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Lobby Hobby * Meriam’s saga * Mormon purge?: June’s Religious Freedom Recap

SCOTUS decides whether Hobby Lobby’s favorite hobby (lobbying) paid off. Sudan’s Meriam Ibrahim is yanked around on death row for being Christian. And the Mormon Church excommunicates women’s ordination advocate Kate Kelly on apostasy charges. All this and much more in June's RF recap.

Welcome back to the Religious Freedom Recap. As World Cup fever rages on, let’s kick off in the Americas.


Hobby Lobby might need a new hobby if its lobbying efforts don’t pay off. SCOTUS is set to rule on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate today. Stay tuned.


Kate Kelly, founder of the Ordain Women movement, has been excommunicated for her views on gender inequality in the Mormon Church.

Kate Kelly, founder of the Ordain Women movement, has been excommunicated for her views on gender inequality in the Mormon Church.

Law & Order: LDS. Women’s ordination advocate Kate Kelly was excommunicated from the Mormon Church on apostasy charges for engaging in conduct deemed “contrary to the laws and order of the LDS Church.” The church might let her back in if she shuts her mouth. You guys know how I feel about censorship. NPR says Mormon podcaster and gay advocate John Dehlin could be next.

I managed to write about Kelly’s excommunication without including a single Mean Girls GIF. Stephanie Lauritzen at Huff Po showed no such restraint.

Kelly’s out of the Mormon mafia (…kidding!), and the mafia’s out of the Catholic Church, but the Methodists welcomed back pastor Frank Schaefer, who was given the boot last year for officiating at his gay son’s wedding. Here’s everything you ever wanted to know about excommunications.

North Dakota became the last state to have its ban on gay marriage challenged as unconstitutional, making same-sex marriage straightforward in 20 states and confusing at best in the rest. Gay newlyweds in Utah, Michigan, Arkansas and Wisconsin remain in legal limbo.

A few thousand same-sex marriage opponents raised their voices on the Capitol lawn at the March for (traditional) Marriage. San Fran’s archbishop was there, despite San Francisco.

Gay people weren’t the only ones struggling to marry last month. One court-appointed officiant in Virginia refused to marry a straight atheist couple because the pair lacked faith in God.

Laverne Cox

‘Orange is the New Black’ star Laverne Cox, who is transgender, delivers a lecture at the University of Missouri – Kansas City in 2013.

The Southern Baptist Convention met and passed a transphobic resolution affirming their confusion between gender identity and biological sex. Biology is given, identity is chosen. Not sure what’s causing the confusion…

In the navy you can sail the seven seas but you can’t have a humanist chaplain. Better join the army if that’s what you’re after.

Looks like the National World War II Memorial in D.C. is about to get a prayer plaque. Congress thinks it’s fine. Secular groups, not so much.

I’m shocked to learn that the The Onion’s satire gods are not responsible for the Onionhead religion (Warning: Comic Sans). Three former employees are suing a company in New York for refusing to participate in Onionhead religious rituals, which may or may not involve peeling off multiple layers of skin. The Onion is responsible for Clickhole, the best thing to happen to the Internet in years.

Public high school graduations in megachurches? No way, said SCOTUS. Actually the Supremes said nothing, declining to hear the case and letting a lower court ruling stand, maybe because they were dry cleaning their robes and prepping for Hobby Lobby.

You want to build a church in your garage? That’s kind of weird, but go ahead. Wait. You’re a Pagan!? We’re in Arkansas, buddy. I just assumed you were Christian. Your God isn’t my God. Cease and desist.

May’s Greece v. Galloway SCOTUS decision allows sectarian prayers at government meetings. As long as you’re not a Wiccan in Alabama.

Up north, the National Council of Canadian Muslims is suing Prime Minister Stephen Harper for defamation, alleging that his comms director linked the group to terrorists.

Down south, men are still kicking balls around and people are still drunk. Taking a selfie atop Brazil’s iconic Christ the Redeemer statue is apparently fine, but digitally throw an Italian jersey on the guy and you’ve crossed a line. I wonder if Brazil’s Catholic church would have called the ad blasphemous if the jersey had been, I don’t know…Brazilian.

P.S. Brazil’s not always the religious/internet/speech freedom saint it claims to be.


This NYT op-ed accuses Europe’s political right of claiming a Christian identity for the continent in order to push back against Islam. Sounds accurate. Most of Europe is lukewarm on Christianity and still pretty anti-Semitic, especially in France.

