Gay cakes * Zombie guru * Camp Kill Jews: May’s Religious Freedom Recap

After moderating a panel at the Interfaith Kosovo conference in Prizren and bopping around the Balkans for a week with Kimberly Winston, a sobering religious freedom recap is the perfect beast to snap me out of vacation mode. May was a doozy.

SCOTUS shook things up in the U.S., ruling in Greece v. Galloway that sectarian prayer at public meetings is constitutionally A-ok. Many Christians rejoiced. Religious minorities and nones, not so much.

in god we trust moneySecular folks angry at having “In God We Trust” in their wallets lost their constitutional case yet again in front of a federal appeals court. For the record, I do think there’s some weight to the argument that having the monotheistic motto on U.S. money amounts to forced proselytizing when exchanging money abroad. But I’m apparently in the minority and should probably just switch to Bitcoins.

Adding to their losing streak, secular activists were disappointed when the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court upheld the legality of “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. Participation is voluntary, sure, but peer pressure is kind of a big deal in public schools if Mean Girls taught me anything.

A U.S. appeals court ruled that trademarks can’t disparage religious or ethnic groups. The Washington Redskins might want to reconsider…

The NCAA ruled that a Muslim wrestler can keep his beard as long as he wears a face mask to cover it. I’m hoping he’ll choose one of those Mexican wrestling masks.

The House of Reps might add a monotheistic prayer plaque to the WWII monument in D.C. despite strong opposition from an interfaith coalition.

The House did move ahead with legislation to make global cemetery desecration a sanction-worthy religious freedom violation. The Senate should weigh in soon.

Gay marriage seems to be winning in America (much less so abroad) but don’t expect evangelical leaders to wave white, pink, or rainbow-colored flags, even if they’re dialing down the hostility.

Gay cake

Yes, I just Google "gay cake."

Do expect your baker to bake you a cake as fast as s/he can if you’re a gay couple hosting a reception in Colorado. The state’s Civil Rights Commission ruled that religious objections to gay marriage do not trump anti-discrimination statutes. The baker who prompted the suit has reportedly sworn off baking wedding cakes altogether.

Gay dominoes falling last month included Arkansas and Idaho. Montana may be wobbling. Utah just seems confused.

Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that Asia, the world’s most populous region, had the most egregious religious freedom violations last month. But I can still be disappointed. Why can’t we all just get along?

Burma’s Buddhist majority continues to hate on (i.e. systematically persecute and discriminate against) minority Muslims. Is the government making matters worse? Absolutely. Lawmakers are debating curbs on religious conversion and bans on interfaith marriages.

Pakistan’s blasphemy baloney continues to make my blood boil. The lawyer defending a man accused of blasphemy was shot dead in his office. The U.S. State Department is demanding that the murder be investigated.

In Pakistan's most tenuous blasphemy case last month, 68 lawyers were charged with blasphemy for protesting the detainment of one of their colleagues.

Pakistan’s chief justice reassured no one when he declared that offending any religion, not just Islam, constitutes blasphemy. Gee, thanks.

Is child marriage religious freedom? Some Muslim clerics in Pakistan say yes. Police say no. Dilemma.

Apparently Hindus and other minorities are facing a surge of violence in Pakistan. I hadn’t really noticed given the country's regular heavy flow of violence.

I could go on and on with Pakistan. Another blasphemy murder. Blasphemous TV. Blasphemous Twitter censorship. This grizzly and crazy soap opera nightmare honor stoning. But let’s move on.

In neighboring (though not neighborly) India, Narendra Modi was elected and sworn in as prime minister. Modi is the only person ever banned from the U.S. under the International Religious Freedom Act. President Obama lifted the ban and invited Modi over for tea or a beer or something. This could get awkward.

Author Salman Rushdie correctly notes that India is failing to protect free speech and religious freedom. But in an interesting development, some Indian women are using Shariah courts to seek greater equality.

I’m sorry, but this story is just weird. An Indian guru worth more than $150 million died in January and his family wants to cremate him and settle up the estate. Small problem. His followers say he’s just meditating and have frozen his body. Now a court is weighing in to what, check his pulse?

North Korea sentenced a South Korean Baptist missionary to a life of hard labor for performing religious acts in the atheist state. The Australian state of Queensland rejected a bill that would have forced Muslim women to remove their burqas when asked to verify their identity. And Vietnam opened its door a crack to Mormonism.

Sudanese women

A group of Sudanese women in Khartoum

I recently wrote about gender dimensions in the heart-wrenching case of Meriam Yehya, a Sudanese woman sentenced to 100 lashes and death by hanging for marrying a Christian man and refusing to renounce her own Christian faith. Yehya gave birth in prison last week, where her 20-month-old son is also locked up. A Sudanese official told media that she would be freed within days, a statement the government later retracted.

Remember last year when Saudi blogger Raif Badawi was sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes for “insulting Islam?” What could be more awful? A new sentence upping his punishment to 10 years in prison, 1,000 lashes and a ~$250,000 fine. Oh, and his lawyer was jailed for human rights activism. #istandwithraif #givetheguyabreak.

Stealthy Freedoms

Stealthy Freedoms

I and about 450,000 people are big fans of the “Stealthy Freedoms of Iranian Women” Facebook page where Iranian women are posting sneaky selfies of themselves sans hijab. These women may be winning the Internet, but Pharell fans in Iran lost big time. Seven people were arrested for dancing in a video to the song “Happy,” which makes me anything but.

Also losing in Iran are Baha’is, but you probably knew that. Baha’i cemeteries are being destroyed in Shiraz (let’s see if that continues with America’s new cemetery desecration law in place), and a group of prominent Baha’i leaders have now been in jail for six years. The good folks at USCIRF discuss Baha’i persecution in depth to save me some words.

In a nice showing of religious accommodation, the Rolling Stones will start their first-ever concert in Israel 45 minutes late so that fans who keep Sabbath can drive to the venue in time. If only Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu were so accommodating. He’s been pushing to define Israel as “the nation state of one people only---the Jewish people---and of no other people.” I mean I get where he’s coming from, but no.

ICYMI, and I don’t know how you could have, Papa @pontifex paid a visit to the MENA region where he urged religious tolerance.

The Spanish town of Castrillo Matajudios (literally “Camp Kill Jews”) rather underwhelmingly voted to kill the “Kill Jews” part of its name. No Jews live in the tiny town today. I wonder why.

If you’re a policy nerd like me, you might be interested to learn what the European Union’s new freedom of expression guidelines say about religion. I’m very clearly not okay with the fact that eight EU member states still have blasphemy laws on the books.

Boko Haram continued its campaign of violence and fear, killing 48 villagers in northeast Nigeria. Officials say they know where the 223 still-missing school girls are but won’t use force to free them. The U.S. kind of doubts that they’ve actually been found.

Elsewhere in Africa the Seleka militia killed at least 30 people when they attacked a Catholic church in the Central African Republic and Somalia’s al-Shabaab announced plans to shift its war to Kenya.

I’m sorry to start, continue and end on such depressing notes, but it would be delusional to pretend that international religious freedom is all rainbows and butterflies. I guess the Church of Beyoncé is a positive development?

Do me a favor. When you spot happier news on religious freedom, please tweet it to me @brianpellot. And don’t forget to subscribe to the monthly recap below.