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Bishop sues troublesome blogger: The Church of England Newspaper, May 12, 2013 p 6 May 13, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Canada, Church of England Newspaper, Free Speech.
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The Bishop of the Diocese of Niagara in the Anglican Church of Canada has filed a lawsuit against conservative blogger claiming “defamation of character”.

On 19 Feb 2013 David Jenkins, author of the Anglican Samizdat blog received notice that Bishop Bird had asked a court to shut down his blog, ban him from making further comments about him and to pay him $400,000 in damages.

Mr Jenkins stated that he had been surprised by the lawsuit. “Contrary to what one might expect in such circumstances, I did not receive a cease and desist letter in advance of the suit.”

The Statement of Claim filed with the Ontario Superior Court Justice alleged Mr. Jenkins maliciously and falsely stated Bishop Bird was a “ weak and ineffectual leader and that his actions were motivated by avarice or financial gain”. That the bishop was a “thief” and had a “sexual fetish”, and that he was an “atheist and heretic bent upon the destruction of Christianity.”he will

Among the examples of malicious and defamatory utterances alleged to have been made by the defendant were a photo of the bishop altered so that he appeared to be wearing a mitre made of underpants, that the bishop’s call to engage in “prophetic social justice” ministries meant “closing churches” and that the clergy of the diocese were not “authentic Christians”.

The 31 posts cited in the complaint were subsequently removed from his website. At the bishop’s request other posts were also taking down, Mr. Jenkins noted, “as a gesture of good faith.”

“I have made offers to settle and meet/talk, but they have been rejected,” he added.

Bishop sues blogger for libel: Anglican Ink, May 1, 2013 May 1, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Canada, Anglican Ink, Free Speech.
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A new front has opened in the Anglican Communion’s legal wars as a liberal Canadian bishop has filed a suit for libel against a conservative blogger claiming “defamation of character”.

On 15 February 2013 – – five years to the day after he initiated litigation against the congregation of St. Hilda’s Anglican Church in Oakville, Ontario after it quit the diocese — Bishop Michael Bird filed suit against David Jenkins, author of the Anglican Samizdat blog claiming 31 posts made between January 2011 and November 2012 had libeled him.

The Statement of Claim filed with the Ontario Superior Court Justice alleged Mr. Jenkins maliciously and falsely stated Bishop Bird was a “ weak and ineffectual leader and that his actions were motivated by avarice or financial gain”. That the bishop was a “thief” and had a “sexual fetish”, and that he was an “atheist and heretic bent upon the destruction of Christianity.”

Read it all in Anglican Ink

Rowan Williams: Freedom of Speech not absolute: Anglican Ink, December 19, 2012 December 20, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Ink, Church of England, Free Speech.
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The Archbishop of Canterbury has backed freedom of speech, up to a point. In a sermon delivered last week marking the 80th anniversary of the BBC World Service at St Martin-in-the-Fields Church in Trafalgar Square, London, Dr. Rowan Williams said free speech was one of the pillars of a free and democratic society, but this freedom could be curtailed when it was offensive and abusive.

Dr. Williams began his remarks in his 12 Dec 2012 address by noting a recent government backed press inquiry into press abuses of privacy – the Leveson Inquiry – had placed the issue of free speech before the British public. “We in the UK are in the middle of a lively argument about free speech and the regulation of the media.  It’s easy to get bogged down in the pros and cons of press regulation and the exact degree of legal backing it needs.  But we risk forgetting the all-important issue of why free speech really matters,” he said.

Read it all in Anglican Ink.

Self censorship and the New York Times: Get Religion, December 5, 2012 December 5, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Al Qaeda, Free Speech, Get Religion, Islam, Persecution.
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An International Herald Tribune report about Pakistan seems a bit confused as to what constitutes sectarian violence. Written under the title “Christian Aid Worker Is Shot in Pakistan” the article from the New York Times’ international edition ties together three different stories in one article. But it does not want to say why.

This story with a dateline of Hong Kong is a compilation of Pakistani press reports and wire service bulletins. As per its ethical reporting standards, the Times‘ man acknowledges his debt to these sources, though he did make a few phone calls to provide some original material to the stories. As this is a first report on the incidents I am not that concerned with how complete it is or if all the facts are properly nailed down. My interest in in how the reporter laid out his story given what he had in hand.

And it is the construction of the article and the unwillingness to state the obvious that leads me to say the Times has lost the plot.

The shooting of Swedish missionary, an attack on a Ahmadiya graveyard, and the kidnapping of a Jewish-American aid worker all have something in common (it is called militant Islam) but the Times’ reporter appears at a loss as to how to put the pieces together. Last month the New York Times brought on board as its CEO Mark Thompson, the former Director General of the BBC. It also appears to have taken on board Thompson’s policy of treating Islam with kid gloves.

Here is the lede:

HONG KONG — A Swedish woman doing charity work through her evangelical church was shot outside her home in Lahore on Monday, according to news reports from Pakistan. A gunman riding a motorcycle fired at the 72-year-old woman as she got out of her car in the upscale Model Town neighborhood.

It was not immediately clear whether the attack was sectarian in nature or was perhaps linked to another event Monday in Model Town in which masked gunmen vandalized a cemetery.

The article then goes into the details as they were known of the attack and then links to the second subject with this transitional sentence:

But early Monday morning in Model Town, gunmen tied up the caretakers of an Ahmadi cemetery and desecrated more than a hundred grave markers, the Express Tribune newspaper reported.

The Times gives details of the attack on the graveyard, notes that Ahmadiya Muslims are “considered heretical by mainstream Muslims”, and recounts past terror attacks and government fostered discrimination against the Ahmadiyas.

The story closes with the tale of a kidnapped American aid worker Warren Weinstein seized by al Qaeda last year. Details of Mr. Weinstein’s plight are offered and a quote from an earlier Times story is offered.

Mr. Weinstein, now 71, also appeared in a video in September, embedded below, in which he appeals for U.S. acceptance of the Qaeda demands. At one point he addresses Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, saying:

Therefore, as a Jew, I’m appealing to you, Prime Minister Netanyahu, the head of the Jewish state of Israel, one Jew to another, to please intervene on my behalf. To work with the mujahideen and to accept their demands so that I can be released and returned to my family.

These three stories share the common theme of extremist Muslim violence against religious minorities in Lahore: Christians, Ahmadiyas and Jews. What then is the problem I have with this article, you might ask?

Look at the second sentence of the story.

It was not immediately clear whether the attack was sectarian in nature or was perhaps linked to another event Monday in Model Town in which masked gunmen vandalized a cemetery.

The choices the Times is offering the reader are: a) the shooting of the Christian missionary was a sectarian act; or b) it was not a sectarian act but somehow linked to the attack by Salafist Muslims against an Ahmadiya graveyard. Perhaps I am thick but I do not see the distinction between a and b. Are they not both sectarian attacks?

And by adding in Mr. Weinstein’s case, which also took place in Lahore and also has a religious element — an American Jew being held captive by Muslim extremists who is forced to make a plea to the Israeli prime minister for his life — the militant Islam links are all there. But the Times does not want to connect the dots.

Why? Maybe the author was in a rush to get something into print quickly and mangled his syntax. Or is this an example of the Times‘ stifling political correctness? Is the Times heading the way of the BBC and self-censoring its stories?

In March 2012 the Daily Telegraph carried a short item reporting on Mark Thompson’s decision not to broadcast a show that might be offensive to Muslims.

Although the BBC was willing to disregard protests from Christians who considered its decision to broadcast Jerry Springer: The Opera as an affront, Mark Thompson, its outgoing director-general, is more wary of giving airtime to Can We Talk About This?, the National Theatre’s examination of how Islam is curtailing freedom of speech.

Lloyd Newson, the director of the DV8 physical theatre company which staged the new work, challenged Thompson to screen his production during a platform discussion at the theatre.

He pointed out that Jerry Springer: The Opera was a lot more controversial because it was a “satire”, whereas his work, consisting of a series of comments and factual statements set to dance, is “a factual piece”.

Thompson’s spokesman tells me: “We are currently working with the National on various ideas. There are currently no plans to broadcast Can We Talk About This?, but this is not due to the play’s content or themes.”

In the past, Thompson has conceded that there is “a growing nervousness about discussion about Islam”. He claimed that because Muslims were a religious minority in Britain, and also often from ethnic minorities, their faith should be given different coverage to that of more established groups.

Has more than Mark Thompson crossed the Atlantic from London? While the Times has long been a bastion of PC reporting, its aping of the BBC’s supine stance on Islam is disappointing. The hiring of Mark Thompson did not cause the New York Times to engage in self-censorship on Islam — but I suspect courage will not be one of the strengths he will bring to his new post.

First posted in GetReligion.

Gay therapy ban ruled unconstitutional: Anglican Ink, December 4, 2012 December 5, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Ink, Free Speech, Human Sexuality --- The gay issue.
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Gov. Jerry Brown

A Federal Court in California has issued an injunction blocking implementation of SB 1172 – a law which would prohibit licensed therapists from counseling minors who wish to change their sexual orientation.

In a decision hailed as a victory for religious liberty and free speech, on 4 Dec 2012, District Court Judge William Shubb held the law was unconstitutional.

“Because the court finds that SB 1172 is subject to strict scrutiny and is unlikely to satisfy this standard, the court finds that plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of their 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims,” Judge Shubb held, “based upon “violations of their rights to freedom of speech under the First Amendment.”

Read it all in Anglican Ink.

Anti-Semitism complaint filed against Surrey vicar: The Church of England Newspaper, November 25, 2012 p 6. November 29, 2012

Posted by geoconger in British Jewry, Church of England, Church of England Newspaper, Free Speech.
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The Board of Deputies of British Jews has lodged a complaint with the Diocese of Guilford accused the Vicar of Christ Church Virginia Water,with anti-Semitism.

The Rev. Stephen Sizer has been accused under the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003 for misconduct consisting of “conduct unbecoming or inappropriate to the office and work of a clerk in Holy Orders”.

The Chief Executive of the Board, Mr. Jon Benjamin told the Church of England Newspaper they had met “with the Bishop of Guildford who noted the formal mechanism for complaints that we have followed.”

On 31 Oct 2012 the Diocese of Guilford released a statement saying “the Bishop of Guildford is considering a complaint under the Clergy Discipline Measure against Dr Stephen Sizer and will be following the statutory procedures provided in the Measure.”

“Nothing else can be said at present, since the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003 ensures that legitimate complaints against members of Anglican clergy are dealt with appropriately.”

Mr. Sizer has not responded to requests for comments on the allegations.

