Human Rights

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Protestors gather outside the 2009 Exodus International convention at Wheaton College, Kevin Zolkiewicz /

Exodus International, a group that bills itself as “the oldest and largest Christian ministry dealing with faith and homosexuality,” announced late Wednesday that it’s shutting its doors.

Exodus’s board unanimously agreed to close the ministry and begin a separate one, though details about the new ministry were unavailable at the time of the organization’s press release.

The announcement came just after Exodus president Alan Chambers released a statement apologizing to the gay community for many actions, including the organization’s promotion of efforts to change a person’s sexual orientation.

Richard Wolf 06-19-2013
Photo courtesy RNS.

Supports of gay marriage rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court. Photo courtesy RNS.

If the range of possible Supreme Court rulings on gay marriage this month requires a scorecard, the potential confusion arising from those decisions may demand a manual.

It’s not as simple as whether gays and lesbians can marry, and whether they become eligible for federal benefits. The two decisions are likely to create new questions for couples in civil unions and those who move between states, as well as for employers.

As a result, what’s already a complex situation for many gay and lesbian couples could get more complicated, at least initially, said John Culhane, a law professor at Widener University’s Delaware campus and co-author of Same-Sex Legal Kit for Dummies.

Mark Silk 06-18-2013
Photo courtesy Pan Xunbin/

Freedom and peace abstract concept background. Photo courtesy Pan Xunbin/

We all know that when it comes to the acceptance of LGBT folks, religions differ. But what the religions communicate, and how the people in the pews actually feel, are not the same.

In a word, the rank and file tend to be more accepting than the leadership. What’s striking is how much this LGBT Gap varies from religion to religion, and we can get some idea of the variance from Pew’s new survey of LGBT Americans.

As the measure of institutional messaging, we will use the percentages of LGBT people who say a given religion is unfriendly to them. These range from 84, 83, 79, and 73 percent for Islam, Mormonism, Catholicism, and Evangelicalism to 47 and 44 percent for Judaism and Mainline Protestantism. Then there is the proportion of members of each religion who believe that “homosexuality should be discouraged by society.” That’s 45, 65, 20, and 59 percent for the first four groups; 15 and 26 percent for the last two.

Photo courtesy RNS.

Ross Murray – Director of Religion, Faith & Values at GLAAD. Photo courtesy RNS.

Gay Americans are much less religious than the general U.S. population, and about 3-in-10 of them say they have felt unwelcome in a house of worship, a new study shows.

The Pew Research Center’s study, released Thursday, details how gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Americans view many of the country’s prominent faiths: in a word, unfriendly.

The vast majority said Islam (84 percent); the Mormon church (83 percent); the Roman Catholic Church (79 percent); and evangelical churches (73 percent) were unfriendly. Jews and nonevangelical Protestants drew a more mixed reaction, with more than 40 percent considering them either unfriendly or neutral about gays and lesbians.

Alessandro Speciale 06-17-2013
 Photo Courtesy RNS.

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests president Barbara Blaine is asked to leave St. Peter’s square. Photo Courtesy RNS.

A campaign to hold former Pope Benedict XVI responsible for crimes against humanity floundered on Thursday as the International Criminal Court in The Hague threw out a case filed by victims of clergy sex abuse.

The case had been presented in September 2011 by SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, and the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, accusing the pope and other senior Vatican officials of failing to stop abusive priests.

According to a SNAP statement, the court’s prosecutor’s office said on May 31 that the file presented against leaders of the Roman Catholic Church does not meet the “preconditions of the court” and thus “do not appear to fall within the (court’s) jurisdiction.”

Photo courtesy RNS.

More than 5,100 Southern Baptist “messengers” met in Houston for an annual meeting. Photo courtesy RNS.

Southern Baptists overwhelmingly voted Wednesday to stand with churches and families that drop ties with the Boy Scouts of America over its decision to allow openly gay Scouts, and urged the BSA to remove leaders who supported the change in policy.

Members of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, gathered on the final day of their annual meeting in Houston, also acknowledged the right of churches to remain in Scouting, urging them to “seek to impact as many boys as possible with the life-changing Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

While expected, the Baptists’ resolution stopped far short of calling for an all-out boycott, as they did in 1997 with the Walt Disney Co. to combat what they saw as the company’s gay-friendly policies. That boycott was ended in 2005.

