Bill Protecting Religious Freedom Passes Arizona House

CRcoexist-601353

Senate Bill 1178 Passed the House of Representatives with a 32-24 Vote

Last Wednesday, May 15, 2013, the Arizona House passed a measure that would offer further protection for the religious liberties of its state citizens. The bill seeks to strengthen religious freedom in the state by predominantly giving all “impending” religious liberty violation, as opposed to a violation which has already taken place. The measure also expands the definition of exercise of religion to specifically include both the practice and observance of religion.

Will Bill Hurt Small Business?

The bill passed despite opposition from civil liberties groups who are afraid that the measure will inspire lawsuits over alleged First Amendment violations. They believe that the bill will be a nightmare for businesses because it doesn’t specify what constitutes a potential violation of religious liberty.

The Original Bill

Senator Steve Yarbrough of Chandler, the bill’s sponsor, initially introduced a broader bill that would have alllowed people to sue governments over attacks on religious freedom, regardless if the government was involved in the claim.

The original bill also stipulated that governments could only limit religious liberties to further an “interest in the highest magnitude.” If allowed, that version of the bill, would have been one of the strongest in the nation, according to supporters.

Stricter Language on New Version

Arizona law and the U.S. Constitution already protect the free exercise of religion, but proponents want stricter language.  The Center for Arizona Policy,which supports the bill, said in a statement on its website that “it is necessary to update Arizona’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act and to close loopholes that might jeopardize a person’s free exercise of religion in Arizona.” Persecuting individuals or groups for their religious beliefs creates second-class citizens who are seen as less valuable because of their faith.”

“To ensure religious liberty is protected to the maximum extent possible in our state, “ the bill “makes important clarifications and updates,” says The Center for Arizona Policy.

Drawbacks of New Bill

Rep. Chad Campbell (D-Phoenix) does not like the revamped bill because it does no longer allows a defendant to sue to the government over an attack on religious freedom regardless of the whether the government is involved.  He remarked to the AZ Capitol Times “while you may not be encouraging litigation (with the new version of the bill), …I think you are opening the door for litigation that is probably unnecessary and burdensome, especially for small businesses. “

Yarbrough said on May 15th that he would have preferred the original version, but he supports the amended measure and wants to see Senate Bill 1178 go to a Senate vote.

 

Church of England Banned From Holding Gay Marriages

The Church of England and Church in Wales will be banned in law from offering same-sex marriages according to a shock announcement from the United Kingdom’s government.

However, more liberal and accepting religious organisations will be allowed to “opt in” to holding same-sex ceremonies, came the unexpected announcement from the Culture Secretary Maria Miller. The Church of England and Church in Wales had “explicitly” stated strong opposition and would not be included in plans that are due to be introduced before the next UK election, in 2015.

Culture Secretary Maria Miller

The Church of England, The Roman Catholic Church and some other denominations have been vocal in their opposition to same-sex marriage and are fully expected to oppose the bill at all costs, even with its added caveats.

In her statement, Mrs Miller promised a “quadruple lock” in the bill that would protect religious freedom, involving the following:

1) No religious organisation or individual minister will be compelled to marry same-sex couples or to permit this to happen on their premises.

2) Making it illegal for religious organisations or their ministers to marry same-sex couples unless their organisation’s governing body has expressly opted in to provisions for doing so.

3) Amending the UK’s 2010 Equality Act to ensure no discrimination claim can be brought against religious organisations or individual ministers for refusing to marry a same-sex couple.

4) The legislation will explicitly state that it will be illegal for the Church of England and the Church in Wales to marry same-sex couples and that Canon Law, which bans same-sex weddings, will continue to apply.

Mrs Miller confirmed that because the Church of England and Church in Wales had “explicitly stated” their opposition to equality and same-sex ceremonies, it was therefore right for the government to enshrine in the bill it would “explicitly state that it will be illegal for the Churches of England and Wales to marry same-sex couples”.

Other religious groups including the Unitarians, Liberal Judaism and the Quakers, are more inclusive to same sex couples and are in favour of same sex marriage.

