Teen convert caught in custody dispute returned to Ohio

(RNS) An Ohio teen who ran away to Florida because she feared her Muslim father after her Christian conversion was ordered by a judge to return to Ohio. Rifqa Bary, 17, was ordered back to the state on Friday (Oct. 23) by Judge Daniel P. Dawson of the 9th Judicial Circuit Court of Florida, The Columbus Dispatch reported. The Florida Department of Children and Families did not release details of the transfer to protect Bary’s safety. She will be placed with a foster family.

Swedish Lutheran decision on same-sex marriage draws flak

LONDON/NAIROBI (RNS/ENI) The Lutheran Church of Sweden’s decision to bless same-sex marriages in churches has been criticized by fellow Lutherans in Africa and by the Church of England, a full communion partner with the Swedish church. The Church of Sweden voted last Thursday (Oct. 22) to allow same-sex weddings in churches beginning Nov. 1, six months after Sweden approved gay marriage. Before the marriage law was changed, gay couples in Sweden could enter into registered partnerships, a possibility that has now been replaced by marriage.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Barring abortion in health care reform

(RNS) It’s time to clear the air in the current debate over whether proposed health care legislation covers abortion. What’s the truth? Number one issue: Whether the Hyde Amendment applies now The Hyde Amendment has been federal policy since 1976. It states that money from the Labor/Health and Human Services appropriations bill cannot be used for most abortions or for health coverage that includes them. The catch with the proposed health care reform bills is that they will authorize and appropriate their own funds outside the bounds of this appropriations bill.

GUEST COMMENTARY: The Subtle Signals Barbie Sends

(RNS) I never had a black Barbie. But I grew up surrounded by images of the inimitable white one — usually a bombshell being few women could compete with. She was the ultimate in “good-looking” in the annals of popular American dolls. So I was intrigued to read about Grace, Kara and Trichelle, Mattel’s three new dolls in the “So In Style” line. They have fuller lips, wider noses and more pronounced cheekbones than their forebear, Christie, Barbie’s first black friend.

Monday’s religion round-up

A Muslim member of President Obama’s faith advisory council says she was misled into appearing on an anti-Semitic talk show, and the U.S. Army will make an exception to its rules and allow a Sikh doctor to serve without cutting his hair and removing his turban. The Catholic bishop of Rhode Island called for Rep. Patrick Kennedy to apologize after the congressman called Catholic bishops’ concerns about abortion in health care reform legislation a “red herring.” A Florida judge has ordered that a teenage runaway who converted to Christianity be returned to her Muslim parents. A Wiccan sued for discrimination after her former manager said “I will be damned if I have a devil-worshipper on my team,” and Yale University students protested the campus appearance of a Dutch cartoonist who drew the Prophet Mohammad with a bomb in his turban. The polygamist FLDS trial starts today in Texas.

Orthodox Union effective, but controversial

WASHINGTON (RNS) As Congress began writing legislation last spring to give businesses and homeowners tax incentives to make their homes more environmentally friendly, Nathan Diament looked at the legislation and saw a hole. Director of public policy for the Orthodox Union, Diament successfully pushed the sponsors of the American Clean Energy and Security Act, which the House passed in June, to include provisions that allowed synagogues, churches and other non-profit groups to seek federal subsidies as well. It is not the first time Diament has lobbied lawmakers to remember the unique concerns of houses of worship. In recent years, he has targeted funding for religious schools that teach individuals with disabilities and money for upgrades against security threats. Diament is often in the crosshairs of the church and state debate when federal funding is involved.

If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em?

That’s the headline on TPM’s story on Robert Gibbs’ news that Obama has congratulated Harry Reid on coming up with a plan that has a public option. And even said he was “pleased” about it. Somehow, because those oh-so-whispery off-the-record sources said the White House was pushing back against a public option, that had to be so. Really, guys. The White House wanted everyone to think it was pushing back.

Putting the papal house in order

Ross Douthat, NYT’s thus far underperforming young conservative columnist, has the bright thought today that what’s really going on with the pope’s new Anglican Ordinariate is a marshaling of troops against the threat of global Islam. How many divisions does the pope have? Stalin once asked. To deal with le défi islamique, a new Anglican division, would be the pope’s answer. Oh yes, and also a new Lefebvrist division, if he can somehow manage to convince the SSPX folks to, like, give up their scruples about Vatican II, the Jews, etc.

