An Open Letter to the Gambian Government on Homosexuality

In April Ebou Sohna reported that 17 GLBTI Gambians had been imprisoned for the "crime" of homosexuality.  Subsequently the Gambia Secular Assembly (an AAI Member) wrote an open letter to the Gambian government explaining that homosexuality is a natural part of human diversity and calling for the equality of all citizens.  The letter was published as a series in The Standard newspaper in Gambia and you can see a scan here.  

Atheist Alliance International applauds the Gambia Secular Assembly for taking a stand on behalf of GLBTI people in Gambia.

The Dynamics of a National Conversation

Quick Recap: On 9 May 2012, President Obama, who had for years said that his view of marriage equality was still “evolving,” told ABC news, "At a certain point, I’ve just concluded that, for me, personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married."

I noted in an earlier article that reactions to this announcement varied.  Liberal views included skepticism over his motives, regret over the time it has taken, and outright joy.  Knee-jerk condemnation from conservatives was mostly uniform and unsurprising.  Also unsurprising was the hope from conservatives that Obama’s shift on this controversial issue would cost him needed votes in November’s Presidential election.  This hope seemed to be supported by statistics.  In the United States, 43% of our population attends church on a near-weekly basis, 80% believe in God, and 12% more believe in a universal spirit (shame on Gallup, though, for not defining “universal spirit” in their poll).  Gallup has also shown that while 84% of non-Christians believe “same-sex marriage should be legal,” only 39% of Protestants and 51% of Catholics do.

The trope conservatives have been bandying about is that these large blocks of religious people, for whom faith is an important issue in their lives and who look to that faith when making political decisions, will feel Obama has so rejected their values that they will be galvanized to vote in large numbers, and will swing Republican, in the upcoming Presidential election.

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South Korea Surrenders to Creationist Demands

Originally pubished at nature.com

Mention creationism, and many scientists think of the United States, where efforts to limit the teaching of evolution have made headway in a couple of states1. But the successes are modest compared with those in South Korea, where the anti-evolution sentiment seems to be winning its battle with mainstream science.

A petition to remove references to evolution from high-school textbooks claimed victory last month after the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MEST) revealed that many of the publishers would produce revised editions that exclude examples of the evolution of the horse or of avian ancestor Archaeopteryx. The move has alarmed biologists, who say that they were not consulted. “The ministry just sent the petition out to the publishing companies and let them judge,” says Dayk Jang, an evolutionary scientist at Seoul National University.

The campaign was led by the Society for Textbook Revise (STR), which aims to delete the “error” of evolution from textbooks to “correct” students’ views of the world, according to the society’s website. The society says that its members include professors of biology and high-school science teachers.

Read the full article here.

Chaplaincy in Australian Public Schools

 A child’s school years are some of the most important in their development and their experiences during this time can shape the rest of their lives. Many public schools suffer from a lack of resources and funding and as a result some children can fall between the cracks. One supposed solution has been the National School Chaplaincy Program (NSCP), which ‘provides funding to schools to access the services of a school chaplain or secular support worker.’ [1]  In practice, a majority of the positions are reserved for chaplains, and are recruited from Christian chaplaincy organisations such as ACCESS Ministries, GenR8 Ministries, Schools Ministry Group and Scripture Union. Since the inception of the NSCP, there have been questions raised as to the remit of the chaplains, and whether the services they provide are appropriate for public schools.

Ron Williams, jazz singer and father of six, has been questioning the NSCP since he found out what his children were being taught at their local public school in Queensland. The chaplain at his children’s school, employed by the government-funded NSCP, had been distributing a magazine that included statements claiming condoms promoted promiscuity and declaring the sinfulness of same-sex relationships. When Mr Williams and his wife requested that their children be withdrawn from the religious classes, the children were bullied by other students and told they would go to hell. 