This rather unexpected announcement will likely appease some of the critics in the conservative party and elsewhere that have not favourable be towards marriage equality. However, many are still aggressively campaigning against the bill, claiming the bill, even if it is passed will be challenged in the European Court of Human Rights. However as European law already puts religious freedoms beyond doubt with strong protections it seems unlikely they would side with a plaintiff against the ban.

Many in the gay community welcome the bill with one hand, the right to have a ‘marriage’ rather than a civil partnership ceremony, yet with the other hand are deeply disappointed that they wont be allowed to hold it in a ‘willing’ church of England church.

“We’re delighted about the government’s statement today and welcome the promise to legislate for equal marriage as warmly as on the three previous occasions that this announcement has been made. We’re particularly pleased that ministers have been persuaded to extend their original proposal in order to permit same-sex marriages for those religious denominations that wish to hold them. This is an important matter of religious freedom.” Said the head of equality campaigning charity Stonewall, Ben Summerskill.

Others are also angry the proposed bill does not include a change to open up the current civil partnership rules to heterosexual or different sex couples, thus making it truly equal to all.

The Catholic Church has already criticized the announcement claiming ministers ignored a 600,000-signature petition against marriage equality submitted during the government’s recent consultation on gay marriage. “The meaning of marriage matters. It derives that meaning from its function as the foundation of the family. The union of one man and one woman for love and mutual support and open to procreation has over the centuries formed a stable unit we call the family.” Reads their statement. So no change there then, the catholic church has always been clear on the fact that it doesn’t welcome gay people into its congregation or see gay people as equal. However some in the Church of England feel making it illegal for them to hold same sex ceremonies is a step to far, seeing it as binding manacle preventing progress and further alienating it from the wider society of today.

Whilst the pro marriage equality supporters are celebrating this announcement, those against are already drawing up their plans against us. There is clearly a long way to go before marriage equality comes to the UK, however this should be seen as a massive step forward and clearly the biggest since civil partnerships passed in 2004.

‘Europe’s first gay-friendly mosque’ opens’

Breaking the prejudices of Islam – a Muslim prayer centre, which has been called Europe’s first gay-friendly mosque opened in Paris, France last Friday.
According to it’s founder this new prayer centre is designed to be the first step in breaking “prejudices in Islam”. However the move has been criticized heavily by other religious leaders.

Indeed most of the city’s Muslim leaders have condemned its launch with anger and hostility for what they claim is going “against the spirit of Islam”. Yet this new “mosque” is nothing more than a small room inside the house of a Buddhist monk in the eastern suburbs of Paris.

Dalil Boubakeur, head of the Grande Mosqueé in Paris, told local media that the opening of a new place of prayer for gay Muslims goes against the rules of Islam. “The mosques that are already there accept everyone so creating one specifically for homosexuals is against the spirit of Islam. Worshippers go to a mosque to worship god, they don’t go to demonstrate their sexuality,” Boubakeur said. “This is an abuse of the definition of a mosque.”

Islamic views on homosexuality are very unambiguous – its condemned in at least 13 verses of the Koran and the only legitimate sexual relationship is that between a man and a woman.

This new “mosque” promises to break two major Islamic taboos, welcoming gay Muslims and not separating men from women, the mosque’s founder, French-Algerian gay rights activist and practicing Muslim Ludovic-Mohamed Zahed, said “It’s a radically inclusive mosque, a mosque where people can come as they are.”

Zahed has already caused controversy and outrage among the French Muslim community when in April he became the first French man to marry another man in a Muslim religious ceremony, saying “I am sure that if the Prophet Mohamed was still alive, he would marry gay couples” at the time.

Zahed is hoping this new prayer room will be just the beginning and aims to eventually create a cultural centre and library, “This is just the first step in a long-term struggle to deconstruct prejudices within Islam in France.”

The Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Bill Drops Death Penalty Clause.

The committee of Ugandan MPs that endorsed the proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill have dropped the death penalty provision, claims MP Medard Segona. He told media outlets there had been “substantial amendments” to the horrific bill that increases penalties for being gay in the African nation, however he said he was not allowed to reveal further details.  Segona, is a member of the Legal and Parliamentary committee of Uganda’s parliament said “I can confirm it has been dropped.” Adding “Some of us who are human rights activists would discourage the death penalty.”

