Catholic bishops cry for religious freedom: This is not a Jewish issue. This is not an Orthodox, Mormon, or Muslim issue. It is an American issue

The nation’s Catholic bishops are calling on the faithful to pray and mobilize in a “great national campaign” to confront what they see as a series of threats to religious freedom, and they are setting aside the two weeks before July 4 for their “Fortnight for Freedom” initiative.

The exhortation is contained in a 12-page statement released Wednesday (April 12) by the bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, and its chief concern is the Obama administration’s proposal to provide contraception coverage to all employees with health insurance, including those who work for religious groups.

The statement represents the hierarchy’s latest effort to overturn that policy, and it includes an explicit threat of widespread civil disobedience by the nation’s 67 million Catholics.


“What is at stake is whether America will continue to have a free, creative, and robust civil society — or whether the state alone will determine who gets to contribute to the common good, and how they get to do it,” the statement says. “This is not a Catholic issue. This is not a Jewish issue. This is not an Orthodox, Mormon, or Muslim issue. It is an American issue.”

Religion in Prisons: A 50-State Survey of Prison Chaplains

From the perspective of the nation’s professional prison chaplains, America’s state penitentiaries are a bustle of religious activity. More than seven-in-ten (73%) state prison chaplains say that efforts by inmates to proselytize or convert other inmates are either very common (31%) or somewhat common (43%). About three-quarters of the chaplains say that a lot (26%) or some (51%) religious switching occurs among inmates in the prisons where they work. Many chaplains report growth from religious switching in the numbers of Muslims and Protestant Christians, in particular.

Overwhelmingly, state prison chaplains consider religious counseling and other religion-based programming an important aspect of rehabilitating prisoners. Nearly three-quarters of the chaplains (73%), for example, say they consider access to religion-related programs in prison to be “absolutely critical” to successful rehabilitation of inmates. And 78% say they consider support from religious groups after inmates are released from prison to be absolutely critical to inmates’ successful rehabilitation and re-entry into society. Among chaplains working in prisons that have religion-related rehabilitation or re-entry programs, more than half (57%) say the quality of such programs has improved over the last three years and six-in-ten (61%) say participation in such programs has gone up.

At the same time, a sizable minority of chaplains say that religious extremism is either very common (12%) or somewhat common (29%) among inmates. Religious extremism is reported by the chaplains as especially common among Muslim inmates (including followers of the Nation of Islam and the Moorish Science Temple of America) and, to a substantial but lesser degree, among followers of pagan or earth-based religions such as Odinism and various forms of Wicca. (See Glossary.) An overwhelming majority of chaplains, however, report that religious extremism seldom poses a threat to the security of the facility in which they work, with only 4% of chaplains saying religious extremism among inmates “almost always” poses a threat to prison security and an additional 19% saying it “sometimes” poses a threat.

Bills to ban use of foreign laws rile groups

A proposal to ban the use of foreign law in Virginia was on its way to passing the House of Delegates, despite objections from religious groups that it was a back-door attack on Islam that could also harm followers of other faiths.

One bill, HB825 from Republican Del. Bob Marshall of Prince William County, would have prohibited judges and state administrators from using any legal code established outside the United States to make decisions. It was one of two proposals this year to address that issue.

Muslim advocates condemned the effort, calling it a thinly veiled attack on Shariah law, their religious tenets. Members of other religious communities joined in, including the Jewish Community Federation, saying the ban also would infringe on their rights, especially to settle certain family matters, such as wills and divorces, according to their faith.

Nonetheless, the House Courts of Justice Committee approved the bill 10-6 and sent it to the full House for consideration.

Proponents of the legislation, such as the conservative Center for Security Policy, argue it’s intended to prevent foreign law from infringing on Americans’ rights, although their discussion focuses only on Shariah law.

A study by the center reported finding 50 cases in 23 states during the past two years in which judges used Shariah law in their decisions. Three were in Virginia: two marriage cases and one child custody dispute, according to the report.

There’s no widespread evidence of judges using foreign law in Virginia or elsewhere, said Corey Saylor, national legislative director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

“It’s a non-issue,” he said. “The Constitution is the law of the land, and to my knowledge no one’s questioning that.”

Top court reignites debate over French secularism

July 22, 2011


France’s highest administrative court handed down a final ruling on five cases involving the public use of funds for religious purposes. In June 2007 an administrative court blocked 380,000 Euros the city of Le Mans wanted to use to set up a Muslim slaughterhouse. The court ruled that the space was meant for religious practices and, according to France’s 1905 law on the separation of church and state, it could not be built with taxpayer money. The city of Le Mans appealed the ruling to France’s highest administrative court, the Council of State, arguing that the slaughterhouse served local obligations to ensure public health and hygiene.


On 19 July 2011, the Council handed down a final ruling on the Le Mans slaughterhouse and four other cases, favouring religious groups. The rulings, which also considered disputes over the installation of an access elevator for a Catholic basilica, the restoration of a church organ and the use of public spaces for two different mosque projects, have gone mostly unnoticed. The slaughterhouse project is back on track.