In its complaint, the Board said Mr. Sizer “spends time trawling dark and extreme corners of the internet for material to add to his website. Rev Sizer re-publishes such items to support the target of his polemical writing, while at the same introducing his readers to the racist and anti-Semitic websites from where he draws his material.”

Mr. Sizer had kept some “strange company” for a “Church of England vicar,” the Board said in a statement released on its website denouncing his association with “Holocaust deniers”, Iranian government agencies and anti-Israel groups. However, its complaint lay not in politics or “his supersessionist theology.  While we view all of these with concern and distaste, Rev Sizer is entitled to his views and may travel where he wants.”

“But we draw the line at making statements that we regard as anti-Semitic and advertising the content of racist and anti-Semitic websites.  It is a matter of great regret that we are driven to make this complaint, but the Jewish community should not have to stomach material that we see as crossing the line into anti-Semitism,” the Board statement said.

“We are not seeking to have him stopped from his ministry or dismissed from his job.  We only ask one thing, which is that effective measures are taken to prevent him from publishing or re-publishing material that we find to be not merely offensive but anti-Semitic.  We don’t think that’s too much to ask,” the Board said.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Anglican-Muslim call to ban blasphemy: The Church of England Newspaper, September 30, 2012 p 2. October 2, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Free Speech.
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Four Anglican bishops from North Africa and Middle East have joined Muslim leaders in Egypt in writing to U.N. Secretary Ban Ki-moon urging the adoption of an international declaration against religious defamation.

On 16 the Egyptian State Information service reported the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Dr. Ahmed el-Tayyeb had written to the U.N. leader urging the adoption of an anti-blasphemy resolution that would criminalize insults to Islam and to its prophet, Muhammad.  The government also reported that the Bishop of Egypt, Mouneer Anis had issued a similar call to the U.N. to ban blasphemy.

On 15 Sept 2012 Bishops Anis of Egypt, Michael Lewis of Cyprus and the Gulf,  Bill Musk of North Africa and Grant LeMarquand of the Horn of Africa urged the U.N. to prohibit actions and language that denigrated all religious faiths.

In “view of the current inflamed situation in several countries in response to the production of a film in the USA which evidently intends to offend our Muslim brothers and sisters by insulting the Prophet Mohammed, and in view of the fact that in recent years similar offensive incidents have occurred in some European countries which evoked massive and violent responses worldwide, we hereby suggest that an international declaration be negotiated that outlaws the intentional and deliberate insulting or defamation of persons (such as prophets), symbols, texts and constructs of belief deemed holy by people of faith.”

They said such a declaration would not be a violation of the right of free speech, but would encourage people to be “responsible and self-restraining in expressing or promoting offensive or malicious opinions with regard to the religions of the world.”

The bishops said their aim in offering this suggestion was to build peaceful relations amongst the world’s religions and prevent “violence that may easily lead to wars between nations and conflicts between people from different cultural or philosophical backgrounds or followers of different faiths,” the bishops said.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Crazy Charlie: His cartoons are insane: Get Religion, September 29, 2012 September 29, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Free Speech, Get Religion, Islam.
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In this week’s podcast Issues Etc. host Todd Wilkin and I discussed two of my recent GetReligion stories: “Charlie Hebdo’s Muhammad Cartoon Crassness” and “Foggy Bottom’s ‘pantywaist protocol pussy-footers’.” Starting with the press coverage on the attacks on the U.S. embassy in Cairo and consulate in Benghazi, the articles (and our discussion) moved on to the vexed question of how the Western media reports on blasphemy in an Islamic context.

I argued the early coverage on the Middle East stories was uneven.  There were some great stories from the Washington Post, New York Times and other outlets from their reporters on the streets of Cairo.  I also singled out for praise a CNN story that put the issue of blasphemy in context for an American audience — answering the question why the “Innocence of Muslims” movie would be so offensive.

The domestic reporting on the embassy attacks was not as strong.  In my opinion, stateside reporters seemed to view this incident  through the lens of the Presidential election campaign.  They parroted the State Department’s claims the riots were spontaneous reactions to to the YouTube video — even though the same papers’ overseas reporters were writing there was evidence the riots were scripted and pre-planned, awaiting a suitable provocation.

The second story about the cartoons satirizing Muhammad as a gay porn star in the French magazine Charlie Hebdo reinforces the disconnect between the domestic and overseas reporting.  The assertion that this was spontaneous, or some sort of religious flash mob, has not been borne out by the responses to the French cartons.  The Charlie Hebdo cartoons are obscene, while the “Innocence of Muslims” video is dumb. The French government closed 20 embassies in the Muslim world in fear of attacks, yet nothing so far has happened (either in Metropolitan France or abroad).

Other European magazines have joined Charlie Hebdo in printing Muhammad cartoons.  The German magazine Titanic pictured depicts Germany’s former “First Lady” Bettina Wulff, being threatened (or defended) by an armed Muslim.  Is it Muhammad?

The Spanish magazine El Jueves last week published its Muhammad cover showing a line up of men in Islamic outfits. The cover says: “But how do they know which one is Muhammad?”

Writing in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Hilmar Klute argued the Muhammad cartoons and videos — and the responses they have generated have become rather tiresome.

Seldom has satire been so much in the public spotlight as it has these days. Seldom have satirical drawings and cover pages in Germany and especially in France caused such a great stir. And rarely have so many supporters and opponents of satire popped up with a number of somewhat outrageous claims and warnings. Günter Wallraff wants to flood the European media with anti-Islamic cartoons to ensure that the “demonstration of liberty” – and he really means it – is not just the concern of a few friends of freedom.

This vibrant audacity is, in truth, the quivering anger of an over-excited neo-bourgeoisie that believes that the liberal order can be toppled by crazed Islamists and that we can also defend our open society with art. Sharpened quills versus the scimitar.

This is a pity because satire, precisely at a time when there’s so much material, has seldom been as mediocre as it is today. The mediocre craftsmanship of Charlie Hebdo cartoonist, Charb, is not the problem here. What’s sad is the intellectual laziness behind all these sensationalist pictures, photo-montages and jokes.

My sympathies lie with Mr. Klute. There is an air of unreality and lack of intellectual and moral seriousness about this controversy. Those who lived in the New York area in the 1980s will certainly remember “Crazy Eddie”. The discount electronics chain ended each of its high power, high volume advertisements with the tag line: “His prices are insane!”.

At times I feel Crazy Eddie has returned, but this time round he is peddling politics.

First published in GetReligion.

Where have all the foreign correspondents gone?: Get Religion August 22, 2012 August 22, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Myanmar, Free Speech, Get Religion, Politics.
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“Truth is true only within a certain period of time,” observed a spokesman for the Burma’s military junta in the aftermath of that country’s 1988 pro-democracy uprising, reported Emma Larkin in her 2004 political travelogue-cum-biography “Finding George Orwell in Burma”. “What was truth once may no longer be truth after many months or years.”

My mind turned to Burma and these musings on the nature of truth after reading Thomas Fuller’s solid story in the New York Times on the end of press censorship in Burma. Reading this piece also brought home the importance of having a correspondent in place that knows the territory, the players, the culture – a reporter who not only is in place, but who “gets it”. Compare the coverage in the New York Times with its story datelined Bangkok with that of the Los Angeles Times article written from California and you can see what I mean.

The LA Times opened its article with:

Journalists in Myanmar will no longer have to send their articles to state censors before publication, a landmark step announced Monday toward lifting restrictions on the press.

But reporters in the changing country still fear being punished for what they write. Free speech activists say other rules that clamp down on government criticism or touchy topics are still in place, inhibiting journalists from writing freely.

It followed with analysis, drawing quotes from scholars and Burmese activists outside of the country. On its face a nice, but thin story.

Compare it to the New York Times piece which opened with:

BANGKOK — The government of Myanmar said on Monday that it would no longer censor private publications, a move that journalists described as a major step toward media freedom in a country where military governments have tried for decades to control the flow of information.

The announcement was made to editors on Monday and posted on a government Web site. “All publications in Myanmar are exempt from the scrutiny of Press Scrutiny and Registration Department,” the government said in a terse statement.

It then moves to an analysis of the event, quoting Burmese journalists in Burma before moving to the close with context and further detail.

Like the democratization process itself in Myanmar, the government has scaled back censorship gradually. In June 2011, articles dealing with entertainment, health, children and sports were taken off the list of subjects requiring prior censorship. In December, economics, crime and legal affairs were removed. Education topics were taken off the list in March. The only two topics remaining on the list — religion and politics — were freed from censorship on Monday.

Like the New York Times, the Telegraph’s South Asia editor took an upbeat tone, but what the Times put in its last sentence the Telegraph put in its first:

Until yesterday all political and religious news had to be submitted to the government’s Press Scrutiny and Registration Department for prior approval, but the requirement was dropped in what was hailed as another significant step in Burma’s fast-moving democratic reform process.

In the past twelve months, since democracy movement leader Aung San Suu Kyi met former military leader President Thein Sein, the government has relaxed censorship and controls on trade unions, freed hundreds of political prisoners, and held a series of by-elections which were almost all won by the Nobel Laureate’s National League for Democracy and hailed as ‘free and fair.

Given that there has been a gradual relaxation of press restrictions over the past year, it makes sense that politics would be one of the last taboos. But why would religion reporting be banned?

The LA Times article does not mention the topic of religion at all, while the New York Times does not explain why religion reporting and not economics, for example, was banned. Why would a report on Burma’s parlous economic state be less of a threat to the regime than a report on a religious topic?

My assumption is that as Buddhist monks have been at the forefront of the pro-Democracy movement news about religion would be controlled by the state – but I have no knowledge on this point, and none of the articles address this. Nor is this likely to be something that falls within the catch-all of conventional wisdom about Burma – for until recently foreign reporters were banned from the country and its citizens were threatened with jail if they spoke with foreign reporters.

Why was religion so dangerous to the military junta? I can guess, but after reading these articles I do not know.

The New York Times however did a good job in capturing the excitement resident Burmese journalists felt. A joke current in Myanmar during the year Emma Larkin researched her book about George Orwell, who served as a colonial policeman in Burma during the 1920’s, was that “Orwell wrote not just one novel about the country, but three: a trilogy comprised of ‘Burmese Days,’ ‘Animal Farm’ and ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’.”

Larkin saw some truth in this joke noting that Orwell’s 1934 novel “Burmese Days” savaged British colonial rule; “Animal Farm” (1946) prophesied Burma’s “miserable experiment with socialism,” which transformed the country from one of the richest in Asia at the time of the left-wing military coup in 1962 to the one of the poorest today; while “Nineteen Eighty-Four” (1949) foresaw the transformation of the country into a society dominated by informers, doublespeak, political repression, torture and censorship.

