Religion news 9 October

Image credit: Middle East Eye

Street violence erupts in New York after restrictions on Orthodox Jewish communities

Proposals to lock down areas in New York where large numbers of Orthodox Jewish people live, caused an eruption of violence, with fires started in the streets and crowds of demonstrators burning their face masks. New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that non-essential businesses and schools would close in Brooklyn, Queens and northern suburbs where the infection rate is five times higher than elsewhere. Places of worship were singled out as areas where the virus is likely to spread and the number of worshippers will be limited. The Guardian reports that the Governor said he understood the imposition on the Orthodox communities, but after criticism from senators, he doubled down: “To the extent there are communities that are upset, that’s because they haven’t been following the original rules, and that’s why the infection spread – because they weren’t following the rules and the rules weren’t being enforced.”

School sacking did not breach religious freedom, judge rules

A former pastoral assistant who claimed her school had breached her right to freedom of speech and religion has lost her claim for unfair dismissal for gross misconduct. Employment Judge Derek Reed concluded that Kristie Higgs’s dismissal related not to her Christian beliefs, but to Facebook posts that might reasonably lead people to conclude that she was homophobic and transphobic. Ms Higgs, who worked at Farmor’s school in Fairford, Gloucestershire, was supported in her case by the Christian Legal Centre, which says it will be appeal against the decision. Christian Legal Centre and case explainer here

Jewish support for Holocaust memorial near parliament

A planning inquiry in London has been hearing evidence on whether gardens adjoining the Houses of Parliament are an appropriate site for a Holocaust memorial and visitor centre. One rabbi has told the inquiry that there should be no new memorial at all and Lord Carlile said it would be a trophy target for terrorists. But the Board of Deputies of British Jews and a former senior Rabbi to Reform Judaism support the location, and the proposal has gathered broad cross-party support from MPs and peers including the Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer. Westminster City Council rejected the plans in February, which led to this inquiry.

Police check out church service for breaking Covid-19 restrictions

The West Midlands Chief Constable has defended the action of two uniformed officers who arrived at a church service last Sunday after complaints the congregation was breaking Covid-19 restrictions. The visit to The Rock New Testament Church of God at Spring Hill caused outrage and the church leader Bishop Jonathan Jackson, accused the police of disrespect and intimidation. Birmingham Live reports that the Chief Constable Dave Thompson said the action had been misrepresented. The officers had arrived after the service: “They were present for a very short period of time and did not enter the church. They closed the call indicating the church was fully complying with regulations. This is exactly how they are expected to carry out their duties.”

German Catholics and evangelicals continue to discuss shared communion

The German Catholic bishops’ conference and the council of the Evangelical Church in Germany are continuing discussions about shared Communion, despite objections from the Vatican. They are seeking a solution to an anomaly when a married couple, from different denominations, cannot join together at one communion table because of church rules and tradition. Catholics believe the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ; Protestants say they represent the body and blood. Two years ago German Catholic bishops were about to issue guidance on protestants taking communion, but the Vatican blocked it. At the time, Pope Francis asked the bishops to continue working together to find broader consensus on guidelines.  

Islamic street market opens in Norwich

A street market based on Islamic principles of fair trading, has opened in Norwich. The Norwich Free Market  is a collaboration between he Ihsan mosque and Islamic Centre and the Open Trade Network. Traders are not taxed or charged rental, and undercutting is not permitted. The founders say it is a form of “community hub for traders, makers, bakers, artists, growers and street food vendors” and is an opportunity for Muslims to make a difference to society, through looking after people. The Middle East Eye  reports that Norwich already has a famous, traditional English market dating back to the 11th century, with permanent stalls in the city centre, but the Norwich Free Market runs one day a month and  is a response to the pandemic, as some of the stalls are run by traders who lost their jobs during lockdown.