Interfaith News Roundup - September 2014

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

This month’s aggregation of interfaith stories all fit into TIO’s theme this month, unpacking the sad news that religious freedom is being threatened globally and that religiously related violence is accelerating. The following articles are representative of dozens of other stories. They are representative, not comprehensive. (The final article happily veers off-course to tell the beautiful, humble results of interfaith cooperation making a wonderful difference in the lives of those being served.)

Not wanting to multiply the many images of religious violence and oppression, we have left out the pictures this month, except for one, which speaks for itself.

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Religious Persecution Accelerates Globally

U.S. Says Millions Forced to Flee for Religious Beliefs in 2013

Staff, Reuters, July 29, 2014

More members of religious communities around the world were forced to flee their homes last year than at any time in recent memory, the United States said on Monday, in its annual report on religious freedom.

“In almost every corner of the globe, millions of Christians, Muslims, Hindus and others representing a range of faiths were forced from their homes on account of their religious beliefs,” the report said.

It said hundreds of thousands of Christians had fled three years of civil war in Syria and in the Central African Republic, lawlessness and sectarian violence between Christians and Muslims had reportedly resulted in 700 deaths in December alone and the displacement of more than a million people in 2013…

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Anti-Muslim, Anti-Arab Sentiments Growing

Americans’ Attitudes toward Muslims and Arabs Are Getting Worse, Poll Finds

Sabrina Siddiqui, The Huffington Post, July 29, 2014

WASHINGTON -- Americans were outraged to learn they were being spied on by the National Security Agency, but many support law enforcement profiling of Muslims, according to a poll released Tuesday by the Arab American Institute.

The survey, conducted by Zogby Analytics for the advocacy group, found that 42 percent of Americans believe law enforcement is justified in using profiling tactics against Muslim-Americans and Arab-Americans. The survey also shows American attitudes toward Arab-Americans and Muslim-Americans have turned for the worse since the Arab American Institute first began polling on the subject in 2010. The new poll found favorability toward Arab-Americans at 36 percent, down from 43 percent in 2010. For Muslim-Americans, favorability was just 27 percent, compared with 36 percent in 2010...

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Religious Repression in China Increases

COMMENTARY: China’s Grim Religious Freedom Problem

Katrina Lantos Swett and M. Zuhdi Jasser, The Washington Post, July 29, 2014

While last month marked the 25th anniversary of China’s silencing freedom in Tiananmen Square, this month China has been cementing this grim legacy — particularly regarding religious freedom.

From repressing Muslims to bulldozing churches and tearing down crosses, Chinese officials have been denying the internationally guaranteed right to believe or not believe. The simple proposition that individuals have the right to live out their beliefs openly and peacefully, without fear or intimidation, clearly frightens Chinese authorities, as evidenced by their repressive persecution of numerous faith communities.

During the just-concluded month of Ramadan, China denied Uighur Muslim students, teachers, professors and government employees the freedom to fast and fulfill related duties. With Ramadan coinciding this year with the commemoration of the Communist Party’s founding, Chinese authorities used the occasion to identify fasting Muslims, particularly in Xinjiang province. Those defying the ban have been subject to threats, detention and arrests...

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The Freedom to Worship is Under Siege Across the World

The Global Religion Crisis

Wall Street Journal, July 31, 2014

The U.S. State Department’s annual report on international religious freedom released this week makes for bleak reading. Violent repression of religious believers the world over, whether at the hands of governments or of unchecked thugs, is creating personal tragedies for millions of faithful. This oppression also threatens social institutions that play such an important role in fostering peace and stability.

The Middle East is the most pressing hot spot at the moment. Iran and Saudi Arabia again make State’s list of countries of particular concern for violations of religious liberty for their legalized intolerance of minority religions. In Syria, the report says, Bashar Assad’s regime increasingly casts the ongoing civil war in religious terms, and it is ramping up persecution of religious groups it views as political threats. The number of Christians in Homs has fallen to 1,000 from 160,000 before the civil war began.

Increasing disorder is paving the way for violent non-state groups to harass religious believers. Although State’s report covers 2013, the world saw a graphic illustration of this phenomenon last month, as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham drove thousands of Christians out of areas it has seized from state control. Thugs in Egypt and Pakistan spent 2013 harassing Christian and minority Muslim groups with varying degrees of government acquiescence.

