November 2012

Each month TIO shares a few of the more interesting interfaith stories from recent news.

Brit Parliament Salutes Azerbaijani Multifaith Culture

Parliamentary Conference Agrees That Azerbaijan’s Religious Tolerance Can Be an Interfaith Model

Azerbaijan Monitor-PRNewswire, Via, November 9, 2012

Baku, Azerbaijan Photo: teuchterlad by flickr

A conference at Britain’s Parliament agreed that Azerbaijan is ready to use its historical position as a tolerant and multi-faith nation to promote religious tolerance throughout central Asia and beyond.

The conference at Portcullis House in Westminster was hosted by Lord Fraser, who spoke of Azerbaijan’s largely unheralded record of religious tolerance within its borders.

Although Azerbaijan is 95% Muslim, it also is home to oneof the most flourishing Jewish communities in the Muslim world, as well as many Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox faiths which all co-exist in a peaceful and cooperative manner….

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How Religious Diversity is Changing U.S. Politics

My Take: 7 Ways Religious Diversity Played in the Election

Stephen Prothero, Belief Blog Special to CNN, November 9, 2012

Stephen Prothero

“It’s demography, stupid!” is the new mantra for analyzing the 2012 election, in which African Americans, Asian Americans and Latinos cast their votes in overwhelming numbers for President Obama.

But religious diversity was another key theme. How so? Let me count the ways.

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Elections Enhance Multireligious Leadership in Washington

Buddhist, Hindu Make History in New Congress

Daniel Burke, Religious News Service, November 7, 2010

Namita Pallod welcomes Tulsi Gabbard to her father’s Houston home for a recent fundraiser. RNS photo: Courtesy Vijay Pallod

Congress will become a shade more religiously diverse this January, after Tuesday’s (Nov. 6) election of the first Hindu representative and first Buddhist senator.

Tulsi Gabbard, a Democrat from Hawaii, will become the first Hindu-American congresswoman, after defeating her Republican rival on Tuesday.

Ami Bera, a California doctor who was raised Hindu but now identifies as a Unitarian Universalist, according to the Hindu American Foundation, narrowly leads the race for California’s 7th congressional district…

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U.S. Election Deals Body Blow to the Religious Right

For Religious Conservatives, Election Was a ‘Disaster’

Barbara Bradley Hagerty, Vermont Public Radio News, November 8, 2012

Attendees pray during The Family Research Council’s Values Voter Summit on Sept. 14 in Washington, D.C

Many religious conservatives thought this might be the year of an evangelical comeback, when voters would throw President Obama out because of his support of same-sex marriage and abortion, and his health plan’s birth control mandate. It didn’t work out that way.

“I think this was an evangelical disaster,” says Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

Mohler says white evangelicals moved in lockstep: Seventy-nine percent voted for Republican Mitt Romney, the same percentage as voted for President George W. Bush in 2004. He says they boldly telegraphed their concerns about Obama, and “our message was rejected by millions of Americans who went to the polls and voted according to a contrary worldview.” …

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The Spiritual Elephant in the Room

Shocker: Bipartisan, Interfaith, Anti-poverty and Actually Happening

Melinda Henneberger, Washington Post Blog, October 14, 2012

Photo: Washington Post/Michael Fletcher

The Republican and Democratic, Jewish and Christian organizers of Sunday’s anti-poverty event at Catholic University don’t understand why there’s so little focus, in the presidential campaigns or in everyday life, on the truly shameful number of Americans who are not just struggling but hungry and hurting.

Right here in the United States of America, about 16 percent of our people live at or below the poverty line — defined as a family of four making it on less than $23,000. 

“It’s not a major issue in the debate, and why isn’t it?” asked Thomas Melady, former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See and an active Mitt Romney supporter. 

“Occasionally one or the other” presidential candidate “will mention it,” but mostly, “it’s invisible,” said Stephen Schneck, director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies, who’s involved in mobilizing Catholic voters for Barack Obama. “It’s not on anybody’s front burner.” …

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Charge that Interfaith Dialogue Masks Religious Prejudice in Indonesia

Indonesia’s Interfaith Dialogue and the Reality of Religious Minorities’ Neglected Aspirations

Aleksius Jemadu, Jakarta Globe, October 18, 2012

Islam, as practiced here at the Istiqial Mosque in central Jakarta, is Indonesia’s dominant religion, but the government has a long tradition of supporting interfaith dialogue.

