Human Rights

9-18-2014
For at least three reasons, the contemporary persecution of Christians demands attention: It is occurring on a massive scale, it is underreported, and in many parts of the world it is rapidly growing.
Tech. Sgt. LaMarcus Molden recites the oath of enlistment at Al Asad Air Base in

Tech. Sgt. LaMarcus Molden recites the oath of enlistment at Al Asad Air Base in Iraq. Photo courtesy DVIDSHUB/Flickr.

The American Humanist Association said Sept. 4 that an airman at Nevada’s Creech Air Force Base who crossed out “so help me God” in the oath the Air Force requires servicemen and women to sign was told in August he must sign it as is or leave the Air Force.

The AHA’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center sent a letter to the Air Force  on the airman’s behalf demanding he be allowed to sign a secular version of the oath. The U.S. Constitution allows freedom of religious beliefs and prohibits religious tests for holding public office or public trust, the letter states.

The airman’s name is being withheld by AHA.

“The Supreme Court has held on a number of occasions that it is unconstitutional to force anyone to take an oath that affirms the existence of a supreme being,” said Monica Miller, an attorney for AHA and author of the letter. “Numerous federal courts have specifically held that forcing an atheist to swear to God violates the Free Exercise Clause as well as the Establishment Clause.”

Richard Wolf 9-05-2014
A man holds a gay pride flag in front of the Supreme Court. Image courtesy Adell

A man holds a gay pride flag in front of the Supreme Court. Image courtesy Adelle Banks/RNS.

The legal winning streak for same-sex marriage is over.

A federal judge in Louisiana upheld that state’s prohibition on gay marriage on Sept. 3, and belittled a string of 20-plus federal court decisions striking down state bans as “a pageant of empathy.”

It was the first time since the Supreme Court ruled against the federal Defense of Marriage Act in June 2013 that a federal court refused to throw out a state’s ban on gay and lesbian marriages.

A promised appeal, like Texas’ appeal of a district judge’s ruling in favor of gay marriage there, now goes to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, perhaps the nation’s most conservative appellate court.

The ruling came from District Judge Martin Feldman, 80, who was named to the federal bench by President Ronald Reagan more than 30 years ago. Feldman echoed the two judges — both in their 70s and appointed by President George H.W. Bush — who dissented from recent rulings against Utah, Oklahoma and Virginia gay marriage bans in the 10th and 4th Circuits.

Lilly Fowler 9-03-2014
Flowers and crucifix in the hand of holy women. Image via GOLFX/shutterstock.com

Flowers and crucifix in the hand of holy women. Image via GOLFX/shutterstock.com

The termination of two lesbian faculty members at Cor Jesu Academy, an all-girls Catholic high school, has prompted an outcry from alumnae who have vowed to withhold donations to the school.

In the last several weeks, alumnae have created a private Facebook group with more than 2,000 members in support of the couple, Olivia Reichert and Christina Gambaro, urging supporters to call and write to Cor Jesu leaders and voice their concerns.

Cor Jesu is in the midst of its “One Heart, One Spirit, One Vision” capital campaign for a new chapel, gym, student commons and additional parking.

Reichert said she and Gambaro were asked to resign after the school said in late July it received a copy of a mortgage application with the couple’s names. The couple had married in New York over the summer and the school said they had violated the moral contract faculty are required to sign as part of employment.

The firing comes as news that a chemistry teacher at a Catholic, all-girls high school in Bloomfield Hills, outside Detroit, said she was fired before the semester started because of her “non-traditional” pregnancy. The teacher, Barbara Webb, 33, is a lesbian in a committed relationship with another woman. She worked at Marian High School for nine years, the Detroit Free Press reported.

A statement from St. Louis’ Cor Jesu said the school “does not publicly discuss personnel matters.”

Many there are concerned not only about Gambaro and Reichert, but how the decision to fire gay faculty will affect current and future Cor Jesu students.

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan greets a firefighter at the annual St. Patrick’s Day p

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan greets a firefighter at the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade. Image courtesy Gregory A. Shemitz./RNS.

After years of strong resistance, organizers of New York’s St. Patrick’s Day parade on September 3 said that gays and lesbians will be allowed to march under their own banner for the first time, and Cardinal Timothy Dolan—the parade’s grand marshal next March—has welcomed the move.

The decision is another sign of how quickly changing public attitudes toward gay people have pushed changes in state laws, government policies, and the practices of private entities.

Dolan’s positive response may also point to a shifting dynamic within the Catholic Church on gays and lesbians since the election of Pope Francis last year. Francis has made it clear he wants church leaders to highlight Catholicism’s outreach to the poor and vulnerable rather than always fighting culture war issues on gay marriage and the like.

The church’s teachings on gays lesbians have not changed, as was evident this week when two teachers at a Catholic high school in St. Louis were fired when administrators learned the women were married, and a teacher at a Catholic high school in suburban Detroit who is a lesbian said she was fired when she became pregnant.

But the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade, which is not run by the church, allows for some wiggle room. Dolan said Wednesday that the parade committee that operates the annual event “continues to have my confidence and support.”