The Ugandan parliament will shortly debate the bill and Segona believes this will happen before Christmas, although refused to be more precise. In recent statement the speaker of the Ugandan parliament, Rebecca Kadaga promised the bill would be passed as a “Christmas gift” to all its advocates and supporters.

The bill has been tabled by MP David Bahati, well known for his deeply homophobic views, proposes longer jail terms for homosexual acts, including a life sentence in certain circumstances. Before the change , the original bill included the death penalty for those convicted of “aggravated homosexuality” which was defined as when one of the participants is a minor, HIV-positive, disabled or a “serial offender”.

The original drafting of the bill also prohibited the “promotion” of gay rights and called for the punishment of anyone who “funds or sponsors homosexuality” or “abets homosexuality” and sentences will be long.

There appears to be broad support for the bill in the Ugandan parliament, even President Yoweri Museveni who would have to sign the bill before it becomes law, is known to be supportive however international pressure is likely to increase dramatically.

US President Barack Obama who described the bill as “odious” and many International donors have threatened to cut off aid to Uganda if the country does not do more to protect the rights of gay people, including the UK, Canada and the US.

“If the Americans think they can tell us what to do, they can go to hell” said
John Nagenda, Ugandan presidential adviser recently.

Uganda is one of 38 African nations where homosexuality is currently illegal where penalties range from 1 year to life imprisonment. Three nations, Sudan, Mauritania and Nigeria still have the death penalty for being gay.

UK Radio Station Fined After Branding Gay People Evil

A community radio station in the English city of Leeds has been fined £4000 ($6412) after one of its homophobic advocated homophobic violence and branded gay people as “evil” and “shameful”.

The Fever 107.3 FM, a small local station dedicated to the Asian community, presenter Rubina Nasir, sometimes known as ‘Sister Ruby‘ made the revolting homophobic comments during August 2011.

The bigoted Nasir opened her Sister Ruby Ramadan Special 2011 show with a verse from the Quran (Sura Al-Nisa, verse 16) and then spouted her own interpretation of the verse, as being highly critical of mixed-faith marriages and also of same-sex relationships. She went on to discuss various historical events portrayed in the Quran in the context of her main focus on homosexuality.

At one point during the programme she said: “What should be done if they do [practise homosexuality]? If there are two such persons among you, that do this evil, the shameful act, what do you have to do? Torture them; punish them; beat them and give them mental torture.”

During the investigation by the UK’s broadcasting watchdogs OfCom, they found that Nasir comments were “likely to encourage or incite the commission of crime”. Accordingly they fined the small fine of £4,000. However they stopped short of revoking the stations broadcasting licence saying it “would not be appropriate to shorten, suspend or revoke Radio Asian Fever’s licence”.

Two London Universities Facing Student Backlash

Students at one of London’s premier universities ‘King’s College London’ are actively campaigning to have the photo of the former archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey removed from a display of famous alumni, due to his deeply homophobic attitudes and statements.

King’s College London

King’s College London

The former Archbishop of Canterbury studied at the college and graduated in 1962 with a Bachelor of Divinity (BD) 2:1 degree after which he was ordained.

According to various local media reports, the King’s College Student Union have described Lord Carey’s recent comments against equal marriage as “outdated, hurtful and offensive”.

Carey is no stranger to criticism, just a few weeks ago in October many equality campaigners were appalled after he invoked memories of the Holocaust during a speech concerning the religious opponents of same-sex marriage at a Conservative Party Conference fringe event. He said: “Same-sex relationships are not the same as heterosexual relationships and should not be put on the same level. Why does it feel to us that our cultural homeland and identity is being plundered?”

The former leader of the Church of England also warned that equal marriage would pave the way for traditional Mormon-style polygamous relationships, pointing to an application in Sao Paulo, Brazil, for a man to enter into a civil union with two women, “That is getting into a Mormon-style relationship,” Lord Carey said after the event. “It’s a slippery slope.”

“For more than two decades, Dr Carey has opposed gay equality and supported the legal discrimination against gay people, suggesting that same-sex love is inferior and a scandal.” stated veteran gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell recently, adding “If Dr Carey said these things about black or Jewish people his display would almost certainly be removed. The stance of the King’s College administration looks hypocritical. They seem to have double standards on racism and homophobia.”

