Little Difference in Belief between Catholics and Protestants

October 31 is traditionally thought to be the day Martin Luther nailed to a Wittenberg church door his 95 theses or issues he had with the Catholic Church, thus commencing the Reformation. The division of the church into Catholics and Protestants resulted in hundreds of years of intolerance, persecution, torture and war. The bloodshed on each side was so great that in 1554 Sebastian Castellio wrote,

. . . dost Thou now command that those who do not understand Thy precepts as the mighty demand, be drowned in water, cut with lashes to the entrails, sprinkled with salt, dismembered by the sword, burned at a slow fire, and otherwise tortured in every manner and as long as possible? Dost Thou, O Christ, command and approve of these things? . . . If Thou, Christ, dost these things or if Thou commandest that they be done, what has Thou left for the devil?

Now 500 years later those who sacrificed so much on both sides of the divide would be astonished, perhaps dismayed, that so few believe what cost them their lives.

Surveys in the United States and Western Europe by the Pew Research Center reveal that most Catholics and Protestants now believe many of the same concepts that caused bloodshed in the past. That salvation was obtain solely by faith was a rallying cry among Protestants during the Reformation. Now a majority, like Catholics, believe that both faith and works are required. Whereas 500 years ago, Protestants held that the Bible alone was necessary to understand God’s will, today they are in the minority. Along with Catholics, the majority of Protestants hold that church tradition along with the Bible is necessary to understand God’s will.

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'Evangelical' Dropped from Princeton Student Group Name

Princeton Evangelical Fellowship students voted to drop the word 'evangelical' from their name due to the negative connotations associated with the word 'evangelical'. The students are now known as 'Princeton Christian Fellowship'. A spokesperson for the group emphasized that discussions regarding the name change began before the last election. However, 'evangelical' has become burdened with politics and therefore interferes with the group's ministry.

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Sabbath Railway Work Angers Ultra-Orthodox in Israel

Working on Sabbath to keep trains running in Israel has resulted in a political storm. Prime Minister Netanyahu ordered the work stopped during the Sabbath hours to satisfy ultra-Orthodox parties that form part of his ruling coalition. Ultra-Orthodox Jews insist upon a strict Shabbat observance. However, the High Court of Justice overruled Netanyahu's order stating that orders only from Labor Minister Katz were enforcable. Katz ordered resumption of work, even during Sabbath hours, angering the ultra-Orthodox. Before the court's intervention, trains were shut down across the nation during Shabbat leaving many stranded commuters, including soldiers who could not return to their posts.

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Female Genital Mutilation in Russia

Until recently, Female Genital Mutilation (FMG) has been legal in Russia. However, legislation recently was drafted banning the practice after a Muslim, a Christian and a Jew caused an uproar over the procedure.

When asked about FGM, Mufti Ismail Berdiev said FGM was a 'healthy custom' that should be practiced on all women 'to end depravity on Earth and reduce sexuality.' He opined that at creation women were destined for the birthing and raising of children and that FGM does not interfere with this God-given directive.

Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin of the Russian Orthodox Church agreed that FGM was a 'time-honored practice' but was probably unnecessary for Orthodox Christian women because promiscuity was not a problem for among them.

Rabbi Boruch Gorin neither condoned or condemned FGM but agreed that men are surrounded by many sexual temptations.

Mufti Ismail Berdiev later claimed he was joking about FGM but stressed that women's sexuality must be restrained. 

Hijab Now Part of Approved Uniform for Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and Police in Scotland

Muslim women who choose to become part of the RCMP may now wear the hijab while on the job. The Mounties became the third police force in Canada to allow the hijab. Officials noted that the decision reflects Canada's growing diversity and hopes to encourage Muslim women to become Mounties. The hijab has been worn by Muslim female members of the Canadian military since 1996.

Scotland Police, also in an effort to recruit more minorities, have also approved the hijab as part of its official uniform. 


