Religion news 19 April 2024

Bengaluru queue to vote in state elections 2023. Image credit: P.L.Tandon CCLicense2.0

India election gets underway with hopes for protection for religious minorities

India goes to the polls today in an election involving a population of 1.4 billion which will take six weeks to complete.  The elections were addressed in the House of Lords, with questions over freedom of religion in the country. The foreign secretary, Lord Cameron, said India is one of the most diverse religious countries with 966 million Hindus, 172 million Muslims, 28 million Christians, 20 million Sikhs, 8 million Buddhists and 4.5 million Jains. Lord Indarjit Singh raised concerns at religious tension there, citing tens of thousands of Sikhs killed in Amritsar in 1984, tens of thousands of Muslims killed in riots in Ayodhya, a Hindu temple built on the site of a razed mosque and Christians persecuted in Manipur. The Foreign Secretary, Lord Cameron, replied saying there have been occasions when the government has raised concerns about religious tolerance and freedom of religious belief in India, and that should continue. The Christian charity Open Doors is appealing for peaceful, violence-free campaigning and hopes that an incoming government will serve the best interests of every citizen, including religious minorities.

Government supports legal requirement to appoint Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief

The Foreign Secretary has pledged support for the role of Special Envoy for International Freedom of Religion or Belief to be a legal requirement. The job is being undertaken by Fiona Bruce MP at present and there is a campaign to put the post on a statutory footing. Lord Cameron told the Lords that he supported the proposal, reflecting the importance the government attaches to freedom of religion and belief.

Archbishop of Wales calls for halt to “indefensible abuse” of rivers

The Archbishop of Wales, Andrew John, has called for a halt to the “indefensible abuse” of waterways, saying rivers are dying because of pollution. In an address to the governing body of the Church in Wales, he said a summit will be convened in November “Restoring Welsh Rivers” to discuss the issues of water companies illegally pumping raw sewage into rivers, and intensive farming practices poisoning rivers with excess fertiliser and animal waste. He said the role of the church was to speak out on issues of fairness and justice and the summit would seek to create a consensus and momentum for change.

US Methodist bishops prepare for “seismic shift” in LGBT vote next week

The president of the United Methodist’s Council of Bishops, Thomas J. Bickerton, has warned church leaders that next week’s conference vote on same sex relationships will be a seismic shift for the denomination. The General Conference of the church will vote on “the three R’s” – regionalisation, allowing regions to adapt the policy to their local situation; revised social principles, removing the 52-year-old statement that “the practice of homosexuality …. is incompatible with Christian teaching”; and removal of restrictive practices against LGBTQ people. Speaking to bishops in advance of the meeting, he said: “Needless to say, this is a moment in time when we will not only see some of the dust settle, but we’ll also see new dust storms arise”. Bishops cannot vote at the Council, but they will have to lead in the fall out.  The church has postponed this vote for four years due to Covid and a quarter of churches in the USA have already left in opposition to same sex relationships.

Michaela school prayer ban debate continues:
London Central Mosque disputes advice about prayer at Michaela school

The London Central Mosque has denied giving advice to the Michaela community school in north London, that all afternoon prayers could be deferred til later in the day. The school banned prayers at school in order to encourage inclusion and won a challenge to the policy in court this week. The Times reported that the head, Katharine Birbalsingh, had told the court that she had spoken to the imam at the London Central Mosque and Islamic Cultural Centre about the ban and an imam “agreed with this view and offered to speak to any Muslim parents who had doubts on this point”. But yesterday the London Central Mosque issued a statement on Twitter / X  saying its advice was that delaying prayer is possible in summer when the timing between prayers is longer, but this is not possible in winter when the times are shorter. It said the ruling was disappointing for all who care about tolerance and diversity.

Rachel Johnson in The Standard: Decision is a victory for common sense

The court decision to back the prayer ban at Michaela School in north London shows that “unfashionably standing up to your core belief — that traditional British values can be a vector for achievement and unity in our multi-ethnic rainbow classrooms — turns out to be powerful”, according to columnist Rachel Johnson. Writing in The Standard, she says the school’s victory is a “ small and important victory in the Battle of Britain 2.0”. It is a victory for common sense, community, and British values and it was a wise decision to empty the identity space to accommodate difference. She goes further: “In fact, we should probably ban religion and mandatory daily acts of worship in all state schools, as many western European countries do .. to stop the identity rot and extremist fervour spreading”.

Teacher Nadeine Asbali in The Guardian: “obstinate, French style secularism”

Nadeine Asbali, a secondary school teacher in London and the author of “Veiled Threat: On Being Visibly Muslim in Britain”, says it’s worth interrogating why schools like Michaela “view their role as being so aggressively secular in the first place”. Writing in The Guardian, she questions whether it is right for a school in a diverse area, with Muslims making up 50 per cent of its pupils , should stubbornly cling to a vision of secularism that excludes a core component of the pupils’ identities. “An obstinate, French-style secularism creeping into our classrooms seems entirely at odds with the experience of many teachers like myself in our diverse nation”. Article is here

Florida decision to allow school chaplains criticised for mixing religion and state education

Florida Republican Governor, Ron DeSantis, has signed a bill allowing school districts to have the option of allowing volunteer chaplains to counsel students. Critics have objected to mixing religion with public education but DeSantis said: “To exclude religious groups from campus is discrimination. You’re basically saying that God has no place. That’s wrong.” The programme is voluntary, with schools deciding whether they want to opt in. Chaplains will provide support and services to students and parental permission will be required.

Bishop stabbed during online service forgives teenage attacker

The Assyrian Orthodox bishop, stabbed during an online service in Sydney, has delivered an audio message publicly forgiving his attacker. Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel, said he was recovering quickly: “I forgive whoever has done this act…I will always pray for you, and whoever sent you to do this, I forgive them as well”.  He had a message for the 16-year-old boy who has been arrested in connection with the attack: “I say to him ‘You’re my son. I love you and I will always pray for you”. 


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