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Religion



All Reason.com articles with the "Religion" tag.



Published: Mon, 27 Feb 2017 00:00:00 -0500

Last Build Date: Mon, 27 Feb 2017 17:10:39 -0500

 



Danish Man Who Burned a Koran on Facebook Will Be Prosecuted For Blasphemy

Thu, 23 Feb 2017 12:15:00 -0500

A man in Denmark will be prosecuted under the country's blasphemy laws for burning a Koran and posting video of the book's immolation to Facebook in 2015. The Associated Press reports that the man (whose name was not released) will be the first Dane since 1971 to be charged under a law forbidding "publicly mocking a religious community's religious doctrines or worship," and only the fifth person ever to be prosecuted for blasphemy in Denmark, according to The Independent. The man faces up to four months in prison but, if convicted, will more likely face a fine. Prosecutors had considered charging the publisher and editors of Jyllands-Posten—which in 2006 published cartoons depicting the Muslim prophet Mohammad that were met with violent reactions in various countries—but ultimately declined to do so. In recent years, Denmark had considered repealing its blasphemy ban, but in 2015 decided to reaffirm it during a session of the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council. A poll conducted in 2012 found 66 percent of Danish citizens supported the almost-never-used prohibition on blasphemy. Despite the rarity of blasphemy charges in Denmark, prosecutions against "hate speech" are quite common. Writing for Columbia University's Global Freedom of Expression platform, Jacob Mchangama argues that "scope creep" among such prosecutions appears to be happening in Denmark, and that Denmark's stance at the UN has international implications—especially among certain countries which punish blasphemy with heavy prison sentences, or even death: The conflation of blasphemy and hate speech goes to the heart of the debate at the UN between (primarily) democracies on the one hand and Muslim states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation on the other. In 2011 the annual and highly divisive OIC resolutions on "Defamation of Religion" (an attempt to create a global blasphemy ban under international human rights law) were ended by the passing of Resolution 16/18 at the Human Rights Council. The resolution is essentially a compromise brokered by the United States and the OIC and protects individuals, rather than religions, from religious discrimination and intolerance, as well as promoting "open, constructive and respectful debate." Yet, OIC member states have since attempted to interpret the obligation to prohibit certain forms of hate speech in Article 20 (2) of the ICCPR, so broad as to include criticism and mockery of religion. Mchangama adds: Undoubtedly these states will have been encouraged by the actions of the Danish police and the District Court of Elsinore. However, the fates Asia Bibi on death row for blasphemy in Pakistan, Raif Badawi serving 10 years for insulting Islam in Saudia Arabia, and Ayatollah Kazemeini Boroujerdi serving a lengthy prison sentence in Iran for "waging war against God," show that criticism of religion is an essential human right for all, including devout religious believers of all faiths. Watch Reason TV's interview with former Jyllends-Posten editor Flemming Rose below, where Rose talks with Nick Gillespie about "the Worldwide Suppression of Free Speech": src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/pzdaoBsUW88" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0">[...]



Brickbat: Dancing Too Close

Tue, 14 Feb 2017 04:00:00 -0500

(image) Organizers of a Valentine's Day dance in Henryetta, Oklahoma, canceled the event after a local resident pointed out the venue is only about 250 feet from a Church of Christ and a city ordinance bans dancing within 500 feet of a church.




Mississippi Is the Most Religious and Vermont the Least Religious of the States

Wed, 08 Feb 2017 17:00:00 -0500

(image) The folks over at Gallup have just released their data comparing the religiosity of Americans by state. Mississippi wins with 59 percent of the Magnolia State's residents describing themselves as "very religious." In comparison, only 21 percent of the flinty inhabitants of the Green Mountain State would so describe their religious convictions. But does the propensity to sinning correlate with a lack of religious belief? Not so much.

For example, folks in Mississippi are, on the face of it, less inclined than those in Vermont to turn the other cheek when it comes to violent crime, especially murder. In 2015, Mississippi ranked number 2 (just behind neighboring Louisiana) in the nation with a homicide rate of 8.7 per 100,000 citizens. Vermont ranked 47 out of 50 with only 1.5 murders per 100,000 (New Hampshire and Hawaii were more peaceable).

