line" of business.

Yet every year for the past few years as International Women’s Day rolls around, I feel a strange mix of both hope and despair as I hold the gender contradictions of our world close to my heart. Don’t be such a pessimist, I tell myself; be positive! Yet I cannot shake a refrain I have heard again and again from women’s human rights activists working around the world: “Here in our country, we have a decent legal code for women; however, in recent years we have experienced a backlash that is threatening to undo many of the strides that women have made.” However you fall on the optimist/pessimist scale, it is safe to say that women’s place in the world is still highly tenuous.

David Vanderveen 03-14-2014

A man holds an XS Energy Drink, which the author was selling, in Ukraine. Photo by David Vanderveen

Intending it as a compliment, a friend described my work in in Kiev last weekend as selling sodas in Ukraine. 

Hes right. I was in the embattled city to represent a company I helped co-found and our Southern California energy drink brand in meetings with more than 10,000 Ukrainian independent business owners. 

It was as simple as that and also so much more. 

Like Bono, I believe free enterprise is a cure for all sorts of poverty  economic, political, and spiritual.