Kardashian pope * Kim Davis * Beef party : September’s Religious Freedom Recap

Celebrity Pope Francis photobombed selfies on his U.S. album launch tour. Conservative “It Girl” Kim Davis sat in jail and won awards for not doing her job. And India threw a “beef party” to celebrate religious tolerance and protest new meat bans.

Cover photo of
Banned books

Banned books

We rounded out September with Banned Books Week and International Blasphemy Rights Day. Here’s a list of banned blasphemous books I threw together, killing two birds with one post.

Now onto the regional recaps:


For six days, Pope Francis was more popular than the Kardashian-Jenner clan, according to Google Trends. The universe has since recalibrated, but with Papa Frank starring in his own reality show and dropping a pop album in November, Kim better watch her back. The pope boasts 1.2 billion followers offline, but Kim’s still got him beat by 15 million on Twitter.

The celebrity pope’s trek across the East Coast included the controversial canonization of Saint Junípero Serra and a sneaky visit with conservative “It Girl” and gay marriage refusenik Kim Davis. Lucky there’s no such thing as bad publicity when you’re gearing up for an album launch.

In Washington, the pope spoke about religious liberty using diplomatically vague platitudes befitting his political stature. Given the Kim Davis rendez vous, I think we all know what he meant.

Cover photo of "The Advocate"

Cover photo of “The Advocate”

Pope Francis also stopped by Philly for the World Meeting of (Catholic, Child-Producing, Monogamous, Heterosexual) Families, where a token celibate gay man told a dislodged audience, “Every parish has gay kids, every family has a member suffering with same-sex attraction.” The suffering might have something to do with the celibacy…

Dublin, with its six remaining Catholics, will host the next World Meeting of Families in 2018.

Pope aside, September belonged to his bosom buddy Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who married a trans couple in February but draws the line at cis-gender same-sex marriage. Davis was jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples because she considers them sinful.

Inspired by Davis, an Alabama judge asked to be exempt from marrying gay couples on the grounds that it represents a “’license to engage in sodomy.”  Given that “sodomy” has been legal and license-free nationwide since at least 2003, I question the judge’s understanding of the law.

Sex outside of marriage is still illegal in several states, as two alleged sex workers in Wisconsin found out the hard way.

Remember that pizzeria in Indiana that pledged not to cater gay weddings? Someone duped them into doing just that. In similar news, the Oregon bakery that refused to make a wedding cake for lesbians is stiffing them on $135,000 in court-ordered damages.

Mormon university Brigham Young is ordering men to loosen their “extreme” buns, a strange request from a school that prohibits gay sex. Whoops. I read that wrong. They’re telling men to loosen their hair buns.

Some Mormons feared doomsday would come in September, but it’s now Oct. 2, so I guess they were wrong. Again.



The state capitol monument battle has moved from Oklahoma, where a Ten Commandments statue is officially coming down, to Arkansas, where the Satanic Temple wants to erect it’s controversial goat man thingy. All or nothing, I say.  

A Satanist also got a Florida city council to stop opening meetings with an invocation merely by requesting that he be allowed to lead one. Trolls gonna troll. Haters gonna hate.

Jesus will no longer welcome you to Hawkins, Texas, at least not by way of a giant billboard on the outskirts of town.

Christians stood up for their homeboy in Kentucky, rallying the county courthouse not to remove a portrait of Jesus.

A football coach at a public school in Georgia held a mass baptism for his team on school grounds, which is definitely not church-state kosher. School officials acknowledged the mistake.

A sheriff’s department in Missouri is slapping “In God We Trust” stickers on the back of police cars because it’s the official national motto of this monotheistic country that talks so much about religious freedom, pretending that it applies to polytheists and atheists, when it’s motto so clearly says otherwise. Rant over.

Some Orthodox Jews in New York are celebrating the fact that messy ritual chicken slaughter is still legal on city sidewalks and that a controversial herpes-spreading circumcision ritual can proceed without consent forms. A Russian Orthodox mom in the state also won the right not to vaccinate her kid on religious grounds. Take that, health and safety!

In heartwarming news, nearly 1,000 people came together in Kentucky to paint over Islamophobic graffiti that was spray-painted on the outside of a mosque.

Obama to Putin at the U.N.: “You can jail your opponents, but you can’t imprison ideas.” Drops mic. Walks off stage. If only in my dreams.


Mumbai, India temporarily banned the slaughter and sale of meat to appease “wouldn’t harm a fly” Jains. That came after a permanent beef ban was imposed earlier this year. A politician in Kashmir pledged to challenge his state’s beef ban by hosting a “beef party” for “religious tolerance,” which is exactly what it sounds like.

A mob of 60 Hindus killed a Muslim farmer who had allegedly killed a cow. Hindu extremists are planning more attacks if beef bans are not enforced. They might want to focus their efforts on bigger offenders like Burger King and McDonalds.

An Indian scholar was murdered for criticizing idol worship by two men who presumably worship idols and don’t take well to criticism.

Neighboring Pakistan, where blasphemy laws are often abused, got its first freethought organization. The militant Bangladeshi group that keeps killing atheist writers published a new and expanded hit list targeting bloggers and activists abroad.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej

A poster of Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej in central Bangkok on March 16, 2014.

NYT ran an excellent story on the uncertain future of Thailand’s monarchy, but because Thailand’s king is basically a god under local lèse-majesté laws, the blasphemous portrayal was “too sensitive” for local publication. I wrote about the bogus laws here.