Fighting Radical Islam, Germany Grants Islam Same Legal Standing as Christianity and Judaism

There is no separation of church and state in Germany. It levies a church tax to support established religions. Islam is Germany's fastest growing faith and its members seek the same legal standing as those who follow Judeo-Christian beliefs. Part of this goal has been realized as Islam is now part of public school and university programs just as Judaism and Christianity are. Teachers of Islam can now receive state-certified training for teaching Islam in public schools. Germany hopes that such measures will counteract radical Islam.

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US Supreme Court Hears Headscarf Case

Samantha Elauf claims Abercrombie and Fitch refused to hire her because of her religious belief requiring the wearing of a black headscarf. Abercrombie and Fitch has a work rule prohibiting employees wearing either hats or anything black. However, this work requirement was not raised during the interview when Elauf wore a black headscarf. While Justice Samuel Alito stated the reason Elauf was denied a job was because Abercrombie and Fitch assumed she would wear the black headscarf every day to work, Abercrombie and Fitch denied that Elauf was the victim of religious discrimination.

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Canadian Citizenship Requires Swearing Allegiance to the Queen

The Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear the appeal of a lower court decision retaining swearing 'allegiance to Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada, her heirs and successors' in the oath new citizens are required to pledge. Three permanent and long-time residents of Canada sought Canadian citizenship but refused to swear allegiance to the Queen. Only one of the three refused on religious grounds but all three must now either repeat the phrase pledging  allegiance to the Queen or remain permanent residents and not citizens of Canada.

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Hate Crimes and Discrimination Against Christians in India

Upset over increasing theft, vandalism and arson of their churches, Christians in India's capital city marched to the home of the official responsible for law and order. However, some were arrested because his home is located in an area of Delhi banning protests. India is officially a secular country but the vast majority of the population are Hindu. Christians have faced religious intolerance since British rule because Christianity is viewed as a Western religion and associated with colonialism. However, Christians claim that intolerance is increasing with the election of a Hindu nationalist party. Because they do not trust the police, the Christians are asking for an independent judicial inquiry. They also state that they are not asking for safety because they are Christians but as citizens of India.

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Palestinian Christians Feeling Isolated and Depressed Call for Peace Talks to Resume

While Palestinian Christians comprise about eight percent of the population of the West Bank and only one percent in Gaza, more Christian Palestinians migrate each year than Muslim Palestinians. This is because Christian Palestinians generally are wealthier and better educated. As a result, the population of Christian Palestinians is decreasing each year. However, those Christian Palestinians that remain call for peace talks to resume between Palestinians and Israel. Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah, the Pope's representative in the Holy Land and first Palestinian to serve in that capacity, states that if the present situation continues it will only lead to the end of Israel as "Israel cannot survive surrounded by enemies."

Baptist pastor Rami Khouri in Bethlehem agrees. "The situation is getting worse. We are losing a golden opportunity for negotiations, and this may be the last chance before the big war that is going to take place in the Middle East," he stated while noting that Palestinian Christians have increasing "feelings of isolation, anger and depression." Palestinian Christian Nora Carmi observing a double standard by the world regarding the slaying of Jews and cartoonists in Paris stated, "The whole world protested what happened in Paris but when the same thing happens to a whole population nobody says anything."

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Refusing to Print Anti-Gay Messages Results in Charge of Religious Discrimination

For refusing to print anti-gay slogans on two cakes, a Colorado baker is facing a charge of religious discrimination. Marjorie Silva agreed to bake two cakes in the shape of Bibles but refused to write the anti-gay messages and pictures on the cakes the customer requested. Silva, a Christian, found the messages hateful. However, she offered the customer a pastry bag and icing so he could finish the Bible-shaped cakes she provided. The customer refused and filed a complaint with the Civil Rights division of the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies.

