Human Rights

Jean Stokan 03-06-2014

The growing militarization of Honduran society is fueled by U.S. support.

David P. Gushee 03-05-2014

How the U.S. became a torturing nation—and how to make it stop.

02-07-2014
This weekend we'll commemorate the too-short life and great work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. While we rightly celebrate his life dedicated to advancing equality for all, too often we overlook his call to peacemaking. This year, in light of conflicts in Syria, South Sudan, and an often-overlooked war in Central African Republic, we should remember his words.
Nancy K. Kaufman 02-05-2014

Hands tied with rope. Photo courtesy of ChameleonsEye via Shutterstock

At the beginning of the 21st century, Americans are used to thinking of slavery as a horror, yes, but one that was banished from these shores nearly 150 years ago. If only that were so.

The trafficking of men, women, and children for labor or sexual exploitation — or both — fuels an underground economy of misery in our midst in many major metropolitan areas and even in rural America. Immigrants without legal status, children in foster care — all those with tenuous community roots — are particularly vulnerable to exploitation.

The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that more than 300,000 children are at risk of being prostituted in the U.S. and that the average age of entry into prostitution for a child victim here is 13 to 14 years old. According to the DOJ, a pimp can make $150,000 to $200,000 per child each year, and the average pimp controls four to six girls. The United Nations estimates that traffickers generate more than $9 billion within the U.S. for both labor and sex trafficking.

Catherine O'Donnell 01-31-2014

Mark Zmuda was dismissed from his job as a teacher at Eastside Catholic School. Photo by Catherine O’Donnell.

A lifelong Roman Catholic, Mark Zmuda took a job as a teacher at Eastside Catholic School in part because he believed he could be a good Catholic role model.

He was dismissed in December from his job as a vice principal and swim coach, precisely because he did not measure up as a Catholic model: Zmuda, who is gay, married his male partner.

“I do model Catholic teaching, and my religion is very important to me,” Zmuda. “I don’t believe I did anything wrong.”

Prabhdeep Suri speaks about his experiences with bullying at the Guru Nanak Foundation of America. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks.

Throughout elementary, middle, and high school, Prabhdeep Suri has been the only Sikh in his class, and it’s been obvious.

Like all Sikh boys, he wore a patka, a head covering for his uncut hair that’s worn out of respect for his gurus. To his classmates, the patka was a license to stare, taunt, isolate, punch, and kick him. It was a target to knock off his head. It was the reason they called him “Osama bin Laden” and “terrorist.”

“He came home crying three days out of five,” his mother, Harpreet Suri remembered. “They were taking his patka off almost every day.”

Jeffrey Weiss 01-31-2014

A boy cleans the street after Kristallnacht in November 1938. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain. Via RNS

Demonstrating that a truly ill wind blows no good, The Wall Street Journal proved this week that Holocaust education programs deserve society’s continued support.

The evidence started with a letter to the editor from venture capitalist Tom Perkins under the headline “Progressive Kristallnacht Coming?” He wrote: “I would call attention to the parallels of fascist Nazi Germany to its war on its ‘one percent,’ namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the ‘rich.’”

A few days later, the editorial board of the Journal backed Perkins for what may have been the most-read letter to the editor in the paper’s history.

Gay Clark Jennings 01-27-2014

The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings. Photo: Courtesy of Mort Tucker Photography/RNS

In the last month, many Westerners watched in horror as Uganda, and then Nigeria, enacted laws that are brutally repressive to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.

The fate of a bill passed by the Ugandan parliament remains uncertain after President Yoweri Museveni refused to sign it, but news reports from Nigeria indicate that there have been mass arrests of gay men following President Goodluck Jonathan’s signing of the National Assembly’s anti-gay bill.

World leaders, including United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, have expressed their dismay. Many Christian leaders around the world, regrettably, have been largely unwilling to criticize Christian leaders in Africa who cheered the passage of these punitive laws.

Photo courtesy Donovan Marks / Washington National Cathedral. Via RNS.

