Marijuana ministries * Chicken blood * Chocolate snakes: July’s Religious Freedom Recap

Cannabis churches are billowing out across America. Chicken huggers are suing to keep ritual bird blood off Brooklyn’s sidewalks. And a South African prophet is being prosecuted for turning congregants into snakes and snakes into chocolate.

A marijuana joint in an ashtray, with another joint, a pile and two jars full of more marijuana.

Let’s start this month’s Recap in America with two of my favorite trolls.


A marijuana joint in an ashtray, with another joint, a pile and two jars full of more marijuana.

The first Church of Cannabis, which filed suit against Indiana when their “religious right” to toke up was snuffed, is billowing into a nationwide movement. The Denver-based Congress of Marijuana Ministries and Federation of Cannabis Churches wants marijuana recognized as a spiritual sacrament, because RFRAs and such.

In Detroit, the Satanic Temple unveiled its long-awaited Baphomet sculpture, originally designed to join a 10 Commandments monument outside Oklahoma’s Capitol building. That plan was scrapped, much to the Temple’s chagrin, when Oklahoma’s Supreme Court ruled that such monuments violate church-state separation and that the Abrahamic one must go.

Gay marriage is now legal in 50 states, except for the ones where it isn’t, which may be illegal. I’d elaborate on this “uncertain post-Obergefell world of religious exemptions,” but Sarah Posner and Jay Michaelson do a fine job, so save me some time and just go read them.


Photo by Robert Ashworth via Flickr

The fight for marriage equality is far from over in America’s sovereign Indian Nations and is just beginning for polyamorists who want to get hitched, which I wrote about last month.

The Boy Scouts of America dropped its ban on openly gay adult leaders, but religiously affiliated groups can still discriminate, and atheists are still barred, so let’s call this a baby step.

A federal appeals court ruled that pharmacists can’t claim religion to deny emergency contraception to customers. What a drag. Far better to just do away with medicine entirely and stop offering health insurance plans, thought Wheaton College, a Christian liberal arts school outside Chicago.

The Little Sisters of the Poor, who lost their appeal to opt out of the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate, should probably avoid Wheaton’s approach given their self-imposed poverty and pre-existing condition (why are they so little?).

Texas tried to do away with abortion clinics by implementing new regulations that would have shuttered all but one. Their plan was foiled, at least temporarily, when SCOTUS intervened.

A pregnant inmate in Alabama may be forced to give birth now that the state has stripped her parental rights and appointed a guardian to represent the fetus’s interest. ACLU is on the case.

On a more positive prison note, inmates can now be humanists, granting them access to study materials, visits by humanist chaplains and the right to celebrate Darwin Day. No special meals, so no jokes about atheists eating babies.

Brooklyn residents are suing to stop Jews from performing the Kapparot on city streets. The ritual involves swinging a live chicken around your head and then slitting its throat. Chicken-hugging hipsters, some of whom now have salmonella, are understandably tired of stepping in bird blood on city sidewalks.

I’m no Westboro Baptist fan, but I’m also not okay with Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal singling them out with an executive order to stop funeral protests. Hashtag free speech hashtag America.

If you declare your gun store a “Muslim-free zone,” expect a lawsuit. And lay off the vampire discrimination. They’re people too!

Waaaay down south in Colombia, fans of the country’s only saint Laura Montoya are suing media giant Caracol over an upcoming telenovela about her life. Given the network’s previous hits, which include “Without Breasts There’s No Paradise,” the nuns may have good reason for their concern.


RNS has a series about how religion shapes the lives of transgender and third gender people across Asia. Check out our recent photo essay from Malaysia and stories from India and Pakistan. There’s also a story and infographics on LGBT rights more broadly in India.

Pakistan’s tough and often misused blasphemy laws may finally be getting a second look. The Supreme Court put Asia Bibi’s death sentence on hold and agreed to hear her appeal. Bibi, a Christian and Pakistan’s first woman to be sentenced to death for blasphemy, has been in prison for nearly six years.

Pakistan took a page out of Malaysia’s playbook, unnecessarily banning “Allah” and English translations of other sacred Arabic terms.

Malaysia’s “Allah” ban may be on shakier ground after a court forced the government to return CDs that it confiscated seven years ago from a Christian woman because they featured the Arabic word for God. So much time wasted. These countries need to start prioritizing their human rights abuses if they’re ever going to compete with North Korea in our global race to the bottom.

North Korea may actually be easing up on forced fanatical idolization of dead leaders. Captives of the country must still worship Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un, however, so I’m not really sure this counts as progress.

Witch hunting in India, Discuss.