Over the last few years Indonesia has been quite active in promoting interfaith dialogue as a mechanism to address the issue of religious conflict in society. Not only has it become a policy priority of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but on many occasions the Indonesian government underlines the importance of such practices. In fact, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono touched on that issue again when he gave a speech at the UN General Assembly recently.

However, it is not yet clear whether or not a series of interfaith dialogues that have been organized by the government have had any real impact in terms of religious tolerance in our society. The question becomes all the more relevant if we juxtapose the government’s enthusiasm for interfaith dialogue with the reality of unresolved issues…

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Religious Hate Speech Condemned at the U.N.

Saudi King Urges UN Action against Religious Insults

France 24 International News, October 27, 2012

Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz at the UN last August.

Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz on Saturday demanded a UN resolution condemning insults on monotheistic religions after a low-budget film produced in the US sparked deadly protests last month.

“I demand a UN resolution that condemns any country or group that insults religions and prophets,” he said during a meeting at his palace with religious figures and heads of hajj delegations in the Mina valleywhere pilgrims were performing final rituals of hajj.

“It is our duty and that of every Muslim to protect Islam and defend the prophets.”

A low-budget film produced in the US, Innocence of Muslims, triggered a wave of deadly anti-American violence last month across the Muslim world targeting US symbols ranging from embassies and schools to fast food chains…

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When Values Bump into Each Other

Beyond Free Speech vs. Religion

Rebecca Cataldi, Common Ground News Service, October 16, 2012

Weeks after an anti-Islamic film created by an Egyptian in California sparked controversy and sometimes violent protests around the world, debates about the freedom of expression continue. Some have advocated limiting the right to use free speech to denigrate religions, both to respect religious sensitivities and to protect religious virtues, such as reverence for the sacred. But it is worth asking: are freedom of speech and upholding religious virtue inherently in conflict with each other?

As a Catholic American, I was raised to believe in the importance of both freedom of speech and religious virtue, and that properly used each can strengthen rather than weaken the other…

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New Shared Human Rights Course for Egyptian Children

Watershed Moment for Religious Teaching in Egypt

Joseph Mayton, Common Ground News Service, October 16, 2012

An Egyptan classroom. Photo:

In a noteworthy development that has been largely unreported by foreign media, Egypt’s Ministry of Education announced that a new human rights class for 11th grade students will use portions of the Bible in its curriculum and will discuss non-Muslim rights in Islam. 

Traditional religion courses have existed for decades, which split Christians and Muslims into two groups to learn about their respective faiths. The goal of the new human rights class, the ministry said, is to “educate students on citizenship”, and it will be taught to all 11th graders as part of their new human rights studies coursework, beginning this academic year. 

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Egyptian Christians Choose a New Pontiff

Coptic Church Chooses Pope Who Rejects Political Role

David D. Kirkpatrick, New York Times, November 4, 2012

Coptic clergymen at a ceremony for choosing a pope. Photo: Tara Todras-Whitehill for The New York Times

A blindfolded 6-year-old reached into a glass bowl on Sunday to pick the first new Coptic pope in more than 40 years, a patriarch who promises a new era of integration for Egypt‘s Christian minority as itgrapples with a wave of sectarian violence, new Islamist domination of politics, and internal pressures for reform.

Speaking to the television cameras that surrounded him at his monastery in a desert town, the pope-designate, Bishop Tawadros, indicated that he planned to reverse the explicitly political role of his predecessor, Pope Shenouda III, who died in March. For four decades, Shenouda acted as the Copts’ chief representative in public life, won special favors for his flock by publicly endorsing President Hosni Mubarak, and last year urged in vain that Copts stay away from the protests that ultimately toppled the strongman.

“The most important thing is for the church to go back and live consistently within the spiritual boundaries because this is its main work, spiritual work,” the bishop said, and he promised to begin a process of “rearranging the house from the inside” and “pushing new blood” after his installation later this month as Pope Tawadros II. 

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Interfaith Ceremony in the Surf

Interfaith Worshipers Celebrate Sea, Surf

Mike O’Sullivan, Voice of America, October 16, 2012

A recent interfaith worship service on a California beach an hour south of Los Angeles celebrated the ocean and the state’s surfing culture. Christians, Muslims, Jews and others in attendance believe the ocean teaches lessons about life and faith.

Each morning at Huntington Beach, which calls itself Surf City, the surfers are out early to catch the waves.

It is a passion and a lifestyle, said veteran surfer Tom Morey, who invented a modified surfboard called the boogie board.

“Surfing for me is creation’s most succinct metaphor, best metaphor, for how to live your life. Surf your life,” said Morey.

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