The Week in Review: April 17 thru 23

ISIL Claims Responsibility for Butchering a Bangladeshi Professor Because He Was “Calling for Atheism”

by Merrit Kennedy at NPR

A university professor has been hacked to death in northwestern Bangladesh, and police said it resembled other recent militant attacks in the country.

Deputy police Commissioner Nahidul Islam said Rezaul Karim Siddique “was attacked on his way to the state-run university in the city of Rajshahi, where he taught English,” according to The Associated Press. He added that “the attackers used sharp weapons and fled the scene immediately.”

The Islamic State-linked Aamaq news agency said ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors militant websites. NPR could not independently verify the claim.

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How ‘Religious Freedom’ Created a Horrow Show of Unregulated Day Cares in Alabama

by Christina Cauterucci at Slate

These days, the phrase “religious liberty” functions, more or less, as code for “anti-LGBTQ.” But current fights over bathroom access and public accommodations aren’t the first time religious freedom has been used to set up troubling legal frameworks. Take, for example, day care.

Sixteen states allow day cares that claim some religious affiliation to bypass certain licensing regulations; six impose little or no regulation on religious day cares at all. All the proprietor needs is a registered religious ministry—no proof of support from a church or any actual religious teachings at the day care.

This legal loophole, as you might imagine, has wrought some horrifying results.

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Douglas Murray Announces ‘The President Erdogan Offensive Poetry Competition’ in Response to Germany’s Agreement to Prosecute a Comedian for Writing a Poem Critical of Turkish President Erdogan

by Douglas Murray at The Spectator

Nobody should be surprised that Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has instituted effective blasphemy laws to defend himself from criticism in Turkey.  But many of us had assumed that these lèse-majesté laws would not yet be put in place inside Europe.  At least not until David Cameron succeeds in his long-held ambition to bring Turkey fully into the EU. Yet here we are.  Erdogan’s rule now already extends to Europe.

At the end of last month, during a late-night comedy programme, a young German comedian called Jan Böhmermann included a poem that was rude about Erdogan.  Incidentally the point of Mr Böhmermann’s skit was to highlight the obscenity of Turkey already trying to censor satire in Germany.

What happened next happened in swift order.  First of all the Turks complained to their German counterparts.  Within a few days the programme had been pulled.  A few more days and it was whitewashed out of existence altogether.  In the meantime Mr Böhmermann himself was forced to go under police protection.  The worst blow then came late last week when Chancellor Merkel allowed the prosecution of Mr Böhmermann to go ahead in Germany.

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Mauritanian Blogger Mohamed Cheikh Ould M’Kheitir Loses Appeal and Will Still Face the Death Penalty for ‘Insulting Islam’

from the International Humanist and Ethical Union

An appeals court in Mauritania yesterday upheld a death sentence handed down to Mohamed Cheikh Ould M’kheitir in December 2014 for “apostasy”. The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) has condemned the decision and called on the Mauritanian government to abolish the crimes of ‘apostasy’ and ‘blasphemy’.

As we reported last week, there were fears that M’kheitir would not even have a lawyer to represent him. It is reported that in the event two Tunisian lawyers flew to the country specially to represent M’kheitir pro bono because no Mauritanian lawyer would defend him.

In our earlier report we published an analysis of M’kheitir’s writing – which focused on examining the interplay of religious history and slavery in the country. Both religion and the country’s system of caste-based indentured servitude which remains widely in use are highly sensitive subjects in the Islamic Republic of Mauritania.

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Parents in Colorado File Lawsuit Demanding That Taxpayer Funding Be Used for Tuition at Religious Schools

by Simon Brown at Americans United for the Separation of Church and State

A group of parents in Colorado has taken the audacious step of demanding the right to spend taxpayer money on tuition at religious schools.

Some Douglas County parents filed suit this week against the county school board over a new voucher program that specifically excludes religious school participation. This proposal, which passed 4-3 in March, is intended to replace another controversial scheme that included religious schools.

It’s worth noting that this new plan is not exactly a hit with many of the locals. Board Member Anne-Marie Lemieux was among its opponents, saying, “Private school is not a right, it’s a privilege.”

The Denver Post reported that all public comments made about the program ahead of the vote were negative. Bob Kaser, a local resident, said: “This voucher program is an entitlement scheme for high-income families. Your vouchers will discriminate against students who are on reduced or free lunch.”

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Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals Upholds Lower Court Dismal of Creationist Group’s Claim That Teaching Evolution in Science Class ‘Establish[es] and Endorse[s] a Non-Theistic Religious Worldview’

from the National Center for Science Education

The creationist lawsuit seeking to reverse Kansas’s 2013 decision to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards on the grounds that the state thereby “establish[ed] and endorse[d] a non-theistic religious worldview” failed again on April 19, 2016, when the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the district court’s dismissal of the case, COPE et al. v. Kansas State Board of Education et al.

