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Beef ban * Witch hunts * Too much Guinness : March’s Religious Freedom Recap

An Indian state bans the sale and possession of beef. Tanzanians murder “witches” accused of murdering “magical albinos.” And Ireland nearly outlaws straight marriage, on accident. Who needs April Fools’ Day when reality is this strange?

I wish this month’s Religious Freedom Recap were one giant April Fools’ joke. It’s not.


Melting gay wedding cake?

Melting gay wedding cake?

Gov. Mike Pence signed into law Indiana’s controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which opponents have dubbed the freedom to discriminate against LGBT people bill.

Backlash was swift. Connecticut and Washington banned state-funded travel to the Indiana. Angie’s List halted plans to expand operations in Indianapolis. Wilco canceled an upcoming concert there. NASCAR condemned the law. The N.C.A.A. warned it might move future events from the state. Lots of people were upset.

Amid the media apocalypse, GOP lawmakers announced plans to clarify the law so as to explicitly prevent discrimination against gays.

Arkansas’s governor must decide whether to sign a similar law in his state. Walmart, which is headquartered there and brings in four or five times more revenue than the state each year, wants it vetoed.

For more on both bills, read Jay Michaelson’s excellent analysis and check out Kimberly Winston’s ReligionLink on the issue.

Other states obsessed with gays:

In an attempt to back out of gay marriage, Oklahoma passed a scorched earth bill to abolish marriage licenses, leaving the ceremony to Jewish and Christian clergy (other faiths need not apply) and judges.

Utah passed a bill that bans some discrimination against LGBT people while protecting religious institutions that choose to discriminate. Oh, and it brought back the firing squad, which is sort of like stoning, but with bullets.

Georgia’s senate voted to pass its own Religious Freedom Restoration Act, leaving some residents, Elton John among them, none too pleased.

Alabama halted gay marriage…again.

A California lawyer proposed the Sodomite Suppression Act, which would punish gays with “bullets to the head or any other convenient method.” California doesn’t have a firing squad. Oh hey there, Utah.


NYC added two Muslim holy days to the school calendar, leaving Hindus jilted that Diwali didn’t make the cut. Someone should probably break the news to Mayor Bill de Blasio that prayer breaks in public schools aren’t exactly constitutional.

America’s clearly got issues when it comes to religious restrictions, but it’s doing a whole lot better than some countries.


India’s Maharashtra state, home to Mumbai, banned the possession and sale of beef. This might make some sense if all Indians were observant Hindus living in a theocracy rather than adhering to a mixed bag of beliefs in a theoretically secular democracy.

“Theoretically” is key there. New school textbooks favor Hindu nationalist themes, and Hindu radicals have pledged to keep “reconverting” Christians and Muslims until the government tells them to knock it off.

Sunday textile market on the sidewalks of Karachi, Pakistan.

Sunday textile market on the sidewalks of Karachi, Pakistan.

Pakistan’s blasphemy laws continue to suck. Vigilantes use them to settle social and political scores and Facebook censors “blasphemous” posts. At least some people are trying to make things better.

Asia Bibi, who was sentenced to death nearly five years ago for “blasphemy,” remains in prison despite a recent petition that garnered more than 500,000 signatures calling for her release. She also gained honorary citizenship in France, which I hope she accepts to avoid vigilantes if she’s ever released.

Two atheist bloggers were hacked to death in Bangladesh. 8 Islamists were indicted for the murder of Avijit Roy and four more were charged with the murder of Washiqur Rahman. Hundreds of Bangladeshis protested, and atheist groups from around the world condemned the slayings.

In Myanmar, a court sentenced three men to prison time with hard labor for posting an image of Buddha wearing headphones on Facebook. Given amped up Buddhist nationalism ahead of this fall’s election, I wasn’t surprised.

Buddha headphones

Screenshot of the original Facebook post showing the Buddha with headphones.

Bad news from those Stans you can’t spell. Kyrgyzstan passed an anti-LGBT propaganda bill à la Russia, and Tajikistan is using mosques to spout political propaganda.

How do monks stop people from cutting down trees in Thailand? They ordain them, of course.

Shia Muslims in Indonesia are claiming that a Sunni cleric performed an exorcism on them and forced them to recant their faith while in captivity.

Banned books

Banned books

I came across this ridiculous charade in Malaysia where a woman was charged for selling a “banned” book, one the government hadn’t even banned. That was three years ago and she’s STILL being harassed today.

“Chasing the Islamic vote,” whatever that means, Malaysian politicians want to stone adulterers and amputate thieves. I’m happy to report that the proposal is not without controversy.

A teenage blogger in Singapore was arrested for celebrating the death of the country’s founder and disparaging Christians. He’s being charged with “wounding religious feelings,” distributing obscene material and harassment.

