The Week in Review: February 21 thru 27

Woman Sues Israeli Airline After Being Told to Move to a Different Seat to Placate an Orthodox Jew

by Isabel Kershner at the New York Times

Renee Rabinowitz is a sharp-witted retired lawyer with a Ph.D. in educational psychology, who escaped the Nazis in Europe as a child. Now she is about to become a test case in the battle over religion and gender in Israel’s public spaces — and the skies above — as the plaintiff in a lawsuit accusing El Al, the national airline, of discrimination.

Ms. Rabinowitz was comfortably settled into her aisle seat in the business-class section on El Al Flight 028 from Newark to Tel Aviv in December when, as she put it, “this rather distinguished-looking man in Hasidic or Haredi garb, I’d guess around 50 or so, shows up.”

The man was assigned the window seat in her row. But, like many ultra-Orthodox male passengers, he did not want to sit next to a woman, seeing even inadvertent contact with the opposite sex as verboten under the strictest interpretation of Jewish law. Soon, Ms. Rabinowitz said, a flight attendant offered her a “better” seat, up front, closer to first class.

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Germany Fines an Atheist for Violating Their Blasphemy Laws

by Justin Huggler at the Telegraph

A retired teacher in Germany has been fined €500 (£400) for defaming Christianity under the country’s rarely enforced blasphemy laws.

Albert Voss, a former physics teacher and avowed atheist, was convicted of blasphemy after he daubed the rear window of his car with anti-Christian slogans.

The 66-year-old drove around his home city of Münster, in western Germany, with the slogans clearly displayed.

“The church is looking for modern advertising ideas. I can help,” one read.

“Jesus, our favorite artist: hanging for 2,000 years and he still hasn’t got cramp,” it went on to suggest, in an apparent reference to the crucifixion.

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Iran May Execute a Heavy Metal Band Due To “Blasphemy” And “Satanic” Music

by Philippa Hawker at the Sydney Morning Herald

Members of an Iranian metal band called Confess have been arrested and may face execution, it is claimed.

Trev McKendry of Metal Nation Radio posted a message on the Metal Nation News website from a friend of the band saying that two band members were facing charges including blasphemy and “playing heavy metal, owning an independent record label and for communicating with foreign radio stations”.

Band members Nikan “Siyanor” Khosravi and Arash “Chemical” Ilkhani were said to be arrested on November 10, 2015 and held in solitary confinement until February 5. They are reportedly awaiting trial dates.

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Egypt Sentences Coptic Teenagers to Prison for Insulting Islam

by Nour Youssef and Declan Walsh at the New York Times

An Egyptian court sentenced four Coptic Christian teenagers to up to five years in prison on Thursday after finding them guilty of insulting Islam, the latest of a series of high-profile blasphemy convictions that have drawn sharp criticism of Egypt’s judicial system.

The teenagers were convicted in Minya, an arid province south of Cairo, where they had been accused of filming a 32-second video in which they mocked the Muslim mode of prayer, said their lawyer, Maher Naguib.

A prominent TV presenter, a poet and a novelist have received jail sentences in recent months for blasphemy or offending public morals, in cases that seem to be at odds with the image of Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who styles himself as a bulwark against extremism.

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In response to Iran increasing its bounty on the life of Salman Rushdie, over 100 prominent figures in the atheist and secular communities sign a letter calling for Iran’s global condemnation

Letter posted in the Guardian

(Click on link to read letter)

Freedom from Religion Foundation Sues Texas Governor Greg Abbot After He Orders FFRF’s Bill of Rights Display Removed

from the FFRF’s website

The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a federal lawsuit today against Texas Gov. Greg Abbott over his removal of the group’s Bill of Rights display from the Capitol.

Abbott downed FFRF’s solstice display, intended to counter a Christian nativity scene in the Statehouse, only three days after the permitted display had been erected on Dec. 18.

The whimsical exhibit commemorated the “birth” of the Bill of Rights, depicting the Founding Fathers and the Statue of Liberty crowded adoringly around a manger scene containing the constitutional document.

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The Differences Between Real and Imaginary Threats to Religious Liberty

by Ronald Linsey (President, Center for Inquiry) at the Huffington Post

Religious liberty is under attack. A number of presidential candidates have made this claim, and it was one of the key issues in Thursday night’s Republican debate. One of the moderators, Hugh Hewitt of Salem Radio, even asserted that his worries about religious liberty keep him up at night.

There is no question that religious liberty is under attack — outside the United States. The U.S. State Department prepares an annual report on the status of religious freedom around the world and it can make for grim reading. Religious-based violence is widespread in many countries and in a number of countries this persecution is tolerated and, in some cases, even supported by the government. In addition, all too many countries continue to have laws punishing “blasphemy,” which serve as vehicles for suppressing religious minorities and preventing them from expressing their beliefs.

And then there is the Islamic State, which through its campaign of murder and mayhem is effectively carrying out genocide against various religious minorities, such as Yazidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims. In fact, the nonprofit organization of which I am president, the Center for Inquiry, joined with some other nonprofit organizations to urge President Obama to formally declare the destruction of these religious communities by the Islamic State an act of genocide.

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Donald Trump Pledges to Eliminate Law Prohibiting Churches from Acting Like Political Action Committees

by Brian Tashman at Right Wing Watch

After vowing to go after journalists who write critical stories about him at a rally in Texas today, Donald Trump bragged about the support his presidential campaign has received from conservative evangelical voters, touting endorsements from televangelist Paula White, Liberty University President Jerry Falwell, Jr., and Sarah Palin.

Trump even brought Robert Jeffress, the conservative televangelist notorious for his anti-gay, anti-Catholic and anti-Mormon preaching, onto the stage to sing his praises. Jeffress called Trump a patriot “who is truly pro-life,” unlike Hillary Clinton, whom he warned would be “the most pro-abortion president in history.”

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In Honor Of “Spotlight” Wining the Oscar for Best Picture, Here Is the Article the Movie Is Based on – Which Broke the Story of the Catholic Church’s Cover up of the Systematic Raping of Children Wide Open

by Matt Carroll, Sacha Pfeiffer, and Michael Rezendes; and editor Walter V. Robinson at the Boston Globe

Since the mid-1990s, more than 130 people have come forward with horrific childhood tales about how former priest John J. Geoghan allegedly fondled or raped them during a three-decade spree through a half-dozen Greater Boston parishes.

Almost always, his victims were grammar school boys. One was just 4 years old.

Then came last July’s disclosure that Cardinal Bernard F. Law knew about Geoghan’s problems in 1984, Law’s first year in Boston, yet approved his transfer to St. Julia’s parish in Weston. Wilson D. Rogers Jr., the cardinal’s attorney, defended the move last summer, saying the archdiocese had medical assurances that each Geoghan reassignment was “appropriate and safe.”

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