Religion news 23 April 2024

Lords give way on Rwanda Bill. Image credit: Open Parliament License

Rwanda Bill is finally passed, despite objections from the Lords, including all CofE bishops

The Rwanda Bill, allowing asylum seekers in the UK without a visa to be deported, has finally been passed by parliament after the Lords gave up their fight acknowledging the primacy of the House of Commons. The bill had been consistently resisted by all Church of England bishops, with Bishop Guli Francis-Dehqani, herself a refugee, seeing the debate through to the bitter end at midnight. The Lords’ opposition to the bill led to a “ping pong” process where they put forward amendments and the Commons rejected them five times over, whittling the amendments down to the last one which would require the home secretary to make a statement to the Commons that Rwanda is a safe country after consulting with the independent monitoring committee on the UK-Rwanda treaty. The bishops had earlier pressed in particular for an amendment exempting victims of modern slavery from deportation. Richard Chapman, CofE head of parliamentary affairs, acknowledged this was “game over”. An estimated 52,000 people are said to be in the frame for deportation and the first flights are expected to take off in late June or July.

Met will consult more closely with Jewish community amid concern at policing of pro Palestine march

Jewish News reports that following a meeting between Metropolitan Police chiefs and Jewish community leaders, the force has agreed to consult more closely with senior Jewish officers and community representatives over culturally sensitive matters. This comes after criticism at the way they responded to a high-profile incident at a pro Palestine demo in central London when the Campaign Against Antisemitism chief executive, Gideon Falter, was described on video by an officer of being “openly Jewish” and threatened with arrest as he approached the pro-Palestinian march. Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley was among the group at the meeting which was described by one source as “frank but friendly” and did not include any call for him to resign. Met Police representatives repeated the apologies made by police at the weekend. Meanwhile Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has given Sir Mark Rowley a vote of confidence but says he should work to rebuild the confidence and trust of the Jewish community and the wider public.

Both Rishi Sunak and the Leader of the Opposition Sir Keir Starmer have written articles in the Jewish Chronicle to mark Passover, which is from 22 – 30 April. Sir Keir focused his message on the Middle East, confirming a future Labour government’s commitment to Israel’s security,  while Mr Sunak warned about “extremist forces in Britain”  who were attempting to exploit the Gaza conflict to advance a “divisive, hateful ideological agenda”.

Narendra Modi criticised for anti-Muslim comments in election speech

The Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, has been accused by opposition party leaders of trying to divide the country by hate at the start of the election campaign trail, by referring to the country’s Muslims as “infiltrators” in order to promote Hindu nationalism. As reported in The Times, Modi told the crowd at a rally in Rajasthan: “When they were in power, they said Muslims have first right over resources. They will gather all your wealth and distribute it among those who have more children. They will distribute among infiltrators … Would you accept this?”  The report says that it is a widely held belief among many of his supporters that Muslims deliberately have large families to overtake the Hindu majority. Muslims account for about 230 million of India’s population of 1.4 billion. Mallikarjun Kharge, president of the Congress party, said the PM’s remarks would stoke division. “What Modi said is definitely hate speech, but it is also a deliberate ploy to divert attention,” he said. The Congress party has cast the election as “the last-chance saloon”, predicting that Modi will destroy democracy if he wins.

Australian court orders Twitter / X to remove film of bishop’s stabbing

An Australian court has ordered the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, to remove the video of a Sydney church stabbing, despite the pleas of its billionaire owner, Elon Musk, The video showed disturbing footage of Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel, of the Assyrian Orthodox Church,  being stabbed as he preached at Christ The Good Shepherd Church in Sydney. X and Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, were warned that if they failed to comply, they could face fines of up to $785k a day. The court ordered X to block every user from seeing the footage not just the Australian audience. X’s response was to block the video to Australian IP addresses but the court was told this had left it accessible to international users or Australians using an overseas-based virtual private network. Musk says Australia’s e-Safety commissioner’s criticism of the posts is censorship. The Guardian reports that he has posted on his personal X account a cartoon showing the platform as a Wizard of Oz-style path to freedom and truth with a darker, alternative path to censorship and propaganda. Above the cartoon Musk has written the message: “Don’t take my word for it, just ask the Australian PM!” The case will return to court next Wednesday. Last week a 16-year-old boy was charged with a terrorism offence following the attack.