The court’s decision mainly addressed the question of standing, agreeing with the district court that the plaintiffs lacked standing to assert any of their claims. Interestingly, though, the decision observes in a footnote that COPE’s suggestion for “teleological” explanations to be added to the standards would be unconstitutional.

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Whole Foods Is Set to Sue Pastor for Falsely Accusing Them of Writing Gay Slur on a Cake He Ordered

by Tribune Media Wire and Kelsey Ott at WREG

Less than one day after an Austin pastor filed a lawsuit against Whole Foods, the grocery giant is striking back.

Jordan Brown claims a bakery department associate wrote an anti-gay slur on a cake he purchased. According to the suit, he asked employees in the bakery department to write “Love Wins” on a blank, pre-frosted cake.

Brown told KXAN that the employee wrote “Love Wins F**” on the cake.

Whole Foods immediately denied the claim.

“The team member wrote ‘Love Wins’ at the top of the cake as requested by the guest and that’s exactly how the cake was packaged and sold at the store. Our team members do not accept or design bakery orders that include language or images that are offensive. Whole Foods Market has a zero tolerance policy for discrimination,” a statement from Whole Foods read.

On Tuesday, the grocery store released security footage, disputing Brown’s claims.

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Remember That Time When Christian Fundamentalists Incited a Moral Panic over Dungeons and Dragons?

by Clyde Haberman at The New York Times

Going back at least to the 1690s, when the elders of colonial Salem, Mass., executed 20 women and men for supposedly practicing witchcraft, there have been Americans who find the devil’s hand in all manner of human activity.

Satanic messages have been ascribed to the corporate symbols of major companies like Starbucks and Procter & Gamble. Some religious fundamentalists are certain that 666, the number of the beast in the Book of Revelation, lurks in swirls that are central to the logos of the Olympic Games, Google Chrome and the Walt Disney Company. The Harry Potter series, with its incantations and wizardry, has also come under fire (and brimstone) for ostensibly promoting occultism.

Then there is Dungeons & Dragons, introduced in 1974 as the first role-playing game made commercially available. D&D players, working collaboratively, can let their minds roam free through stories about brave warriors locked in combat with trolls, orcs, dragons and other evildoers. The game’s millions of players include prominent writers like Junot Díazand Cory Doctorow, who have described it as their apprenticeship to storytelling, a gateway to the essence of fantasy and narrative.

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Free Speech and Islam — In Defense of Sam Harris

by Jeffrey Tayler at Quillette

“It’s gross!  It’s racist!” exclaimed Ben Affleck on Bill Maher’s Real Time in October 2014, interrupting the neuroscientist “New Atheist” Sam Harris.  Harris had been carefully explaining the linguistic bait-and-switch inherent in the word “Islamophobia” as “intellectually ridiculous,” in that “every criticism of the doctrine of Islam gets conflated with bigotry toward Muslims as people.”  The result: progressives duped by the word shy away from criticizing the ideology of Islam, the tenets of which (including second-class status for women and intolerance toward sexual minorities) would, in any other context, surely elicit their condemnation.

Unwittingly, Affleck had confirmed Harris’ point, conflating religion with race.  In doing so, the actor was espousing a position that can lead to a de facto racist conclusion.  If you discount Islamic doctrine as the motivation for domestic violence and intolerance of sexual minorities in the Muslim world, you’re left with at least one implicitly bigoted assumption: the people of the region must then be congenitally inclined to behave as they do.

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FFRF Filed a Lawsuit Against the City of Santa Clara, CA to Remove a Christian Cross from Public Park

from the Freedom From Religion Foundation

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, with local member Andrew DeFaria, is suing the city of Santa Clara, Calif., to remove a gigantic cross from a local public park.

The lawsuit was filed today in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, San Jose Division.

FFRF, the plaintiff organization, is a national association of freethinkers (atheists and agnostics) that works to keep religion out of government. It has 23,700 members, including more than 3,100 in California.

The defendants are the city of Santa Clara, Santa Clara City Council, Mayor Lisa Gillmor, Vice Mayor Teresa O’Neill and other members of the city council. Santa Clara, which bills itself as “The Mission City,” is about 45 miles southeast of San Francisco.

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Katelyn Campbell, the Awesome High School Studen Who Fought Back Against Pam Stenzel’s Christian ‘Abstinence-Only’ Sex Education, Has Been Awarded a Truman Scholarship

by Hemant Mehta at Patheos

I posted this on Facebook yesterday, but it’s worth telling in more detail.

A few years ago, when Katelyn Campbell was a high school senior, a pro-abstinence speaker came to her high school. That speaker, Pam Stenzel, is notorious for spreading misinformation, and this event was no different. She told students that if they had any sexual contact before marriage, they were “impure.” She insinuated that any kind of premarital sex would lead to an STD or pregnancy. To make matters worse, students were pressured to attend the talk, which was sponsored by a local Christian group.

Katelyn, knowing all of this was a problem, took the story to the press. She spoke out publicly against her administration’s irresponsibility.

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