The university board has repeatedly stated it has no intention of removing Lord Carey’s image, thereby pledging support for his views and outspoken attacks on equality and gay people.
Meanwhile another London university is attracting media attention and condemnation for allowing a deeply offensive and homophobic hate preacher to make a speech on campus.

Brunel University in Uxbridge, west London confirms that hate preacher Abu Usamah at-Thahabi is due to make a speech to Brunel’s Islamic Society on Tuesday 27 November.

Thahabi is well known for his homophobic views and has previously urged that gay people should be punished with death. “Do you practice homosexuality with men? Take that homosexual man and throw him off the mountain,” Thahabi stated on camera during a national TV programme. “If I were to call homosexuals perverted, dirty, filthy dogs who should be murdered, that’s my freedom of speech, isn’t it?” The controversial preacher was caught on camera addressing worshippers at Green Lane Mosque in Birmingham.

He has repeatedly mocked Western attitudes, especially those towards women and verbally attacked both Christians and Jews. However the university authorities are allowing this man to speak – “The talk is going ahead as we have a legal duty to protect freedom of speech and we have asked for assurances from the Union of Brunel Students that this person will not breach the policies of the university, such as those on equality and diversity. However, if we are concerned that these policies will be breached, the event will not be allowed to take place.” claims its statement.

The question that arises for the university is where the lines are actually drawn between free speech and hate speech both in terms of legally and morally. Earlier this year, Thahabi was prevented from speaking at the University of Warwick’s Islamic Society, following a backlash by students.

French Support For Marriage Equality Increases

Last week the French President Francois Hollande’s government approved a bill to legalise equal marriage and allow gay couples to adopt. The new reform was strongly opposed by many, including over 1,000 mayors and the entire French Catholic Church hierarchy.

France is one of a number of European nations that already have civil unions for same-sex couples, however gay marriage was one of Hollande’s campaign pledges during his bid to become President. On Wednesday he told his cabinet that the bill would mean “progress not only for individuals but for the whole of society” they approved the bill.

Recent opinion polls have increasingly shown that the majority of the French population now support marriage equality, Le Monde newspaper, showed that 65% of French people supported marriage equality and 52% of people supported the right of gay couples to adopt. Of course the prospect of gays and lesbians being treated equally in society has angered many in the legal, religious and conservative political communities.

The UMP have strongly denounced the measure, “It’s the end of the family, the end of children’s development, the end of education. It’s an enormous danger to the nation,” came the outrageous statement from UMP Senator Serge Dassault on a radio talk show in Wednesday.

Yet the popular move was celebrated by thousands of people who turned out on Wednesday evening to show support for marriage equality and adoption rights for same-sex couples outside the National Assembly in Paris.

Many of those gathering chanted “equality now” showing their support, there was also dancing and cheering and to show their support for the reform, “This is the first time for this cause, because of today’s announcement. We learned about the rally from Facebook events, and we have a lot of friends who sent invitations to us.” one couple at the rally told media reporters, “There is a lot of hypocrisy around all of this in the media, other people, and from the church. We’re a changing society. A lot of lesbian couples already have children, so it’s just a legal thing. It’s really important for us.”

The bill will be debated in the French parliament in January 2013, however the future is looking promising, despite the strong opposition from the religious organisations and political foes.

Equality is coming – slowly!

US ‘Gay Cure’ Pastor Charged With Sexual Assault Of Men

US ‘Gay Cure’ Pastor Charged With Sexual Assault Of Men

An American Christian pastor who tried to ‘cure’ gay people has appeared in court charged with sexually assaulting two of the men he was supposedly ‘counseling’ to rid them of their gayness.

The 55 year old reverend Ryan J, from Cambridge, Minnesota, stands accused of eight felony counts of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct. The charges relative to repeated molestation of two men over a two year period

Muehlhauser was senior pastor at Lakeside Christian Church and also was a counsellor of Robbinsdale-based Outpost Ministries, its website claims it was founded over 30 years ago in order to assist men and women ‘break away from gay life’.

Attempts to ‘cure’ homosexuality have been denounced by every major professional psychiatric bodies and organisations around the world. The World Health Organization in North America labelled such attempts as misguided and dangerous.