China entered a full-blown political spat with the Dalai Lama, accusing the Tibetan spiritual leader of profaning his own faith by suggesting that he may not choose to be reincarnated when he dies. Meanwhile, U.N. officials called China’s crackdown on Muslim Uighurs “disturbing,” discrediting the country’s judgey stance towards Tibet.

Dalai Lama

Dalai Lama

An Afghan woman was beaten to death and burned for allegedly burning a Quran. Some say the outrage that followed is a silver lining sign of progress in the troubled state.

Middle East:

ISIS continues its reign of terror, bulldozing the ancient city of Nimrud, killing men for homosexuality and blasphemy, and stoning a couple to death for adultery, among other atrocities. Satire won’t stop ISIS, but it’s an important start.

If you’re looking for a good longread, check out What ISIS Really Wants in The Atlantic.

Israel’s prime minister King Bibi stooped incredibly low, exploiting fear and hatred of the country’s Arab citizens and residents to win an election. NYT columnist Thomas Friedman wrote, “You cannot win that dirty and just walk away like nothing happened,” which is basically what happened. Actually, Bibi took back what he said about no Palestinian state. Politics is indeed a dirty game.

It should go without saying that expressing opposition to the actions of Israel’s government and spewing anti-Semitic rhetoric are not same same, but here’s a more developed argument, if you need it.

In lighter news, hotels in Israel can now have Christmas trees, because they couldn’t before…

Remember Raif Badawi, the Saudi blogger sentenced to 1,000 lashes? Now he may face the death penalty. Saudi officials want media and rights groups to stop “interfering” in the case. I’m sure they do.

Sweden’s foreign minister valiantly called out Saudi’s atrocious human rights record, causing a diplomatic spat between the countries and winning my heart in the process.

Kuwait wants to ban people who have been convicted of blasphemy from entering the country. There’s not much to see there anyway.

An Egyptian court upheld the first conviction of a Muslim accused of blasphemy against Christianity. Let’s not confuse equal opportunity nonsense with progress.

If you recite the Quran to music, expect trouble in Bahrain.

Turkey basically turned off the Internet. First it blocked an atheist website for “provoking the people for hate and enmity or degrading them,” then it blocked 50 other sites, including Charlie Hebdo’s, bringing the number of blocked sites to about 68,000. Some extreme Islamist sites are evading censorship. Maybe they could teach the others a thing or two.

Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs said that surrogate motherhood contains elements of adultery and is therefore religiously unacceptable. I’m not sure they know how it works…


The U.K. saw a pretty lackluster solar eclipse due to “white cloud” AKA every single day of life in the U.K. See why I moved to Cape Town? In any case, children at a school in “Little India,” part of West London, were  told not to watch it for “religious and cultural reasons,” presumably because some Hindu scripture says that watching eclipses is impure.

A new ban on “extremist” preachers at U.K. universities is cause for debate because no one really knows how to interpret it.

Ireland needs to cut back on the Guinness. The country accidentally legalized ecstasy and almost banned straight marriage this month. Then a senator called for open debate on whether same-sex marriage could mean a ban on Mother’s Day, which makes absolutely no sense.

Germany’s tax code could force a professional soccer player to pay nearly $2 million in back taxes for failing to report his Catholic faith, although it’s unclear whether he’s even Catholic. Bavaria’s church tax is 8 percent of a person’s income. Atheists get off scot-free.

Muslim teachers can now wear headscarves in German schools, while France’s minister for women’s rights seems to support headscarf bans at universities.


French comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala in 2007.

French comedian Dieudonne was found guilty of condoning terrorism for a tweet he posted after the Charlie Hebdo massacre.

France is not Charlie. Neither is Denmark, which will keep its anti-blasphemy law.

Spanish students in state-run high schools who take a religion course must “recognize the divine origin of the cosmos with amazement, make efforts to understand it, and be aware that it does not originate from chaos and chance” according to new curriculum. Scientist are not happy.


So “vigilantes” in Tanzania are slaughtering and burying old women alive  if they have red eyes (which sometimes happens when you cook with cow dung) because they think that the women are witches who fuel the murder of albinos whose body parts are considered magical. Got all that? It’s pretty obviously not okay.

South African Jewish students don’t appreciate the use of swastikas and Nazi imagery that have popped up at the University of Cape Town in protest of a controversial statue of the reprehensible Cecil Rhodes.

The Alliance of Uncivilizations was firmly established when Nigeria’s Boko Haram pledged its allegiance to ISIS. The country’s elections finally took place, with Muslim candidate Muhammadu Buhari destroying Christian incumbent Goodluck Jonathan. I’m going to miss that hat.

An Algerian editor was sentenced to three years in prison on blasphemy charges for publishing an article that said Prophet Muhammad wrote the Quran himself.

That’s enough misery for one month. If you want to hear heavyweights debate some of the trickier issues I’ve outlined above, join us on the evening of April 16 at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. I’ll post more details and RSVP instructions here in a few days.