11 February 2012: A day to defend free expression

The One Law for All 11 February rally for Free Expression is being held in London from 14:00-16:00 hours at the Old Palace Yard opposite the House of Lords. The Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain fully supports the action. Speakers are: Richard Dawkins (Scientist); A C Grayling (Philosopher); Alex Gabriel (Blogger); Anne Marie Waters (One Law for All); Caroline Cox (Peer); Derek Lennard (Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association); Faisal Gazi (Spittoon.org); Gita Sahgal, (Centre for Secular Space); Hasan Afzal (Stand for Peace); Jennifer Hardy (Queen Mary Atheism Humanism and Secularism Society); Jenny Bartle (National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies); Jim Fitzpatrick (MP); Kate Smurthwaite (Comedian); Kenan Malik (Writer); Lilith (Poet, Anti-Injustice Movement) ; Marco Tranchino (Central London Humanist Group); Mark Embleton (Atheism UK); Maryam Namazie (One Law for All and Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain); Nick Cohen (Writer); Nick Doody (Comedian); Pragna Patel (Southall Black Sisters); Rashid Ali (Centri); Rhys Morgan (Student activist); Roy Brown (International Humanist and Ethical Union); Rupert Sutton (Student Rights); Sohaila Sharifi (Equal Rights Now); Sue Cox (Survivors Voice Europe); Sundas Hoorain (London School of Economics Atheist, Secularist, and Humanist Society); Susan Zhuang (University College London Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society); Terry Sanderson/Keith Porteous Wood (National Secular Society); and Yasmin Rehman (Campaigner). There will also be messages from Jesus and Mo creator and Richard Dawkins. Iranian Secular Society’s Fariborz Pooya will be the Master of Ceremonies.

Indonesian Muslims Call for Atheist Beheading

Alexandar Aan, a 30-year-old father and civil servant who was beaten, fired from his government job, and then arrested by local authorities for daring to declare "God doesn't exist" on his personal Facebook page, is now facing calls for his beheading by local Muslims.

The trouble began several weeks ago when civil servant Alexander Aan posted a message on the Facebook page of Atheist Minang, a group of Indonesians with godless beliefs. It read: “God doesn’t exist.”  The post so enraged residents in Aan’s hometown of Pulau Punjung in West Sumatra province that an angry mob of dozens stormed his office and beat up the 30-year-old. He was then summarily fired and later picked up by Indonesian authorities as part of an investigation of whether he violated the law by 'Insulting Islam'.  If convicted of blasphemy, he could face a five-year jail sentence.

But none of this has been enough for some Muslim extremists, who have now called for his beheading. “He has hurt the feelings of the people in Minang society and damaged the religious structure by his posting,” said the local head of the Indonesian Council of Ulama (MUI) Syamsul Bahri Khatib. The Indonesian Council of Ulama is the country's recognized authority on Islamic matters, and the secular government often follows the MUI's recommendations in matters of Islamic law.

Atheist Alliance International has called on the Indonesian authorities to end their persecution of Mr. Aan, as well as contacted several international human rights bodies and governments to put pressure on the Indonesian government. It has also started a legal relief fund for Mr. Aan's assistance. Supporters are encouraged to contribute to allow Mr. Aan the ability to defend himself and his human rights.

 

 

How Orthodox Judaism Treats Women as "Filthy Little Things"

The recent violent behavior of Ultra-Orthodox Jews in the Israeli city of Beit-Shemesh against women (in an earlier reported case an 8 year old girl who was spat on and called "whore") has escalated.

The woman attacked happens to be the sister of a friend of mine. This link in a recent series of anti-female attacks in Ultra-Orthodox neighborhood is especially grotesque when considering that as she sought cover from the mob in a nearby apartment complex, the inhabitants shouted and insulted her, causing her to flee and wait outside for the police to arrive. Although several suspects were arrested, all were released after questioning and the incident is no longer being pursued. 