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He Needs Money

       
 Valdemiro Santiago         Sillas Malafaia Edir Macedo
 (Investigated for (Politically active (Suspicion of larceny, 
  improper use of  minister) embezzlement and 
  donated money) money laundering)

"Religion has actually convinced people that there's an invisible man living in the sky who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever 'til the end of time!  But He loves you. He loves you, and He needs money! He always needs money!
George Carlin


As funny (or not) as the quote above may be, the point about “needing money” is certainly pertinent in Brazil where many religious institutions enjoy a friendly tax environment and operate profitably. Recently, a scandal involving a large religious institution (Igreja Mundial), suspiciously broadcasted (that is an inference by the writer) by an open TV channel owned by a rival church (Igreja Universal), showed that minister Valdemiro Santiago bought properties in the state of Mato Grosso with a total value of 50 million Reais (c.  US$25 million).  These properties were registered in the name of the church (and therefore tax exempt)[1]. Santiago is now being investigated by the public prosecutor for the improper use of donated money, and because many of his temples have eviction orders for non-payment[1].

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(Technical) victory in Court, failure in Parliament

On 20 June the High Court of Australia decided the federal government’s funding of religious chaplains in public schools was unconstitutional. Shortly after, a bill was rushed through the House and the Senate allowing the federal government to fund programs without legislative scrutiny.

The action that prompted these actions was the Williams v Commonwealth case, which challenged the federal government’s right to fund religious chaplains in public schools, through The National School Chaplaincy Program (NSCP).

The NSCP, as described in a previous article ‘Chaplaincy in Australian Public Schools' has been criticised by the Australian Psychological Society, the Australian Guidance and Counsellors Association and parents such as Ron Williams, who brought the case to the High Court. A majority of the criticisms relate to the inadequate qualifications of the chaplains and the legality of religious teaching in public schools.

The High Court’s decision was 6-1 in favour of Ron Williams, based on technical grounds: that the government could not spend money on programs without supporting legislation. As such, the government’s funding of the NSCP was found unconstitutional.

While the decision was welcomed by secular activists, the reasoning behind it disappoints – Williams had also challenged the chaplains program on the basis that s116 of the Australian constitution prohibits a “religious test” for public office, a key clause in the fight for separation of church and state.  The High Court dismissed the claim on that basis and effectively maintained Australia’s non-separation of church and state, a poor position that has endured since the Defence of Government Schools case in 1981.

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Woman Sentenced to Death by Stoning for Adultery in Sudan

Activist groups such as the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies are calling for the release of a 23-year-old Sudanese woman who was sentenced to death by stoning for adultery July 10. 

While in the Sudan, no government-sanctioned stonings have been carried out, the sentence is a fact of life for people in countries that practice Sharia, or Islamic, law. Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Yemen, some parts of Nigeria and other a handful of others all have laws allowing stoning for adultery on the books. In the past, human rights groups have used political pressure to get all sentences of stoning in Sudan and some other countries with Sharia law to commute the sentence. However, some cases of stoning without legal backing have been reported in Sudan. 

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"Without this I feel alone" - Alex Aan


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Atheist Alliance International thanks everyone who has supported Alex Aan, the Indonesian atheist assaulted and arrested after posting 'God does not exist' and cartoons and articles about Islam on Facebook.  In June 2012 Alex was jailed for 2 1/2 years and fined Rp 100 million (c. US$10,600).

A friend of Alex in Indonesia was able to visit Alex in jail in early July and provide him with all the messages of support AAI has received from around the world - including from Russia, Mauritius, Australia, Colombia, the United States of America, Brazil, Germany, Japan, Denmark, Scotland, Sweden, Canada, India and the Philippines.  Alex greatly appreciates the support he continues to receive, saying in his note "Thanks for support and love, without this I feel alone."

Please support Alex by:

  • sending a message of support to Alex - email info [at] atheistalliance [dot] org with "Message for Alex" in the subject line.  (Please remember that Alex is not a native English speaker and note that prison authorities will review any materials provided to Alex.)
  • sharing this page and posting "God Does Not Exist" on your Facebook wall
  • tweeting a message of support with hashtag #goddoesnotexist
  • signing this petition to urge US President Obama to call on the Indonesian government  to release Alex [update: petition now closed]
  • writing to the Indonesian authorities to condemn Alex's jail sentence and calling for a repeal of
  • Indonesia's blasphemy laws so this does not happen to anyone else

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Women raped, tortured and hanged to save son of Imam in Iran, may have been innocent

On July 12, word spread that Safiyeh "Maryam" Gafuri had been hanged in a prison in Shiraz, Iran. Prior to her death, prominent human rights lawyer Mohammad Mostafaie publicly called her innocent, but he and international human rights groups could not halt her execution. Maryam was sentenced to death under tribal law issued by judiciary authorities in Iran based on the Iranian Islamic Law. Below is Mostafaie's July 14 article about the incident, first posted by the Universal Tolerance Institute here.