Rabbi Arthur Waskow 06-11-2013

Unique fingerprint surrounded by data. Photo courtesy Maksim Kabakou/

What does the ancient arrangement of tents in an ancient Israelite encampment have to do with the ultramodern question of whether the U.S. government should be peering into the ultramodern phone and Internet records of hundreds of millions of Americans?

Or to put it another way, are there any spiritual and religious roots to the notion of personal and household privacy?

To start from the Bible: Many Jewish prayer services begin with a quotation from a non-Jewish shaman, himself quoted in the Torah (Num 24:5 — this passage of Torah will be read two weeks from now, on June 22.) There was a king, Balak by name, who hired an expert shamanic curse-hurler, Balaam, to curse the People of Israel who were swarming across the wilderness after their liberation from slavery under Pharaoh. 

Richard Wolf 06-11-2013
Photo Courtesy Kevin Eckstrom/RNS.

Supporters of gay marriage. Photo Courtesy RNS.

Houston lawyer Mitchell Katine came to the Supreme Court 10 years ago for the final chapter of Lawrence v. Texas, the landmark gay rights case in which the justices struck down state sodomy laws.

Neither Katine nor the other lawyers working for John Lawrence and Tyron Garner in their battle against Texas’ sodomy law imagined the length and breadth of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority decision, which struck down all remaining state sodomy laws.

As the Supreme Court prepares to issue two historic decisions on gay marriage this month, however, the judges and lawyers who worked on both sides of those earlier cases don’t expect anything quite so eloquent or all-encompassing from a cautious and conservative court.

Cathy Payne 06-10-2013

Supporters of gay marriage rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this spring. Photo courtesy RNS.

About 72 percent of Americans say legal recognition of same-sex marriage is “inevitable,” according to a survey released Thursday.

Of those who support same-sex marriage, about 85 percent say it is inevitable, says the Pew Research Center’s survey. About 59 percent of opponents also say it is inevitable.

“As more states legalize gay marriage or give equal status, the question in our minds was how the public sees the trajectory on this issue,” said Michael Dimock, the report’s lead author and director of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. “Do they see a future in which gay marriage is going to be the rule, not the exception, in American society?”

The Sacredness of Human Life: Why an Ancient Biblical Vision Is Key to the World's Future. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing

In May, Women of the Wall was attacked by ultra-Orthodox Jews opposed to their non-traditional style of prayer. Photo via RNS.

The Jewish Federations of North America announced Monday that its trustees had passed a resolution in favor of a nonsegregated place where men and women can pray and read from the Torah at the Western Wall, the Jewish holy site.

Worshippers at the Western Wall now have two options: separate men’s and women’s sections, both under the auspices of the Ministry of Religious Affairs, an Orthodox institution.

The egalitarian plan will allow the Western Wall to “become a spiritual center for all Jews and a symbol of unity for the entire Jewish community world-wide,” the federation statement said.

The ELCA elected its first openly gay bishop, the Rev. R. Guy Erwin, to oversee churches in southern California. Photo via RNS.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has elected its first openly gay bishop, the Rev. R. Guy Erwin, to oversee churches in Southern California, four years after the church allowed openly gay men and lesbians to serve as clergy.

Following a wider trend within other mainline Protestant denominations to appoint gays and lesbians to leadership positions, the ELCA’s five-county Southwest California Synod elected Erwin on Friday (May 31) to a six-year term.

“It’s historic and a turning point, as was the ordination of women,” said Martin Marty, the dean of American church historians at the University of Chicago and a member of the ELCA. “This is just one of many indications that the culture has shifted.”

Bob Smietana 06-04-2013

Boy Scouts of America uniform and flag. Photo courtesy RNS/Shutterstock.

For the Rev. Ernest Easley, the decision to cut ties with the Boy Scouts was simple.

The Bible says homosexuality is a sin. The Boy Scouts do not.

“We are not willing to compromise God’s word,” said Easley, pastor of the 2,300-member Roswell Street Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., which has sponsored Boy Scout Troop 204 since 1945.

Tim Townsend 05-29-2013

Rev. Gary Meier re-published his book on being gay in the Catholic church last week. Aleksey Klints/

On the campus of the University of Missouri-St. Louis, the Rev. Gary Meier addressed a congregation of sorts — people who wanted to hear what the Roman Catholic priest had been thinking since, nearly a year ago, he last stood before a flock.