In “Nineteen Eighty-Four” the protagonist Winston Smith works as a clerk in the Records Department of the Ministry of Truth, redacting history to conform to the party line of the present. Just as Winston Smith would “vaporize” dissidents from memory, until last year it was a crime in Burma to write the name of someone held to be an unperson, like pro-Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The tone of the New York Times piece better states, to my mind, the freedom felt by the Burmese, as does the Telegraph story. While skill in the craft of journalism plays its part, I also credit the high quality of these stories to the presence of Western reporters in the region.

This is now to often the exception rather than the rule. In an article entitled “How to Read Today’s Unbelievably Bad News” published by the Gatestone Institute, the Istanbul-based American journalist Claire Berlinski argues:

In-depth international news coverage in most of America’s mainstream news organs has nearly vanished. What is published is not nearly sufficient to permit the reader to grasp what is really happening overseas or to form a wise opinion about it. The phenomenon is non-partisan; it is as true for Fox News as it is for CNN.

Do look at this great piece by Ms. Berlinski — whose work I long have admired. It speaks to the reasons and consequences of the collapse of overseas reporting. Focusing on overseas religion reporting for GetReligion, I feel at times that I am working under a double disadvantage. The quantity and quality of international news coverage in U.S. and British newspapers has declined — and on top of that the few remaining foreign correspondents sometimes do not “get religion”.

First published in GetReligion.

Perils of a Polish Pop Princess: Get Religion, June 24, 2012 June 25, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Free Speech, Get Religion, Popular Culture, Press criticism.
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The deadly consequences of blasphemous speech have been the focus of some great writing on militant Islam and its intolerance of free thought. While I wish to take nothing away from these reports, I would urge GetReligion readers not to forget that censorship under the guise of hate speech laws is  alive and well at home.

While the consequences of insulting religion in America or Europe are nothing as to what might happen to a blasphemer in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia, the mindset that animates intolerance in the Middle East is not absent from the West. Last week a Warsaw appeals court upheld a lower court decision finding that Poland’s premier pop star had violated the country’s hate-speech laws by disparaging the Bible.

The Polish court’s ruling that singer and reality TV star Doda will have to pay a 5,000 Zloty fine (approximately $1500) for offending religious sensibilities is an example of this phenomena. However, the Polish press has done a great job in questioning the wisdom of laws that privilege the sensibilities of a politically well-connected constituency.

Who is Doda? According to a 2008 CNN  story entitled “Famous Poles through the ages” she is Poland’s Britney Spears.

Doda or Doda Elektroda or “the Polish Britney Spears” … was born in Ciechanow [in 1984], and is one of the most famous and successful pop singers in Poland.

Doda started her career at the age of 14 and became popular after her participation in a reality TV show “Bar.” In 2000, at the age of 16, [Doda] became the vocalist of the Polish rock band Virgin.

In December 2005 and October 2007, she posed nude for the Polish edition of Playboy Magazine. She also posed for CKM Magazine several times.

Doda received a Superjedynka award on National Festival of Polish Song in Opole in 2006.

In 2007, she left her record company, Virgin, to begin a solo career. Her first solo album was released in 2007 and was certified as gold on the day before its official release. In 2008, her album “Diamond Bitch” went double platinum after 60,000 copies of the album had been sold.

Her career has continued on its upward trajectory and she remains Poland’s most popular pop artist. And like Britney Spears, the tabloids love her — and she loves them. Her latest rendezvous with fame came with comments  she made in a 2009 interview disparaging beliefs in the inerrancy and historicity of the Bible.

The website for Radio Poland reported that:

Dorota Rabczewska, known to the public as Doda, was initially sentenced in January this year, having claimed in an interview that the Bible “was written by someone who was hammered on wine and who’d been smoking herbs.”

The Warsaw District Court rejected her appeal on Monday, upholding the original sentence.

Miss Rabczewska had been brought to court owing to complaints filed by Ryszard Nowak, chairman of the privately run Nationwide Defence Committee Against Sects, and Stanislaw Kogut, a senator for the conservative Law and Justice party.

In her original defence, the singer had claimed that she had not intended to offend anyone, and that the cited herbs “were certainly therapeutic ones” and the alcohol in question “sacramental wine.”

… At present, the Democratic Left Alliance party is working on a draft bill that will cut the maximum penalty for insulting religious feelings from two years imprisonment to six months.

Meanwhile, Rabczewska may not appeal to Poland’s Supreme Court, but her lawyer is considering an extraordinary appeal to Poland’s Omsbudsman on Civil Rights. An appeal to European Court of Human Rights could also be pursued.

Liberal and conservative newspapers in Poland have come out in favor of Doda’s right to speak her mind — even if what she has to say is offensive (or foolish).

Writing in the liberal Warsaw daily Gazeta Wyborcza on 20 June 2012, Wojciech Maziarski said:

Poland is in the grips of a sort of religious censorship. Doda’s statements offended and outraged many people. They sparked a scandal and provoked much protest. But it was precisely to protect such statements that democratic constitutional states created the right to freedom of opinion. Civil rights aren’t needed to protect uncontroversial opinions that meet with no disapproval. You don’t need to help those who swim with the current and fully agree with the majority opinion. Civil rights are meant as a guarantee for the very people who swim against the current and who offend their fellow citizens. Regardless of whether they’re right or not.

The conservative news site Wprost also objected to the criminalization of unpopular speech. Journalist Maciej Kawinski stated:

Every child knows the dinosaurs existed, and we have irrefutable proof that they did. The Bible, by contrast, contains both academically proven facts and myths better suited to a fantasy film than a historical chronicle. As a result I have no problem at all with someone who believes more in dinosaurs than in the Bible. Did the authors of the Bible drink wine and smoke hash? In some cultures marijuana is believed to be a ‘wisdom weed’.

Kawinski argued the court “should regard Doda’s statements as expressions of opinion and not an attempt to insult people’s religious feelings.”

The Radio Poland summary mentioned two issues I hope are addressed elsewhere in the press — the role of politicians in pushing hate speech prosecution and the role of self-appointed speech guardians. While the Catholic Church exerts tremendous influence in Poland, it was not the church that pushed the prosecution but a political action committee and a senator.

Who exactly is the Nationwide Defence Committee Against Sects and for whom do they speak? And is the senator from the conservative Law and Justice party pushing this issue for domestic political reasons? Are there parallels between Senator Kogut’s actions in the Doda affair and Senator Jesse Helms’ comments in the “Piss Christ” controversy?

On one level Doda’s words are akin to the stunts beloved by Madonna and Lady Gaga — actions that appear to have been undertaken to be provocative — and to sell concert tickets. And as such, some may question whether this is truly a free speech issue.

I find it hard to draw a line between the  stunts pulled by Doda, Madonna, and Lady Gaga, and middle brow épater le bourgeois events like Terrance McNally’s “Corpus Christi” or “Piss Christ”. Mockery of religion in art lost its edge about 75 years ago and is more often silly than profound.

These may be in bad taste and of dubious artistic merit but how can we distinguish them from writers such as Salman Rushdie or artists like Gilbert and George? What the Polish press is doing is setting the question of aesthetics to one side and concentrating on the right of a minority to speak against the views of the majority.

The stories in the Polish press — Radio Poland excluded — are advocacy stories, I should note. They recount the facts but are not shy about taking a side and stating their opinion. I salute them for speaking out — even if it is on behalf of multimillionaire pop stars. Would the press in the U.S. only challenge the pieties of this country — sexual orientation, race, gender, ethnicity — as the Polish press has done.

But is the Polish press really speaking out for the underdog here? Or, is their support for free speech misguided when it comes to deliberate attempts to be provocative? What say you GetReligion readers? Is there a place for speech codes — above and beyond slander laws — in journalism and in public discourse?

First printed in GetReligion.

Sweet reasonableness and censorship in Jakarta: Get Religion, May 3, 2012 May 4, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Free Speech, Get Religion, Press criticism.
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The Jakarta Post— Indonesia’s chief English-language newspaper — has run two articles on the conflicts within Islam percolating in Java. The articles give a crisp account of the disturbances amongst the various religious groups; but there appears to have been a sharp swing in the authorial voice between the first and second story. I feel the fell hand of self-censorship at work in these reports.

Lets take a look at the two Jakarta Post stories. On 2 May 2012 the Post reported that Sunni Muslim leaders had called upon the government to ban proselytizing by Shia Muslims.  (Indonesia’s population is approximately 88 per cent Muslim — with approximately 200 million Sunni, 1 million Shia and 500,000 Ahmadiya Muslims.) The Post quoted the leaders of a Sunni clergy group as saying Shia Islam was blasphemous and a threat to national security.

 “There are at least three objections to Shiite teachings. First, Shiite sect considers that the current Koran has been corrupted. Second, it recalls that only Shiite clerics hold the ultimate authorities to interpret the hadiths,” forum head Athian Ali told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday.

And the third, he added, was because the Shiite sect acknowledged contract-based marriage, where they could perform marriages to their own preferences.

“This could be used to legalize prostitution,” he added.

A second senior cleric stated:

“We should be alert toward the Shiite political agenda because it could harm the idea of the Unitary State of Indonesia (NKRI),” he said.

In the Shiite perspective, it is the clerics, and not the government, who hold the ultimate authority to rule the country.

The article closes with a report that a Shiite cleric has been jailed and awaiting a hearing in Java because the police believe his proselytizing might anger the Sunni majority and lead to violence. The overall tone of the article is matter of fact — the editorial voice does not dispute the arguments put forward by the Sunni clerics. No Shia voices are heard nor is there anything in the story that would suggest the Post did not agree with these sentiments.

The next day, however, the Post’s editorial voice moved away from the Sunni clerics after a government minister made his views known. The second day story  began:

The government will monitor anti-Shiite groups in the regions of West Java and East Java “very seriously”, Deputy Religious Affairs Minister Nasaruddin Umar has warned.

Nasaruddin said that outlawing the Shia sect would be “a very serious problem”, arguing that even conservative Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia have never banned the denomination.

“We must also be very careful with this issue, because it may disturb our relations with countries like Iran, which has many citizens who follow the Shia teachings,” he said in response to anti-Shiite sentiments in West Java and East Java.

The article notes the arguments offered by the Sunni clerics the previous day and also mentions the jailing of the Shia cleric — but adds further information:

Last December, hundreds of people burned four houses, a prayer house and other facilities at a boarding school run by Tajul Muluk, a Shiite leader. Tajul is standing trial on blasphemy charges.

The article then provides quotes from Sunni scholars urging tolerance for Shiites. And closes with a quote from a national religions leader that “the Prophet Muhammad has told us that we must not fight each other regardless of our differences.”