In Asia, North Korea and China again rank as the most serious offenders…

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Global Religious Oppression Gathering Steam

As Persecution of Faithful Rises, So Does the Religious Response

Editorial Board, The Christian Science Monitor, July 29, 2014

Two recent reports about the restriction of religion around the world have come to the same conclusion: It’s getting worse. And not only for Christians, as is widely perceived. Muslims may be the most harassed by government, at least by number of countries (83). And when Islamic militants in Gaza rain down rockets on Israel, Jews rise up the ranks of those most harassed.

The numbers are easy to collect. In its latest report, the Pew Research Center reported hostilities involving religion have risen since 2007. More than three-quarters of the world population live in places with high restrictions on religion, up by 12 percent.

And in its latest report on religious freedom, the State Department said that 2013 saw “the largest displacement of members of religious communities in recent memory.” The biggest problems are in just a few countries, such as the Central African Republic, Syria, and Iraq...

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Yazidis Suffering Genocide

Death of a Religion: Isis and the Yazidi

Sean Thomas, World, August 6, 2014

They are scared of lettuce. They abhor pumpkins. They practise maybe the oldest religion in the world. And now, after at least 6,000 years, they are finally being exterminated, even as I write this.

If you haven’t noticed this epochal crime – the raping and the slaughter – you’re not alone. Of late, the world has focused on the horrors of Gaza. When we’ve had time to acknowledge the Satanic cruelties of Isis, in Iraq, we’ve looked to the barbaric treatment of women, and Christians. Yet the genocide of the Yazidi, by Isis, is as evil as anything going on right now in the Middle East; it is also uniquely destructive of a remarkable cultural survival.

So who are the Yazidi? …

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Yazidi Women Abducted by ISIS

In Iraq, Captured Yazidi Women Fear the Islamic State will Force Them to Wed

Liz Sly, The Washington Post, August 16, 2014

DAHUK, IRAQ — Hundreds of Yazidi women who were captured by Islamic extremists during their sweep through the town of Sinjar are being incarcerated at scattered locations across northern Iraq in what increasingly looks like a deliberate attempt to co-opt them into service as the wives of fighters.

As the militants with the al-Qaeda-inspired Islamic State surged into the area from surrounding Arab villages two weeks ago, snaring those who had not managed to flee, they showed a marked interest in detaining women, notably the youngest and prettiest, according to witnesses, relatives and in some instances the women themselves.

Women were separated from men, then younger women were separated from older ones and most were shunted off in buses or trucks…

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Iraqi Churches Fall to ISIS

All 45 Christian Institutions in Mosul Destroyed or Occupied By ISIS

Assyrian International News Agency, July 29, 2014

Since taking over Mosul on June 10, ISIS has destroyed, occupied, converted to mosques, converted to ISIS headquarters or shuttered all 45 Christian institutions in Mosul.

The following is the complete list of the Christian institutions in Mosul, grouped by denomination…

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Nigerian Terror Continues

Boko Haram Seize Nigerian Town after Deadly Battle: Witnesses

Lanre Ola, Reuters, September 2, 2014

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria - Islamist Boko Haram insurgents overran most of a northeastern Nigerian town on Tuesday after hours of fighting that killed scores and displaced thousands of residents, security sources said.

The Islamists launched an attack on the town of Bama, 70 km (45 miles) from the Borno state capital of Maiduguri, on Monday. They were initially repelled but came back in greater numbers overnight, the sources and witnesses said.

Nigerian defense spokesman did not respond to a request for comment. The sources said there were heavy casualties on both sides and one said at least 5,000 people fled the town…

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Violent Homophobia Surfaces in Uganda

Six LGBT Ugandans Reportedly Stoned to Death in Rural Town

Charles Pilliam-Moore, Towleroad, August 19, 2014

Three gay men, two lesbians, and one trans-identified person were stoned to death in the Ugandan countryside this past weekend, according to a press release sent out by Ugandan queer minorities activist Denis Nzioka. Eyewitnesses claim that one man, who survived the stoning was set aflame following the initial attack, and a seventh man was attacked a mob before succumbing to his injuries the next day.

The Friends New Underground Railroad, an outreach project of the Quaker-run, Washington-based Olympia Friends Meeting, is reporting that the names of the attacked are not currently being shared with the public…

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Greed Feeding Religious Violence in Central African Republic

Gold, Diamonds Feed Central African Religious Violence

Daniel Flynn, Reuters, July 29, 2014

Three young rebels, their AK47s propped against wooden stools in the afternoon heat, guard the entrance to the giant Ndassima goldmine carved deep into a forested hilltop in Central African Republic.