Pope urges more action to protect the planet

As the world marked Earth Day yesterday, Pope Francis reiterated his plea for bold action for “our common home” and for world peace. The international day was established in 1970 to raise awareness about the critical environmental challenges facing the planet.  It provides an opportunity for individuals, communities, organizations  and governments to come together and engage in activities to repair and heal ecosystems, combat climate change, and preserve biodiversity so as to preserve the planet for future generations. Each year, Earth Day has a specific theme to draw global attention on key environmental issues and this year the theme is “Planet vs. Plastics,” focussing on the urgent need to reduce plastoc production. In a post on his X social media platform, Pope Francis noted that his generation has bequeathed many monetary riches to later generations but has done little to protect the planet.

New gospel music qualifications to recognise excellence

The music awards organisation RSL Awards has partnered with the Global Music Industry Alliance to introduce qualifications for accomplished gospel singers and musicians. Until now, the proficiency and level of musicianship amongst gospel professionals has not been recognised outside gospel circles. The new award scheme will offer a suite of Ofqual regulated grades to formally assess gospel practitioners who demonstrate their performance skills at a grade 6 level or above. These qualifications will carry UCAS points boosting university and higher education applications. The initiative was launched at an event in King’s Place London, when the first fellows were appointed, including choir directors and composers, recognising their conbtirution to gospel excellence in the UK.

Scotland abortion clinic buffer zones bill moves forward to a vote

The Scottish Parliament’s Health, Social Care and Sport Committee has agreed that 150 metre buffer zones around abortion clinics are necessary to protect women from intimidation. But members have failed to reach agreement on whether silent prayer vigils should be banned. The committee agreed that the buffer zone around Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow should be 200 metres. The bill is proposed by Green Party MSP Gillian Mackay and the committee’s decision was taken after a consultation with 3,639 individual responses, 3,535 of which were from one IP address in London, which the committee said were submitted by a third-party organisation as part of a coordinated campaign. The data produced the figure that 77 per cent of people are opposed to buffer zones. The Herald quotes Right To Life UK spokesperson Catherine Robinson saying: “This Committee has totally ignored the overwhelming opposition to this Bill and instead is supporting the introduction of the world’s most extreme buffer zone law in Scotland. This is a truly draconian piece of legislation that reaches into the homes of ordinary people. It creates an offence for being publicly pro-life.” The bill will now proceed through the Scottish Parliament to be voted on at stage one.

Bible presented to Scottish Parliament marking 25th anniversary of devolution

A special Bible to mark the 25th anniversary of devolution will be presented to the Scottish Parliament today. The Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, Sally Foster-Fulton, will hand over the New International Version to Presiding Officer Alison Johnstone. The Moderator will be accompanied by Elaine Duncan, chief executive officer of the Scottish Bible Society , which has jointly provided the gift with the Church of Scotland. Bound in black Morocco leather. The cover features the words ‘Scottish Parliament’ and ‘Wisdom, Justice, Compassion and Integrity’, the same words etched onto a ceremonial mace presented to the Scottish Parliament by the late Queen Elizabeth. Premier Christian News reports that the Moderator plans to discuss a range of important issues with party leaders and representatives including  poverty and deprivation, climate change, violence in the Middle East, assisted dying, ending conversion practices and how people treat asylum seekers, refugees and migrants. She said it’s necessary that the Church fully engages with the political world, adding: “When people say that the Bible and politics don’t mix, I ask them which Bible they are reading”.

Welsh hymns of hell, drunks and addicts, to be sung in 50 chapels

The Guardian reports on a batch of 19th century Welsh hymns which it’s believed were originally ‘cancelled’ because they referred to mental health and alcohol addiction. They’ve been discovered by Welsh folk singer, Lleuwen Steffan, who was working at a museum when she came across recordings of Welsh-language hymns recorded by the historian Robin Gwyndaf , an expert on folklore and oral history who worked at St Fagans National Museum of History for more than 40 years, retiring in 2006. More than 700 hours of his recordings are kept at the Archive in St Fagans National Museum of History. They mainly relate to folk tales, folk traditions and folk belief. Lleuwen Steffan says, “Many of them are about addiction, mental illness, the dark side of the psyche. You have one that talks of drunkenness and alcoholism that is transformed into drinking the wine from God’s cellar. And you have very detailed, dark stuff about knocking on hell’s door. And the guy with the key not answering the door, not letting them in. And then they see all these other people going through the door. I find that it’s just so, so poignant and so present.” The hymns will soon be sung in 50 chapels throughout Wales thanks in part to the National Eisteddfod of Wales which is backing the project. Artistic director Elen Elis says: “The chapel tour takes all her work back to the people, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the solo performances evolve and transform over the coming months.”


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