In Virginia House of Delegates, a push for inclusive prayers

February 28, 2014

 

RICHMOND — Every day they’re in session, as they have for hundreds of years, the members of Virginia’s House of Delegates stand together and pray.

At least most of them do.

Nearly every legislature in the country begins sessions with a prayer, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, as does Congress. It’s a tradition that dates back to the British Parliament. The Supreme Court ruled 30 years ago that legislative prayers were constitutional, as they were “deeply embedded in the history and tradition of this country” as well as “a tolerable acknowledgment of beliefs widely held among the people.” But a Jew and an atheist in Greece, N.Y., have challenged the prayers that began their town council meetings as violating the court’s requirement that prayers not favor one religion. The justices are reviewing an appeals court ruling that agreed with the women that eight years of almost exclusively Christian prayers violated constitutional protections.

“I’d like to be able to take part in the prayer,” said Del. Marcus B. Simon, a freshman Democrat from Fairfax County and one of the few Jewish lawmakers in the House who has made a point of standing in the back of the chamber when prayers are read. “I wish it was one I felt like I could take part.”

In part to reflect the seismic demographic shifts in recent decades that have helped JewishMuslimBuddhistHindu and Sikh communities take root in the commonwealth, prayers in the House are supposed to be “ecumenical” — not tied to a specific faith. Too often for some, they’re not.

“We start with a prayer to feel energized and rejuvenated,” said Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax), who is Jewish. “Why not be inclusive?”

This isn’t the only instance in which the legislature’s allegiance to Christian traditions — many of which are still championed by conservative lawmakers — have clashed with the changing sensibilities of the state’s population centers.

On Thursday, Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) vowed to veto a bill that would allow students to pray and make religious remarks in public schools. The measure was hailed by some in the legislature, including Sen. Richard H. Black (R-Loudoun), who said that lawmakers should “give to our students the same religious freedom and same religious rights that we have granted ourselves.”

Prayers in the House have become contentious before. In 2010, delegates were urged toboycott a prayer from an imam because two of the Sept. 11 hijackers briefly worshiped at his Falls Church mosque — and because a former imam at the mosque is suspected by U.S. authorities of having aided al-Qaeda in terrorist activities. About a dozen delegates were not in the chamber for that day’s prayer.

That same year, then-Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) reversed a policy banning state police chaplains from referring to Jesus in public prayers.

Although the concerned delegates in Virginia appreciated Nardo’s response, prayers invoking specific Christian beliefs continue in the legislature. But signs of change are apparent.

Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-politics/in-virginia-house-of-delegates-a-push-for-inclusive-prayers/2014/02/20/25c1eb6a-9971-11e3-b88d-f36c07223d88_story.html?wprss=rss_story-courts_law-NW3&_monetaClick=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

North Carolina GOP Is Using An Anti-Sharia Bill To Sneak Through Extreme Abortion Restrictions

The North Carolina legislature is advancing a package of stringent abortion restrictions that appeared in the Senate this week without any public notice. The anti-abortion measures popped up on Tuesday night, tacked onto a controversial measure to ban Sharia law, and caught women’s health advocates completely off-guard.

House Bill 695, which would prohibit the recognition of Sharia law in family courts — an increasingly popular conservative tactic that essentially serves to demonize the Islamic faith — was slated for consideration in a Senate committee on Tuesday. As soon as that committee convened, it quickly approved several abortion-related amendments to the legislation. HB 695 now combines several different anti-abortion measures that were in different stages in the legislature into one omnibus measure.

The new amendments would prevent insurance plans on Obamacare’s health marketplaces from covering abortion services, ban “sex-selective” abortions, impose unnecessary restrictions on doctors administering the abortion pill to women, and require the state’s abortion clinics to adhere to complicated new regulations that would likely force most of them to close. A similar package of abortion restrictions has inspired weeks of protest in Texas, where thousands of reproductive rights activists have been rallying at the state capitol.

 

Anti-Islam pastor Terry Jones barred from entering Canada

News Agencies – October 11, 2012

 

A Florida pastor made famous by his strident anti-Islam views and widely publicized Koran immolation was barred entry into Canada because border officials had qualms about legal tussles in his past. Terry Jones was supposed to attend a multifaith debate on the film Innocence of Muslims outside Ontario’s legislature. Mr. Jones and Wayne Sapp, associate director of Stand Up America Now, said they were stopped at the Michigan-Ontario border and searched before being turned away.

