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Under God * Statue porn * Incest rights?: September’s Religious Freedom Recap

From church-state battles in America to religious freedom news around the world. Catch up on last month’s dirt, now with more snark.

Pledge of Allegiance

I’m writing this month’s recap from a London Starbucks dungeon between prolonged trips to the U.S. and Asia (…and Africa). Grammatically speaking, do I now live among four continents rather than between two? Whatever the answer, we’ll kick things off in the U.S. of A.


An airman was denied re-entry to the U.S. Air Force for refusing to say “so help me God” in an obligatory oath. The Air Force finally remembered the Constitution and let him in.

Pledge of Allegiance

Pledge of Allegiance

The American Humanist Association launched a campaign to delete “Under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance and flagged a string of cases where students have been punished for refusing to recite it. I stopped saying the pledge years ago, for more reasons than one.

First evangelicals and atheists started leafleting a Florida school district. Then Satanists got on board. Now a “UFO cult” wants to join the party. McDonald’s and Jamba Juice can’t be far behind. Poor kids. Poor trees.

Despite the Constitution, 61 percent of Americans favor allowing daily prayer in public schools, down from 70 percent in 1999. What’s a democracy to do?

This Native American boy’s hair is “too long” for kindergarten, which in addition to violating his religious freedom is also just plain sexist. Way to go, Texas.

To beard or not to beard?  A rabbi became the first bearded Air Force chaplain following a few religious accommodation updates. Brigham Young University students are calling hypocrisy on a school-wide facial hair ban, citing the founder’s epic beard as Exhibit A. And SCOTUS will decide whether a Muslim inmate’s beard poses a security risk (doubtful).

An inmate in New Mexico is complaining that he’s not allowed to properly worship Satan. Another inmate in Nebraska is suing for his Flying Spaghetti Monster-given right to worship the Pastafarian deity.

Pamela Gellar is back with another sensationally Islamophobic subway campaign in New York. The hatemonger pulled an ad featuring ISIS-slain journalist James Foley at the eleventh hour after Foley’s family complained. How considerate.

If you believe Oklahoma state Rep. John Bennett, “Islam is not even a religion.” Tell that to the 1.6+ billion people who claim it as their faith.

A National Football League referee penalized a Muslim player for praying post-touchdown after looking the other way when Christians do the same. The NFL apologized for the botched call.

Arkansas State University removed a cross decal from football helmets after a church-state complaint, but players have been allowed to replace it if they foot the bill, which must be like 29 cents.

How do Mormons push back against church teachings they don’t like? Hashtag The Internet.



Some Satanists are testing all sorts of First Amendment lines. I’m lovin’ it, but hardcore Satanists are complaining that groups like the Satanic Temple are chock-full of liberal atheists rather than animal sacrificing devil worshippers. Sorry Gibson, but these Satanist internal politics are definitely more interesting than the Vatican’s. Also, this statue.

In more statue porn news, a Pennsylvania teen faces two years in prison on charges of “desecrating a venerated object.” He got frisky with a Jesus statue. Who’s to decide what’s sacred and what’s profane?

Louisiana’s ban on same-sex marriage is constitutional. Indiana’s and Wisconsin’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. We’re talking about the same constitution, right? I’m scratching my head.

Gays are going to march their pants off in next year’s New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade for the first time! Oh wait, the Catholic League’s Bill Donohue said gays need to keep their pants on. But then the Catholic League dropped out of the parade altogether. So what’s the current pants situation?

Canada has a witchcraft statute, one it actually invokes.

Remember that ultra-orthodox Lev Tahor sect that fled Canada last year after allegations of child abuse? Now it’s fleeing Guatemala.

Our Chávez who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.” Yep, Venezuela.


Raif Badawi

Raif Badawi

Sept. 30 was International Blasphemy Rights Day. I took the opportunity to write about Saudi prisoner of conscience Raif Badawi. I could just as easily have written about a few dozen cases in Pakistan.

Earlier this month a Pakistani Scholar accused of blasphemy was shot dead. A man who claimed to be a prophet while suffering from paranoid schizophrenia sits on death row for the same charges. And 15 Christians were charged with blasphemy for allegedly desecrating Muslim graves.

In India, one court banned religious animal sacrifice. Mumbai’s high court allowed a citizen to declare no religion, and in five states religious conversion is against the law.

