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Fake church * ISIS onesies * Albino hope: August’s Religious Freedom Recap

HBO’s John Oliver trolls predatory televangelists by launching his own tax-exempt church. Spain arrests a man for selling ISIS shirts and baby onesies. And a U.S. charity is offering new limbs to albino children dismembered for black magic in Tanzania. Read on.

John Oliver

Greetings from Philly, where Religion Newswriters Association met over the weekend to discuss Popemania ahead of Hurricane Francis’s traffic– and drone-halting visit to the Northeast in a few weeks.


The City of Brotherly Love may be decked out in Pope tchotchkes, but the local Archdiocese is showing little love for LGBT Catholics.

The Mormon Church is either warming to LGBT rights or just coming around to a changing America. After contemplating a split from the Boy Scouts over its decision to allow openly gay leaders, the LDS Church opted to stay put….on the agreement that religiously sponsored scout groups can still ban gay leaders.

Mormon leaders also appointed three women to top positions within the church. Top, but not tippy top — the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles are still made up exclusively of old white men.

Two female educators are fighting back against religious schools that fired them for 1) marrying a woman 2) getting pregnant out of wedlock.

Lawmakers in Georgia maybe don’t understand the Constitution, which already protects the rights of clergy to refuse to perform gay marriages. They want that in writing. Not protected are Kentucky county clerks, at least one of whom is openly defying SCOTUS by refusing to issue marriage licenses.

Kody Brown, right, stars in TLC's "Sister Wives" with wives (left to right) Christine, Meri, Robyn and Janelle.

Kody Brown, right, stars in TLC’s “Sister Wives” with wives (left to right) Christine, Meri, Robyn and Janelle.

Debate continues over what legal implications the gay marriage ruling may have for polyamorists who want to wed. The Sister Wives clan used the Obergefell ruling to support their case against Utah’s polygamy ban. New YouGov data shows that most non-religious Americans consider polyamory to be morally acceptable.

Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee doubled down on his anti-abortion rhetoric, saying he’s open to the idea of using the National Guard to prevent women from terminating pregnancies. The former governor also suggested that a 10-year-old should have to carry her rapist’s baby to term.

The Satanic Temple trolled Planned Parenthood protesters by dousing themselves in milk as a comment on forced motherhood, or something.

John Oliver

John Oliver

HBO’s John Oliver trolled predatory televangelists and the IRS by launching his own tax-exempt church: Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption. I somehow doubt he’ll use it to opt out of Obamacare or to fire gay staffers, though he probably could.

Don’t understand why megachurch pastor Creflo Dollar needs a $65 million jet? You must not understand the word of God.

Arkansas rejected a request to place a Hindu statue on Capitol grounds despite a new law that  will allow a Ten Commandments monument to be erected, which just sounds hypocritical.

Dear public schools — for the last time, you can’t hang up portraits of Jesus. And judges, you can’t threaten people with jail time for refusing to write Bible verses and get married. That doesn’t even make sense.


Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants who arrived in Indonesia by boat receive medical assistance at an aid station in Kuala Langsa in Indonesia's Aceh Province

Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants who arrived in Indonesia by boat receive medical assistance at an aid station in Kuala Langsa in Indonesia’s Aceh Province

Remember those four discriminatory bills in Myanmar? The ones drafted by the Committee for the Protection of Race and Religion? The ones that would restrict interfaith marriage and religious conversion? The ones that would disproportionately affect women and Muslims? The ones I’ve been warning you about for months? Those terrible bills are now terrible laws.

Myanmar also barred an elected Rohingya lawmaker from seeking re-election in November’s vote by stripping him of citizenship. Shwe Maung joins hundreds of thousands of Rohingya who been removed from the electoral role on account of their ethnicity, which is closely associated with their religion.

Malaysia’s prime minister is a big fan of human rights, just not those “extreme aspects” of universal human rights that protect LGBT people………

A fourth secular blogger was murdered in Bangladesh. Suspected Islamic militants were arrested for two of the murders, but the situation remains grim.

Pakistani police charged 15 Christians with blasphemy for using the term “prophet” to describe a dead pastor. There’s been talk of parliament vowing to halt the abuse and misuse of blasphemy laws, but I’m not holding my breath.

