religious liberty

Church-State Separationist James Dunn Dead at 83

Ken Bennett / Wake Forest University School of Divinity / RNS

Wake Forest Divinity School professor Rev. James Dunn. Photo via Ken Bennett / Wake Forest University School of Divinity / RNS

The Rev. James M. Dunn, a religious liberty advocate who worked the corridors of Washington power for two decades to defend the separation of church and state, died on July 4.

He was 83, and died of a heart attack at his Winston-Salem, N.C., home, said Cherilyn Crowe, spokeswoman for the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty.

After retiring from leading the committee in 1999, Dunn taught at Wake Forest University’s divinity school in Winston-Salem, serving as a professor of Christianity and public policy until 2014.

Singapore Teen Blogger Guilty of Insulting Christians

Photo via REUTERS / Edgar Su / RNS

Amos Yee waves as he leaves the State Courts after his trial in Singapore May 12, 2015. Photo via REUTERS / Edgar Su / RNS

A teenage blogger from Singapore has been found guilty of insulting Christians and of distributing an obscene image of the country’s founding father, Lee Kuan Yew, and former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Amos Yee, 16, had faced three years in prison, but will be put on probation instead, the Associated Press reported.

He was released on a bail of 10,000 Singapore dollars ($7,400).

Canadian Supreme Court Rules Against Prayer at City Council Meetings

Photo via Peregrine981 /  Wikimedia Commons / RNS

The Supreme Court of Canada building. Photo via Peregrine981 / Wikimedia Commons / RNS

Canada’s Supreme Court has ruled that a small town in Quebec may not open its council meetings with prayer.

In a unanimous ruling April 15, Canada’s highest court ruled that the town of Saguenay can no longer publicly recite a Catholic prayer because it infringes on freedom of conscience and religion.

The case dates back to 2007, when a resident of Saguenay complained about public prayer at City Hall.

Just last year, a divided U.S. Supreme Court ruled that legislative bodies such as city councils could begin their meetings with prayer, even if it plainly favors a specific religion.

But the Canadian high court ruled that the country’s social mores have “given rise to a concept of neutrality according to which the state must not interfere in religion and beliefs. The state must instead remain neutral in this regard. This neutrality requires that the state neither favor nor hinder any particular belief, and the same holds true for non belief.”

The court said a nondenominational prayer is still religious in nature and would exclude nonbelievers.

Oklahoma Satanist Church Wants Permission to Distribute Books in Elementary School

Photo courtesy of Adam Daniels / RNS

“Ahrimani Enlightenment,” by Adam Daniels, the church’s leader. Photo courtesy of Adam Daniels / RNS

Less than two weeks after a third-grade teacher in Duncan, Okla., distributed Gideon Bibles to her students, the Church of Ahriman, a Satanist church in Oklahoma City, has asked permission to distribute Satanist literature at Woodrow Wilson Elementary School.

Adam Daniels, the church’s leader, said he wanted to give students a copy of Ahrimani Enlightenment, a primer and workbook normally given to new members of the church.

In a letter to the Duncan school district, some 80 miles south of Oklahoma City, Daniels assured administrators that his book is “no where (sic) near as graphic as the Christian Bible.”

Daniels said he has yet to hear back, but he believes equal access laws mean that his church has the right to distribute literature if other religious organizations are permitted to do so.

A National Campaign for ‘Islam a la Francaise’ Takes Root Amid Growing Radicalization

Photo via Elizabeth Bryant / RNS

Students attend class at the Catholic University of Lyon. Photo via Elizabeth Bryant / RNS

Sunlight slants across a classroom at the Catholic University of Lyon, where the Bible dominates an evening lecture.

The subject may not seem surprising in this ancient city that was once a bastion of French Catholicism and a hub for Christian missionaries. But the dozen or so people jotting notes are not theology students.

One young woman wears a headscarf. A man sports the beard of a devout Muslim. Still others are non-Muslim civil servants working for the local government.

All are enrolled in a program on the French concept of secularism and religious tolerance that is jointly run by two Lyon universities and the city’s Grand Mosque. They’re the unlikely foot soldiers of a national campaign for “Islam a la Francaise.”

The drive has taken on new urgency since January’s terrorist attacks in Paris and the departure of hundreds of French youths to join jihadist movements in the Middle East.

The country’s leftist government has responded with a raft of new measures to fight homegrown extremism.

Americans Split on Businesses Turning Away Gay Weddings

Photo via REUTERS / Nate Chute / RNS

Business owner Elizabeth Ladd holds a sticker she plans to display outside her store. Photo via REUTERS / Nate Chute / RNS

A host of governors, CEOs, and church leaders call Indiana’s new religious freedom law a backdoor opening to anti-gay discrimination, but Americans appear more divided on whether a wedding-related business should have the right to turn away a gay customer.