What about sexual mores and family structure? With respect to the prevalence of the sexually transmitted diseases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis, Mississippi ranks 5, 3, and 12, whereas Vermont's rank is 46, 49, and 46 respectively. Mississippi ranks number 1 in percent of births to unmarried mothers (54 percent in 2014) compared to Vermont's rank of 28 (39.5 percent in 2014). The national average was 40.2 percent of all births in 2014. Mississippi came in at number 2 after the District of Columbia with regard to the percentage of children living in single parent homes, 53 and 48 percent respectively. In Vermont 28 percent of kids live in single-parent families.

What about overall happiness? After all, it frequently reported that religious people are happier than non-religious folk. Surely, the stronger faith of Mississippians must make them happier than more doubtful and dour Vermonters? Well no. Mississippians ranking at 48th out 51 jurisdictions surveyed are only a bit happier than folks living in Kentucky, Alabama and West Virginia. Vermonters at number 14 are lot happier than Mississippians but aren't nearly as joyous as folks in Utah which stands as our happiest state.




A Wayward Order on Religious Freedom and LGBT Issues Makes for Confusing Coverage and Activism

Thu, 02 Feb 2017 14:01:00 -0500

Earlier in the week, the White House put out a statement that President Donald Trump is going to maintain President Barack Obama's executive order prohibiting federal agencies and federal contractors from discriminating against gay and transgender employees. So why are some people afraid this is just a big smoke screen? People might be a little confused at news reports that there's an executive order floating around the White House that does nearly the opposite of what they said they were doing—an order that blows big holes in discrimination policies in order to protect religious freedom. Prior to the White House's announcement on Tuesday that it would be maintaining the order, some media outlets had gotten their hands on something titled "Executive Order—Establishing a Government-Wide Initiative to Respect Religious Freedom." Even after the White House announcement, civil liberties and LGBT groups expressed concerns about the possibility that despite what Trump declared, something was coming down the line that was going to harm their interests. Representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Human Rights Campaign, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and others even had a media teleconference Wednesday to express concerns about the contents of this semi-mysterious order. Wednesday evening The Nation finally published the executive order that had been circulated within the beltway, along with some analysis by legal and civil rights experts. It's a four-page, broadly-written, and pretty complicated order, both in what it attempts to accomplish and what its hidden consequences may be. There are parts of the executive order fans of religious freedom and freedom of association would support—it spells out that religious organizations (and individuals) cannot be forced comply with mandates to fund birth control or abortions, for example. But it also has some deep constitutional and rule-of-law issues. The order establishes that federal employees (and contractors) must be "reasonably accommodated" for acting or refusing to act in accordance to a set of beliefs outlined within the order. The very particular beliefs protected: Marriage should be reserved to heterosexual couples; biological sex is immutable (in other words, transgenderism isn't real); and life begins at birth conception and abortion is bad. This whole part of the order, then, establishes a particular set of beliefs that are protected by government order. It's not a "religious freedom" order at all. It's saying that the government will recognize and protect a particular set of religious beliefs, which is a violation of the Establishment Clause. It literally establishes a set of religious beliefs the government will give special preference to. Mississippi passed a law with similar carveouts last year. Its implementation has been blocked by a federal judge, for now. So after all that explanation, what is the real story here? Is this order legitimate? Is Trump going to sign it? The answers so far are that yes, the executive order appears to be legitimate and was circulating within federal agencies, but no, the Trump administration is not considering it. At least for now. A White House official told ABC News Trump has no plans to "sign anything at this time." The vague possibility hangs in the air, and so apparently gay and civil rights groups are continuing activism against an the executive order anyway and treating it though it's a Sword of Damocles about to fall at any moment. If these opening weeks of the Trump administration are an indicator, we are going to see a very, very leaky government. In most ways, this is great. It's awesome. Trump certainly doesn't appear to be a fan of transparency (at least not when it's about him, anyway). But internal resistance and conflict between parts of his administration is going to result in information about its operations and planning to make it out into the wild for the public to evaluate and [...]



Brickbat: Political Crime

Mon, 23 Jan 2017 04:00:00 -0500

(image) A Finnish politician faces up to two years in prison after being charged with inciting religious hate. Sebastian Tynkkynen, chairman of the youth wing of the nationalist True Finns party, made a series of Facebook posts following attacks by Islamic terrorists in France, including "The fewer Muslims in Finland, the better" and "Muslims get out of this country!"