Isn’t that something! Blasphemous traitorous Shiites on day 1 are now part of the Ulema on day 2. Is there any connection with the government minister’s views and the change of editorial line?

And — some Muslims are more Muslim than other Muslims for the Post.  While the second day story argues that it is now wrong to stigmatize the Shiites, the Amadis remain beyond the pale. Blasphemy laws will not be used to penalize the million Shia Indonesians, but will be enforced to silence the half million Ahmadis.

In response to complaints of bylaws restricting religious teachings, mainly those of the Ahmadiyah sect, the Home Ministry has said they do not violate the Constitution and the regional autonomy law.

What is going on here? After the fall of the Suharto regime, the 1999 Press Law was enacted guaranteeing Indonesian press the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information. Although the censors at the Ministry of Information were sent home, there remains a sensibility in the Post, as evidenced by these stories, that some things are best left unsaid. I can imagine a very polite man from the government advising the editor to be “responsible” when reporting on sectarian divisions.

Now is that such a bad thing? It was British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin who stated that journalists enjoy “the privilege of the harlot down the ages—power without responsibility.”

Baldwin’s jibe at the press resonates on one level as there is something essentially base in journalism. Satisfying the pointless curiosity about what is going on in the world  in reporting on people who are famous for being famous serves a questionable moral purpose.

While some journalists are shills — propagandizing hacks who have lost (if they ever had) a commitment to truth — the professional failings of some does not do away with the fact that information remains an indispensable part of an educated and democratic society. And journalism is the only way we can have this information.

But where should the line be drawn between being “reasonable” in exercising discretion and complete transparency. Is it reasonable for the Post to go out of its way to tell its readers the Shia are O.K. after having run a story saying they are suspect? Are they being reasonable and averting the sort of violence the article mentioned in the first story? Or did they change their mind?

The journalism of yesteryear sought to live according to Guardian’s C.P. Scott’s mantra: “Comment is free, but facts are sacred.” Can this be said of these stories? Was this a case of national security or public order that required the Post to make a fool of itself by switching horses between story 1 and story 2? Or was it sweet reasonableness?

What say you GetReligion readers?

Images courtesy of Shutterstock.

First printed in GetReligion.

Koran-Offensive in Die Welt: Get Religion, April 18, 2012 April 18, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Free Speech, Get Religion, Islam, Press criticism, Terrorism.
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Who says the Germans don’t do comedy well? An article in a recent issue of Die Welt — “Koran-Offensive alarmiert Deutschlands Parteien” shows this not to be so. As I read the article, which tip-toes round the issue of radical Islam in Germany, my mind harkened back to an episode of the television series Seinfeld.

In the “Koran-Offensive” we know what Die Welt is talking about when it mentions Salafists or radical Muslims, but the paper will not say what it means. It sidles around the issue, performing a verbal silly walk that implies radical Islam is un-German, small minded, uncultured and a generally bad thing.  Die Welt knows that we know, but is reluctant to say this aloud.

What we do have is a story about the distribution of Korans that is slightly strange. The story arc tells us that freedom of religion and expression is a good thing, freedom to distribute Korans during Holy Week is a bad thing. Or, is it that those doing the distribution are the bad thing? The article is not quite sure.

It is like “The Outing” episode of Seinfeld. Whilst seated at a cafe, Jerry, George and Elaine notice that a young woman in a nearby booth eavesdropping. In a spirit of fun, Elaine speaks to Jerry and George intimating that they are a secret gay couple. The woman reappears shortly thereafter when she arrives at Jerry’s apartment on assignment from her student newspaper. During the interview, the interplay between Jerry and George strengthens her belief the two are a gay couple. They then recognize her from the coffee shop and deny they are gay, closing each of their denials with the catch phrase “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

The humor in this episode came from the interplay between George’s and Jerry’s fear of being taken for homosexuals against their fear of being homophobic. The audience knows the truth about Jerry and George, but takes pleasure in their panic.

The Die Welt article follows the same line in its Good Muslim/Bad Muslim story.

Here is the lede, taken from the English translation provided from Worldcrunch.

After more than 300,000 copies of the Muslim holy book were reportedly distributed in German cities during Christian holy week, major political parties have announced that they will push for closer monitoring of Salafist groups advocating fundamentalist Islam.

The Christian Democratic Union and the Christian Social Union, known as the Union parties, and Alliance ‘90/The Greens, have all declared their concern about the massive free distribution of the Koran launched by Ibrahim Abou Nagie, a Cologne-based businessman and preacher with Palestinian roots. According to Abou Nagie, the 300,000 copies were distributed at information booths and over the Internet, with the purchase of one copy entitling the buyer to another Koran free.

The timing of the action is thought to be a particular provocation for Christians, as thousands of the copies of the Koran were distributed around Good Friday and Easter.

Abou Nagie — one of Germany’s most influential Salafist leaders — has been charged in Cologne with inciting the public to commit illegal acts and disturbing the “religious peace.” The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution has been monitoring Salafist groups, which is why this distribution of religious literature – normally not a cause for concern – is being seen in another light.

The article then shifts to comments from spokesmen from the major political parties, each of whom offered a version of “Not that there’s anything wrong with that (Islam).”

“I view the distribution campaign of free copies of the Koran by Salafists with great concern,” said an SDP spokesman, but added she had “fundamentally nothing against the distribution of religious literature as long as this is not associated with encouraging criminal acts or defamation.” The Green party spokesman told Die Welt. “Distributing the Koran is certainly not forbidden by the law, but this should be monitored very carefully by the police.” And a spokesman for the governing CDU/CSU parties called for “an urgent stop” to be placed on the “machinations of the growing radical Salafist movement in Germany.”

Germany’s churches were described as “maintaining a low profile”. An EKD spokesman stated that “Fortunately, in Germany it is not forbidden to distribute religious literature,”but “Of course I hope that in countries where Islam is the religion of the majority that the distribution of Bibles were allowed.” While a Catholic spokesman said the Salafists were not interested in dialogue, and view tolerance and any form of integration for Muslims as toxic.

Only the Greens seemed prepared to speak up. Its spokesman answered the question I had — why was this a problem — by saying:

the Koran campaign was “very worrisome, because calls to violence and terror have repeatedly risen from these radical Muslim splinter groups, which is why it is entirely justified for them to be watched by security authorities.”

A Green politician of Turkish descent, Cem Özdemir, added that he had a:

“problem with any religious group that puts their vision of the world above basic law, the Constitution and human rights. So that also goes for the Salafists, who do encourage violence, and whose ideology is a front for Islamic terrorism.” It was apparent, he said, “that the strategy underlying this campaign is to represent themselves as the mouthpiece of Muslims and to propagate what they would claim is the true Islam. The Salafists can’t be allowed to get away with this.”

Moderate Muslim groups said the right things in Die Welt’s narrative.

“The Koran is not some PR flyer to be handed out like mass merchandise,” Ayman Mazyek, the chair of the Central Council of Muslims, told the Catholic News Agency. Kenan Kolat, the chair of Germany’s Turkish community, said the action reminded him of Jehovah’s Witnesses. While it was not forbidden to distribute the Koran, Kolat told Die Welt that “the question to be asked are: Are the Salafists acting aggressively? Are they disturbing people?”

And a spokesman for the group giving out 300,000 Korans said?

We don’t know as their voice does not appear.

On its face the idea that distributing 300,000 Korans is a threat to public order in an open democracy seems ludicrous. The article asserts those handing out the books are not good, or acculturated westernized Muslims, but does not say what it is about the Koran getting into the hands of Germans that makes it a danger to public order.

This question is made even more curious by the Seinfeld answer given by those opposed to its distribution. “We’re against giving out the Koran, not that there is anything wrong with that.”

The answer is not the Koran, of course, but the people handing it out. But there is a reticence to make this clear save for the Greens. The BBC’s coverage of this story managed to include the objections voiced by political leaders but offered a few words of context that cleared away the absurdist Die Welt story structure.

Last summer, the president of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Heinz Fromm, said: “Not all Salafists are terrorists.  “But almost all the terrorists we know about had contacts with Salafists or are Salafists themselves.”

Is this part of the cultural cringe we see in some quarters — an ease at criticizing Western norms and culture, but a reticence to speak out about the “other”? Should Die Welt have made it clear at the top of its story the suspected link between Koran distribution and terrorism? Or would that have vilified Muslims as a whole, for the actions of a radicalized minority?

How should the press handle this? Who speaks for Islam?

What say you GetReligion readers?

First printed in GetReligion.

From Russia with love: GetReligion March 24, 2012 March 25, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Free Speech, Get Religion, Politics, Press criticism, Religion Reporting, Russian Orthodox.
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An article from the Moscow correspondent of the New York Times has left me perplexed. On one level the story entitled “Punk riffs take on God and Putin” is a silly piece of journalism. What do I mean by silly? I’m not quite sure myself. The tone of the story is half post-modernist supercilious sneer half celebrity profile for Peoplemagazine. Now these are subjective assessments of mine and I find the style in which this article was written not to my taste. But taste is neither here nor there.

It is the journalism on display that has me perplexed. There is no balance, no sense of history to this story as well as an excess of adjectives. The heroes and villains are one dimensional characters. And at bottom, the story displays a worldview that affirms the Pussy Riot’s intellectual condescension towards the aspirations of the respectable — Russia’s church and her people.

Stylistically, this story is silly — journalistically, this story falls short — morally, this story is a wreck. Follow me through and see if you see what I see.

MOSCOW — In the month since it performed an unsanctioned “punk prayer service” at Christ the Savior Cathedral, entreating the Virgin Mary to liberate Russia from Vladimir V. Putin, the feminist punk band Pussy Riot has stirred up a storm about the role of the church, art and women in Russian society.

The group has been accused of blasphemy; three of the women are in pre-trial detention and could face up to seven years in prison.

Video of their performance, which went viral on YouTube, shows five Pussy Riot members in trademark masks dancing, arms flailing, in front of the altar of the cathedral, a vast structure rebuilt in the 1990s on the site of a cathedral that was blown up on Stalin’s orders in 1931.

The cathedral, where Patriarch Kirill I celebrates Christmas and Easter services attended by Mr. Putin and Dmitri A. Medvedev, the departing president, has become a symbol of the ties between church and state in the post-Soviet era.

The story then moves to a recitation of local reactions, noting that “top officials in the Russian Orthodox Church have called for the band’s members to be strictly punished — at times tempering this demand by saying that they do not insist on a long jail sentence.” Soft and hard statements are offered with “Russian Orthodox nationalists” calling for the group to be “flogged” while “other Orthodox activists have condemned such calls as shameful.” However, no names or examples are offered. The first voice to appear is that of:

The Rev. Vsevolod Chaplin, a senior Orthodox cleric known for his own outrageous statements on a range of topics, reiterated on Monday that there were no grounds for leniency and “that this text and this video are extremist materials, and their dissemination constitutes an extremist activity.”