The town of Trélazé can keep and use public funds to restore a church organ, the Council said, but the organ must be made available to non-members of the congregation for music classes and concerts. Muslims in Le Mans can have a slaughterhouse, but must share this space with non-Muslims who also want to use the premises.


Debate over Merkel’s Reaction to Bin Laden’s Death

Following the killing of Bin Laden, German Chancellor Angela Merkel publicly announced her relief about the news during a press conference. More specifically, Merkel said it was “great news” and that she was “happy” to hear about the killing of Bin Laden. Further, she expressed her respect for Obama’s strategy. Merkel’s expression of joy over Bin Laden’s death has unleashed heated debate; her statement has been criticized by various religious groups and members of the political opposition as well as Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and the governing coalition. Critics expressed their discomfort at the expression of joy over the death of a human being. Church representatives argued that from a Christian perspective, in particular, it was especially inappropriate to express happiness about the intentional killing of another human being. While most critics were understanding of expressions of relief about Bin Laden’s death, they considered it to be inadequate to express happiness in the way Merkel did. Others, such as Omid Nouripour, member of the Green Party, not only criticized Merkel’s statement, but also the killing of Bin Laden more generally. Nouripour stressed that the rules and regulations of a constitutional state had to be kept – even in the war against terror.

Many members of the Christian Democrats, however, supported Merkel. Heiner Geißler, for instance, argued that any civilized person should be happy about the fact that Bin Laden did no longer pose a threat. Geißler responded to criticisms by religious groups and argued that being Christian did not mean to be pedantic and “preachy”. He understood Merkel’s statement merely as an expression of happiness that this “problem” had been solved. Similarly, Dieter Graumann, President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, saw Merkel’s happiness as not related to someone’s death, but the success in the war against international terrorism. Also amongst those defending Merkel’s statement is Germany’s Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, who, similar to Merkel, welcomed Bin Laden’s death as “good news”. While Westerwelle said that relief about Bin Laden’s death was understandable, he warned that the reactions to his killing in the West must not lead to any provocation of Al Qaida. Further, he emphasized the need to stay vigilant, as the killing of Bin Laden did not end the international fight against terrorism and extremism

Reacting to the public criticism, the Government emphasized that Merkel’s statement could not be isolated from the context. Seen in its context, it merely expressed relief that Bin Laden no longer posed any threat.


Jocelyne Cesari
Director of the Islam in the West Program
MINERVA Chair, National War College

With the contentious Congressional hearings on the “radicalization in the American Muslim Community” now open, there is an opportunity to reflect on how fear can tear at American security and social cohesion.

Hearing supporters cite an increase in the last two years of the number of Muslim-Americans indicted for terrorism-related charges. This includes well-known figures like Fort Hood murderer Major Nidal Malik Hasan, Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad, and Colleen LaRose, a.k.a. “Jihad Jane.”

Despite this rise, hearing opponents insist that the number of violent extremism acts planned or conducted by Muslims remains negligible. A study published February 2 2011 by the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security in Durham, N.C. shows that from September 11, 2001 to the end of 2010, the number of Muslim-Americans involved in terrorist plots against domestic targets remains quite low at 70. Brian Jenkins, a senior terrorism expert with the RAND Corporation, documented 46 cases of domestic radicalization between September 11, 2001 and December 2009.
Hearing supporters, however, counter that the quantity of the attacks does not reflect the potential destruction that some Muslim terrorists seek. In other words, it’s not the number of perpetrators, but the potential destruction, that is so worrisome.

It can also be argued that hearing proponents base their support for the hearings on the false assumption that practicing Muslims are a danger for American society. But most data, including a 2007 poll by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, and a 2009 Gallup survey, suggest the opposite: that Islamic religiosity and cultural identification are not obstacles to loyalty to America, but vehicles to civic engagement. Not surprisingly, these attitudes are consistent with those of practicing members of other religious groups. Moreover, the current discussion on religion and loyalty should not revolve solely around mosques, as surveys also show that a majority of Muslim-Americans do not even attend mosques.

For these hearings to have any positive outcome, a more efficient approach would be to move the core of the discussion to: how to include Islam and Muslims in our nation’s narrative? This is work that needs to be done, first and foremost, by America’s leaders, as well as the media, civic and religious groups, and individual members of society. As New York Times columnist Bob Hebert wrote on March 8, “(T)here have always been people willing to stand up boldly and courageously against such injustice.”

On March 10, the hearings provided a platform for at least two individuals who used the occasion to weave Muslims in the American narrative. In his testimony, Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN), the first Muslim elected to Congress, tearfully etched into America’s consciousness the story of Salman Ahmad, a Muslim paramedic and New York Police Officer cadet killed trying to help fellow New Yorkers on 9/11. Giving Muslims a historical hug, Congressman Brian Higgins, a Catholic, stated in his remarks that America’s tradition is not just “Christian-Judeo,” but “Christian-Judeo-Islamic.”

This is not empty feel-good talk, but the prefiguration of how historical references can be used to achieve symbolic integration and counter the dominant narrative that tends to present Islam and Muslims as an alien religion.

