Donate to RNS

Driving Miss Saudi * Rihanna’s #burqaswag * Atheist invasion: Religious Freedom Recap: Oct. 21 – 28

Saudi women get behind the wheel. RiRi gets booted from an Abu Dhabi mosque. And London’s atheists take a shot at world domination.

Rihanna Instagram

On the heels of International Religious Freedom Day, let’s start this week’s Recap abroad.

More than 60 Saudi women climbed into the front seats of their (husbands’) Lamborghinis Saturday to defy the kingdom’s driving ban. Saudi authorities threatened to crack down on “actions that disturb social peace,” and more than 100 local clerics protested “the conspiracy of women driving” in the weeks leading up to the rally. No arrests were reported.

Rihanna may be bad, but she’s perfectly good at offending religious folks. Had the pop star been in Saudi, she might have told haters to shut up and (let women) drive. Instead she found controversy in a sacred place at the Sheikh Zayed Mosque in nearby Abu Dhabi.

View this post on Instagram

#AbuDhabi @gomillionandleupold

A post shared by badgalriri (@badgalriri) on

RiRi posed somewhat seductively (<– actual news link) in a black jumpsuit and makeshift hijab outside the mosque. Officials sent out an SOS and told RiRi, we don’t want you to stay. The controversial photo shoot shined bright like a diamond on social media, drawing criticism (op-ed) that the young singer was acting like the only girl in the world. If only she’d have thought to hide under an umbrella(-ella-ella eh eh eh). There’s your morning playlist. You’re welcome.

Whips and chains might excite Rihanna, but don’t expect to find much in the way of S&M at Turkey’s new online Halal Sex Shop. The website bills itself as “entirely safe,” and in compliance with Islamic norms.

Despite its reputation for playboy princes and harems, Brunei just introduced tough Shariah laws, including death by stoning for adultery. I think it’s safe to assume that the royal family will be exempt from any punishment.

OK, OK, enough about sex. Let’s move onto European politics. The grand mufti of Cyprus recently crossed the divided country to hold Friday service at a mosque in the south for the first time. The U.N. special rapporteur on religious freedom, Heiner Bielefeldt, hailed the move as a breakthrough in interfaith communication between Muslim and Greek Orthodox leaders there.

Meanwhile, British Lord Avebury told members of Parliament:

The mechanisms in the U.N. are grossly defective. The U.N. special rapporteurs on freedom of religion or belief and extrajudicial executions are not doing their jobs properly. They don’t answer their telephones.”

For what it’s worth, Bielefeldt answered his phone when I called for an interview last month.

Also in Britain, the BBC’s head of religion and ethics said that modern audiences probably wouldn’t get the Bible jokes in Monty Python’s “The Life of Brian” because Brits are basically illiterate when it comes to religion.

It’s no surprise then that most British schools are failing in religious education. The government hopes that adding new lessons in humanism can (somehow) help to reverse that trend.

London’s Atheist Sunday Assembly launched its 22-stop world tour in Edinburgh last week. If the London “congregation” is anything to go by, expect a fair number of hungover hipsters to turn out for the services, most of which aren’t even on Sundays.

Some houses of worship are literally under fire. A Missouri man confessed to burning down a local mosque. Russian attackers used Molotov cocktails to torch a Muslim house of prayer. A white supremacist in the U.K. admitted to planting bombs near mosques. And a new report indicates that synagogues in Germany were attacked more than 80 times between 2008 and 2012.

Jews and Muslims are upset about a new Belgian radio ad that calls for the end of ritual slaughter by drawing on “Holocaust themes.” There’s a talking lamb involved, but it’s nothing like Babe. Just trust me on this one.

Russia’s top breast-feeding expert faces up to seven years in prison for “running a cult.” Breast-feeding is apparently discouraged in Russia, and local authorities accused the woman of teaching “disobedience to social norms.”

The European Parliament rejected a measure that would have declared abortion a human right amid strong opposition from Poland, Malta and other predominantly Catholic European Union countries.

A retired American pastor who went to Iran to protest the imprisonment of four Christians who converted from Islam was detained and sent back to America. Four different Christians were sentenced to 80 lashes for drinking Communion wine in the dry country.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif told the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, D.C., that Pakistan was founded upon the principle of religious freedom. He said, “We want to create a society based on social justice and the well-being of all our people without any discrimination.” Nice words, but don’t expect the country’s harsh blasphemy laws to disappear anytime soon.

In the U.S., the executive director of a South Carolina soup kitchen caused a stir when she turned away atheist volunteers. The heathens handed out care packages to homeless people across the street.

The Air Force Academy made the phrase “so help me God” optional in its cadets’ honor oath. The Military Religious Freedom Foundation argued that the phrase violated the Constitution’s First Amendment Establishment Clause.

Remember baby MessiahMartin … Messiah? The Tennessee judge who ordered the baby’s name be changed has been cited for inappropriate religious bias.

Two pastors and radio hosts urged listeners to boycott Peanut Butter Patties, Savannah Smiles, Thank U Berry Munches and, yes, even Thin Mints(!), because they claim Girl Scouts “support lesbianism and abortion.” I know what you’re thinking: Some lesbian couple is going to make a gilded Girl Scout cookie wedding cake to spite them. OK, maybe I was the only one thinking that. But it already exists. Which is awesome.

Sign up below to receive the weekly Religious Freedom Recap straight to your inbox. It’s free, but I’d never say no to some Caramel deLites.