RNS photo by Aristide Economopoulos/The Star-Ledger.

NYPD’s Muslim surveillance extended well beyond New York

NEWARK, N.J. (RNS) New reports on the extent of surveillance of Muslim groups by the New York Police Department revealed the NYPD had been operating well outside its jurisdiction, cataloging Muslim communities on Long Island, New Jersey and campuses across the region. By David Giambusso and James Queally.

Religion News Service photo by Bob Mahoney.

For atheists of color, ‘coming out’ can be painful

(RNS) Many African-American atheists say that the act of “coming out” as nonbelievers in their community is to risk everything — friends, family, business ties — even their racial and cultural identity. By Kimberly Winston.

RNS photo by Bob Mahoney.

Blacks say atheists were unseen civil rights heroes

Why is Martin Luther King, a Christian, remembered by so many for his contributions to the civil rights movement while A. Philip Randolph, an atheist, is honored by so few? That is a question many black nonbelievers are asking this Black History Month. By Kimberly Winston.

RNS photo courtesy FBI.

FBI, Muslims report progress over training materials

(RNS) The FBI said it was willing to consider a proposal from a coalition of Muslim and interfaith groups to establish a committee of experts tasked with reviewing literature and videos used anti-terrorism training, but it had not yet received a plan to consider.

NCC leader to step down

(RNS) The National Council of Churches announced on Wednesday (Nov. 9) that General Secretary Michael Kinnamon is resigning due to health reasons. Kinnamon, 63, told the ecumenical group’s governing board that he must “immediately and significantly” reduce his activity, especially the frequent travel required by the job, under the advice of his cardiologist. A minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Kinnamon was elected to lead the New York-based NCC in 2007, amid staff layoffs and budget cuts. NCC President Peg Chemberlin said in a statement that “Kinnamon’s announcement comes at a challenging time for the life of the council but we’re encouraged that Michael is willing to work with us on this important transition.”

Churches lose fight over Ala. immigration law

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (RNS) A federal judge jolted the national immigration debate on Wednesday (Sept. 28) by approving most parts of Alabama's aggressive immigration law that religious leaders had called the “meanest” in the nation. In a ruling hailed by many state officials, U.S. District Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn refused to block much of Alabama's far-reaching immigration law from going into effect. Blackburn's decision came after three separate challenges were filed by the U.S. Department of Justice; Catholic, Episcopal and United Methodist bishops; and a coalition of civil rights groups, unions and individuals who said they would be harmed by the law.

Unitarian Universalist head convicted on protest charges

(RNS) The head of the Unitarian Universalist Association has been convicted on misdemeanor charges for participating in a protest rally against Arizona’s controversial immigration law. The Rev. Peter Morales, the first Latino president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, was found guilty on Friday (August 5) of failing to comply with a police officer at a July 2010 event where he and others blocked the entrance of the Maricopa County Jail in Phoenix. “My conviction as a result of that civil disobedience in no way alters my commitment to opposing this legislation that targets and dehumanizes some of the most vulnerable among us,” Morales said. The protest — whose more than 1,500 participants included UUA members and representatives from local immigrant advocacy groups — criticized Arizona’s hotly debated immigration bill that passed in April 2010. Morales recently wrote a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Attorney General Eric Holder, urging both to push back against Arizona’s immigration policies.

Israeli ambassador praises wartime pope

(RNS) In a conciliatory gesture regarding one of the most sensitive points of Jewish-Catholic relations, Israel’s ambassador to the Vatican praised the controversial wartime Pope Pius XII for his “actions to save the Jews” during the Holocaust. Mordechay Lewy made his remarks Thursday (June 23) at a ceremony honoring an Italian priest who helped protect Jews during the Nazi occupation of Rome. The ambassador said many Catholic institutions in the city had hidden Jews from the Germans during mass arrests on October 16, 1943. “There is reason to believe that this happened under the supervision of the highest Vatican officials, who were informed about” steps to protect Jews, Lewy said, according to the Reuters news agency. “So it would be a mistake to say that the Catholic Church, the Vatican and the pope himself opposed actions to save the Jews.