At issue is a breach of peace charge against Mr. Sapp that he said was overturned, and a fine Mr. Jones had to pay in Germany for using the title “Doctor” from an unrecognized institution, a complaint Mr. Sapp said was successfully appealed. The debate was to go forward Thursday evening with a substitute in Mr. Jones’s place. Allan Einstoss, one of the debate’s organizers, said the event is meant to be a statement about the importance of freedom of speech. Imam Steve Rockwell of Toronto’s Sheikh Deedat mosque, who was to debate Mr. Jones Thursday, argues that the pastor goes too far.

Parti Quebecois: Crucifixes in, hijabs and monarchy out

News Agencies – August 15, 2012

 

Pauline Marois’s vision for Quebec includes fewer hijabs and fewer symbols of the Crown. She announced that if her Parti Quebecois wins the Sept. 4 election [ed note: they did], it will introduce a Charter of Secularism that would forbid public employees from wearing religious symbols on the job — like Muslim head scarves.

But the Charter of Secularism, it seems, would not be applied evenly. The ban on religious symbols would not extend to employees who wear a crucifix necklace. Nor would it extend to the crucifix hanging in the legislature, which Marois says is part of Quebec’s heritage. The ban on religious symbols would extend, however, to some non-religious aspects of Quebec’s history as selected by the PQ.

Artistic references to the monarchy would also disappear from the legislature under Marois’ watch. She allowed that “some moldings” might remain.

Marois made her secularism announcement on land belonging to a Christian religious order. She was accompanied by one of her candidates, Algerian-born Djemila Benhabib, an author who has been deeply critical of Islamic fundamentalism and a vocal proponent of secularism.

Obama’s ‘Truth Team’ aims to network its way to a reelection win

The president’s reelection team will unveil a trio of Web sites dedicated to providing supporters with information on the president’s record — and more than a little dirt on his Republican rivals. The campaign has named it Obama’s “Truth Team,” and the goal is to arm millions of surrogates with the facts, figures and talking points they need to engage in ground-level political combat — on their Twitter and Facebook feeds and in old-fashioned conversations with friends and neighbors.

“We believe that our grass-roots supporters persuading their networks to support the president will provide us with the decisive edge in November,” Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said. “We’re providing them with the tools they need to amplify the president’s record, fact-check the Republicans’ attacks and prevent the Republicans from rewriting the history of their records.”

“On the loonier side, when I talk to Republicans in the state legislature I have to remind them he’s an American citizen,” Gallego said. “We have to be prepared for the dirtiness coming from the other side. They’re desperate.”
In 2008, Obama’s campaign produced a Web site called “Fight the Smears” to counter rumors that Obama was a Muslim and born in Indonesia.

But the approach can backfire, as the Obama team learned last fall when it debuted AttackWatch.com and the site was ridiculed by conservatives for the over-the-top, alarmist design — red lettering on a black background. The Obama campaign said 1 million supporters signed up on the site, but it has since been redesigned.for the re-launch Monday.

Virginia anti-Sharia law unconstitutional

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) says a new law that has been proposed in the State of Virginia is anti-Muslim and unconstitutional.

Titled Morris’ HB631, the new bill was introduced by Virginia General Assembly Delegate Rick L. Morris (R-House District 64) on January 11.

“Unfortunately, a state delegate in Virginia, has introduced a piece of legislation that is copied from an extreme anti-Muslim (and) racist who has made a template for such laws nationwide and they have been introduced in more than 20 states and now Virginia and Pennsylvania being the latest,” CAIR’s National Communications Director, Ibrahim Hooper, has told Press TV’s U.S. Desk.

The anti-Sharia proposed law would ban courts from applying religious traditions to proceedings, such as the execution of a will among Muslims. Not only the religious Muslim code, the new bill would also prohibit the application of the Catholic equivalent, canon law, and other religious guidelines.

The suddenly controversial bill is scheduled to be heard by a Virginia legislature House subcommittee next Monday.

In U.S. courts, judges can refer to Sharia law in Muslim litigation involving cases about divorce and custody proceedings or in commercial litigation.