That was last June, when Meier told his parishioners at Saints Teresa and Bridget Church in north St. Louis that he would take a leave of absence “to discern what ministry God was calling me to do.”

Meier, 49, had told his archbishop that he could no longer teach the Catholic church’s stance on homosexuality.

“I have tried over the years to reconcile my silence as a gay priest with that of the Church’s increasingly anti-gay stance. I have been unsuccessful,” Meier writes in his book “Hidden Voices: Reflections of a Gay, Catholic Priest.”

 Photo courtesy State Department/Public Domain via Flickr (

John Kerry releases the 2012 International Religious Freedom Report. Photo courtesy State Department/Public Domain via Flickr

The Obama administration isn’t afraid to call out Republicans for playing politics on Capitol Hill, or Wall Street for runaway profits or insurance companies for health care woes.

But why, when it comes to protecting religious freedom abroad, is the State Department so hesitant to name names?

Watchdogs say the State Department missed a key opportunity to put teeth into its annual assessment of global religious freedom, which was released by Secretary of State John Kerry Monday.

Continuing a pattern begun under President George W. Bush, the report does not include a list of “countries of particular concern,” or “CPCs” — the diplomatic term for countries that either actively suppress religious freedom or don’t do enough to protect it.

Mark Mueller 05-21-2013

Gavel. Photo courtesy Africa Studio/

Wearing a bright orange prison jumpsuit, the priest at the center of the furor in the Archdiocese in Newark made his first court appearance on Tuesday on charges he violated a court-sanctioned lifetime ban on working with children.

The Rev. Michael Fugee, 52, stood for the brief hearing as Bergen County Assistant Prosecutor Demetra Maurice read the seven counts against him.

Maurice is the same prosecutor who authored the 2007 agreement with Fugee and the Archdiocese of Newark that bars him from working with children in any capacity as long as he remains a priest.

Calum MacLeod 05-20-2013
Photo by Calum MacLeod/USA Today.

Ranjana Akhter, 35, holds a picture Wednesday of her missing daughter. Photo by Calum MacLeod/USA Today.

Just two more months, the daughter promised her mother by telephone, then she’d be home for good.

Making shirts in this packed metropolis of 12 million people, Sheuli Akhter, 20, made decent money — about $140 a month — by the impoverished standards of rural Bangladesh. But she missed the family benefiting from the wages of her hard work.

Her mother, Ranjana Akhter, was found sobbing near the rubble of the Rana Plaza factory where her daughter worked, days after the eight-story complex collapsed and killed more than 1,100 workers. Viewing dozens of corpses a day, the 35-year-old woman still hoped her daughter had somehow survived.

The victims retrieved from the debris were crushed and unrecognizable in the South Asian heat.

“I am looking for her body, but they are all decomposed now. It’s getting harder to identify,” said Ranjana Akhter, tears falling from her eyes.

The scale of the mismanagement and breadth of the human tragedies in Bangladesh powerfully illustrated what years of abuse, inhumane conditions, and unthinkable danger could not: Garment workers in Third World countries take enormous risks to earn a living in Bangladeshi-owned companies that produce clothing for Western retailers.

Alfonso Wieland 05-14-2013
Photo from humanrightsfilmfestival /

Photo from humanrightsfilmfestival /

Sunday afternoon, March 28, 1982. If you were an evangelical Christian living in Guatemala, watching TV, your heart would have been beating faster and tears of joy may have flowed down your cheeks.

A man was speaking so thoughtfully, with the Bible in hand. He was teaching the audience, “If there is no peace within the family, there would be no peace in the world. If we want peace, we need at first to be at peace in our hearts.” He went on, “Guatemala is the chosen people of the New Testament.”

That 55-year-old man was Guatemalan General Efrain Rios Montt, pastor of the Iglesia  Verbo (Church of the Word), who had recently become president of Guatemala through a military coup.

On May 10, 2013, a Guatemalan court sentenced Rios Montt to 80 years in prison after finding him responsible for deliberate killings by the armed forces of at least 1,771 members of the Maya Ixil population during his 1982-83 rule.

Curt Devine 05-11-2013

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Curt Devine 05-11-2013

Kristin Hart, photo provided by family

"I never imagined humanity could be stripped from a person like that."