The members of Pussy Riot “have declared war on Orthodox people, and there will be a war,” he told the Interfax news agency. “If the blasphemers are not punished, God will punish them in eternity and here through people.”

The group’s attorneys follow with their contention the charges have not been proved, and at that point the article notes that the:

scandal has had the interesting side effect of breaking a taboo around the word Pussy (Poosi in the Russian transliteration), as the band is usually referred to in short. It has been mouthed without embarrassment by commentators, officials and Russian Orthodox priests. Pravmir, an Orthodox news Web site, has translated the meaning of Pussy Riot as “uprising of the uterus.”

The story then offers details of the incident that led to the girls’ arrest noting the performance included the refrain about Orthodox bishops:

“The K.G.B. chief is their chief saint, he leads protesters to prison under convoy,” reads one verse in a version published on several Web sites. “In order to not offend His Holiness, women must give birth and love.” The chorus is in the form of an appeal to the Virgin Mary. “O Birthgiver of God,” sings the band, using Russian Orthodox liturgical language for addressing the Virgin Mary — “get rid of Putin, get rid of Putin, get rid of Putin.”

One of the groups members, the Times notes has been:

criticized especially harshly for participating in a 2008 orgy at a biology museum, in which she is shown having sex with her husband just days before giving birth. She has been condemned as desecrating motherhood and harming her child — now an adorable braided blonde who made a taped appeal for her mother’s release.

The article then closes with a comment from a feminist writer who states the performance has nothing to do with feminism. In defense of the way this story was framed, the International Herald Tribune printed this as part of a series on women after it first appeared in the Times. So perhaps the audience of this story were readers of People, who would respond appropriately to the bit about the “adorable braided blonde” who pleads for the release of her mother, and the lede sentence that promises a discussion on “the role of the church, art and women in Russian society.”

But this discussion never happens. Perhaps the closing comment that this is not feminism supplied the discussion, but it is otherwise absent from the story. Another omission is the nature of the crime. One need look outside the Times to find the women are being charged with “hooliganism“, not blasphemy. Their past public performances have led to their being charged with disorderly conduct and being let off with a fine, but the Cathedral incident on Shrove Tuesday has prompted public prosecutors to up the ante from a misdemeanor to a felony.

And what does the Times mean when it says the newly constructed cathedral, built on the spot where the old cathedral had stood until it was dynamited in 1931 by Lazar Kaganovich on the orders of Stalin, is a “symbol of the ties between church and state in the post-Soviet era.” Does this imply the church is a tool of President Putin? There is no explanation of this comment, nor voices speaking to this contention. Christ Our Savior Cathedral, Moscow

In the introduction to Fr. Chaplin, what does the Times mean by saying he is “known for his own outrageous statements on a range of topics”? These “outrageous” statements are not cited nor has the dialogue between the church and Pussy Riot taking place through Twitter and the media been explored.

The article also implies that Fr. Chaplin wants to see the girls imprisoned. However, he has stated that he wants them to be punished, but not jailed.

As an aside, I met Fr. Chaplin at the World Council of Churches meeting in 2005 in Porto Allegre, Brazil. And yes, he is a character. I sat with him while an official from a liberal American denomination was giving a speech and Fr. Chaplain played the cantankerous Russian — muttering under his breath, “heretic”, “schismatic”, “infidel”, “Bolshevik” every so often.

While the article does mention that senior Orthodox clergy were disturbed by the incidence due to memories of the Soviet past, it does not explain why such memories would provoke such a sharp reaction. Nor does the charge made by Pussy Riot against against the Orthodox bishops of being stooges of the KGB get a hearing.

The Russian Orthodox Church was nearly wiped out in the Stalinist era. The state sponsored persecution of the Orthodox Church began with the sort of spectacle undertaken by Pussy Riot in Moscow’s principle cathedral in the 1920’s eventually led to the arrest of 168,300 priests, monks and nuns in the purges of 1937-1938 (of these over 100,000 were shot). Some of those who survived, did so through collaboration with the regime. The extent of this collaboration was such that the 2008 the Keston Institute report that outed Patriarch Alexy II as a KGB agent was not that much of a surprise.

Stylistically I did not care for the story. As journalism, I believe it failed to live up to its lede. It did not offer a discussion of the “role of the church, art and women in Russian society;” or a balanced or thorough account of the issues. But the cheer-leading for Pussy Riot displayed a failing of sensibility.

Russian society is going through the painful process of rebuilding itself in the wake of the Soviet era. But this process is not fast enough for Pussy Riot, and the New York Times, which believes that by insulting the church — a symbol of Putin’s state in the Times‘ and Pussy Riot’s view — a short cut to social change will be found. They seek “perfection as the crow flies” in Michael Oakeshott’s phrase.

By pleading for tolerance for the actions of Pussy Riot, the Times seeks to elevate certain liberal ideas and constituencies above public criticism rather than trusting that they will eventually emerge victorious on their merits in open public debate. Framing the story as it does, the Times endorses the irrationalism of Pussy Riot against a villainous Russian government and a stodgy Orthodox Church. I’m not quite settled in my thoughts, however.

Am I taking a shovel to a souffle, beating with a cudgel this story from Moscow? Is too much being read into this article, or is there too little to read? Should the Times step back a bit, or can we trust it to pick the winners and losers in stories from far away about which we know very little? What say you GetReligion readers?

First published in GetReligion.

European Court of Human Rights – Gay rights trump free speech: The Church of England Newspaper, March 2, 2012, p 4. March 8, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Free Speech.
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Freedom of speech must be subordinated to the rights of homosexuals to be free from criticism, the European Court of Human Rights ruled last week.

In a 9 Feb 2012 decision, the ECHR held that in the case Vejdeland v Sweden, the state did not violate Article 10 (Freedom of Expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights when it arrested four men on charges of “agitation against a national or ethnic group” when they distributed pamphlets at a state school that called homosexual practice a form of deviant behavior.

In 2004, four men in their early twenties, Tor Fredrik Vejdeland, Mattias Harlin, Björn Täng and Niklas Lundström, distributed approximately 100 pamphlets at a school challenging Swedish thinking on homosexuality.  They were arrested and convicted on agitation charges in 2006.  An appeals court overturned their lower court decision.  However the Supreme Court reinstated the conviction in a 5-3 decision.

The Swedish Supreme Court stated the four men had a right to express their ideas, but the way they went about doing it was “unnecessarily offensive.” The Swedish court said the aims of the four men could have been “achieved without offensive statements to homosexuals as a group.”

The pamphlets stated that “in the course of a few decades society has swung from rejection of homosexuality and other sexual deviances to embracing this deviant sexual proclivity. Your anti-Swedish teachers know very well that homosexuality has a morally destructive effect on the substance of society and will willingly try to put it forward as something normal and good.”

The four men encouraged students to challenge their teachers’ received views on homosexuality and pointed to the link between homosexual activities and the spread of HIV as well as the efforts of homosexual pressure groups to soften laws against pedophilia.

In their decision the judges of the ECHR said the appeal had been “manifestly ill-founded”. Criminal conviction for distributing leaflets offensive to homosexuals was not contrary to freedom of expression and was a “legitimate and proportional interference” with the appellants’ rights.  It was necessary that the state curtail their freedom of speech and regulate the form in which it could take place so as to protection the “reputation and rights of others”.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Barnabas Fund cleared of hate charges: The Church of England Newspaper, November 4, 2011 p 6. November 4, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Church of England, Church of England Newspaper, Free Speech, Persecution.
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First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

The Charity Commission has endorsed the right of free speech and free expression of religion for religious charities, rejecting accusations the Barnabas Fund promoted sectarian hatred by promoting Christianity. The decision comes as a setback in the ‘lawfare’ battle waged in England to use the state to silence criticism of Islam.

In a decision handed down last month, the commission found there was no basis for the charge the fund’s Operation Nehemiah booklets were “divisive” and violated the laws governing charities.

The complaint arose from an article in the 7 Aug 2011 issue of the Sunday Times that highlighted the Barnabas Fund’s campaign to halt the spread or radical Islam in the UK. An individual identified as a “lay Reader in the Church of England” filed a complaint with the Charity Commission alleging the Barnabas Fund’s booklet Slippery Slope had engaged in sectarian and racial hatred by “campaigning” against the spread of Islam.

In its decision, the Charity Commission held the Barnabas Fund had acted in good faith and had complied with British law.

“The charity, in its campaigning around Operation Nehemiah appears to be acting within its objects, as the campaign can be seen as promoting ‘the advancement of the Christian faith’. A charity can become involved in a campaign which furthers or supports its charitable purposes.

“The Commission acknowledge that the campaign material fits within its aims, and that the booklet quotes sources for the claims that it makes. They quote its statement of intent, not to promote anti-Muslim fear or hatred, but to address seriously the challenge of Islam to society.

“The campaign does not appear to be inciting racial hatred and the charity believes that it has public benefit in that it ‘is committed to maintaining Christian values of freedom of conscience, speech and religion for the next generation in church and society’.”

Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, International Director of Barnabas Fund, released a statement welcoming the ruling by the Charity Commission.

“We have been deeply saddened that some Christians regard Barnabas Fund as preaching hatred when we raise the plight of the persecuted Church, and the growing influence of Islamism and its impact on the Church and the Christian heritage and liberties of Western society. We are unshakably committed to our stated goals and will continue to pursue them with vigour, for the sake of our Lord’s persecuted people at home and abroad.”

Moral cowardice and Mohammad: Get Religion November 2, 2011 November 2, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Free Speech, Get Religion, Islam, Persecution, Politics, Press criticism.
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Get ready GetReligion readers for a new round of righteous indignation, moral cowardice and sloppy reporting about Islam. There will be a cartoon of Mohammad — quelle horreur — on the cover of the French satirical journal Charlie Hebdo. The magazine is set for distribution on newsstands today, 2 Nov 2011.

My colleagues at GetReligion have written extensively about reporting on images of Mohammad. Articles on Everybody Draw Mohammad Day, South Park, and the Jyllands-Posten cartoons have raised questions about the quality of reporting and unwarranted suppositions about Islam. And although we are only in the first days of this news cycle, the same errors, moral cowardice and surrender to the forces of religious extremism and censorship are cropping up in this latest cartoon controversy.

The editors of Charlie Hebdo — a lowbrow political humor magazine akin to Private Eye — held a press conference on Monday in Paris to announce that the Muslim prophet Mohammed would be this week’s guest editor and the magazine renamed “Sharia Hebdo” for this issue in honor of the occasion.