Sat in a thatched shack at the edge of a muddy shantytown, the gunmen keep the peace - for a price - among hundreds of illegal miners who swarm over the steep sides of the glittering open pit, scratching out a living.

The mine, owned by Canada’s Axmin (AXM.V), was overrun by the mainly Muslim Seleka rebels more than year ago. It now forms part of an illicit economy driving sectarian conflict in one of Africa’s most unstable countries, despite the presence of thousands of French and African peacekeepers.

Seleka fighters - many from neighboring Chad and Sudan - swept south to topple President Francois Bozize in March last year. Months of killing and looting provoked vicious reprisals by Christian militia, known as “anti-balaka”, that pushed the rebels back, splitting the landlocked country of 4.5 million people into a Muslim north and the Christian south…

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Iranian President Struggles for Liberal Reforms

New Freedoms, Old Prohibitions

Bahman Nirumand,, August 25, 2014

Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s president, recently said something that triggered a wave of protests from the country’s conservatives. He said: “Don’t interfere in people’s lives so much; leave them to choose the road to paradise for themselves. You cannot lead people to paradise by force and with whips.”

His words hit a nerve. In the Islamic Republic, the fear of a cultural infiltration or, as it’s officially called, a “velvet culture war”, is much greater than the fear of sanctions or a potential military intervention. This “war” is usually portrayed as a conspiracy by the West, the aim of which is to bring about regime change in Iran. The reality, however, is that the cultural disputes to which it refers are actually a battle between tradition and modernity, a struggle between two camps on either side of a divide that runs across the entire Islamic world and is growing ever fiercer…

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Religious Leaders Decry British Middle East Policy

Church Launches Bitter Attack on PM’s ‘Incoherent’ Middle East Policy

Mark Townsend, The Guardian, August 16, 2014

The Church of England has delivered a withering critique of David Cameron’s Middle East policy, describing the government’s approach as incoherent, ill-thought-out and determined by “the loudest media voice at any particular time”.

The criticisms are made in an extraordinary letter to the prime minister signed by the bishop of Leeds, Nicholas Baines, and written with the support of the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. Seen by the Observer, it describes the UK’s foreign policy as so muddled and reactive that it is “difficult to discern the strategic intentions” of the government’s approach to the region...

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Church of England Pleas for Iraqi Christians

Bishops Urge David Cameron to Grant Asylum to Iraqi Christians

Mark Townsend, The Observer, August 2, 2-14

UK has ‘moral and historical obligation’ to offer sanctuary to refugees driven from Mosul by Isis militants

The Church of England has demanded that the British government offers sanctuary to thousands of Christians fleeing jihadists in northern Iraq, warning that ignoring their plight would constitute a “betrayal of Britain’s moral and historical obligations”.

A number of bishops have revealed their frustration over David Cameron’s intransigence on the issue, arguing the UK has a responsibility to grant immediate asylum to Iraqi Christian communities recently forced to flee the northern city of Mosul after militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isis) threatened them with execution, a religious tax or forced conversion.

On Monday, France responded to the so-called religious cleansing by publicly granting asylum to Christians driven from Mosul. The Anglican Church argues the UK has an even greater responsibility to intervene,.. 

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Immigration Activists Arrested in Washington DC

More than 100 Religious, Immigration Activists Arrested at White House

Adelle M. Banks and Heather Adams, Religious News Service, July 31, 2014

More than 100 religious leaders and activists were arrested Thursday (July 31) in a White House protest aimed at halting deportations and aiding immigrants living in the U.S. illegally.

The direct action sponsored by Church World Service and Casa de Maryland, an immigration advocacy group, brought leaders from New England to Hawaii to the nation’s capital.

The U.S. Park Police completed the arrests of 112 people by 3 p.m., charging each with “blocking passage” on the sidewalk outside the White House, a misdemeanor, said Sidney Traynham, a spokesman for Church World Service…

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David Saperstein Named Ambassador for Religious Freedom

Obama Nominates First Non-Christian to Lead Religious Freedom Institute

Peter Montgomery, Religion Dispatches, July 29, 2014

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced yesterday that President Barack Obama is nominating the first non-Christian, Rabbi David Saperstein, to the post of ambassador for international religious freedom.