Religion on the continent usually takes a back seat to social issues. Poland’s prime minister told doctors to put patient health above personal faith when it comes to abortion. Churches in Denmark are now required to conduct gay marriages, but one-third of priests refuse to do so, making matters…complicated.

Russia, which is part Europe, part Putin, part snow, uses religion to try to ban things it doesn’t like. Last month that included a gay pillow and Marilyn Manson.

Fair Admissions Campaign map

The Fair Admissions Campaign’s map of English secondary schools by religious and socio-economic selection.

Britain’s on a witch hunt to stop Islamic extremism online and in schools. Taxpayer-funded schools in the U.K. can no longer teach creationism as evidence-based theory. The ones doing so were faith-based, and most Brits don’t want to bankroll them anymore for many reasons. But new Church of England schools are gearing up to admit children of any faith background, so we’ll see if those sentiments change, though I doubt they will.


Meriam Ibrahim

Protest calling for Meriam Ibrahim’s release

You’ve probably read all about Meriam Ibrahim, the Sudanese Christian woman who was sentenced to death for her faith and forced to give birth in a jail cell alongside her imprisoned toddler. Sudan said she’d be freed. Then they said she wouldn’t. Then they released her. Then they detained her on forgery charges. Then the BBC reported that she’d been released. But she hadn’t. But then she had. Now she’s apparently holed up in Khartoum’s U.S. embassy. Free or imprisoned, she’s not safe in Sudan.

Boko Haram continues to terrorize Nigeria. Gunmen killed nine people in a church and hundreds across several villages. The Nigerian government continues to terrorize an unfavorable press and LGBT communities. And a man has been incarcerated in a mental health institution and forcibly medicated against his will for saying he’s an atheist. Also, #whereareourgirls?

More bad news from the Central African Republic, where a Christian militia killed 18 Muslims in a village raid. In Kenya, Al Shabaab gunmen killed dozens of people in a series of raids, prompting religious leaders to demand government action.


Several international bodies are urging Myanmar/Burma to scrap proposed laws that would curb religious conversion and ban interfaith marriage. Violence against Muslim Rohingyas in Rakhine state continues to flare, but an even greater menace is the terrible state of their camps. In a blow for freedom of expression, the Human Rights Human Dignity International Film Festival canceled a documentary on anti-Muslim violence after it was criticized for being too sympathetic to the Rohingyas’ plight.

Pakistan continues to shock and awe. In a recent poll, 40 percent of Pakistanis say honor killings can sometimes be justified. I’d say 100 percent of those respondents are wrong, but what do I know? Pakistan’s religious council issued an edict against honor killings, but attempts continue.

U.N. rights experts called for urgent measures to protect Pakistan’s religious minorities, most notably Ahmadi Muslims. Some Ahmadis are finding refuge in China of all places, where the government continues to crack down on religious sects.

One good news story from Pakistan is that Twitter lifted its block on “blasphemous” accounts.

In North Korea, a South Korean missionary was sentenced to a life of hard labor for trying to set up underground churches. An American tourist was arrested for “hostile activities” after he left a Bible in his hotel.

Malaysia’s highest court backed a ban preventing Christians from using the word “Allah” to refer to God.

New Zealand’s Advertising Standards Authority told a church to stop claiming that prayer can cure “incurable” diseases without proof.

Middle East:

Saudi Arabia, esteemed member of the U.N. Human Rights Council and notorious violator of human rights, used its seat at the UNHRC table to try to censor the Center for Inquiry, which accused the Kingdom of censoring local human rights defenders. Read that sentence again. I’m still scratching my head.

Saudi also told governments to crack down on people who use freedom of expression rights to “attack divine religions and Prophets” and arrested five men for “insulting the Kingdom’s flag.” So if you’re headed to Saudi, just comment on how beautiful the oil and beaches are and you should be fine.

Western Wall signThe same won’t be true in Jerusalem. Ultra-Orthodox Jews are throwing a fit over the town’s new artificial beach, saying it will encourage unseemly behavior. I’m not sure whether the beach is sex-segregated, but most of the Western Wall is, which some find problematic.

The European Court of Human Rights fined Turkey for prosecuting Jehovah’s Witnesses who refused to perform military service on religious grounds.

Egypt convicted a Christian of blasphemy for liking a Facebook page. Big thumbs, tiny smartphone is no defense.

That’s all for now. I put together some survival tips for reporting between religious red lines. You might want to check them out before posting this on Twitter or liking it on Facebook if you live somewhere like Saudi.

Until next month—be brave, be wise, be careful, be free.