The law, which critics say would allow owners of small businesses to invoke their faith to refuse service to LGBT customers, applies most apparently to wedding vendors — bakers, photographers, and florists, for example — who cite their faith in opposing same-sex marriage.

Where is the American public on this debate? It depends on how the question is asked.

A February Associated Press poll found that 57 percent of Americans believe a wedding-related business should have the right to refuse service to a gay couple on religious grounds, as opposed to nearly 4 in 10 Americans (39 percent) who said that religious exemption — which Indiana’s new law explicitly allows — is wrong.

Weekly Wrap 3.27.15: The 10 Best Stories You Missed This Week

1. How Yemen Became the Middle East’s Latest Regional Nightmare

As Saudi Arabia and Egypt say they’re prepared to send in ground troops, here’s a look at how Yemen got to this point.

2. God and Jeb

“[Jeb] Bush wants Christian conservatives to pay attention to what he's done, not just to what he says. But in a Republican presidential primary, can actions — much less actions more than a decade in the past — actually speak louder than words? Can quiet faith, and quiet support from some religious leaders, carry the day against a field full of outspoken Christian warriors?”

3. A Response to Critics of the Open Letter to Franklin Graham

Jesus says ‘If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone.’ Jesus does not say, ‘If another member of the church sins against millions, and hundreds of thousands begin to follow his lead on the issue, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone.’”

4. Women & Leadership: Public Says Women Are Equally Qualified, but Barriers Exist

And it might not be the barriers you would think. “Only about one-in-five say women’s family responsibilities are a major reason there aren’t more females in top leadership positions in business and politics. Instead, topping the list of reasons, about four-in-ten Americans point to a double standard for women seeking to climb to the highest levels of either politics or business, where they have to do more than their male counterparts to prove themselves. Similar shares say the electorate and corporate America are just not ready to put more women in top leadership positions.”

Rabbi David Saperstein Confirmed as U.S. Ambassador for Religious Freedom

Photo via RNS

Rabbi David Saperstein preaches at a Washington, D.C., service in 2002. Photo via RNS

The Senate has confirmed Rabbi David Saperstein as the State Department’s ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, making him the first non-Christian to hold the job.

Saperstein, who led the Reform Jewish movement’s Washington office for 40 years, focusing on social justice and religious freedom issues, was nominated by President Obama in July and confirmed by a 62-35 vote on Dec. 12.

Saperstein takes a liberal bent on domestic issues, and all but one of the votes against him came from a Republican.

“Religious freedom faces daunting and alarming challenges worldwide,” Saperstein said at his confirmation hearing in September. “If confirmed, I will do everything within my abilities and influence to engage every sector of the State Department and the rest of the U.S. government to integrate religious freedom into our nation’s statecraft and foreign policies.”

Saperstein, named the most influential rabbi in America by Newsweek magazine in 2009, will head the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom, where he will be tasked with monitoring religious freedom abuses around the world.

Justice Roberts Asks If The Case of The Muslim Prisoner’s Beard Is Too Easy

John G. Roberts Jr., chief justice of the United States of America. Photo courtesy of Steve Petteway via Wikimedia Commons/RNS.

In some ways, the case of the Muslim prisoner who wants to grow a beard seems easy.  When it comes to a prisoner’s religious rights, federal laws favors accommodation when possible.

So how could Gregory Holt — known as Abdul Maalik Muhammad after his conversion to Islam — possibly lose at the Supreme Court, where the justices heard his case on Oct. 7?

Holt wants to grow a mere half-inch beard — a length of whisker allowed in the vast majority of state prison systems, but not the one where he is incarcerated: Arkansas.

Even Chief Justice John Roberts wondered how such a seemingly straightforward case came before the high court, which usually occupies itself with the thorniest of legal questions.

Petition Requests El Air Airlines Create a Special Seating Section for Ultra-Orthodox Jews

El Al Boeing 767-300 in the air. Photo courtey of Aero Icarus via Flickr/RNS.

A Chicago woman has launched an online petition asking El Al Airlines to allot a section of its planes to ultra-Orthodox Jewish men who do not want to sit next to women.

Sharon Shapiro initiated the petition on Sept. 28, after two instances when several ultra-Orthodox men flying on Israel’s national carrier refused to sit in their assigned seats, which adjoined a seat occupied by a woman. The flights were delayed after female passengers refused to relinquish their assigned seats and the ultra-Orthodox men refused to sit down.

Incidents like these have been going on for years, according to women’s rights advocates.

Gender segregation is a core precept in ultra-Orthodox society, which believes that contact between unrelated men and women is strictly forbidden by Jewish law.

In Israel, attempts by some ultra-Orthodox men to impose gender segregation in public spaces such as offices, public buses and even streets in certain neighborhoods have prompted legal action by groups opposed to what they view as religious coercion.

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