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Imprisoned for Watching Volleyball

A woman holding British and Iranian citizenship has been imprisoned in Iran's infamous Evin prison for trying to enter a stadium and watch a men's volleyball game between Iran and Italy. Males and females watching sports together where men are not fully clothed is considered un-Islamic. Islamic religious scholars deem the law necessary to protect women from 'lewd behavior'.

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Religious Objection to Vaccines Not Constitutionally Protected

In New York, a judge ruled against three families whose children were not vaccinated due to their parents' religious objections. The parents petitioned the court claiming their religious liberty was violated when their children's schools refused entrance to them when another student had an illness that was preventable with vaccination. The judge relied upon a 1905 Supreme Court decision establishing "the government’s right to require immunizations as a matter of public health."

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Future of Christianity in Jeopardy in Middle East

Iraq is home to some of Christianity's oldest populations. In 2003 the invasion of Iraq began. Since that time the Christian population of Iraq has steady declined leaving Christian leaders fearing that Christianity in the Middle East will no longer exist. With the militant group ISIS controlling more Iraqi territory, Christians are fleeing ancient villages. Although ISIS says all faiths will be protected in areas it controls, many Christians are fleeing to Kurdish controlled areas.

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NYC Adding More Religious Holidays to School Calendar

Sending their children to school or observing religious holidays is a dilemma faced by some religious parents. This is not a problem for Christians or Jews as schools are closed for their major religious holidays. In a least six school districts in the U.S., observant Muslims do not face this problem. New York City schools will join these school districts when they too close schools for two major Muslim religious holidays.

Not everyone supports closing schools for observance of religious holidays. Doing so is a violation of church-state separation says the co-founder of the Muslim Bar Association of New York, Farhan Memon. As well, such closures are unfair to those lacking any religious holidays. Memon's concern that more groups will want their religious holidays provided for appears to be well founded. Currently New York City's Chinese residents are requesting schools close to observe Chinese New Year and the Sikh, Jain and Hindu populations are requesting closure so their children do not have to miss school in order to observe their religious holidays. 

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Government Accused of Killing Muslims

Human rights activists accuse the Kenyan government of killing Muslim leaders because they lack the evidence needed for a conviction in court. In the last two years four Muslim leaders were murdered with no arrests made in the killings. However, the latest killing was of a moderate Muslim who spoke out against the radicalization of Muslims. The previous three murdered Muslim leaders all promoted a radical version of Islam. Last year Sheik Mohamed Idris was attacked by radicalized Muslim youth, leading some to state that his murder was due to radicalized Muslims rather than the government.

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U.S. Military Recognizes "Humanist" as Religious Preference but Not as Chaplain

After waiting two years, a U.S. Army Major had his religious preference of "Humanist" recognized by the Army. However, he will not be ministered to by a Humanist chaplain because the Navy refused to commission a Jason Heap as a humanist chaplain even though he completed all necessary paperwork, passed the physical exam and has two masters' degrees, one from Oxford University and one from Brite Divinity School.

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"A Daughter is a Gift by Allah"

The All Pakistani Ulema Council has issued an edict that daughters are gifts from Allah and honor killings are not in line with Islamic teaching. The council, comprised of Pakistani religious leaders, wants all sermons in Pakistani mosques Friday to center on the message that "Daughter is a gift not a problem." Surveys reveal that one in 10 Pakistanis believe that there are times when killing women is justified but the council says that such killings are not only ignorant but fall "outside the ambit of the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, the Quran and Sunnah [Islamic way of life]." The council has schedule a meeting for June 5 to discuss honor killings and other social issues.

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Muslim Group Sues Canadian Prime Minister for Defamation

The National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) filed a defamation lawsuit against Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Press Secretary Jason MacDonald. Early this year, the Prime Minister and his press secretary accused NCCM of ties to terrorism for associations with Hamas. Both have refused apologies requested by NCCM. Other groups support NCCM's claim for a “public retraction and damages of up to $100,000”.

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