Joe Biden was a young senator from Delaware when he was first exposed to the evils of apartheid. As the only white lawmaker in a congressional delegation to South Africa, he resisted security officers who tried to usher him through one door, and his more senior black colleagues through another.

“I had what we Catholics call an epiphany,” the vice president said Wednesday as official Washington packed the National Cathedral to recall the life and legacy of former South African President Nelson Mandela.

“He was the most impressive man or woman I have ever met in my life,” Biden said of Mandela, who died peacefully on Dec. 5.

Speaker of the House John Boehner at the Values Voter Summit in 2011. Photo via RNS/courtesy Gage Skidmore via Flickr

As a law extending workplace protection to gay, bisexual, and transgender workers makes its way through the Senate this week, there’s a shift in the political air: Arguments that stand purely on religious grounds are no longer holding the same degree of political sway they once did.

The rhetoric from Republican and conservative opponents of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act is moving away from the morality of the bedroom and into the business sphere. More politicians are fighting ENDA as a bad economic move, not as a break with the Bible.

ENDA would “increase frivolous litigation and cost American jobs, especially small business jobs,” Speaker John A. Boehner said in a statement released Monday, which made clear the Senate bill is dead on arrival in the GOP-controlled House.

Julie Polter 11-05-2013

Books that can be interesting, grounding, and inspiring companions for a complicated time of year.

Cathleen Falsani 10-28-2013

'12 Years a Slave' still, Fox Searchlight

Before I saw the new film 12 Years A Slave, I knew nothing about Solomon Northrop or his astounding story of courage, forbearance, and faith.

I’d never heard of Northrop, an African-American freeman, who was born and reared in upstate New York in the early 1800s, well before the abolition of slavery in the rest of the nation. I’d not known of the historical practice of kidnapping freeborn black Americans in the North and selling them into slavery in the South.

I’d never heard about how Northrop, an accomplished violinist, was bamboozled into traveling from his farm in Hebron, N.Y., where he lived a prosperous life with his wife and three children, to Washington, D.C., for work, but was drugged, kidnapped, and sold in Louisiana. I’d never heard how he remained for a dozen years before heroically regaining his freedom in 1853 — one of a very few kidnapped freemen and freewomen ever to regain their freedom.

Erik Brady 10-25-2013

Washington Redskins fans at training camp on August 13, 2012. Photo via RNS/courtesy Keith Allison via Flickr

The Oneida Indian Nation’s campaign against the Washington pro football club’s team name picked up new supporters this week when more than two dozen clergy in the Washington region committed to taking the fight to their pulpits.

“Black clergy have been the conscience of America,” Oneida Nation representative Ray Halbritter said to a gathering of roughly 40 people on folding chairs in the basement of Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ. “This is not a fight we could do by ourselves, or should do by ourselves.”

The Rev. Graylan Hagler, senior minister at Plymouth, asked for a show of hands Wednesday to indicate which clergy members in attendance would be willing to preach against what he termed the “R word.” More than a dozen raised their hands. Hagler said that a different dozen committed to the cause at a clergy breakfast meeting Wednesday and that, all told, he has commitments from roughly 100 clergy members to talk to their congregations in coming weeks.

Renee Gadoua 10-23-2013

Rev. Steve Heiss, officiates at the July 2, 2002 commitment ceremony of his daughter. Photo via RNS/courtesy Steve Heiss.

The United Methodist Church’s highest court gathers for its semiannual meeting in Baltimore on Wednesday, as the denomination confronts a growing movement of defiant clergy members opposed to church doctrine on gays and unwilling to back down.

“Martin Luther King said there are risks when you stand up to unjust laws,” said Ogletree, 80, an ordained elder in the New York Conference of the United Methodist Church.

 

The Book of Discipline, the denomination’s collection of law and doctrine, forbids the ordination of “avowed” homosexuals and bans clergy from officiating at same-sex marriages or holding such ceremonies in its churches.

Ben Sutter 10-11-2013
Screenshot from 'Before God: We Are All Family'

Screenshot from 'Before God: We Are All Family'

As a boy growing up, Joanna Maria Cifredo wasn’t like her brothers.

