Human Rights

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 9-30-2013

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 9-24-2013

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 9-12-2013
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.

Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly

Richard Dawkins, seen here at a book signing. Religion News Service file photo courtesy of Religion and Ethics Newsweekly

Richard Dawkins, one of the world’s best-known and outspoken atheists, has provoked outrage among child protection agencies and experts after suggesting that recent child abuse scandals have been overblown.

In an interview in The Times magazine on Saturday, Dawkins, 72, he said he was unable to condemn what he called “the mild pedophilia” he experienced at an English school when he was a child in the 1950s.

Referring to his early days at a boarding school in Salisbury, he recalled how one of the (unnamed) masters “pulled me on his knee and put his hand inside my shorts.”

He said other children in his school peer group had been molested by the same teacher but concluded: “I don’t think he did any of us lasting harm.”

March on Washington, 1963. Photo courtesy mikek7890/flickr.com

March on Washington, 1963. Photo courtesy mikek7890/flickr.com

Looking back over five decades, the evidence is clear that everything has changed. We elected black mayors in the South and fought to end apartheid in South Africa. Nelson Mandela walked out of prison after 27 years and became president of South Africa. Segregation was outlawed and black people began to enjoy better lives.

But new challenges, including HIV/AIDS, drugs and gun violence, undermine our progress. We’ve come a long, long way, but we still have a long, long way to go. For too many young people, the “movement” is distant history. But we see a new birth of energy around the criminal justice system and voting rights. We take great pride in the fact that black youth overwhelmingly helped elect the first black president. We have come to the end of our tolerance of the killing and demonization of young black men — it is the most pernicious holdover from an ugly past.

QR Blog Editor 8-26-2013

Mary Priniski wrote in the August 2013 Sojourners magazine about churches responding in solidarity with garment workers, disproportionately women, after the terrible fires in Bangladesh’s garment factories. Now, a global church alliance has been established. Ekklesia reports:

[The alliance] provides an action plan for grassroots campaigning, and a letter for consumers to send to their retailers demanding improvements to the pay and working conditions of garment workers. Real-life stories from garment workers in Bangladesh also highlight the oppression they face and the struggle to survive.

 

Susan K. Livio 8-20-2013
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Photo courtesy RNS.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Photo courtesy RNS.

Licensed therapists are banned from using conversion therapy to try to change a child’s sexual orientation from gay to straight under a bill Gov. Chris Christie signed Monday, making New Jersey the second state to prohibit the practice.

But a national Christian legal group that blocked an identical law from taking effect in California earlier this year vowed to sue New Jersey, saying the legislation violates the First Amendment rights of parents and therapists.

The new law prevents any licensed therapist, psychologist, social worker or counselors related to these professions from using sexual orientation change efforts with a children under age 18.

the Web Editors 8-19-2013
Kid President at the United Nations, SoulPancake

Kid President at the United Nations, SoulPancake

On this World Humanitarian Day, Kid President thinks the world needs more hugs. What about you? Join SoulPancake + the United Nations as they host a Google hangout from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PST today to chat about what the world needs more of. 

Lilly Fowler 8-13-2013
Nicholas Coppola (left) with his husband David Crespo at home. Photo via RNS/Nic

Nicholas Coppola (left) with his husband David Crespo at home. Photo via RNS/Nicholas Coppola

Support for a Roman Catholic high school teacher fired for marrying his same-sex partner continued to grow Monday as the number of people signing an online petition topped 58,000 people.

Ken Bencomo taught English at St. Lucy’s Priory High School in the Los Angeles suburb of Glendora for 17 years. He was fired last month after an article in the Southern California newspaper Inland Valley Daily Bulletin published a story and video about his wedding.

Bencomo, 45, and his husband, Christopher Persky, 32, were one of the first gay couples to marry on July 1, after a U.S. Supreme Court decision cleared the way for same-sex marriages to resume in California.

Jerry Argetsinger gives a talk at the University of Missouri. Photo via RNS.

Jerry Argetsinger gives a talk at the University of Missouri. Photo via RNS.

Jerry Argetsinger never felt a twinge of tension between being gay and being Mormon.

Nobody talked about homosexuality in his Oregon congregation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when he was growing up in the 1960s. Nobody asked him about his attractions. Nobody made cruel or even not-so-subtle comments about him. Nobody made him feel guilty.

It came as a bit of a shock, then, when Argetsinger was beginning his sophomore year at LDS church-owned Brigham Young University in 1965 and heard university President Ernest L. Wilkinson say that the school didn’t want any gays on campus.

LaVonne Neff 8-05-2013
Puzzle of human skeleton with missing portion of hip. Photo courtesy Lightspring

Puzzle of human skeleton with missing portion of hip. Photo courtesy Lightspring/shutterstock.com

Opponents of Obamacare like to talk about how long it takes to get a hip replacement in, say, Canada —even though the Affordable Care Act is nothing like the Canadian health plan. Let's put this in perspective. How about a system that charges so much that some middle-class insured people can't afford a hip replacement at all?

... Unless they fly to a Western European country with "socialized" medicine and pay out-of-pocket?

Check out this story about Michael Shopenn, a man whose artificial hip was manufactured in Warsaw, Indiana, a "global center of joint manufacturing." Shopenn, who had health insurance, could not get coverage for a hip operation because his insurer deemed it a pre-existing condition (note: that should no longer be a problem under the ACA). So he ended up flying to Belgium.

Chief Jonathan Eshiloni Mumena (far left). Photo courtesy RNS.

Chief Jonathan Eshiloni Mumena (far left). Photo courtesy RNS.

In some African countries, tribes have shunned circumcision because it was seen as a Muslim practice or was simply considered primitive. 

“We thought they were born differently and had to reconfigure the way they were,” said African Chief Jonathan Eshiloni Mumena. 

So the tribal chief was not prepared for his son’s declaration that he wanted to get circumcised. 

 

Dawn Cherie Araujo 8-02-2013

Photo by Dawn Araujo

Khaipi, a peace studies professor in Thailand and a Chin religious freedom activist

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