Burmese politician and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi addresses a room of journalists at the International Media Conference in Yangon, Burma on March 9, 2014

Burmese politician and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi addresses a room of journalists at the International Media Conference in Yangon, Burma on March 9, 2014

Myanmar’s opposition leader and former human rights advocate Aung San Suu Kyi continues her silent treatment towards the Rohingya and won’t even step foot on their home turf in Rakhine State as she campaigns ahead of November’s national election. Not cool.

Myanmar also passed a bill regulating the right of Buddhist women to marry outside their faith, which is wrong on so many levels that I don’t even know where to begin.

China does whatever it wants and then reaches for lame excuses. It’s once covert now very much exposed crusade to remove thousands of crosses from churches across the country continues “for the sake of safety and beauty,” but of course! It’s decision to hastily cremate the body of a revered Tibetan monk who died in prison without even bothering to state a cause of death was probably because counter-terrorism or something…?

Political parties in Nepal have agreed to replace the word “secular” with “religious freedom” or “Hindu” in the country’s constitution. I hope they understand that the two alternatives are far from synonymous.


Another silver lining emerged from the Charlie Hebdo tragedy when Iceland joined Norway in repealing its outdated blasphemy law.

Charlie HebdoThe satirical French magazine’s top editor made an understandable yet disappointing decision to swear off publishing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in future issues, which came across as a self-imposed ban rather than as the constantly evolving editorial discussion it should be.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby wrote an op-ed titled “Faith must be strong enough to take offence” in which he declared, “Religious freedom should mean the right to challenge beliefs as well as the right to worship,” winning a special place in my heart.

Should the ISIS flag be banned and those who fly it arrested in the UK? Of course not.

The European Court of Human Rights called out Italy for failing same-sex couples, and I suspect the Catholic Church might have something to do with it. Check out these maps:

If Norway’s allegations are true, the Catholic Church was definitely in the wrong when it inflated membership numbers to reap an extra $5 million in taxpayer funds.

TIME just reported that Denmark enacted a ban on ritual slaughter, which I swore happened last year, because it did. Not sure what’s going on in that newsroom…

Middle East:

A few deep dives on Christian persecution to depress your weekend:

Burj Khalifa

The Burj Khalifa, now the world’s tallest building, still under construction in 2008.

The United Arab Emirates likes to pretend that everything is hunky dory. It’s not. A new anti-discrimination law, which reads like a blasphemy law, is already being used to censor critics one week after it was royally decreed into being.

Bahrain, always jealous of its glitzier neighbor, wants its own anti-discrimination (thinly veiled blasphemy) law despite the fact that it already has one (as did the UAE). More laws = more control.

Not to be outdone, Saudi is renewing its call for an international law against defamation of religions, which basically means blasphemy. Such calls seriously undermine the Istanbul Process, which I explain in some detail here.

Not even Snoop Dogg is safe from such nonsense. Zoroastrians in India are suing the American rapper and an Iranian pop singer for using one of their sacred symbols in a terrible new music video. Snoop might want to team up with those marijuana ministries for his defense.


A dentist killed a lion in Zimbabwe and the Internet melted. Allow me to divert your attention to the country’s human rights abuses.

President Obama visited Kenya where 5,000 protesters, many of them sex workers, pledged to march naked in protest against gay rights. This gayer than Pride anti-gay march was tragically scrapped, perhaps when organizers realized just how gay it sounded.

700 Evangelical Kenyan pastors told Obama not to bring “the gay talk,” but bring it he did, and there weren’t even that many protesters out there opposing him. Come on, Kenya. If you’re going to threaten homophobia at least commit.

If you don’t believe that Evangelical Americans are exporting homophobia to Africa tariff-free, read this.

If you thought 50 Shades was hot, don’t miss Holy Sex, a literary series about an irresistible Nigerian pastor. I was on board until the editor compared the pastor to Dr. Phil. No thank you.

Boko Haram accelerated its terrible assault on Nigerians during Ramadan, leading USCIRF to issue a statement ahead of President Buhari’s U.S. trip and meeting with President Obama.

Albino Tanzania

Two albino children in Tanzania

I wrote about the brutal murder of albinos in Tanzania a few months back but failed to mention that many local politicians and influencers are complicit in the attacks for their own black magic gains. A nauseating and necessary read.

A pastor/prophet at End Times Disciples Ministries in South Africa was arrested for animal cruelty after convincing his congregants to eat snakes. Don’t worry, he magically turned the snakes into chocolate, which makes perfect sense and most definitely happened I’m sure. He also turned members of his congregation into snakes, which raises questions of cannibalism that I’m going to just leave right here as I slowly back away…

Before you run away too, sign up below to receive the Recap by email each month. I promise no snakes, but I’ll see what I can do about the chocolate.


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