The French wire service AFP filed this dispatch from the front lines following the press conference:

“In order fittingly to celebrate the Islamist Ennahda’s win in Tunisia and the NTC (National Transitional Council) president’s promise that sharia would be the main source of law in Libya, Charlie Hebdo asked Mohammed to be guest editor,” said a statement.

The weekly has been rebaptised Sharia Hebdo for the occasion, and will feature on its cover a picture of Mohammed saying: “100 lashes if you don’t die of laughter!”

On the back page, a picture of Mohammed wearing a red nose is accompanied by the words: “Yes, Islam is compatible with humour.”

The cover was circulating on social media such as Twitter on Tuesday, with many users incensed and describing it as “puerile”.

The weekly’s publisher, known as Charb, rejected accusations that he was trying to provoke.

“We feel we’re just doing our job as usual. The only difference is that this week, Mohammed is on the cover and that’s quite rare,” he told AFP.

Le Nouvel Observateur — a Paris-based weekly with a circulation of over half a million, it is generally considered the most prominent French-language general news magazine (think Time in its heyday)  — ran a story late Monday evening (with a photo of the offending cover)  on its website under the title “Quand ‘Charlie Hebdo’ devient ‘Charia Hebdo’.” This story drew upon the original AFP report for the details, and added a few color quotes from French social media sites. By the end of the day about two dozen French-language newspapers and broadcasters had their own stories up on the cartoon controversy — with most displaying the cartoon. And being France, opinions ran the gamut from praise to condemnation.

The story began to spread and at midnight Eastern Daylight Time  on Monday night the Worldcrunch news service posted a translation of the Observatuer story illustrated with a copy of the offending issue. However, within hours the Mohammad cartoon disappeared. The article was now illustrated by by picture of a back issue of Charlie Hebdo. Was it copyright concerns or cowardice that led to the spiking of the cartoon?

English language stories began to appear but without the cartoon. The BBC ran a brief item by midday. The Telegraph ran first the AFP story and then its own re-write. By day’s end, the Daily Mail ran the first detailed report entitled “French satirical magazine set to spark outrage by naming Prophet Mohammed as editor-in-chief”.

The Daily Mail’s story was robust, damning both the French and radical Islam (no surprise there).  It led with: “A leading French magazine is set to provoke fury around the world by calling itself Sharia Weekly and pretending that the Prophet Mohammed is editing it.”

The article set the scene well, but closed badly:

Islamic law forbids any depiction of the prophet, even positive ones, to prevent idolatry.There are some six million Muslims living in France – the largest group of its kind in western Europe. While many have welcomed the fall of despots like Muammar Gaddafi following the Arab Spring revolts, many fear that they will be replaced by extreme Islamist governments.

There may not have been space available to flesh out the consequences of Muslim reactions, or to touch upon the past cartoon controversies. The story would have been improved with a word or two on this point. But it too played the coward, running a cover from a back issue of Charlie Hebdo instead of the Mohammad cover to illustrate the story.

And no, Islamic law does not forbid depictions of Mohammad. As my colleagues at GetReligion have pointed out there is no one Muslim law, nor common view on this topic. Here is a gallery of Mohammad images in Western and Turkish art collections.

Silenced, a 2011 book on the collision between Western concepts of free speech and Islam by Paul Marshall and Nina Shae notes:

There are numerous representations of Muhammad in historic Muslim art. Such works are housed in the Smithsonian, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Istanbul’s Topkapi Palace. Images of Muhammad appeared in illuminated manuscripts dating from as early as the thirteenth century and as late as the eighteenth century.

Sunni Islam, in modern times, has prohibitions against depicting the Prophet or his companions. Sunni theologians at Al-Azhar University continue to prohibit his portrayal, as does the Muslim Brotherhood, and iconoclastic theology has been promoted with particular vigor by the conservative Wahhabi sect, supported by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Shia tradition is less stringently opposed to such depictions. Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani of Iraq, a prominent Shia cleric, suggests on his website that portraying the Prophet is not problematic as long as the depiction is respectful. A primary reason for barring images of Muhammad is the prevention of idolatry…

Yes, I agree the Charlie Hebdo cartoons are puerile. But aesthetic considerations should not be grounds for censorship. Gustave Doré illustrations of Mohammad for Dante’s Inferno are as offensive to the Wahhabist Muslim as is Charlie Hebdo’s juvenile stunt. Nor am I persuaded that the self-censorship on display is intellectually or morally credible.

In 2009 the Yale University Press cancelled the publication of a scholarly book on the Mohammad cartoons after the school’s administration intervened. The university defended its cringing cowardice in a press release. While Yale was “institution deeply committed to free expression” publishing cartoons or “other illustrations of the Prophet Muhammad” ran “a serious risk of instigating violence.”

Writing in Slate, Christopher Hitchens deplored Yale’s mendacity and its misuse of  the word“instigate”. One instigates violence by actively encouraging and abetting it, not by engaging in lawful acts of communication. Lawful or innocent actions can spark violence. But society is not subject to mob rule. Maintaining public order is why we have police forces.

This story may have legs. French President Nicolas Sarkozy will have a tough time winning reelection in 2012. The Socialist challenger François Hollande is playing on economic discontent in France, and is touted to win. However, if the latest Mohammad cartoons spark rioting in the Muslim banlieues, it will be a political gift to Sarkozy (as well as to Marine Le Pen of the National Front).

European Muslim militants have manufactured outrage about Mohammad cartoons in the past — remember it was not until a group of Danish imams toured the Middle East complaining about the Jyllands-Posten Mohammad-with-a-bomb-in-his-turban cartoon that rioting ensued. Danish embassies were attacked and a trail of murder and mayhem spread across the Muslim world that ultimately left some 200 people dead. The Assad regime and the Muslim Brotherhood, among others, have facilitated riots over past cartoons. Whether it is in their political interests to do so now is a calculation that will be made in the coming days.

In his 1946 essay, “Why I Write”, George Orwell stated, “every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism.”  This is the duty of a free press. Though Stalinism and Fascism no longer have a place in Western intellectual life, the cant, hypocrisy and moral dishonesty they represented remain part of our intellectual and philosophical lives. And it is in this work, in challenging the orthodoxies of left and right, that journalism achieves its moral purpose.

Does the omission of Mohammad cartoons serve this moral good? No, it does not.

Addendum: In the hours between writing this story on Tuesday evening and publication on Wednesday morning the Charlie Hebdo story entered a new phase. The offices of the magazine were fire-bombed early this morning. No group has yet claimed responsibility or other actions against the magazine or its distributors been reported so far.

First published in GetReligion.

Cape Town archbishop denounces hate speech: The Church of England Newspaper, Oct 14, 2011 p 6. October 19, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Southern Africa, Church of England Newspaper, Free Speech, Politics.
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Julius Malema, Photo:Gary van der Merwe

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

The Archbishop of Cape Town has stepped into the African National Congress (ANC)’s political civil war, obliquely chastising the leader of the party’s youth wing, Julius Malema, for racist speech.

In a speech printed in the Cape Times on16 September, Archbishop Thabo Makgoba called on South Africans to join him and “denounce” inflammatory language. “Hate speech, racist talk, sexist language only oppresses and imprisons,” he said.

The Archbishop’s comments follow last month’s court ruling that ruled Mr Malema was guilty of hate speech for his singing of “Shoot the Boer” at political rallies. The refrain in the Zulu language song popularized during the apartheid era — “the cowards are scared, shoot shoot, shoot shoot, shoot the Boer” — was found to be hate speech under South African law.

A political rival to President Jacob Zuma, Mr Malema denounced the court’s 12 September ruling as racist saying “once again we find ourselves subjected to white minority approval. Apartheid is being brought through the back door.”

He called for songs from the apartheid era to be protected as free political speech. “These were the songs of resistance and they will never die,” he said.

In 2009 Mr Malema helped President Zuma gain the top spot in the ANC, but he has since broken with the president. He faces an internal ANC disciplinary hearing for bringing the party into disrepute after he called for the Botswana government to be overthrown, calling it “puppet” of the West.

He has also clashed with the president on economic policy, applauding Robert Mugabe’s regime and has called for the state to nationalize South Africa’s mines and seize white-owned farms.

Archbishop Thabo Makgoba stated that freedom of speech “is entrenched in our Constitution” and was a “necessary bed-rock of democratic life.”

“But this does not mean we can and should say anything, anywhere, merely on the grounds that we claim it is ‘truth’. Nor should restraint merely consist in establishing the maximum we can get away with when arguing before the courts. No, freedom of speech touches on the very essence of what it is to be human, and to be committed to the well being of other human beings.

“Hate speech is not merely a legal category. It is, as I have said often before (when people have been called ‘snakes’ and ‘dogs’ and worse), any utterance that diminishes and degrades other human beings, other children of God. More than this, it diminishes and degrades not only its target, but also the speaker – for it demonstrates a general failure to understand and respect people at large,” the Archbishop said.

“The same is true of those who resort to racial epithets, or demeaning sexual slurs,” he said, adding that such language “undermines our capacity to ‘fulfil the promise’ of democracy, through building the sort of individual character and mature society which will help create the opportunity for every citizen to flourish.”

‘Yobbo’ Jesus cartoons sparks riot: CEN 2.26.10 p 6. March 5, 2010

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of North India, Free Speech.
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Cartoons portraying Jesus as a beer drinking cigarette smoking yobbo have sparked communal rioting in India, and have led to the burning of a Church of North India (CNI) church and Salvation Army meeting hall in the Punjab.

On Feb 20, Christians in the town of Batala took to the streets to protest the publication of a cartoon from a school textbook that portrayed Jesus raising a can of beer in one hand and holding a cigarette in the other.

“In most of the places the protest was peaceful,” the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) reported, but in Batala the “situation took a turn for the worst,” when Christian youths demanded Hindu merchants close up shop in solidarity with the protest.

“Resistance on the part of these shopkeepers led to clashes between the two communities. The violence gradually spread to the entire city when [Hindu extremists] came out on the roads with weapons and indulged in arson, looting and violence.”

Fighting broke out and ten people were injured and numerous shops and the two churches were burned, with the priests “brutally thrashed” and their houses ransacked, EFI reported.

The chief minister of the Punjab Parkash Singh Badal declared martial law in Batala and imposed a curfew, and promised to respond with an “iron fist” to anyone who “foments sectarian hatred,” the Indian press reported. The IANS news service reported that the deputy chief minister of the Punjab stated that the “culprits behind the blasphemous act of showing disrespect to the image of Lord Jesus have been arrested by the special team of Punjab police.”