Police Are Still Stopping Motorists to Spread Compulsory Holiday Cheer

Wed, 28 Dec 2016 13:30:00 -0500

(image) Jackson (Miss.) Police Officer Brandon Caston tried to bring some holiday cheer by flagging down motorists and handing them autographed Christmas cards last week.

One delighted citizen recorded her encounter with Officer Caston and posted the video to Facebook. Thinking the officer was stopping drivers at some form of checkpoint, she instead found out Caston was merely handing out Christmas cards adorned with a Bible verse. The Clarion-Ledger quotes Cassandra Welchlin as writing, "Now this is protecting and serving!" after receiving her Christmas greeting.

By all accounts, Caston is a hard-working, dedicated police officer who cares about his community. He was even commended by the department for thwarting two carjackers while off-duty earlier this year. And it appears he didn't use his police cruiser to stage a fake traffic stop to deliver his Christmas greetings, nor did he bring along a camera to help self-promote his holiday cheer for the good of his and his department's image.

But he was in uniform and he was standing in the middle of the street, which makes his attempt at sharing Christmas blessings and biblical verses borderline compulsory.

Reason has covered a series of happy police pranks that were far more egregious than Caston's—who by all accounts wasn't trying to briefly terrify anyone before showing them how great cops are by giving them a gift card to a chain restaurant—but since we last reported on the "kindness squads," even more instances of police pulling people over to give them "Christmas citations" for obeying the law continue to pop up all over the country.

Lest you think we here at Reason are joyless constitutional curmudgeons, other media outlets to both our left and our right concur that these well-meaning attempts at strengthening police and community relations might seem cute on video, but they're both unconstitutional and cruel.

As National Review's Kevin D. Williamson puts it, "Some of these videos are hilarious. But do you know why they are hilarious? Because that unsuspecting citizen who is minding his own business and following the law is terrified."

As far as Officer Caston's Christmas greeting cards, it doesn't appear that he was trying to fool anyone using the force of his uniform. But perhaps next time he wants to spread Christian well-wishes while dressed as an agent of the state, he could do it on the sidewalk where his presence won't be perceived as a compulsory traffic stop.




The PizzaGate Gunman's Paranoid Rescue Fantasy Comes from a Long American Tradition

Fri, 09 Dec 2016 11:25:00 -0500

On December 4, Edgar M. Welch carried a rifle into the Comet Ping Pong pizzeria in Washington, D.C. Welch had stumbled on the "PizzaGate" conspiracy theory, which claims that the restaurant is part of a sex-trafficking ring tied to Hillary Clinton and her associates; children are supposedly being held prisoner and transported through secret tunnels beneath the business. Welch was armed because he wanted to rescue the kids. He didn't find any prisoners there, but he wound up firing his weapon anyway. No one was injured, fortunately. You've probably heard about that, since it's been all over the news this week. What hasn't been all over the news is the long American tradition that Welch belongs to. This is hardly the first time someone has filled up on fantasies that a conspiracy was holding innocents captive and exploiting them. It isn't the first time a fantasist has set off on a potentially bloody rescue mission either. Take the mob that burned down the Ursuline convent and boarding school in Charlestown, Massachusetts, in 1834. The resentments toward that institution had very specific local roots, but the rumors that prompted the riot took an oft-told form: Girls were being held prisoner, and they needed to be saved. These stories were spread not just orally but via anonymous placards and handbills—if a pundit from late 2016 were somehow sent back to 1834, he'd probably call them "fake news"—that said things like this: GO AHEAD! To Arms!! To Arms!! Ye brave and free Avenging Sword unshield!! Leave not one stone upon another of that curst Nunnery that prostitutes female virtue and liberty under the garb of holy Religion. When Bonaparte opened the Nunnerys in Europe he found cords of Infant sculls!!!!!! That wasn't the only Catholic institution to be raided by would-be heroes. Throughout the era, paranoid Protestants became convinced that convents contained sex slaves, secret tunnels, and other staples of the modern pizzeria; more than once, they invaded intending to liberate the nuns. Nor was Catholicism the only faith to be afflicted by captivity rumors. A couple decades before the Ursuline Convent riots, for example, a youngster named Ithamar Johnson was "rescued" from a Shaker community in Ohio. He promptly returned the next day, and remained a Shaker until he died in his eighties. Much more recently, the cult scare that took off in the 1970s produced a whole profession of "deprogrammers," some of whom felt the best way to liberate a cultist was to kidnap and torture him until he declared himself cleansed of the religion's worldview. The cult scare helped shape the Satanic panic of the 1980s and '90s, when the notion took hold that a web of devil-worshippers was raping, kidnapping, and even killing children. In this case, it wasn't vigilante deprogrammers who would browbeat an alleged victim into saying what they wanted to hear. It was agents of the state. In the most infamous case, the authorities embraced the idea that the McMartin Preschool in Manhattan Beach, California, was run by a coven of child molesters. Interrogators badgered the preschoolers into confirming their suspicions, and the children's imaginations then produced still more lurid details. Naturally, there were tales of secret tunnels beneath the day care center. You'd think it was a convent or a pizza joint or something. Not every captivity fantasy involved unpopular religions. In the white-slavery panic of the early 20th century, a flood of exposés—there's that "fake news" again—made lurid claims about prostitution, greatly exaggerating both the number of women coerced into the profession and the extent to which the trade was controlled by a centralized conspiracy. (In his 1914 book The Girl Who Disappeared, a former Chicago prosecutor called this sex syndicate a "hidden hand," claiming that "behind our city and state governments there is an unseen power which controls them.") A[...]