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Join the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain’s 5th Anniversary Celebration

The Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain will be 5 years old in June 2012. 

To celebrate the work, significance and achievements of this unique organisation, we are holding a fundraising luncheon on Saturday 23 June 2012 in London from 13.00-16:00 hours. 

The event will be a wonderful opportunity to meet other like-minded individuals and enjoy a three-course lunch with wine, great entertainment and speakers in an intimate setting whilst supporting the organisation’s work. 

Guests will hear from renowned philosopher AC Grayling, campaigner Gita Sahgal, comedian Kate Smurthwaite, CEMB founder Maryam Namazie and magician Neil Edwards, amongst others. There will also be a dance act, poetry and music. 

In the five years since its establishment, the CEMB has been a beacon of hope for thousands of ex-Muslims who have renounced Islam and religion. It has helped to break the taboo and challenge Islamism, which punishes apostasy with the death penalty. The work of the CEMB has included assisting to return a young woman to Britain from North Africa where she had been sent as punishment for her ‘disobedience’ to securing the release from detention and the right to asylum for apostates across Europe. The organisation has also given large numbers of people a new ‘home’ via its forum and meet-up group. Moreover, it has helped to highlight the plight of ex-Muslims, apostates and blasphemers internationally, including Indonesian atheist Alex Aan currently in prison and German-Iranian rapper Shahin Najafi facing a death fatwa from Iran’s ayatollahs. The One Law for All campaign against Sharia law in Britain, which was initiated by the CEMB at its first international conference, has also made waves across the globe as has its unequivocal defence of free expression, equality and citizenship rights. 

Ticket(s) for the luncheon are £45.00 per person or £35 for students/unwaged. 

To purchase tickets, send a cheque made payable to CEMB to BM Box 1919, London WC1N 3XX or pay via Paypal or Worldpay: http://ex-muslim.org.uk/ indexDonate.html. Please make sure to include an email address and telephone number so that further details can be provided. 

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War of Words on Gay Rights in China

This article was originally published on ChinaDaily.com.cn.

Lu Liping, a well-known Chinese actress, who is also a Christian, forwarded several micro blog entries of a priest against gays on 26th June and caused a mighty uproar on the Internet. Many stars and netizens expressed their concerns on this issue in the micro blogs.

Forwarded by Lu, the priest's micro blogs described the homosexual groups as "shame" and "sinner", one of which stated: "The New York State Assembly approved the legalization of gay marriage proposal last night. New York will become the sixth and most populous US state to allow gay marriage. May God have mercy on this falling land! Even if one day the law stipulates that opposition against homosexuals would be condemned, I still want to say: homosexuality is a sin. God loves sinners, but God hates SIN! "

Read the full article here.

Five Cities that Ruled the World – in flames

I am no supporter of Douglas Wilson. His ridiculous ideas on slavery and his conservative theology are unlikely to find much room on my bookshelves. Until, perhaps, now.

Yesterday, Wednesday, saw the chilling spectacle of Indonesia's largest book publisher and book shop, Gramedia Pustaka Utama, piling up Indonesian translations of his book, Five Cities that Ruled the World and torching them in public to the rapturous applause of assorted big hats from the Indonesian Ulema Council. The cause of this conflagration was a complaint by the Indonesian version of the Nazi Storm Troopers – the Front Pembela Islam (Islam Defenders Front) about a paragraph or two on one page of the book which justifiably described Muhammad as a pirate and murderer who carried out raids on caravans. The threat against the publisher was real enough – unless they torched the book their own outlets and staff would be facing a similar fate.

This follows on from the recent violent routing of Irshad Manji from these shores. She told no such home truths – she merely tried to associate the religion of Islam with love and freedom. Her book, clearly deviant to the purity of the message of Islam, was quickly removed from the bookshops. Needless to say, pirate versions are selling like bakso (the meat balls so loved by Indonesians).

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Religious circumcision an assault on boys

This article was originally published in the Huffington Post.