Beware a proposed law on religion in Vietnam that is so vague it could further curtail religious freedom.

Get caught doing the dirty three times after 9 p.m. and you’ll be forced to marry your lover in this part of Indonesia.

In Malaysia, it’s illegal to produce or sell any book that runs contrary to Islamic law. It’s also “seditious” to sell satirical cartoons.

Don’t worry, you guys. The Panchen Lama who disappeared twenty years ago at the tender age of six is totally fine and definitely NOT a political prisoner. China says he just doesn’t want to be disturbed, which may sound reasonable to the severely brainwashed.

The Dalai Lama told reporters that his successor could be a woman, but only a super hot chick, otherwise she’d be useless. You’re joking. “No, true!”

China canceled a Bon Jovi concert over the band’s past support of the Dalai Lama. I somehow doubt this was in feminist solidarity against his sexist quip.

Nepal’s new constitution protects LGBT people and enshrines secularism but privileges Hindus, minorities say.


U Wirathu, leader of the 969 Movement in Burma.

Myanmar’s Buddhist nationalist group Ma Ba Tha celebrated the passage of its discriminatory “protection of race and religion laws” then balked at claims that it has been defaming the opposition National League for Democracy party by framing its leaders as Muslim sympathizers.

Such fear-driven and Islamophobic tactics work in the country, as Rohingya Muslims know all too well.

New Zealand deemed Jediism — the Star Wars religion — not “structured, cogent or serious” enough to be eligible for tax breaks despite its nearly 20,000 local followers. Scientology, an officially recognized religion in the country, has only 315 adherents.

Middle East:

Contrary to random outraged tweets, Saudi Arabia does not now head the U.N. Human Rights Council. They do however hold a seat and chair a panel of experts, which is indeed outrageous given the country’s ISISy behavior.

Saudi now plans to behead and then crucify activist Mohammed al-Nimr who was arrested at 17 for protesting against the government, a sentence that’s not only appalling but wholly redundant.

Saudi also banned a National Geographic issue featuring Pope Francis on the cover for “cultural reasons,” which I think means they’re afraid the pope’s new album will steal their spotlight.

Stealthy Freedoms

Stealthy Freedoms

Iran fined two women for wearing “bad” i.e. sloppy hijabs. Maybe they were testing out new ways to avoid sexual harassment in the streets?

Iran’s president is willing to release a few political prisoners, perhaps including U.S. pastor Saeed Abedini and Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, but only if he gets to swap them like Pokémon cards, which sounds crass.

Iran dropped the death sentence of a man accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammad in favor of two years of forced theology study, because theocracies can do such things.

Bahrain was apparently jealous of the UAE’s terrible new blasphemy law, so it’s working on its own version to silence regime critics.

Well this sound positive. Opposing forces in Syria, including ISIS, finally agree on something! Oh wait. It’s that gays should be persecuted and murdered. Never mind. 


Russia’s attitude to LGBTQ+ people isn’t far off Syria’s. The government is systematically shutting down support groups. You know the situation’s bad when other European countries open the asylum door to Russia’s sexual minorities.

Religious freedom remains heavily constrained in Eastern Europe/Central Asia.

Azerbaijan continued its “land of tolerance” propaganda push while extending the pretrial detention of two Jehovah’s Witnesses it has accused of distributing religious literature, which is kind of a big part of JW life. Dozens of followers of Turkish theologian Said Nursi were also arrested, and a dozen other not so great things happened. Make that a baker’s dozen.

Tajikistan has secret beard police, which hasn’t stopped these guys from rocking some serious scruff.

Uzbekistan now lets only 5,000 of its 25 million Muslims make the hajj to Mecca each year, meaning each has a one in 5,000 chance of winning that golden ticket.

France’s far-right party leader Marine Le Pen will go on trial in October for comparing Muslim street prayers to wartime Nazi occupation, a head scratcher some say constitutes “incitement to discrimination.”

Muslim refugees from the Middle East settling in Germany are converting to Christianity in droves, some presumably because they think it will help their asylum case. Doing so would certainly improve their shot at settling in Slovakia or Cyprus, both of which prefer the Christian brand of refugee.  


The Liberia Council of Churches is backing legislation that would officially make the secular country a Christian state. The local Muslim community and Liberia’s president hate the idea, as do I.

Dozens of people have been killed in the Central African Republic’s ongoing clashes as some analysts fear a return of Muslim-Christian sectarian killings. Six churches were torched in northwest Tanzania, all suspected arsons.

I thought Holocaust denial laws were a distinctly European thing. My mistake. A man in South Africa is facing a lawsuit for his relentless anti-Jewish email spamming. The man plans to call Vladimir Putin as an expert witness. Seriously.

A man in Gambia was charged with “uttering words with intent to wound religious feelings” for sharing an image of the Prophet Mohammed on Facebook, which is plainly absurd, because images are not words.

Robert Mugabe

Robert Mugabe

Kenya, like most of Africa, is a terrible place to be gay. Human Rights Watch documented pervasive homophobic violence in the country’s coastal region. Read it and weep.

Zimbabwe’s 910-year-old dictator Robert Mugabe pulled a semi-Ahmadinejad at the United Nations, telling the General Assembly, “we are not gays.” He should have just read his August state of the union for a third time. That thing’s getting a lot of play.

Wow. This was a long recap. I’ll let you go now. Thanks for reading.
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