So This Is (Your Annual War on) Christmas

Fri, 02 Dec 2016 13:15:00 -0500

The Thanksgiving leftovers are gone by now. Memories of oppressive Black Friday crowds (or the social signaling from those who refuse to participate) are fading. The Christmas holiday season is in full swing, and with it comes all the news hooks from people being just stupid about it all. Welcome to another viral outrage Christmas, full of media stories about how the tidings of comfort and joy are cultural appropriation, or colonialization, or denials of the glory of Christ (the reason for the season!), or bad for children's psychological development, or in some other fashion not being observed the way it ought to be. Let's take a look at what's on the menu just today. It's too soon to say whether this may end up being a recurring feature across the month, but all these stories bouncing around all at once already suggests the culture war has something important to say about egg nog and candy canes. The Myth of Santa Claus May Cause Kids to Distrust Adults. So … What's the Downside? If CBS wants to pay to read some British psychologist muse in the pages of Lancet Psychiatry over whether it's wrong to lie to children about the existence of Santa Claus, more power to them. I'll politely decline and draw from their reporting. What does researcher Christopher Boyle think is the problem? When kids find out the truth, it challenges their perception of their parents as the ultimate omniscient narrators of how the universe works: The paper, entitled "A wonderful lie," suggests that children's trust in their parents may be undermined by the Santa myth. "If they are capable of lying about something so special and magical, can they be relied upon to continue as the guardians of wisdom and truth?" the researchers write. "If adults have been lying about Santa, even though it has usually been well intentioned, what else is a lie? If Santa isn't real, are fairies real? Is magic? Is God?" For psychologist Christopher Boyle, a professor at the University of Exeter in the U.K., one of the authors of the paper, the "morality of making children believe in such myths has to be questioned." "All children will eventually find out they've been consistently lied to for years, and this might make them wonder what other lies they've been told," he said in a statement. "Whether it's right to make children believe in Father Christmas is an interesting question, and it's also interesting to ask whether lying in this way will affect children in ways that have not been considered." God, just imagine if the kids grow up and start questioning other things they're told by authority figures! Just think what terrible, terrible outcomes those would be! Surely Somebody on Twitter Must Be Offended by Black Santa! Mall of America in Minneapolis has a black Santa Claus for the very first time this year, the result of a lengthy search for a "diverse St. Nicholas that kids of color would relate to," according to the Star Tribune. They tracked down Larry Jefferson, who will be at the mall for four days before heading back to the Texas to play black Santa down there. Yes, see, it turns out that Jefferson has been playing Santa Claus since 1999 for kids and it's no big deal. It's easy to see why the Star Tribune would want to report on the first appearance of a non-white Santa in its major mall, but the story for some reason has gone national. I suppose it would be cynical and unseasonably mean of me to wonder if there are other media folks combing the Twittersphere looking for four or five random people to express outrage that Santa is not white in order to write a piece about angry racists? Sure enough, it turns out the Star Tribune has turned comments off on the story, though the Daily Dot was unable to determine whether there were any comments offensive enough to mandate such a measure. People's responses on Facebook tend to be telegraphing their own ideas about what the[...]