Thousands of Christians blocked traffic in the Philippines to protest what they considered to be government interference in their church’s affairs.

India banned the Jain practice of santhara — fasting to death — because people were dying, from fasting to death. Thousands of Jains protested, prompting India to lift the ban.

Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 18.05.01The government also tried to ban porn, which failed for obvious reason, but some recent beef bans are holding strong, and police continue to raid hotels and shame unmarried couples, meaning India hasn’t completely failed as an aspirational nanny state.

Indonesian religious scholars told a middle-aged man named Tuhan, which means God in the local language, to change his name or lose civil and political rights. Unsurprisingly, the country is mulling plans to re-enact a blasphemy law.

Vietnam inched closer to passing a bill that would require religious groups to register with the government, a move critics fear would curtail their freedom.

China continues its crusade against crosses, tearing them down across the country and arresting those who oppose the purge. The state’s attempt to control Christianity has now spread to Hong Kong.  

Nepal is still in the middle of an identity crisis over whether to be a secular or Hindu state.

North Korea created its own time zone, because of course it did.

Despite much hype, media law specialists are saying that New Zealand’s new cyberbullying law doesn’t amount to a blasphemy law…but it’s still not great.

Middle East:

ISIS continues to be the absolute worst, executing LGBT people, abducting Christians, enslaving women, enshrining “a theology of rape,” and, in the eyes of many experts, committing genocide. Yet somehow they managed to entice a newlywed couple from Mississippi to join their ranks. Worst. Honeymoon. Ever.

What’s the best way for authoritarian regimes in the Middle East to shore up conservative support? By prosecuting women on trumped-up charges of indecency, of course.

As if setting a new execution record weren’t bad enough, Saudi Arabia is renewing its call for a global blasphemy law.

Turkey’s top religious body is concerned about the rise of Jediism — that Star Wars “religion” — and its threat to Islam. Seriously.

I report that the New York Times reports that The Forward reports that Iran isn’t actually plotting to destroy Israel, so we can all sleep at night.

This headline from Friendly Atheist says it all: Orthodox Jews Are Crowdfunding the Breeding of a Red Cow Because Religion.


A youth play about Muslim radicalization was canceled in London after police started getting a little too…involved…in the production. Britain has seen a glut of anti-terrorism campaigns in recent months, but with more than 700 people having left the country to fight with jihadists in Syria and Iraq, it’s not clear that they’re all that effective.

Police charged Anjem Choudary, Britain’s most high-profile Islamist cleric, with inviting support for ISIS.

Womp womp headline award: Healthy retired nurse ends her life because old age ‘is awful’. 🙁

Slovakia is stepping up to the plate and welcoming Syrian refugees to resettle. Just one catch — you’ve gotta be Christian. Muslims wouldn’t feel at home, said the Interior Ministry spokesman.

Irish families are fleeing the Catholic Church in droves, but the church still owns 92 percent of state schools, leaving children with few alternative educational opportunities.

Spain arrested a man for using social networks to spread Islamist propaganda. He was selling ISIS shirts and Islamist baby onesies.

A French court ruled that schools in a town in eastern France need not offer pork alternatives at lunch, angering local Muslims (and presumably vegetarians).

Poland, get rid of your blasphemy law already. It’s 2015.


A Mauritanian blogger is set to be executed for “blaspheming” the Prophet Muhammad in a blog post.

Christian and animist militants are forcing Muslims to convert at gunpoint in the Central African Republic in what Amnesty International is calling ethnic cleansing.

A bunch of students were suspended from a Ugandan school for trying to lynch classmates they suspected were gay. Scott Lively, the American pastor who inspired Uganda to ramp up persecution against gay people, now says he’s the one being persecuted. Boo. Hoo.

At least Uganda’s Supreme Court ruled that bride dowries can’t come with money-back guarantees. Baby steps.

If you’ve made it this far, you deserve some happy news.

Albino Tanzania

Two albino children in Tanzania

Two pastors who faced death sentences in Sudan for supposedly undermining the constitutional system were freed after a petition garnered more than 220,000 signatures. And a U.S. charity is providing new limbs for albino children dismembered because of mystical mumbo jumbo in Tanzania.

Time for me to head back to South Africa. Enjoy the Pope, America.


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