The Punjabi riot followed protests by Christians in the northeastern Indian state of Meghalaya, who protested the distribution of a handwriting book that published the yobbo Jesus cartoon, where it was used to illustrate the letter “I” for the word “Idol.”

The education minister of Meghalaya, India’s only majority-Christian state, Ampareen Lyngdoh said the government “strongly condemn[s] such a blasphemous act. Legal action has been initiated against the publisher.”

“We are deeply shocked and hurt at the objectionable portrayal of Jesus Christ in the school book. We condemn the total lack of respect for religions by the publisher,” the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Shillong Dominic Jala told AFP.

The Shillong Times said the Delhi-based publisher had apologised for “hurting people’s religious sentiments,” and had recalled the offending textbook.

Allegations fly in e-mail row: CEN 5.27.09 May 29, 2009

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Free Speech, Religion Reporting, The Episcopal Church.
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A “dirty tricks” campaign has blown up in the faces of liberal activists in the Episcopal Church, as the publication of purloined e-mails has led to allegations of “conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy” being lodged against the leader of the gay-pressure group Integrity and a member of the Episcopal Church’s Executive Council.

Bishops associated with the Anglican Communion Institute (ACI) have asked the bishops of Los Angeles and Delaware to look in to the conduct of the Rev Susan Russell and the Rev Canon Mark Harris for having surreptitiously obtained and then posting on their blogs the text of private correspondence exchanged among the ACI and its attorney.

A request has also been made to Bishop John Chane of Washington to review the actions of one of his staffers in the anti-ACI campaign. The dispute centres around e-mails published by Canon Harris and Ms Russell though written and exchanged by the ACI leadership on the crafting of a position paper entitled the “Bishops’ Statement on the Polity of the Episcopal Church”, released last month by the ACI and subsequently endorsed by 14 bishops.

Priests “publishing the private e-mails of bishops is a matter of grave pastoral disorder,” ACI member the Very Rev Philip Turner, former Dean of the Berkeley Divinity School, at Yale charged. However, writing on the Integrity blog website, Ms Russell applauded the “outing” of the ACI, saying the Bishops’ Statement was an “unprecedented power grab by anti-gay bishops” that should be made known to the wider church.

The ACI case will likely test the free speech limits of clergy blogs and amateur church news gathering. The explosive growth of the internet, which has seen many clergy turn to blogging in recent years, has not been matched with a code of conduct that draws the line between libel, copyright theft, defamation and aggressive reporting with a priest’s obligation to engage in moral and civil conduct.

Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper.

Allegations fly in e-mail row

3 Bishops, ACI Call for Email Investigation: TLC 5.27.09 May 28, 2009

Posted by geoconger in Free Speech, Living Church, Religion Reporting, The Episcopal Church.
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First published in The Living Church.

Allegations of conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy will be lodged by three bishops against a member of the national Executive Council and the president of Integrity in response to the misappropriation and publication of private correspondence.

Bishops John Howe of Central Florida, Mark Lawrence of South Carolina, and D. Bruce MacPherson of Western Louisiana, along with other leaders of the Anglican Communion Institute (ACI), are concerned about a possible “dirty tricks” campaign waged against the ACI by the Rev. Canon Mark Harris, the Rev. Susan Russell, and an unidentified member on the staff at the Diocese of Washington.

Priests “publishing the private emails of bishops is a matter of grave pastoral disorder,” said the Very Rev. Philip Turner, former dean of Berkeley Divinity School at Yale and a member of the ACI. The publication of the correspondence also may violate laws concerning attorney-client privilege, Bishop MacPherson said.

The dispute involves the misappropriation of emails and a draft of an ACI paper titled “Bishops’ Statement on the Polity of The Episcopal Church.” Most of the private correspondence contained a standard legal disclaimer noting that the information was privileged and intended solely for those to whom it was addressed.

On April 21 Canon Harris published snippets from the bishops’ statement and 13 email messages exchanged among the ACI leaders and their lawyer. The following day, Ms. Russell published the bishops’ statement along with extracts from the emails and the Washington Blade, a secular gay-interest newspaper, published an expurgated version of the email exchange.

“Since when do we have priests publishing the private correspondence of bishops to each other?” Bishop Howe asked.

Writing on an internet blog maintained by Integrity Ms. Russell applauded the “outing” of the ACI because she said it was advocating an “unprecedented power grab by anti-gay bishops.”

A spokesman for the ACI said the organization did not contemplate pursuing civil or criminal remedies for the misappropriation of the private documents. One of the bishops said that formal ecclesiastical charges have not been preferred against either Ms. Russell or Canon Harris, but the matter has been brought to the attention of Bishop J. Jon Bruno of Los Angeles, which is where Ms. Russell is canonically resident, and the Bishop of Delaware Wayne Wright, where Canon Harris resides.

Bishop MacPherson said it was a sad commentary of the current state of the church that such correspondence would be published, but he was more distressed by the damage the leaked information had done to the point the 14 bishops who signed the statement were trying to make.

“My prayer is that we will be able to find our way back as a church to following the constitution and canons that have been handed down to us,” he said. “The current leadership is moving away in another direction.”

Australian Church calls for blasphemy abolition: CEN 2.20.09 February 22, 2009

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Australia, Church of England Newspaper, Free Speech.
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Blasphemy should be abolished as a crime under Australia’s federal and state penal codes, the Standing Committee of the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Australia has argued in a submission to the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)

“We look for a society where religious discourse is conducted in safety and security, and people are free to disagree without danger or social exclusion or harm to person or property,” the church said in its submission in response to the AHRC’s paper, “Freedom of Religion and Belief in the 21st Century project.”

“These conditions will entail the freedom to engage in robust debate and disagreement about religious beliefs and practices,” it said.

Launched in September, the “Freedom of Religion” project seeks to set the terms of debate for church state relations in the coming decades. Conducted in partnership with Monash University, RMIT University and the Australian Multicultural Foundation, the project seeks to determine whether there is adequate protection against discrimination based on religion or belief, and how federal, state and territory governments are managing incitement to religious hatred.

The paper also looks at the extent of the influence of organized religion on government as well as the “commitment to interfaith understanding and inclusion in Australia at present.”

It also addresses the contentious issue of human sexuality, asking how diverse sexuality is perceived within the various faith communities, how faith communities can become inclusive of people of diverse sexualities, and whether religious organizations should be permitted to bar people from employment due to sexual orientation.

In its response, the church said it endorsed the proposed Religious Freedom Act making it unlawful to discriminate on the grounds of religion in the area of employment, “provided there are appropriate exemptions.”

Religious tests should be permitted when it is a qualification for employment, the church said, urging the adoption of a legal exemption that allows a “distinction, exclusion or preference in connection with employment” for religious organizations, including schools, social service agencies, hospitals and other charitable institutions, when the religious qualification is “derived from the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of a particular religion.”

The church also supported the “abolition of the common law offence of blasphemy and the repeal of any laws creating the offence of blasphemy.” Under Australia’s Federal Constitution blasphemy is not an offense at common law. However Section 118 of the Broadcasting & Television Act 1942 prohibits the broadcast of “matter which is blasphemous, indecent or obscene.”

Blasphemous libel is a criminal offense in several Australian states, though there have been no prosecutions in recent decades. While Queensland and Western Australia have no blasphemy laws, Australia’s other states and territories carry the offence on the statute books. In Victoria the last attempt to prosecute blasphemy as a common law offence occurred in 1919, but the Transport (Passenger Vehicles) Regulations 1994 forbids passengers on public transport from using “any blasphemous, indecent, insulting, offensive, profane, violent or threatening language or gesture to the annoyance or hindrance of any other person.”

A balance between civil liberties and religious rights need be found, the church said. “We value and want to keep the freedoms and rights Australians enjoy, which are delivered by Australian law, and have in turn been shaped and informed by Judeo-Christian thought,” the church saidl

“We recognise and affirm the cultural diversity that exists within Australia, and the need to respond thoughtfully to increasing religious diversity. But any policy initiatives arising from debate about freedom of religion and belief should not compromise these freedoms and rights,” the standing committee argued.

The closing date for submissions for the “Freedom of Religion” project is Feb 28.

Blasphemy law is dropped in Netherlands: CEN 11.09.08 November 9, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Free Speech.
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Blasphemy will no longer be a crime in the Netherlands, the Dutch government announced last week. On Nov 1 Justice Minister Ernst Hirsch Ballin said the country’s coalition government would repeal a 1930s blasphemy law in favor of strengthening the current anti-discrimination legislation.

Two of the three members of the centre-right government of Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende — the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) and the Christian Union (CU) — had balked at past demands made by junior coalition partner the Dutch Labour Party (PvdA) that Netherlands scrap the Blasphemy law, but have now agreed to back Labour’s demand that religion not be given a privileged place above free speech.

The push to reform the blasphemy laws comes in response to heightened tensions with the Netherland’s Muslim minority. Criticism of Islamists and Islam by comedians, cartoonists, filmmakers and politicians has led to threats of prosecution for offending Muslim sensibilities.

Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper.

Blasphemy law is dropped in Netherlands

Disrespectful journalists ‘can be killed,’ says Saudi cleric: CEN 9.29.08 September 29, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Free Speech, Islam.
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Journalists who criticize Muslim mullahs should be flogged, a senior Saudi cleric told Al-Majd television on Sept 20.

Abdullah bin Jabreen told the Saudi television network that reporters who challenged the authority of religious judges should be fired, flogged and jailed. His remarks came in response to questions concerning a fatwa (religious edict) issued earlier this month by Saleh al-Lihedan, chief of the kingdom’s highest tribunal, the Supreme Judiciary Council. Al-Lihedan called for the killing of media tycoons whose networks broadcast “immoral” programmes.

“Those (writers) and journalists and satellite TVs who attack scholars, and particularly well-known sheiks, and publish bad bulletins about them, they must be punished,” said bin Jabreen, who retired four years ago from the Saudi government committee that regulates fatwas.

Those who insult the religious authorities should face “lengthy imprisonment,” or be punished by “dismissing them from their jobs, flogging and rebuking,” Al-Masry al-youm, an Egyptian newspaper quoted bin Jabreen as having told Saudi television.

Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper.

Disrespectful journalists 'can be killed,' says Saudi cleric

Greek religious oaths under threat: CEN 5.01.08 May 1, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Civil Rights, EU, Free Speech, Greek Orthodox, Persecution, Politics.
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Religious oaths administered by the state in legal or civil proceedings may violate Article 9 (Freedom of Religion) of the European Convention of Human Rights, an EU court has held.

In a Feb 21 ruling, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg held that a Greek law requiring a lawyer to swear an oath to conform to the law before he was admitted to practice, or to make a statement of conscience if he were an atheist or if his principles forbad him to make an oath, was unlawful.