LGBT Lives Are Better Than Ever, Yet The Culture War Grows Louder

Thu, 01 Dec 2016 13:15:00 -0500

My public reaction (on Twitter) when I saw BuzzFeed's strange, now-viral piece about a couple of HGTV hosts going to a church whose pastor doesn't support gay marriage was to wonder if the media outlet was going to write a similar piece about every single Catholic in America or just the famous ones. Whatever the stated intent for running a story about the church attendance of some C-list home improvement show hosts (they do well in cable ratings, anyway), the subtext is clearly intended for us to look askance at Chip and Joanna Gaines for belonging to a church whose pastor preaches against gay marriage. The weirdest part of the piece is that it's entirely speculative. The Gaineses didn't respond to requests for comment, so it's a piece that cannot even tell the reader whether the Gaineses themselves support or oppose gay marriage. Robby Soave noted this morning a couple of media outlets like Jezebel and Cosmopolitan running with the story. There's also been a much larger blitz of responses that are critical of the BuzzFeed piece. Here's some critical analysis over at the Washington Post from an engaged gay man who worries that the digital media environment under the Donald Trump administration is going to end up as "four agonizing, tedious years of 'gotcha' non-stories like this one." There is some possible good news here amid the media feeding frenzy surrounding the story: At the time that I'm writing this, a host of outlets have written about and linked to the BuzzFeed story. But I haven't seen a peep at the major blogs or media outlets (such as The Advocate) that specifically cater to LGBT readers. I may have missed a blog link somewhere given the size of the internet, but this "controversy" doesn't seem to be a focus of sites that are narrowly focused on LGBT lives and issues. Why is this good news? Because it's a sign that the people who are actually affected by cultural attitudes toward gay marriage recognition understand where the battles truly are (to the extent that there are any battles left). Whatever the Gaineses and their retrograde preacher believe about gay marriage is not relevant to whether the practice will continue. There is no indication that any of these people in this story have influence to alter the state of legal recognition (or any interest in doing so). There is a lot of focus at LGBT sites about who will be serving the Trump administration and fears about what they may do. Trump actively courted LGBT voters, which is remarkable on its own for a representative of the Republican Party. Let's not forget that the Republican Party's opposition to gay issues hasn't been just a plank in the platform—it's also historically been an issue to campaign with, something largely absent from this year's race. Trump nevertheless did terribly with gay voters, according to exit polls. But while Trump doesn't seem to personally have much opposition to the LGBT agenda, the same cannot be said for the people he's selecting for his administration, and that's where all the power will be. I've noted previously fear over Trump's selection of Rep. Tom Price to head the Department of Health and Human Services, given his record of opposition on gay issues. Betsy DeVos, Trump's pick for secretary of education, didn't just oppose legal recognition of gay marriage; she actually bankrolled ballot initiatives to block it. Her family has significant connections to organizations that have done everything they could to halt the legal normalization of same-sex relationships, and it's worth analyzing how that might affect what she does in Trump's cabinet. So having said that, what I'm seeing from pieces like this bizarre one from BuzzFeed, and from things like a gay politician's attempt to promote a boycott of a beer company owner for supporting Trump, is an inability to accept a norm that we live side-by-side in a[...]