Saperstein has served as head of the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism for more than 30 years, been a member of the advisory council for the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, and teaches First Amendment and Jewish law at Georgetown Law school.

In his remarks on Saperstein’s religious freedom pedigree, Kerry called him “the gold standard,” pointing to his work “across faith lines,” with “women of faith networks,” and with “American Muslim communities.” ...

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A Remnant Champions Middle East Peace

‘We Refuse to Be Enemies’ Declares Israel-Palestinian Peace Camp in the West Bank

The Parliament Blog, August 1, 2014

Fifty peacemakers joining from Israel and Palestine have just completed a five-day “Vision Camp” the organizers say responded to the violence “exploding through the Middle East.” The West Bank-based camp reported through Facebook (and supported by a vocal campaign on sharing a culmination statement declaring “We refuse to be enemies.”

Over the week the activities captivating a mass following on social media inspired countless shares, likes, and comments to stand against a growing vitriol polarizing Jews and Muslims by stating #JewsandArabsRefuseToBeEnemies. Like organizations connected promoting moving images of demonstrations held in other Israeli locations.

The 50 campers speaking boldly for peace were moved to assemble stating, “today, in this turbulence, peace workers from Israel, Palestine and other countries are beginning a five-day vision camp in the West Bank. In the middle of the war they hold a peace vigil and create a frequency of calmness in which mutual perception, sharing, deep listening, clear thinking and vision building is possible. They say, “We refuse to be enemies.” And, “Together we can give a clear sign to end the war.” …

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Religious Leaders Fast for Middle Eastern Peace

Interfaith Leaders Launch Daylong Unity Fast for Mideast Peace

Dale Hanson Bourke, Religion News Service, July 14, 2014

While the violence escalates in Israel and Gaza, a movement is taking hold that unites Jews, Muslims and others in a campaign for peace.

On Tuesday (July 15), a daylong fast is planned as part of a public effort to show unity in the fight against war and violence in the region.

Using the Twitter hashtag #HungryforPeace, the cause started in Israel and gained strength in England, promoted by Yachad, a U.K.-based pro-Israel, pro-peace group. Last weekend, it was announced in temples, mosques and churches in the U.S.

Pastor Steve Norman of Kensington Church near Detroit used Twitter to call his 10,000-strong congregation to join him in the fast after reading about the efforts of Muslims and Jews to publicly stand together...

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Fast-Breaking Brings Muslims and Jews Together

Interfaith Iftars Bring Muslims And Jews Together During Ramadan

Religion News Service | By Lauren Markoe

Muslim tradition calls for breaking the Ramadan fast in the evening with a date and a sip of water, and increasingly these days, the company of Jews.

Muslim-Jewish iftars are popping up across the nation, bringing together dozens and sometimes hundreds of people for a celebratory Ramadan meal and to forge interfaith friendships.

This Ramadan, as Jews and Muslims exchange rocket fire in Israel and Gaza, those attending these meals say they are all the more significant, as a way of demonstrating that Jews and Muslims have much in common, and can enjoy each others’ food and company.

In Los Angeles on Thursday (July 10), an iftar that bills itself as the single largest gathering of Muslims and Jews in the city, is sponsored by New Ground, an organization that works year-round on Muslim-Jewish relations. The group exists to build resilient relationships that both groups can draw upon in particularly difficult times, said Rabbi Sarah Bassin, NewGround’s former executive director...

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Local and National Religious Leaders Attending to Ferguson Tragedy

How Are Religious Leaders Responding To Ferguson?

Erica Smith, St. Louis Public Radio, August 24, 2014

As communities seek leaders, members of the clergy are responding.

After the death of Michael Brown, followed by looting, riots, peaceful protests and arrests, local clergy and religious congregations are responding to the turmoil in Ferguson. On Wednesday, we talked to some of those leaders:

  • The Rev. Willis Johnson of Wellspring Church in Ferguson;
  • The Rev. B. T. Rice of New Horizon Seventh Day Christian Church in St. Louis;
  • Rabbi Susan Talve of Central Reform Congregation in St. Louis.
  • Faizan Syed, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations;
  • And Bishop Edward Rice of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. …

[Read More…]

For a discussion of the religious response to Ferguson, watch the Religion & Ethics video here.

Grassroots Religious Social Justice Movement Expanding

Moral Monday’ Expands to a Week of Social Justice Action Across U.S.