Updating a national narrative is a huge political and symbolic task, something equivalent to the effort that led to the integration of the African American and Native American past into the dominant American narrative. This could be accomplished by telling the stories of the estimated 10 percent of all African slaves brought to the United States who were Muslim, or the long-standing presence of Islam within several ethnic and cultural communities, and the hybridization of Islam to the American pop culture. What better antidote to the shadow of Bin Laden than Malcolm X?
Unless the hearings are the first step to such a discussion, they will offer little help to either reducing the risk of radicalism or increasing American cohesion. If they move us closer to a more inclusive narrative, then something will have been accomplished.

Politics in the Pulpit

Among voters who attend religious services at least once or twice a month, 15% say information on the political parties or candidates has been made available at their place of worship. This is similar to the number of voters who, following the 2008 campaign, said that political information had been provided at their place of worship (15%), but lower than the percentage who said this after the 2004 election (27%). Among religious groups, encountering political information at church is most common among black Protestants (36%).

Canadian Council of Muslim Women Disagree with Adding “Honor Killing” to Criminal Code

The Canadian Council of Muslim Women opposes the addition of “honor killings” to the Criminal Code on the grounds “murder is murder” and a special category could stigmatize new immigrants and some ethnic or religious groups. Opposition Liberal and New Democrat MPs and several legal experts also objected to such a change, floated by Rona Ambrose, federal Minister for the Status of Women, at a recent news conference.

Three law professors said the first-degree murder provisions of the Criminal Code already contain all the tools needed to prosecute and punish those who commit “honor killings” and they knew of no Canadian judge or jury who treated cultural family “honor” as a mitigating factor in sentencing.

Internal Tension Threatens Dutch Muslim Broadcasting Company

Disagreement regarding the appointment of an interim director may lead to the breakup of the Netherlands’ newest Muslim broadcasting company. According to
Dutch broadcasting regulations, religious groups are entitled to airtime every week on national public radio and television channels. As there is just one broadcasting license per religion, broadcasting requires close cooperation between several groups whose views do not always agree. OUMA was created after the downfall of previous Islamic broadcasting organizations and was awarded a five year broadcasting license last year. It encompasses rival factions SMON, which champions the continued leadership of Maurice Koopman from the previous company, and Acadmica Islamica, which claims an agreement not to appoint people involved in the previous broadcasting organization bars Koopman from eligibility. The new OUMA combination will begin broadcasting in September.

American Muslims Widely Seen as Facing Discrimination

Eight years after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Americans see Muslims as facing more discrimination inside the U.S. than other major religious groups. Nearly six-in-ten adults (58 percent) say that Muslims are subject to a lot of discrimination, far more than say the same about Jews, evangelical Christians, atheists or Mormons. In fact, of all the groups asked about, only gays and lesbians are seen as facing more discrimination than Muslims, with nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of the public saying there is a lot of discrimination against homosexuals.

The poll also finds that two-thirds of non-Muslims (65 percent) say that Islam and their own faith are either very different or somewhat different, while just 17 percent take the view that Islam and their own religion are somewhat or very similar. But Islam is not the only religion that Americans see as mostly different from their own. When asked about faiths other than their own, six-in-ten adults say Buddhism is mostly different, with similar numbers saying the same about Mormonism (59 percent) and Hinduism (57 percent).

By a smaller margin, Americans are also inclined to view Judaism and Catholicism as somewhat or very different from their own faith (47 percent different vs. 35 percent similar for Judaism, 49 percent different vs. 43 percent similar for Catholicism). Only when asked about Protestantism do perceived similarities outweigh perceived differences, with 44 percent of non-Protestants in the survey saying Protestantism and their own faith are similar and 38 percent saying they are different.

Results from the latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, conducted Aug. 11-17 among 2,010 adults reached on both landlines and cell phones, reveal that high levels of perceived similarity with religious groups are associated with more favorable views of those groups. Those who see their own faith as similar to Catholicism, Judaism, Mormonism and Islam are significantly more likely than others to have favorable views of members of these groups.

Detailed questions about perceptions of Islam show that a plurality of the public (45 percent) says Islam is no more likely than other faiths to encourage violence among its believers; 38 percent take the opposite view, saying that Islam does encourage violence more than other faiths do. Views on this question have fluctuated in recent years, with the current findings showing that the view that Islam is connected with violence has declined since 2007, when 45 percent of the public said that Islam encourages violence more than other religions do.

Almost half of Americans (45 percent) say they personally know someone who is Muslim. Also, slim majorities of the public are able to correctly answer questions about the name Muslims use to refer to God (53 percent) and the name of Islam’s sacred text (52 percent), with four-in-ten (41 percent) correctly answering both “Allah” and “the Koran.” These results are consistent with recent years and show modest increases in Americans’ familiarity with Islam compared with the months following the 9/11 attacks. Those people who know a Muslim are less likely to see Islam as encouraging of violence; similarly, those who are most familiar with Islam and Muslims are most likely to express favorable views of Muslims and to see similarities between Islam and their own religion.