FPÖ Election Results Unimpeded by Minaret-Game Controversy

26 September 2010
Despite the legal proceedings begun by the state prosecutor concerning an anti-minaret video game used by the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) during the recent Styrian election campaign, the FPÖ has not suffered any negative backlash. To the contrary: the FPÖ received almost 11% of the vote in the recent elections, and have consequently gained a seat in the state legislature. Another indication of the success of the anti-Islam strategy could been seen by a present the Styrian FPÖ leader, Gerhard Kurzmann, recently received from two deeply pious Christians: a magnificently adorned cross, placed in a blue case [the FPÖ’s official colour is blue].

French legislature’s report on the burqa ban

A 32-member multiparty panel led by André Gerin presented a panoply of recommendations aimed at dissuading Muslim women from wearing full-face covering headscarves in this report. Another recommendation: denying resident cards and citizenship to women who wear all-encompassing veils.

The panel was bitterly divided over recommending a ban on face-covering veils on the street, and that was not among the 15 recommendations retained after a vote. President Nicolas Sarkozy put the issue before the French in June when he told a joint gathering of parliament that face-covering veils “are not welcome” in France.

Only several thousand women in France are thought to wear burqa-style garments, usually pinning a “niqab” across their faces to go with their long, dark robes. Such veils are widely seen as a gateway to extremism and an attack on gender equality and secularism, a basic value of modern-day France.

“The all-enveloping veil represents, in an extraordinary way, everything that France instinctively rejects. This is the symbol of the enslavement of women and the banner … of extremist fundamentalism,” said Bernard Accoyer, president of the National Assembly, the lower house, after being presented with the report.

Despite the acrimony, this recommendation to ban the veils in public sector facilities could be in place “before the end of the year,” conservative lawmaker Eric Raoult, the panel’s No. 2, told The Associated Press. “We need maybe six months or a little more to explain what we want,” he told The AP, adding that “by the end of 2010” there could be such an interdiction.

Hours after the report was presented, President Sarkozy visited a Muslim cemetery in northern France that has been desecrated twice. Secularism, he said in a speech honoring Muslims who fought and died for France, “is not the negation of religion.” But it is “an essential component of our identity.”

The president of the parliamentary panel, André Gerin, has stressed that the goal of any ban is not to stigmatize women with face-covering veils but to rout out people he calls “gurus” who indoctrinate and force even young girls to cover themselves.

The recommendations show attention, too, to public sector employees dealing with women in full veil who refuse to remove it. In particular, there have been reports of confrontations in hospital settings in which a husband refuses to allow his wife to be treated by a male doctor. Also among the 15 recommendations that passed a panel vote is one calling for special training by state employees to manage such confrontations and another to “systematically signal” when minors are seen wearing full-body veils.

Neither the parliament nor the government is obliged to act on the panel’s recommendations. No action is likely before March regional elections.

Oklahoma anti-hijab bill dismissed, citing its confliction with religious freedoms

The Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations CAIR) has joined other groups concerning the constitutionally protected right to religious freedom, and an Oklahoma bill that bans religious headwear in driver’s licenses and other photo identification cards.

The bill passed in Oklahoma in March, however, the Oklahoma legislature dropped the proposed bill citing its confliction with permitted religious exemption and constituents said that the bill violated their First Amendment rights. “We thank Oklahoma lawmakers for their leadership and courage in standing up for religious pluralism and the First Amendment,” Razi Hashmi, CAIR-Oklahoma executive director, said in a statement issued Tuesday. Some 600 letters opposing the draft legislation were sent to lawmakers by Oklahomans of all faiths, including Muslims, Sikhs, Jews, and Catholics.

Michigan elects first Muslim woman state lawmaker

Thirty-two year old Rashida Tlaib has made history by winning a seat in the Michigan legislature, becoming the first Muslim woman to serve in the state legislature. Rashida, who was born in Michigan to Palestinian immigrants, said that: “Allah had chosen me for this job.” Tlaib is a community activist and lawyer, and defeated her Republican opponent by a wide 9 to 1 margin on the November 4th elections. “My parents had taught me the importance of hard work, honesty and commitment. And those values today paid me in the form of being electing to the prestigious position of Michigan State Legislature, representing a diverse community of Latino, African American and Arabs,” said Tlaib.

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