The Week in Review: February 28 thru March 5

Saudi Arabia Sentences a Man to 10 Years in Prison and 2,000 Lashes for Expressing His Atheism on Twitter

by Ashley Cowburn at The Independent

A court in Saudi Arabia has sentenced a man to 10 years in prison and 2,000 lashes for expressing his atheism in hundreds of social media posts.

The report carried in Al-Watan says the 28-year-old man admitted to being an atheist and refused to repent, saying that what he wrote reflected his own beliefs and that he had the right to express them. The report did not name the man.

It added that ‘religious police’ in charge of monitoring social networks found more than 600 tweets denying the existence of God, ridiculing the Quranic verses, accusing all prophets of lies and saying their teaching fuelled hostilities. The court also fined him 20,000 riyals – or, just short of £4,000

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Evangelical Pastor Administers “Spiritual Discipline” by Spanking the Bare Ass of His Female Congregants

by Richard Spillett at The Daily Mail

A evangelical pastor administered ‘spiritual discipline’ by spanking female members of his congregation’s bare bottoms with his hand, a court has heard. Self-styled Reverend Howard Curtis, 73, is accused of dishing out the spankings at his Coulsdon Christian Fellowship for his own ‘sexual satisfaction.

Prosecutor Toby Fitzgerald told Croydon Crown Court that father-of-three Curtis, of Wallington, south London, ran the church as a cult. He ordered one woman to strip naked before putting her over his knee and slapping her until she collapsed on the floor.

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Muslim Babysitter Decapitates a 4 Year-Old Girl in Moscow, Then Brandishes the Child’s Head at a Train Station, Because Allah Told Her To

by Reuters

A woman suspected of beheading a child in her care before brandishing the severed head outside a Moscow metro station said Wednesday that Allah had ordered her to commit the crime.

Police on Monday wrestled to the ground Gulchekhra Bobokulova, a 38-year-old divorced mother of three from the Muslim-majority ex-Soviet state of Uzbekistan, after she wandered around a Moscow street holding the infant’s severed head in the air and shouting Islamist slogans.

Eyewitnesses said at the time they believed she was carrying out a terrorist act, but since her detention, Russian investigators have raised the possibility she might be suffering from mental illness.

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Two Catholic Bishops Helped Cover Up Child Molestation For Over 40 Years, According to Grand Jury Report

by Richard Perez-Pena and Laurie Goodstein at The New York Times

Over four decades, at least 50 priests and other church employees molested hundreds of children in a small Roman Catholic diocese in central Pennsylvania, and in many cases their superiors knew of the abuses but did not remove the priests or notify law enforcement, according to a grand jury report released on Tuesday.

But none of the findings will result in prosecution, according to State Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane, whose office led the investigation, because the statutes of limitations on all alleged crimes have expired.

The report names a dozen priests who admitted — to church officials, to the grand jury or both — that they had molested children, and other cases where church records made clear that their superiors believed they were guilty. None were taken to law enforcement, and in cases where police or prosecutors learned of allegations, the report says, church officials worked to hush them up.

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How Europe Nearly Normalized “Child Marriage” in the Name of Multiculturalism

by Maajid Nawaz at The Daily Beast

Are certain cultural practices inferior to others? Yes.

It is morally inferior, indeed repugnant, to beat one’s spouse no matter the religious or cultural justification—of which plenty if offered.

It is morally inferior to justify killing a person for leaving their faith, regardless of how important identity and religion is to anyone’s politics, and despite which regime thinks otherwise.

Likewise, sexual intercourse with a minor is rape. There can be no legal consent involving a child. Euphemistically calling this “child marriage” does not change the fact that it is nothing but child sex abuse.

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Hamas Executes One of Its Commanders over Accusations of Theft and Gay Sex

by Diaa Hadid and Majd Al Wahedi at The New York Times

The death of Mahmoud Ishtiwi had all the trappings of a telenovela: sex, torture and embezzlement in Gaza’s most venerated and secretive institution, the armed wing of Hamas.

Mr. Ishtiwi, 34, was a commander from a storied family of Hamas loyalists who, during the 2014 war with Israel, was responsible for 1,000 fighters and a network of attack tunnels. Last month, his former comrades executed him with three bullets to the chest.

Adding a layer of scandal to the story, he was accused of moral turpitude, by which Hamas meant homosexuality. And there were whispers that he had carved the word “zulum” — wronged — into his body in a desperate kind of last testament.

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Australia’s Cardinal Pell Testifies from Rome in Abuse Inquiry

by Phil Mercer at BBC

Vatican treasurer Cardinal George Pell has said the Catholic Church has made “enormous mistakes” in dealing with claims of sexual abuse.

He gave evidence from Rome via video link to an Australian inquiry into child sex abuse.

Cardinal Pell, Australia’s most senior Catholic, was asked whether he knew if paedophiles were active in churches under his watch.

“I’m not here to defend the indefensible,” said Cardinal Pell.

“The Church has made enormous mistakes and is working to remedy those but the Church in many places, certainly in Australia, has mucked things up, has let people down,” he said.

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Is Islamism to Blame for Indonesia’s Sudden Outbreak of Intense Homophobia?

by Rebecca Henschke and Ging Ginanjar at BBC Indonesia

The swiftness and intensity of the attacks against Indonesia’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community has taken its members by surprise.

A hair salon run by transgender people in Jakarta is one place to get a sense of what it has been like. For Anggun, 23, who works there, it was enough of a struggle to accept who she really was. She is trying to stay safe by not attracting attention to herself.

“We don’t know why smart people are suddenly saying things like ‘homosexuality is a virus that can spread’. Even uneducated people know that’s not true,” she says.

Not every trans person in Indonesia has the chance to lead a legitimate life and career. As it is, many are forced into sex work and already face violence. Homosexuality and gay sex are not illegal in Indonesia, and the world’s largest Muslim country has a vibrant transgender culture and tradition, which broadly meets with tolerance from the Indonesian public.

But something has happened in recent weeks and it is difficult to identify why it has snowballed.

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An Arizona State Representative Gave an Atheist Invocation on the State House Floor, Prompting Christian Members to Throw a Tantrum

by Hemant Mehta at Patheos

It’s amazing how much Christians will overreact when an atheist politician says some kind, inclusive words before they all get to work.

On Thursday, Arizona State Rep. Juan Mendez delivered his third secular invocation on the House floor. (The first time he gave one, a Christian colleague felt obligated to deliver a second Christian invocation the following day.)

The only reason it was controversial was because House Majority Leader Steve Montenegro tried to block him from speaking last month, saying there was a rule that all invocations had to be made to a Higher Power. There’s no such rule. After all, that would fly in the face of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Greece v. Galloway, which said that atheistic invocations were legal in government settings alongside religious ones.

So Mendez gave his invocation with no reference to a Supreme Deity.

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Atheists Speak out About Leaving Islam

by Sarah Morrison at The Independent

Amal Farah, a 32-year-old banking executive, is laughing about a contestant singing off-key in the last series of The X Factor. For a woman who was not allowed to listen to music when she was growing up, this is a delight. After years of turmoil, she is in control of her own life.

On the face of it, she is a product of modern Britain. Born in Somalia to Muslim parents, she grew up in Yemen and came to the UK in her late teens. After questioning her faith, she became an atheist and married a Jewish lawyer. But this has come at a cost. When she turned her back on her religion, she was disowned by her family and received death threats. She has not seen her mother or her siblings for eight years. None of them have met her husband or daughter.

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