The New National GOP

As anyone following the Virginia gubernatorial race is aware, Republican Robert F. McDonnell has been making hay by minimizing the social conservatism of his past and reaching out to moderates in the DC suburbs on economic issues. The current betting is that he will beat Democrat Creigh Deeds handily, leading to this sentiment, quoted in today’s Wapo story by Rosalind Halderman and Anita Kumar:”I think a win in Virginia will be a shot heard around the world and
will show a strong comeback in the making,” said Republican strategist
Ron Bonjean, who added that a McDonnell victory would create a
“template for Republicans on a national level.”So what’s the template? Presumably it’s for GOP candidates in swing states and districts to abandon the old Rovian “mobilize the base and win by a whisker” strategy  in favor of the older Reaganite “lock up the base early and move to the center” approach. The challenge, of course, is that with so large a portion of the Republican base constituted by social conservatives, a moderate campaign like McDonnell’s runs the risk of failing–through all that moderation–to get your folks fired up and to the polls.What the template requires, then, is a candidate whom social conservatives recognize as one of their own–with sufficient quiet assurance through the networks that he will carry as much water for them as he possibly can. There’s no question that McDonnell fits that bill–and if any state has the networks, it’s Virginia.

Study: Buddhism leads to coolness

Not really, but there are some cool people checking out the Dharma these days, if celebrity Web sites are to believed (and why not?). First, A-Rod, who has lately ditched his reputation as a choke artist by hitting home run after home run during the playoffs, is checking out Buddhism with his gal Kate Hudson (aka Penny Lane), according to PopEater. Rodriguez used to be all tight and nervous at the plate during pressure situations. Now, he’s cool as a cumcumber in a bowl of hot sauce. Some Buddhism expert tells PopEater: “Buddhism encourages calm and concentration and helps to reduce the overly narcissistic idea of the self,” explains Dr. David Germano, Associate Professor of Buddhism and Tibetan Studies at the University of Virginia.

Faith leaders divided over passage of hate crimes bill

WASHINGTON (RNS) Progressive religious leaders hailed the passage Thursday (Oct. 22) of a hate crimes bill they say will better protect gay victims from violent acts. By a vote of 68-29, the Senate passed the provision, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, as part of a larger 2010 defense authorization bill. “In an America increasingly rife with uncivil and narrow-minded bickering, this new law can serve as a ringing pronouncement of our democracy’s common values,” said the Rev. Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance. “Namely, that we utterly reject hate violence and embrace an America in which diverse people are safe as well as free.”

Catholic bishops tell African political leaders to come clean

VATICAN CITY (RNS) An international meeting of Catholic bishops called on Africa’s political leaders to be “saints” who “clean the continent of corruption.” The unusually strong language came in the official message of the Vatican’s Synod for Africa, which was released on Friday (Oct. 23), the day before the meeting’s concluding session. “We tried to address (African politicians) with clarity, with charity, but also with sincerity,” Nigerian archbishop John Onaiyekan, president of the Synod’s message committee, told Vatican Radio. “Our leaders should do more than they are doing.”

Hillel at Rutgers to counter Westboro Church protestors

(RNS) The Hillel at Rutgers University is planning a large rally to counterbalance a protest by Westboro Baptist Church, an anti-gay congregation mainly known for protesting at military funerals. The Jewish campus life center is organizing the rally for Wednesday (Oct. 28), the same day Westboro church members are planning to protest outside the Hillel building. The rally will bring together a wide coalition of religious and cultural groups on campus. Westboro members informed university officials earlier this month they were planning to protest at Rutgers, which has the fourth largest Jewish community among college campuses in the country.

Religion keeps on trucking (without the institutions)

(RNS) Religious institutions may be waning in the U.S., but private religious practices like prayer are actually on the rise, a new University of Chicago report reveals. While weekly attendees of religious services dropped from 32 to 26 percent of the population between 1983 and 2006, people praying daily rose from 54 to 59 percent in the same time period. “There’s some weakening of traditional religious affiliation and practices such as attending religious services, but there’s a slight increase in belief in the afterlife and a slight increase in the frequency of … prayer,” said Tom Smith, author of “Religious Change around the World,” which was released Friday (Oct. 23).

Friday’s religion round-up

The Senate added attacks based on sexual orientation to the list of federal hate crimes and President Obama is expected to sign the bill. Meanwhile, House Democrats remain divided about whether health care reform will include federal funding for abortion and Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., the late Ted Kennedy’s son, called Catholic bishops’ concerns about abortion “an absolute red herring.” The Muslim member of Obama’s faith-based advisory council has become a celebrity among Muslims. A federal judge said a man accused of beating teenagers on Tony Alamo’s orders must pay $3 million in restitution, and the University of Minnesota has apologized after its mascot, Goldy Gopher, mocked a Penn State football player who was praying before a game. The U.S. Catholic Bishops appointed a popular archbishop as “moderator of Jewish affairs.” African bishops attending a meeting at the Vatican told corrupt African leaders to repent or quit.