“The fact that the applicant had to reveal to the court that he was not an Orthodox Christian interfered with his freedom not to have to manifest his religious beliefs,” the court ruled in the case of Alexandridis vs. Greece (application number 19516/2006).

Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper’s Religious Intelligence section.

Greek religious oaths under threat

Stasi agents win anonymity in human rights ruling: CEN 4.14.08 April 14, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, EKD, Free Speech, Persecution.
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THE RIGHT to privacy trumps the public’s right to know when it comes to the names and activities of agents of the former East German secret police, a German court has held.

On March 25 a court in Zwickau ordered the Rev Edmund Käbisch to remove the name and details of the activities of an agent codenamed “Schubert” from his exhibition on police infiltration of East Germany’s churches.

Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper’s Religious Intelligence section.

Stasi agents win anonymity in human rights ruling

Sri Lanka call on freedoms: CEN 3.28.08 p 6. March 31, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Church of Ceylon, Church of England Newspaper, Free Speech.
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The Bishop of Colombo has denounced government indifference over attacks on the press in Sri Lanka, saying its inaction amounted to collusion with those who sought to stifle a free press.

The statement by Bishop Duleep de Chickera followed a series of politically motivated attacks on reporters and editors of the state controlled Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation (SLRC) television network. Five reporters who were critical of the government’s conduct of the war against Tamil separatists have been seriously injured by unknown assailants. The official police response has been the attacks are unrelated actions by small time hoodlums.

The church has also questioned the March 17 appointment of a retired army general to the post of director of administration of the television network, placing the broadcaster firmly in the hands of the military. Following the army takeover last Monday, police sealed off the station breaking up a threatened strike by staff.

Bishop de Chickera said the “continuing harassment and arrests of media persons are both disturbing and frustrating.”

The “focus of the nation” was now on the “brazen and systematic violence” meted out to reporters questioning the regime, and the “recent arrest and indefinite detention without access to lawyers of a group of journalists associated with a news web site and printing press,” he said.

The failure to stem the assaults was an “indictment against the entire police force.” While the police were quick to locate and arrest “those considered enemies of the State,” the government’s inaction in protecting journalists raised “questions of professional bias.

Deobandis say only the state may punish blasphemers: CEN 3.13.08 March 13, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Free Speech, Islam.
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Only the state, not individuals, may punish blasphemers, Asia’s leading school of Islam has ruled.

On March 11 the Darul Uloom in Deoband, India issued a fatwa stating that the responsibility for punishing blasphemy lies with the state. Individuals, religious groups and other non-state actors may not exact punishment for slandering Mohammad or slandering the Muslim religion.

Theo van Gogh (pictured)


Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper’s Religious Intelligence section

Deobandis say only the state may punish blasphemers

Philippine law will ban media describing Muslims as criminals: CEN 2.08.08 February 7, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Free Speech, Islam, Politics.
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THE PHILIPPINE Congress has passed the third reading of a bill that would penalize the media for describing suspected terrorists and criminals as Muslims.

House Bill 100, known as “An Act Prohibiting the Use of the Words ‘Muslim’ and ‘Christian in Mass Media to describe any Person Suspected of or Convicted for Having Committed Criminal or Unlawful Acts, and Providing Penalties for Violation Thereof” was introduced by Muslim Congressman, Representative Yusop Jikiri (pictured) from the southern Philippine Island of Mindanao and passed Congress on Feb 5.

Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper’s Religious Intelligence section.

Philippine law will ban media describing Muslims as criminals

New Guinea rights call: CEN 1.18.08 p 6. January 17, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Papua New Guinea, Church of England Newspaper, Civil Rights, Free Speech, House of Lords.
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richard-harries-2.jpgThe former Bishop of Oxford has tabled a series of questions in Parliament, asking the government to press Indonesia to improve its human rights record in Western New Guinea.

In July the NGO, Human Rights Watch, accused the Indonesia of mounting a campaign of repression including extrajudicial executions, torture and rape against Papuan separatists. A November report by the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Torture also recorded instances of police misconduct.

“Conditions in Papua’s Central Highlands are an important test of how Indonesia’s security forces perform when political tensions are high and regions are closed to outside observers,” said Joseph Saunders, deputy program director at Human Rights Watch. “The police are failing that test badly.”

“No one is being prosecuted for the crimes we documented,” Mr. Saunders said. “The police are acting as a law unto themselves.”

The Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua are closed to the press and outside aid agencies. It has been the scene of a low-level insurgency by guerrillas of the Free Papua Movement (Organisasi Papua Merdeka, or OPM). The guerrillas have mounted a series of hit and run raids in recent years on the Indonesian security forces, who have responded by conducting anti-terrorist sweeps through remote jungle villages suspected of providing sanctuary to the OPM.

The former Bishop of Oxford, Lord Harries asked the government what measures it had taken to “promote peaceful dialogue between West Papuan leaders and the Government of Indonesia;” what it had done in response to published reports by the UN and Human Rights NGO’s “on the use of torture by Indonesian security personnel in West Papua;” and whether it would press Jakarta to “freedom of expression and the right to peaceful assembly” and allow the West Papuans to fly their flag in public.

Speaking on behalf of the government, the Foreign Minister for Africa, Asia and the UN Lord Malloch-Brown responded on Jan 8 that the British government endorsed the call for dialogue and had queried Indonesian government leaders about the “situation in Papua, including human rights.”

The government also welcomed the UN’s November 2007 report on West Papua and looked forward to the final report by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Dr Manfred Novak. However, the UN’s initial findings were that “notwithstanding the very real concerns about treatment of detainees,” Indonesia had “come a long way in recent years and is trying to make positive progress on human rights,” Lord Malloch-Brown said.

Britain “supports the territorial integrity of Indonesia and therefore does not support independence for Papua,” Lord Malloch-Brown said, and would not press Jakarta on the question of flying the Papuan flag.

Rushdie row reaches Romania: CEN 1.11.08 p 6. January 10, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Free Speech, Iran, Islam.
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salman-rushdie.jpgPatriarch Daniel of the Romanian Orthodox Church has denounced the publication of a Romanian translation of Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, saying the novel attacks the spiritual values and symbols of all religions.

On Dec 20 the Romanian publishing firm Editura Polirm Publications released 5000 copies of the novel, selling out the first print run by the end of the day. Patriarch Daniel released a statement on behalf of the Romanian Orthodox Synod that day saying the 1988 novel offended “spiritual values’ and “religious symbols” and called for it to be taken of the shelves of the country’s book stores.

The novel could be banned in Romania free speech activists fear as last year the government adopted a religious hate speech law. Article 13 of the speech code criminalizes “all forms, all means, all acts of animosity toward religion,” as well as “the public defamation of religious symbols.”

Iran’s Ambassador to Romania has also demanded the government ban the novel, saying it is a grave insult to Romania’s 100,000 Muslim citizens.

The FARS news agency of Tehran said Ambassador Hamid Reza Arshadi had demanded the government ban the book for disparaging Islam. The Iranian government also called on Romania’s Muslim minority to take “immediate and coordinated action” to “prevent distribution of the book.”

In 1989 the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa calling on all good Muslims to kill Rushdie and his publishers, or to assist in their murder. In 2006 the Iranian state news agency reported the fatwa remained in force.

Publication of the has proven a risky business for some overseas publishers. In 1991 the Japanese translator of the book stabbed to death, while the Italian language translator was seriously injured in a stabbing the same month. In 1993 an Islamist extremist almost succeeded in killing Rushdie’s Norwegian publisher.

Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper.

Free Speech Worry in Sri Lanka: CEN 12.07.07 p 6. December 9, 2007

Posted by geoconger in Church of Ceylon, Church of England Newspaper, Free Speech.
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The Bishop of Colombo has denounced attacks on opposition newspapers in Ceylon as an assault on free speech and democracy.

On Nov 21 the offices of the English-language newspapers papers the Sunday Leader and Morning Leader and the Sinhala-language Irudina Sinhala were firebombed. President Mahinda Rajapakse of Sri Lanka pledged his government would respond forcefully to the attacks.

Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper.

British Justice minister warned over anti-gay speech: CEN 11.30.07 p 4. December 2, 2007

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Free Speech, House of Lords, Human Sexuality --- The gay issue.
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THE BISHOP of Liverpool has challenged the necessity of the proposed amendment to the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill criminalising anti-gay speech. Speaking in the House of Lords on Nov 12, Bishop James Jones stated that current laws were sufficient to deal with problems of homophobic behavior.

Last month the Justice Secretary, Jack Straw (pictured), announced plans to amend the Criminal Justice Bill, extending the protections against hate speech provided to religious and racial groups to homosexuals.

Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper.

British Jutice minister warned over anti-gay speech

Australian plea for Islamic terrorists in Indonesia: CEN 11.09.07 p 8. November 9, 2007

Posted by geoconger in Al Qaeda, Anglican Church of Australia, Church of England Newspaper, Free Speech, Islam.
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THE ARCHBISHOP of Melbourne has urged the Indonesia government to spare the life of three Islamist terrorists, sentenced to death for their part in the 2002 Bali bombings.

Dr Philip Freier has joined the Islamic Friendship Association of Australia in a petition asking Indonesia to grant clemency to the convicted Bali bombers as well as to six Australians sentenced to death for heroin trafficking.

Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper.

Australian Archbishop in clemency plea

Kenyan concern over media law: CEN 8.31.07 p 6. August 30, 2007

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Kenya, Church of England Newspaper, Free Speech, Politics.
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A PROPOSED media law that would have compelled journalists to reveal their sources upon demand has drawn sharp criticism from Church leaders in Kenya.

The protest against government attempts to curtail press freedoms by the Anglican Church of Kenya (ACK) are the latest challenges to that nation’s parliament, as the church presses the state to combat corruption and promote good government.

On Aug 2, the Kenyan parliament passed an omnibus media regulation bill that required newspaper editors to identify anonymous sources to the police or to a court. The ACK and the Nation Council of Churches of Kenya denounced the bill saying it would undermine civil liberties.

Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper

Kenyan concern over media law

Study–Hizbullah Won Propaganda War: JP 4.30.08 April 30, 2007

Posted by geoconger in Free Speech, Israel, Jerusalem Post, Lebanon.
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Hizbullah won the Second Lebanon War by achieving a propaganda victory over Israel, a Harvard University study has concluded. Aided and abetted by a compliant and credulous press, Hizbullah achieved victory by convincing the world that Israel was the aggressor and that Israel’s retaliatory offensive was a “disproportionate” response to the kidnapping and killing of its soldiers.

Israel’s defeat came not at the hands of Hizbullah, however, but through the internal contradictions of being the region’s sole functioning democracy in the Internet age.

Read it all at the Jerusalem Post.