6 Fast Facts About the FBI's New Hate-Crime Report

Tue, 15 Nov 2016 10:30:00 -0500

The FBI just released new information on hate crimes—defined as "crimes that manifest evidence of prejudice based on race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity"—that occurred in America last year. Here are six key points and takeaways that are crucial to understanding the data. 1. The new report covers incidents that occurred in 2015. This seems like the first important fact to note, since some people have already been trying to pass the data off as a response to Donald Trump's election as president. That's obviously impossible. Trump did start his campaign seriously in the summer of 2015, which leaves open the possibility for his influence on bias-based crimes last year. But other influential events of 2015 include major Islamic terrorist attacks in Paris and Turkey; the mass shooting carried out by ISIS supporters in San Bernardino, California; the rising refugee crisis in Europe; an array of "officer involved shootings," anti-police brutality protests, and Black Lives Matter activism within the U.S.; and the transgender bathroom issue breaking into the mainstream media/political scene for the first time, to name a few. Any serious explanation for a shift in violence against various minorities last year must take all of that (and many other factors) into account, so it's disappointing to see people immediately leap to pin new data to "Trumpism." One needn't feel love for Trump and his fan club to find any explanation that starts and stops with them woefully lacking, partisan, and, to the extent that it clouds out analysis of other factors, possibly destructive. 2. The data is incomplete + inherently increase-prone every year. The FBI collects national data on all sorts of crimes as part of its Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program. It has done so since the 1930s. In 1990, it started specifically collecting data "about crimes that manifest evidence of prejudice based on race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity," or what it calls "hate crimes." The first FBI hate-crime statistics included reporting data from just 11 states. Since 1990, the number of law-enforcement agencies participating in the FBI's hate-crime reporting program has grown relatively steadily, meaning that in terms of sheer number of incidents, part (or perhaps all) of any increases may be attributed to an increase in the number of jurisdictions and agencies reporting hate-crime data to the FBI. The 2015 statistics include information from law-enforcement agencies representing some 283,884,034 people, or about 89 percent of the U.S. population. This is actually down from 2014 and 2013 (when 15,494 and 15,016 agencies participated, respectively), but up from 2012, when just 13,022 participated.* 3. Hate-crimes against persons are down over last year. The FBI reported a total of 5,850 incidents from 2015 that it categorized as hate crimes, up slightly over 2014, when 5,479 incidents were reported. Overall, 65 of these biased-based incidents were classified as "crimes against society," 3,646 as "crimes against persons," and 2,338 as property crimes (with some incidents counted in more than one category). This represents a decrease in crimes against persons since 2014, when 4,048 such crimes were reported. 4. Nearly two-thirds of all hate crimes involved no physical violence. Of all 2015 incidents that the FBI deemed hate crimes, a little more than one third—36.5 percent—involved some sort of physical violence against an individual or group of individuals. Simple assault accounted for 24.5 percent of all incidents, aggravated assault for 11.6 percent, rape for 0.22 percent, and murder for 0.14 percent. Looking at just crimes against people, the most common occurrence was intimidation, which made up 41 percent of the incidents in this category. Simple assault accounted for 39 percent of crimes aga[...]



Banned in Cannes

Tue, 01 Nov 2016 12:00:00 -0400

(image) Perched on France's southern coast, Cannes is famous for its luxurious beaches. But enjoying the seaside became more difficult for many Muslim women this summer: In July, the city passed a month-long ban on burkinis—head-to-toe two-piece swimsuits—on public shores.

Cannes is one of several French municipalities that moved to prohibit the demure swimwear following recent terrorist attacks across Europe. Prime Minister Manuel Valls supported the bans, telling the French newspaper La Provence that mayors are trying to "encourage people to coexist peacefully." In Cannes, women wearing the swimwear would be asked to leave as well as face a fine of 38 euros ($42).

In late August France's highest administrative court overturned one of the ordinances, calling it a "manifestly illegal infringement of fundamental liberties." But mayors in the region vowed to ignore the ruling; the situation remains in flux. Civil liberties groups have denounced the laws.

France has a history of mandating and enforcing secularism. In 2004, Parliament banned noticeable religious symbols, including headscarves and large crosses, in public schools. And in 2010, lawmakers passed a prohibition against women wearing burqas and niqabs in public, a vote that drew criticism from human rights and religious organizations.




Brickbat: Tell Me About It

Thu, 20 Oct 2016 04:00:00 -0400

(image) A three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a California law that forces religious pregnancy clinics to give women information on how to obtain an abortion. The court ruled that the law does not violate anyone's First Amendment rights.




Future Nobel Laureate Warns: The Antichrist Is Coming!