Bishop calls Ala. immigration law nation’s ‘meanest’

(BIRMINGHAM) A new Alabama law that makes it a crime to offer rides to undocumented immigrants is the “meanest” immigration law in the country, according to a United Methodist bishop and respected theologian. Bishop William Willimon of the North Alabama Conference called the bill, which was recently signed into law by Gov. Robert Bentley, an embarrassment and motivated by “intimidation and meanness.” Willimon and the state’s other United Methodist bishop, Paul Leeland, wrote an open letter to Bentley and lawmakers who pushed the law, and also plan a vigil on June 25 to pray for immigrants. “There’s a lot of frustration out there, disappointment, embarrassment,” Willimon said. “We will come together and pray.”

Obama rallies Hispanic Christians on immigration

WASHINGTON (RNS) President Obama assured Hispanic Christians on Thursday (May 12) that he hears their pleas for immigration reform, calling it a “moral imperative” that requires action from the pews and the White House. “What I can do is sign a law,” he told more than 600 people gathered here for the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast. “What you can do is champion a law. What we can do together is make comprehensive immigration reform the law of the land.” Obama, who gave a more detailed speech in El Paso, Texas, on Tuesday about an immigration overhaul, told Hispanic evangelicals that immigration reform must be seen as a moral concern, as well as an economic and security imperative.

Many genocides to be commemorated on Holocaust Memorial Day

CANTERBURY, England (RNS/ENInews) After the Nazi slaughter of 6 million Jews during World War II, the world cried out “never again.” But one of Britain’s best-known young rabbis, Jonathan Romain, said the phrase has proved tragically wrong. “Genocide has happened again and again and again,” he told ENInews ahead of Thursday’s (Jan. 27) Holocaust Memorial Day observances 66 years after the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland. “We only have to think about Biafra, Bosnia, Darfur and there are other examples,” said Romain, a leading spokesman for Reform Judaism in the United Kingdom.

The steady drip, drip, drip of WikiLeaks

Britain’s Guardian newspaper has released four more WikiLeaks documents from the U.S. embassy to the Vatican, from 2001, 2002 and 2009, all somehow related to Catholic-Jewish tensions over the possible canonization as a saint of Pope Pius XII. One of the cables, from last October, reports that the Vatican backed out of an agreement to join an international Holocaust memorial organization, perhaps because the organization had pressed it to open sections of the Vatican archives relating to Pius’s record during World War II — when critics say he failed to do or say enough to stop the Nazi genocide of the Jews.

Unitarians move investments over Sudan conflict

(RNS) The Unitarian Universalist Association is moving its retirement plan from Fidelity Investments to TIAA-CREF because of differing views on the conflict in Sudan’s Darfur region. The church’s estimated 2,800 retirement accounts — totaling $173 million in investments — will be moved to TIAA-CREF, a company with similar business values to the Boston-based UUA, said treasurer and chief financial officer Timothy Brennan. “It stems from the controversy over investing in companies that support the genocidal regime in the Sudan,” Brennan said. “About three years ago, there were several articles … pointing out that Fidelity had investments in several companies, the largest of which were PetroChina and Sinopec, which, through their royalty payments, were supporting the regime in the Sudan that was perpetrating the genocide in Darfur.”

Friday morning roundup

First Tinky Winky was made a foot soldier in the culture war over gay rights — now Dora the Explorer is bloodied and bruised (quite literally) in the tussle over Arizona’s get-tough immigration law. Also in the desert, the controversial cross in the Mojave National Preserve that disappeared is back — or at least a replica of it. Moishe Rosen, the founder of the controversial group Jews for Jesus, has died in San Francisco at age 78. Speaking of controversy, conservatives on the Texas Board of Education are expected to approve sweeping changes to text books today, ones that will have influence far beyond the Lone Star State. Sandwich joint Panera has unveiled its first “Take What You Need, Leave Your Fair Share” restaurant outside St.