BERLIN -- A German court has ruled that circumcising young boys on religious grounds amounts to bodily harm even if parents consent to the procedure.

Cologne state court said the child's right to physical integrity trumps freedom of religion and parents' rights, German news agency dapd reported Tuesday.

The case involved a doctor accused of carrying out a circumcision on a 4-year-old that led to medical complications. The doctor was acquitted, however, and prosecutors said they won't appeal.

The president of Germany's Central Council of Jews, Dieter Graumann, called the ruling "unprecedented and insensitive," urging the country's parliament to clarify the legal situation "to protect religious freedom against attacks."

Graumann said the circumcision of newborn Jews has been practiced for thousands of years and "every country in the world respects this religious right."

Muslims also circumcise young boys, while many parents request it on health grounds.

Read the full article here.

School Vouchers v. Establishment Clause

Recently — and somewhat humorously — legislators in Louisiana walked back their support of an educational voucher program that allows parents to use public money to send their children to a number of private institutions, including religious schools. For years, atheists, agnostics and other non-Christians in the US have decried the voucher system as a backdoor to institutionalized Christianity; at first blush, what happened in Louisiana might be thought a small victory for freethinkers.

However, with an apparent blindness for irony, legislators such as state Rep. Valarie Hodges (R-Watson) withdrew their support of the bill only after learning that religions other than Christianity would be included in the program. After withdrawing her support, Hodges told the Livingston Parish News, “We need to ensure that [the voucher program] does not open the door to fund radical Islam schools … I do not support using public funds for teaching Islam anywhere here in Louisiana….I actually support funding for teaching the fundamentals of America’s Founding Fathers’ religion, which is Christianity, in public schools or private schools.”

So as not to confuse an international audience, allow me to say the idea that “America’s Founding Fathers’ religion” was Christianity doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. Some were inarguably devout and outspoken Christians, but others were deists, and some were outspokenly agnostic/atheistic. Moreover, regardless of what their religion may have been, the Constitution they framed — by way of the First Amendment — clearly bars Congress from making any law “respecting an establishment of religion” — Christian or otherwise. And that is the legacy the Founding Fathers gave us to work with — not their beliefs, but our Constitution.

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American Baseball Team Goes Atheist for an Evening

A Minnesota-based minor-league baseball team, the St. Paul Saints, will host a "night of unbelievable fun" Aug. 10 -- and change their name to the Mr. Paul Aints for the evening. 

The Saints, co-owned by actor Bill Murray, accept sponsorships from a number of sources, including religious groups. As a nod to atheist groups, they've accepted sponsorship from the Minnesota Atheists. The team will even sell shirts with the re-branded logo that night. 
American Atheists President David Silverman will deliver the game's ceremonial pitch. Money raised will go to Volunteer Without Belief, according to the Minnesota Atheists website. 
 
More information about the event can be found here.

ACLU decision means schools must hold graduations in non-denominational locations

The Enfield Board of Education in Connecticut, USA announced on July 18 it will no longer hold graduation ceremonies at First Cathedral Church in nearby Bloomfield, Connecticut, after a federal judge granted an injunction against holding the ceremony at the church in May, 2010. 

Public high schools in the district had hosted graduations at the site for many years, according to an American Civil Liberties news release. The ceremony at the church took place near a stained glass cross and beneath banners reading "Jesus Christ is Lord" and "I am God," according to the ACLU release. 

"Attending graduation meant going to church," the ACLU stated in the release.

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The Crime of Debunking in Delhi, India

Rationalist International president Sanal Edamaruku of Delhi, India is now a fugitive from the law for daring to expose a ‘miracle’ of the local Catholic church.

On 10 March, Sanal Edamaruku flew to Mumbai where a local TV channel had invited him to investigate a “miracle” that caused local excitement. He went with the TV team to Irla in Vile Parle to inspect the crucifix standing there in front of the Church of Our Lady of Velankanni. For some days, there were little droplets of water trickling from Jesus’ feet. The news of the miracle spread like wild fire. Hundreds of people came every day to pray and collect some of the “holy water” in bottles and vessels.

But within minutes of arrival, Sanal Edamaruku quickly and clearly identified the source of the water (a drainage near a washing room) and the mechanism how it reached Jesus’ feet via capillary action.

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