Fri, 14 Oct 2016 10:40:00 -0400

It's April 1980. You live in Toronto. You're going to see future Nobel laureate Bob Dylan play a show at Massey Hall. Of course, you don't think of him as future Nobel laureate Bob Dylan. You think of him as a hippie rock star who's just pissed off vast swaths of his fan base by converting to evangelical Christianity. Hopefully you weren't expecting to hear his old hits, because Dylan doesn't sing any of those. Instead he plays a bunch of his new religious songs, and at one point, with the band vamping behind him like he's a preacher and it's Sunday morning, he lets loose a little sermon. "In the Bible," he says, "it tells you specific things, in the Book of Daniel and the Book of Revelation, which just might apply to these times here." And he talks about Afghanistan and he talks about the Antichrist, and while he's standing there playing the prophet you start to realize that future Nobel laureate Bob Dylan isn't just into Christianity; he's into some freaky endtimes shit. But damn if he doesn't make it compelling, and somehow it all builds to a revved-up performance of "Solid Rock." Check out the whole thing here: src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/TPEv1y_Navk" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0"> I'm already on record as a fan of Dylan's Christian albums, and I'm not gonna recycle my arguments for them here. I wrote a piece for No Depression back in 2003 that makes my case, and if you're interested you can check that out. I'll just note that I'm not a Christian myself, so I'm not inflating their quality because I agree with them. And much as I love Dylan's best work, I'm definitely not the sort of fan who eats up everything he puts out, so that's not the issue here either. I honestly believe that Slow Train Coming is one of the great American jeremiads and that Saved is 43 minutes of good-and-sometimes-great gospel music. But I do have one little bias that might be magnifying my affection for this stage of Dylan's career. It's the window it opens on that Carter-era apocalyptic mood, when everything from the Afghan war to the Jonestown massacre—yeah, Dylan mentioned Jonestown in that sermon too—felt like a sign that Armageddon was near. Every era of American history has its own set of apocalyptic fears, a particular collection of cataclysms that seemed to loom at that specific moment. Inevitably, someone combines those historically contingent threats with the more long-lived tales Americans tell each other about the endtimes, so that, say, whatever happened that week in the Middle East is imagined as an event foretold in the Bible. Such exercises always look a little ridiculous in retrospect, once the crisis has passed without the world ending. But try to look past the ridiculousness. Try to suspend your disbelief and take them seriously, the way you might when you watch a horror movie. If you can do that, you'll find they're a valuable portal to the past. If you want to understand how the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan felt as it happened, you have to take yourself out of the mindset that sees that incursion as the beginning of a nine-year war that ended nearly three decades ago. You have to imagine how it looked to someone who had no idea how this was going to end, someone who caught a whiff of Armageddon in the air. Someone who might talk about the invasion as though he was just a few years removed from doomsday, not 36 years removed from winning a Nobel Prize. And if he can wrap up that talk with a solid song, all the better. (For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here. For the Orson Welles version of Carter-era apocalypticism, check out the second and third videos here. For the far end of the period's endtimes fears, go here.)[...]



Is Religion in the Crosshairs?

Thu, 13 Oct 2016 06:00:00 -0400

It's Dangerous to Believe: Religious Freedom and Its Enemies, by Mary Eberstadt, HarperCollins, 192 pages, $25.99 In December 2015, the state of Oregon seized the contents of Melissa Klein's checking and savings accounts. A judge had ordered the bakery owner to pay $135,000 as punishment for declining, on the basis of her religious beliefs, to make a cake for a same-sex wedding. She objected, pledging to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court if necessary, so the state's labor commissioner took the money by force. One month earlier, a black teacher named Madeline Kirksey lost her job at a Texas day care center, allegedly for refusing to call an anatomically female 6-year-old student by a boy's name. Question: What do these two incidents have in common? Answer: It depends entirely on your ideological persuasion. For progressives, both are social justice victories. In each case, this view goes, a religious bigot attempted to impose her beliefs about morality on other people and the authorities slapped her down for it. For conservatives, both show a heavy-handed secularism working to stamp out traditional mores. Descriptions of these incidents appear together, in fact, in the introduction of It's Dangerous to Believe, a new book by the Catholic writer Mary Eberstadt, as commensurate examples of the "soft persecution" that increasingly befalls Christians in the West. For libertarians, the two are really not alike at all. To follow the latter logic, you need to distinguish between public and private behaviors. Where the state can use coercion and compulsion, private actors must turn to persuasion and negotiation. Because private individuals operate in the realm of voluntary interactions, they have to accept that sometimes they won't get their way. (To the demand "Work for my company!" a person can say "No!" To the demand "Pay your taxes!" there is no legal right of refusal.) So what happened to Melissa Klein, who was punished by the state, and what happened to Madeline Kirksey, who was punished by her employer, are different not just in degree but in kind. The core weakness of It's Dangerous to Believe is a failure to draw this conceptual distinction between governmental oppression and mere social stricture. Truly egregious violations of people's rights (a campus police officer shutting down a street preacher by falsely claiming it's illegal "to offend the students") are listed alongside nonviolent pressure (former Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich resigning after the internet masses learned he supported an anti-gay marriage initiative). "Consider today's unprecedented legal and other attacks on Christian colleges, Christian associations and clubs on campuses and elsewhere, and Christian homeschooling," Eberstadt writes. Then, without a beat: "Or the range of tactics of intimidation, shunning, and smearing now deployed against religious traditionalists." There is, to be sure, a case to be made even against the latter form of punishment. Most lists of libertarian virtues would include the acceptance of unpopular beliefs and lifestyles, after all. And Eberstadt compiles a damning catalog of evidence that the left has indeed abandoned its own "secular-progressive standards of tolerance, diversity, and freedom for all" in a single-minded drive to penalize cultural conservatives for their wrongthink. She points, for example, to the pattern of "disinvitations," in which colleges revoke requests for politically radioactive figures to speak on campuses. Then there's the story that lawyer and National Review staff writer David French relayed from his time working admissions at Cornell Law School: "The committee almost rejected an extraordinarily qualified applicant because of his obvious Christi[...]