According to papers, Muehlhauser was trying to ‘cure’ the two victims of homosexuality and allegedly he fondled them as well as asking them to masturbate for him. One claims that Muehlhauser ‘blessed’ him by cupping his genitals outside his clothing and says the pastor asked him to masturbate in front of him for ‘spiritual strength’.

According to local media reports, the other victim says he was fondled for most of this year and Muehlhauser was worried he would ‘lose everything’ if his secret was discovered. Both men went to another Outpost counsellor to report the abuse, who in turn reported it to the authorities.

‘There is nothing more predatory than taking two individuals whose faith and whose trust is put into their minister and their spiritual leader and then abusing them in the name of the Lord.’ said assistant attorney Stacy St George, in court:

The vile and dangerous Outpost Ministry’s website states: ‘The Father’s great desire for those struggling with same-sex attractions and other sexual and relational brokenness motivated him to send his one and only son Jesus to be the way out of slavery to sin. There is freedom from homosexuality, addictions, despair.’

Lakeside Christian Church has said it is ‘deeply saddened’ by these allegations and it urged other potential victims to contact the authorities.

 

New UK Anti-Gay Marriage Archbishop Announced.

The Bishop of Durham Justin Welby has been named as the next Archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the Church of England. The Eaton and Cambridge University educated man is a former oil trader and has only been the Bishop of Durham for a year will take of from the current archbishop, Dr Rowan Williams towards the end of the year.

Only last month, Dr Williams, admitted the Church of England’s attitude to gay relationships had often been harmful to gay people he had also said that while his leadership was “wrong” not to have advocated gay equality, David Cameron was wrong to have embarrassed the church over the issue of equal marriage.

Bishop Welby comes from a more conservative evangelical position who is strict on belief in the bible and is opposed to same-sex marriage as well as gay people serving as bishops. However during a speech in London on Friday he offered a little glimmer of hope that gay’s are not going to face a religious battering when he takes over, saying the Church of England must have “no truck with any form of homophobia”.

During the speech at Lambeth Palace Welby indicated he might be willing to talk to the gay community.

“It is absolutely right for the state to define the rights and status of people cohabiting in different forms of relationships, including civil partnerships.

“We must have no truck with any form of homophobia in any part of the church”.

He also said that he supported the House of Bishops’ statement in the summer in response to the government’s consultation on same-sex marriage, they strongly opposed the measure. Welby added, “But I also know I need to listen very attentively to the LGBT communities and examine my own thinking carefully and prayerfully,”

I’m not holding my breath for a more liberal Church of England and whilst I really do believe that before the 2015 elections, we will see marriage equality in the UK, the fight from the church will be particularly vicious and ferocious.

Archbishop – Church Harmful To Gays

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, claimed in one of his last major public lectures before he steps down toward the end of this year, that the Church of England’s attitude towards gay relationships has often been harmful to people.

Only last month Dr Williams said that while the Church of England was “wrong” not to have advocated for gay equality, the Prime Minister David Cameron was also wrong to embarrass the church over the issue.

During the lecture to the religious theologian think tank ‘Theos’ earlier this week the Archbishop also suggested the church could and should learn some lessons from its passed mistakes.

“We are trying to catch up with a reality which for a long time we didn’t handle at all well,” he said. “I think the church has in recent years tried quite hard to say we are not condemning a person as such for their sexual orientation and that is a serious commitment. Nonetheless there is a hang-over from the feeling that you are condemned in your entirety for what you are doing, for what you are.”

Dr Williams continued: “If people are getting the message that they are condemned for what they are then of course there is a serious mental health impact, I hope this is not what the church is doing and I certainly don’t think it is what the church should be doing.

“It is not just the church it is also a climate of homophobia which still exists in our society, we still have work to do.”

His lecture came as a hunt for his successor reaches a critical moment as the committee seems increasingly divided on the issue and has warned it may take months to reach a decision.

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu the who is strongly against marriage equality, gay clergy and gay rights in general seems to be the current front runner and many see his being the second most senior bishop in the church as a natural choice. However there is a fear that if he is promoted the rift between the church and the wider community will widen dramatically, further illustrating the church to be an outdated historical organisation incompatible to modern life and harmful to society.