“Neither my predecessors as Archbishop of New York nor I have ever determined who would or would not march in this parade … but have always appreciated the cooperation of parade organizers in keeping the parade close to its Catholic heritage,” he continued.

Dolan concluded by praying “that the parade would continue to be a source of unity for all of us.”

QR Blog Editor 8-11-2014

In response to the death of Michael Brown, many people are using the hastag #IfTheyGunnedMeDown on Twitter to consider the role that images used by the media have on the public's perception of vicitms.

 

 

Here's more according to the Washington Post:

The concern is how media will portray a dead child’s life after he’s slain by police officers. This is the stuff of#IfTheyGunnedMeDown, a Twitter hashtag that trended Sunday as part of the conversation surrounding the death of Michael Brown. Brown, 18, was an unarmed black teenager slain in Ferguson, Mo. He’d recently graduated high school. Black users shared pictures of themselves at their best — in uniforms or caps and gowns — juxtaposed with images that would garner less sympathy and perhaps paint more tawdry pictures of their lives.

Protesters in front of the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis on June 11, 2014. Photo courtesy Barb Dorris, via SNAP.

When victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests first organized into a small band of volunteer activists in the late 1980s, reports of clergy molesting children were still new and relatively few. Most were minimized as anomalies or dismissed altogether — much the way the victims were.

But today, as the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, marks its 25th anniversary at a conference in Chicago, its members can take satisfaction in seeing that its claims have been validated, and a few (though hardly all) of its recommendations have been implemented by the church hierarchy.

And instead of facing constant verbal attacks and the occasional angry parishioner spitting on them at a protest, SNAP’s members today are far more likely to receive a handshake and a word of thanks, and maybe even a donation.

SNAP’s advocacy on the Catholic scandal also helped push the reality of sexual abuse into the public consciousness to the point that victims can regularly win in courts and get a hearing in the media, and they are much more likely to come forward to tell their stories, whether they were abused by clergy or by athletic coaches or Boy Scout leaders.

Yet that success is also presenting SNAP with a daunting new challenge as it looks to the future: how to respond to a flood of new inquiries from victims from other faiths and institutions, and how to push for changes beyond the familiar precincts of the Catholic Church.

Children playing at sunset in Cherrapunjee, Meghalaya, India. Image: Seema Krishnakumar/Flickr

This new hymn is inspired by the crisis in Central America that has caused over 70,000 children to take the dangerous journey to the United States in recent months. Carolyn Winfrey Gillette has led many mission trips to Honduras for the past sixteen years. The brother of a child that Carolyn sponsored in Honduras was recently killed there.

The hymn’s reference to “On one boy’s belt, a number carved in leather” is from a news report ("Boy's Death Draws Attention Immigration Perils") of a body of a dead child found with his brother’s phone number on his belt.

“As angry crowds are shouting, “Go away!” comes from the news reports of Americans yelling at the detained children on buses in Murrieta, California. Jim Wallis of Sojourners reflects on this incident in his powerful online essay “The Moral Failure of Immigration Reform: Are We Really Afraid Of Children?" Biblical references in the hymn are Matthew 25:31-46 and Matthew 19:14-16.

Gay Clark Jennings 7-11-2014

The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, president of the House of Deputies of the Episcopal Church. Photo courtesy Mort Tucker Photograpy

This summer, many Americans are watching in helpless horror as more than 52,000 children fleeing violence stream over our southern border. Many of them are making a dangerous journey by themselves to escape murder rates and gang violence in Central America, particularly El Salvador and Honduras, that are unparalleled except in countries at war.

People of goodwill at the border have offered food, water, shelter, and compassionate care to these refugee children. But protesters have screamed epithets at them and blocked buses carrying them to processing centers, despite the fact that it is not illegal for people to cross the U.S. border and ask for protection under U.S. law.

As politicians focus on midterm elections rather than on children in crisis, it’s worth remembering: Christians worship a child who fled from violence in his home country.

The Gospel of Matthew recounts the story of King Herod of Judea, who slaughtered all the babies and toddlers around Bethlehem in a desperate attempt to prevent the reign of Jesus — the child he had been told would become a king.

Filmmaker Linda Midgett, right, interviews Meghan Blanton Smith for documentary film “The Stranger.” RNS photo: Brandon Falls

The Evangelical Immigration Table commissioned the documentary “The Stranger” to foster evangelical support for immigration reform. Linda Midgett, a graduate of evangelical Wheaton College who produced the 40-minute film, told Religion News Service she hopes ongoing screenings across the country will build a groundswell of support for legislation. On Wednesday, President Obama urged Congress to quickly approve increased funding to deal with the crisis of immigrant children flooding across the border.

Heather Adams 7-10-2014

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 7-08-2014

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 7-07-2014

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

Joe Kay 7-07-2014
A United Nation. Image courtesy VectorShots/shutterstock.com.

A United Nation. Image courtesy VectorShots/shutterstock.com.

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 6-10-2014

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.

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