“My brothers looked at females because they wanted to be with a female,” Cifrado says, in new video resource by the Human Rights Campaign that premiered Oct. 1. “I looked at females more like, ‘Oh, I wish I was her.’ ”

Now, Joanna has decided to physically identify as a woman full time.

Her voice joined many others in Before God: We are All Family, a new film focused on the experiences of Latina LGBT people. She also participated, along with her mother Maria Vega-Cifredo, in a discussion panel that included the filmmaker at the first public viewing of the resource at the GALA Hispanic Theater in Washington, D.C.

Focusing on the important role family and faith play in Latino communities, the video resource is the newest component to a bilingual discussion guide produced by the HRC and the National Latina/o LGBT Human Rights Organization, among others. The organizations developed the guide with the aim of helping Latinos have a conversation about faith and LGBT inclusion.

The guide, written by Rev. Dr. Miguel A. de la Torre, with help from Rev. Dr. Ignacio Castuera and Lisbeth Melendéz Rivera, gathers 14 testimonies into six chapters, each with stories, questions, and exercises focused on what it means to be LGBT and Latina. Inside the guide, created in 2011, are sections on family, the gift of our bodies, the Bible, and solidarity.

Ted Sherman 10-11-2013

Yeshiva Shaarei Torah of Rockland on 91 West Carlton Road in Suffern, NY. Photo via RNS, by Tim Farrell/courtesy The Star-Ledger

In a bizarre case involving threats of kidnapping, beatings, and physical torture — including the use of an electric cattle prod — two rabbis were charged in New Jersey in a scheme to force men to grant their wives religious divorces.

Two others were also charged in the case, which grew out of an undercover sting operation involving a female FBI agent who posed as a member of the Orthodox community seeking a divorce.

As many as six others may also be charged, officials said.

Bishop Price 09-30-2013

Is the NRA preventing the U.S. from regulating the international arms trade?

Dr. H. Adam Ackley tells his students of his transgender identity, writing his preferred name on the board. Photo by Annie Z. Yu

A California Christian university has asked a professor who was once its chair of theology and philosophy to leave after he came out as transgender.

Heather Clements taught theology at Azusa Pacific University for 15 years, but this past year, he began referring to himself as H. Adam Ackley. “This year has been a transition from being a mentally ill woman to being a sane, transgendered man,” he said.

Ackley, who is in his third year of a five-year contract at a school that does not use the tenure system, said university policies seem to be silent about transgender issues, except that “Humans were created as gendered beings.”

Omar Sacirbey 09-24-2013

Abercrombie & Fitch Logo. Via RNS/courtesy Jaime Berrezueta [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Abercrombie & Fitch will change its “look policy” and allow employees to wear hijabs after a three-year legal battle with two Muslim women was settled out of court.

The settlement requires Abercrombie to report religious accommodation requests and discrimination complaints to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for three years, and includes $71,000 in compensation for the two women. The settlement also averts a Sept. 30 trial.

Abercrombie fired Umme-Hani Khan, a stockroom worker in its San Mateo, Calif., store, in 2010 for refusing to work without her religious headscarf. Khan, who had worked at the store for four months without incident, filed a religious discrimination complaint with the EEOC, which sued the retailer in 2011.

Angela Aleiss 09-12-2013
Veronica with her father Dusten Brown. Photo courtesy RNS/Keep Veronica Home web

Veronica with her father Dusten Brown. Photo courtesy RNS/Keep Veronica Home website

The Baby Veronica case, named for the girl at the center of a contentious child custody dispute, has stirred powerful emotional responses from many groups, including some Christian evangelicals.

Motivated by their faith in God and a distrust of federal Indian policies, a few evangelical organizations are campaigning to abolish the federal Indian Child Welfare Act at the heart of the dispute.

Congress enacted the law in 1978 to address the abuses that separated Indian children from their families through adoption or foster care. The law gives related tribes a preference in custody proceedings involving Indian children.

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