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c. 2008 Religion News Service

Hundreds protest Dalai Lama in Pennsylvania

BETHLEHEM, Pa. (RNS) Those looking for enlightenment on Saturday (July 12) from the Dalai Lama at Lehigh University first had to maneuver past 400 monks and nuns protesting a 40-year-old arcane decree by the Tibetan-leader-in-exile that they said violates their religious freedom.

The monks and nuns of the Western Shugden Society weren’t hard to miss. Dressed in gold and maroon robes and most of them with shaved heads, the protesters held up signs and chanted _ in Tibetan _ “Dalai Lama! Give religious freedom.” And “Dalai Lama! Stop lying.”

The beef between the society and the Buddhist leader centers on the worship of the deity Dorje Shugden, and specifically a prayer of peace and love Buddhists have used for 400 years.

Kelsang Pema, a society spokeswoman whose given name in her native England is Helen Gladwell, said the Dalai Lama “outlawed the prayer back in the 1970s because he claimed the thousands of Shugden followers saying the prayer did physical and spiritual harm to him.”

Pema suggested that non-Shugden devotees persecute those who practice Shugden to the point of throwing all Shugden monks and nuns out of their monasteries and nunneries, denying Shugden followers jobs, getting their children expelled from schools _ even burning their homes and denying them medical care.

“The Dalai Lama does not speak out against such actions,” she said.

No one in the Dalai Lama’s entourage could be reached for comment.

Many people leaving the Dalai Lama’s talk said they actually thought the protest was to get the Chinese out of Tibet and reinstate the Dalai Lama as the true leader of that Himalayan country.

The Western Shugden Society delivered a letter to the Dalai Lama asking him to give them freedom to practice Dorje Shugden; to stop discrimination against Shugden people and to allow the Shugden monks and nuns to return to their monasteries and nunneries.

“We haven’t heard from him,” Pema said. “Honestly, we don’t understand why he’s doing this. It’s so bamboozling.”

_ Tony Nauroth

Ariz. tribe says border fence restricts sacred rites

WASHINGTON (RNS) Calling it an affront to religious freedom, representatives of an Arizona Indian tribe have asked the federal government to halt construction of a border fence across the tribe’s Arizona reservation.

Leaders of the Tohono O’odham nation say the fence, currently being built along the U.S.-Mexican border by the Department of Homeland Security, will prevent members of their nation from crossing into Mexico for traditional religious ceremonies.

“This wall and the construction of this wall has destroyed our communities, our burial sites and ancient Tohono O’odham routes throughout our lands,” said Ofelia Rivas, according to the Washington Times.

Rivas argued that the fence will violate the 1978 American Indian Religious Freedom Act, which guarantees free exercise of traditional religious practices for Native Americans. She said that the fence would disrupt such practices by limiting travel to and from O’odham land in Mexico.

The Tohono O’odham reservation straddles the Mexican border for 75 miles in Arizona, and extends south into Mexico. According to the 2000 census, 18,000 people live on the reservation, which spans an area roughly the size of Connecticut.

Rivas’ statement is the latest salvo from the Tohono O’odham nation protesting the fence. The community has been at odds with the federal government in recent years over how best to deal with undocumented immigrants and smugglers who cross through tribal lands.

Testifying in front of a House subcommittee last April, the nation’s chairman, Ned Norris Jr., called the Department of Homeland Security “inflexible” and “unreasonable,” and framed the fence as part of a larger problem facing the nation.

“Our land is now cut in half, with O’odham communities, sacred sites, salt pilgrimage routes, and families divided,” Norris said. “We did not cross the 75 miles of border within our reservation lands. The border crossed us.”

_ Tim Murphy

Atheists cry foul after court overturns exorcism verdict

(RNS) A prominent atheist group says a Texas Supreme Court decision dismissed a woman’s suit against her church for a botched exorcism “set a bad legal precedent for all of America.”

“If Atheists had committed the exact same atrocities, then they’d go to jail for child abuse,” said Dave Silverman, national spokesman for American Atheists Inc. “Same crime, one gets punished for committing a crime, and one escapes punishment because they did it for religious reasons. That is the exact opposite of freedom of religion.”

A Texas woman, Laura Schubert, sued her former church, Pleasant Glade Assembly of God in Colleyville, claiming that a “laying of hands” during a 1996 exorcism when she was 17 inflicted carpet burns and bruises, as well as post-traumatic stress disorder and suicidal tendencies.

A lower court awarded her $188,000 in damages, but the Texas Supreme Court overturned that decision and dismissed her case last month.

“The case, as tried, presents an ecclesiastical dispute over religious conduct that would unconstitutionally entangle the court in matters of church doctrine,” the court ruled.

But Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson, in his dissent, wrote that “the First Amendment guards religious liberty; it does not sanction intentional abuse in religion’s name.”

_ Ashly McGlone

Quote of the Day: Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton

(RNS) “The New Yorker may think … that their cover is a satirical lampoon of the caricature Sen. Obama’s right-wing critics have tried to create. But most readers will see it as tasteless and offensive. And we agree.”

_ Bill Burton, spokesman for Sen. Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, on the The New Yorker magazine cover that depicts the senator in traditional Muslim garb, standing in the Oval Office next to a burning American flag and a portrait of Osama bin Laden.

KRE/RB END RNS

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