Burma announced that it will offer Rohingya Muslims citizenship…if they register as Bengali…which implies they’re illegal immigrants from Bangladesh…which could force them into detention camps…which really isn’t solving the problem…

Books are now banned until otherwise approved in the Maldives to protect Islamic principles. My free speech heart is broken.

China sentenced Uyghur Muslim scholar Ilham Tohti to life in prison for not putting up with the government’s bull. Hope they don’t hand me the same sentence as I pass through Beijing this weekend.

Law students in Indonesia are challenging the country’s Marriage Act, which effectively bans interfaith marriages. In the country’s sharia-controlled Aceh province, people caught having gay or extramarital sex now face 100 lashes. Aceh must be a far cry from Bali, where 100 lashes counts as run-of-the-mill S&M.

A ceremony at a temple in Vietnam.

A ceremony at a temple in Vietnam.

Vietnamese authorities are threatening to tear down two churches and a Buddhist temple to make way for a shopping mall or something.

Australia’s a little late to the burqa-ban party, but it’s a little late to most things, being thousands of miles from everywhere.

Middle East:

You know how I feel about Saudi. Authorities arrested 27 people on suspicion of –horror of horrors — secretly practicing Christianity at home.

Photos and flowers were on display in honor of James Foley on Sunday (Aug. 24) at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary in Rochester, N.H. Photo by Shawn St. Hilaire / Democrat Photo

Photos and flowers were on display in honor of James Foley on Sunday (Aug. 24) at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary in Rochester, N.H. Photo by Shawn St. Hilaire / Democrat Photo

On ISIS, I wrote that journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff were martyrs for freedom, not faith. Some people agreed, others disagreed, others probably called me a Nazi. That’s just how the Internet works.

Channeling Richard Dawkins (cringe): Christian extremists are bad. ISIS is worst. If you think that’s an endorsement of Christian extremists, go away and don’t come back until you’ve learned how to think logically.

For the record, ISIS (AKA IS, ISIL SIC, Da’ish) is really really bad.

Men praying at the Western Wall

Men praying at the Western Wall

Religious tensions in Israel? Never!

Iran executed a man for heresy and charged three Christians with capital offenses, basically for being Christian.

Kuwait is charging a blogger over a “blasphemous” tweet.

Egypt hates gays because religion or public morals or something.


Does Europe need a right to blaspheme? Nah, kinda redundant.

Is incest a right? “The fundamental right of adult siblings to sexual self-determination is to be weighed more heavily than the abstract idea of protection of the family,” according to Germany’s Ethics Committee.

What happens when you change how religious Germans are taxed? They leave their faiths in droves.

The European Court of Human Rights ruled that Hungary’s 2012 Church Act, which forced churches to be re-regulated, violated religious freedom.

Should British Muslims feel obligated to speak out against ISIS? Of course not, but many are doing so online with hashtags and humor.

Anti-Semitism peaked in July in the UK, which presumably means August and September were better! Good news on this beat is hard to come by…I’ll take what I can get.

Anti-Semitism is so bad in Greece that the government banned the denial or trivialization of genocides, including the Holocaust.

France banned a Muslim man from working at a nuclear power site because terrorism Islamophobia.

Apparently if you’re a Muslim Iranian asylum seeker in the Netherlands and you convert to Christianity you stand a better chance of staying. All loopholes are not created equal.

Crucified Ken and Virgin Barbie. Italian Catholics are not amused.

Pope Francis said the world is “silent” on Christian persecution, confirming what I’d long feared—the man doesn’t read my recap. 🙁


Nigerian witch hunter Lady Apostle threatened to sue the British Humanist Association for more than $800 million after the group misquoted her as having written that a child who cries at night is “an agent of Satan.” She actually wrote that crying children are “possessed with black, red and vampire witchcraft spirits,” which obviously makes more sense and is clearly an $800 million mistake.

South Africa denied the Dalai Lama a visa to attend an upcoming Nobel peace laureate summit. A League of (Particularly) Extraordinary Laureates are boycotting in protest.

A pro-gay mosque aimed at countering radicalism opened in Cape Town. Local officials plan to shut it down, purportedly for not having parking spaces.

Gambian lawmakers passed a bill to jail gays for life, and Chad is seeking a ban on homosexuality. Why is Africa so anti-gay? The Human Rights Campaign blames these Americans for exporting hatred to the continent.

Somalia’s Shebab stoned a woman to death for marrying multiple husbands. But it’s cool for a man to have more than one wife. Ugly double standards.

Still hungry for all things religious freedom/freedom of expression? Check out this smorgasbord at Free Speech Debate.

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