Cathy Lynn Grossman, Religion News Service, August 19, 2014

The Moral Monday movement, birthed by activists who protest the actions of the North Carolina General Assembly, will expand to 12 states Friday (Aug. 22) in a so-called Moral Week of Action.

The Rev. William J. Barber II, president of the NAACP in North Carolina and organizer of the Moral Monday movement, announced that Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania , Tennessee, and Wisconsin would join up.

Each state is mobilizing social justice activists and clergy to call out governors and state legislatures for “regressive attacks” on the people Jesus called “the least of these,” Barber said in a press call Tuesday (Aug 19)…

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Interfaith Leaders and NYC Police Working Together

ICNY Welcomes Mayor de Blasio’s Outreach to Religious Leaders in Wake of Eric Garner Death

Press Release, Interfaith Center of New York, August 21, 2014

The Interfaith Center of New York (ICNY) approves Mayor Bill de Blasio’s outreach to religious leaders as a way to “heal and deepen the relationship between police and community” in the wake of the chokehold death of Eric Garner in Staten Island. We applaud senior religious leaders for coming together for dialogue at this critical moment. We also recognize grassroots leaders of diverse faiths in addition to Abrahamic traditions, as well as women religious leaders, for the contributions they make on a daily basis to maintaining peaceful co-existence in their neighborhoods.

ICNY has a strong history of connecting grassroots religious leaders of sixteen traditions to secular organizations and governmental agencies including the Police Department…

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Repairing the Damage from Interreligious Violence

Jewish Center Reopens Six Years After Mumbai Attacks

Rishi Lekhi, Associated Press, Aug. 26, 2014

MUMBAI, India — Rabbis from across Asia on Tuesday celebrated the reopening of a Jewish center targeted by rampaging Pakistani gunmen who stormed through Mumbai on a 60-hour killing spree in 2008.

The attacks on the Chabad center and other iconic locations in India’s financial capital left 166 people dead. Among them were six people from the orthodox Jewish center, including Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife. Their infant son escaped in the arms of his Indian nanny, and the two now live in Israel.

Rabbi Israel Kozlovsky, who now runs the Mumbai center, said the rebuilt six-story Nariman House would house a $2.5 million Jewish Museum as well as Mumbai’s first memorial to those killed in the attacks…

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Apologies for Intrafaith Conflict

Pope Francis Apologizes for Persecution of Pentecostals

Josephine McKenna (RNS), The Washington Post, July 28, 2014

Caserta, Italy — Pope Francis sought forgiveness for decades of persecution of Italian Pentecostals when he met with around 300 evangelicals from the U.S., Argentina and Italy in the southern town of Caserta on Monday (July 28).

The pope made his second visit in as many days to the Mafia stronghold near Naples, this time to meet evangelical pastor Giovanni Traettino, whom he befriended while he was archbishop of Buenos Aires.

During the visit, Francis apologized for the persecution suffered by Pentecostals under Italy’s fascist regime in the 1920s and 1930s and urged Christians to celebrate their diversity and unity.

“Catholics were among those who persecuted and denounced the Pentecostals, almost as if they were crazy,” Francis said.

“I am the shepherd of the Catholics and I ask you to forgive my Catholic brothers and sisters who did not understand and were tempted by the devil.”

Since his election last year, the pope has been reaching out to other faiths and has held talks with Protestant, Jewish and Muslim leaders. On Monday, he went even further by apologizing for what Catholics had done…

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Grassroots Interfaith “Laundry Love” Spreading

A Growing Movement To Spread Faith, Love — and Clean Laundry

Lisa Napoli, NPR, July 27, 2014

It’s 7 p.m. on a weeknight at a strip mall in Huntington Beach, Calif., and people have been lined up for hours outside a laundromat here. They’ve been waiting for a chance to do their wash for free. As they file in, volunteers direct them to the machines and help them to supplies.

This is “Laundry Love” at work — a ministry that raises money to pay for detergent, dryer sheets and quarters for machines.

Laundry is a daunting chore for many people, but for the working poor, the cost of doing laundry — not to mention the time involved in hauling it to a laundromat — can be prohibitive. It can also mean going without other basic essentials.

The idea for Laundry Love began at an Episcopal congregation in Ventura, Calif., and slowly but surely, it’s spreading. Now, more than 70 churches, mosques and synagogues around the country have adopted the practice…

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