Euro Logic: We Must Kill Free Speech to Promote Free Speech

Tue, 27 Sep 2016 09:30:00 -0400

Recent "hate speech" investigations in European countries have been spawned by homily remarks by a Spanish Cardinal who opposed "radical feminism," a hyperbolic hashtag tweeted by a U.K. diversity coordinator, a chant for fewer Moroccan immigrants to enter the Netherlands, comments from a reality TV star implying Scottish people have Ebola, a man who put a sign in his home window saying "Islam out of Britian," French activists calling for boycotts of Israeli products, an anti-Semitic tweet sent to a British politician, a Facebook post referring to refugees to Germany as "scum," and various other sorts of so-called "verbal radicalism" on social media. One might consider any or all of these comments distasteful, but Americans (recent trends on college campuses notwithstanding) tend to appreciate that for a free-speech right to truly exist, we must severely limit the types of speech—true threats, slander, etc.—that don't deserve protection from government censorship and potential prosecution. Not so in European Union (E.U.) member countries, many of which have laws against any language that "insults," "offends," "degrades," "expresses contempt," or "incites hatred" based on certain protected traits like race, religion, or sexual orientation. As Nick Gillespie has put it, "hate speech" is like the secular equivalent of blasphemy. On Monday, Věra Jourová, the E.U. Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, gave a speech stressing the importance of such laws and calling for even more intense policing of so-called hate speech. (Just to be clear, by "hate speech" we are not talking about things like threats or criminal harassment.) "My top priority is to ensure that the Framework Decision on Combatting Racism and Xenophobia is correctly translated into the national criminal codes and enforced, so that perpetrators of online hate speech are duly punished," Jourová said. The commissioner offered a characteristically European rationale for the imposition: only by government censorship of free expression can free expression flourish. "In recent years, we have seen messages of extremism and intolerance spread around the globe like wildfire" and "we need to stand united against this growing phenomenon," said Jourová. "Our commitment is to deliver change so that people do not need to live in fear, and to ensure that the internet remains a place of free and democratic expression, where European values and laws are respected." "The spread of illegal hate speech online not only distresses the people it targets," she continued, "it also affects those who speak up for freedom, tolerance and non-discrimination in our society. If left unattended, the fear of intimidation can keep opinion makers, journalists and citizens away from social media platforms." It's easy to see how folks might buy Jourová's idea that allowing intolerant speech online "means a shrinking digital space for freedom of expression." We've all heard about public figures or controversial thinkers who were allegedly hounded off of social media by online criticism, with its harsh, vulgar, and sometimes violent tones. And what is gained by such uncivil opprobrium? By sanctioning not only violent threats and ongoing harassment but also speech that serves no purpose but to troll, denigrate, or spread bigotry, we can usher in a more welcoming environment for all sorts of ideas and speakers online... Or so the thinking goes, anyway. But the fatal flaw in this conceit is pretending there's some bright line between desirable, pro-social speech and speech that merely incites offense, fear, or feelings of negativity. Of course, many of us object on pure principle to censoring the latter[...]