The Ultra-Orthodox spokespeople have, predictably, come out to semi-condemn the violence while making sure to reiterate the inherent value of the Jewish perception of women. They say that Judaism, unlike secular culture, defends the honor of the woman by not letting her become a mere "sex object". None have condemned the background story which provoked this violence - the forced separation of women and men on public transportation by Orthodox authorities, relegating women to the back, of course.

For a brief representation of the Orthodox perception of women as "filthy little things", here is an op-ed by Yossi Sarid, ex-Knesset Member of the Meretz Party (which fights for secular rights and for the separation of Synagogue and State).

A recent poll has caused much public discussion regarding the religousity of the Israeli public and how it will effect the future of the country's identity. This poll is nothing but an indicator that fellow atheists and humanists in Israel need to start organizing themselves to become the voice of reason, if they want to prevent the submerging of Israel into the dark ages of the rabbinic authorities. 

ynet.com is the internet version of the Israeli Newspaper - Yedioth Achronoth, one of the leading, most widely read newspapers in Israel.
 
Haaretz is an Israeli newspaper, affiliated with the International Herald Tribune (owned by the New York Times), and recognized as one of the only official outlets of the Israeli left and secular population.

How religion poisons Brazilian politics

Originally published on the Secular Humanist League of Brazil's blog here.

In Brazil we’ve witnessed a growth in the number of national representatives elected in 2010 who only work to try and limit individual rights of women, gays and other minorities hated by biblical text. They are known as the “evangelical bench“. I would rather call them “theocratic bench”, since I know not all evangelical Christians think their beliefs should be forced down everyone’s throats, let alone by the power of a purportedly secular government.

Since we’ve got constitutional separation of church and state, we should at least hope their actions were halted. But often government is very dubious. In 2011, Marco Feliciano, a representative who is also a preacher, tried to pass a bill to make religious teaching mandatory for students in public schools. Fortunately, his bill was rejected at once.

On the other hand, public schools have been forced to offer religious teaching for decades, with no orientation whatsoever of what kind of teaching this would be, rendering a not so unexpected result of public tuition hijacked by religious proselytising, as has been proved by human rights scholar Debora Diniz. The law says students can choose not to attend religious teaching, but the truth is that most of them are not even informed of this right.

Another example of religious intrusion is that last July the governor of the state of Rio de Janeiro has approved a law that forces public libraries to have bibles in their collections. No such thing has been done in relation to the Quran or the Baghavad Gita, of course.

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Religion and Government, Gambian Context

As it is the concern of many atheist and free-thought organizations in other parts of the world, Gambia Secular Assembly concerns itself with the separation of religion from government.

In The Gambia, religion is so juxtaposed with government that one finds it hard to distinguish one form the other. This is manifested in the serious promotion and propagation of particularly of Islam, the dominant religion.

The Gambian State, largely supposed and believed by the population to be secular, has condoned the involvement of the State with religion. This is an unchecked involvement that extends to the State’s investment in the construction of a mosque on the grounds of a State residence – State House has an Imam (Islamic religious leader) paid from the government coffers to head prayers and conduct other religious services, such as the annual celebration of the birth of the 'prophet' of Islam, Muhammad named Maw lud al nabi in Arabic.

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Vatican continues to try to limit access to IVF, promotes a “natural alternative”

VATICAN CITY- 23-25 February 2012. The 18thGeneral Assembly of The Pontifical Academy for Life, a three day conference attended by 200 medical (alleged) professionals and Church representatives. The theme for this year was the Diagnosis and Treatment of Infertility.

On the agenda; NaProTECHNOLOGY (Natural Procreative Technology), a system proposed by Dr. Thomas Hilgers, which is supposed to assist women with infertility issues to achieve pregnancy more successfully than in-vitro fertilization (IVF).  IVF (involving the fertilization of ova outside the woman’s body and the transfer of the resultant zygote to the uterus) assists women with blocked, severely damaged or no fallopian tubes, facilitates the use of a donated ova and can also overcome infertility caused by endometriosis or issues with sperm.

The (alleged) research behind NaPro was done at The Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction, in Omaha, Nebraska, USA. This institute, which provides a service within the “moral framework” of the Catholic Church, was founded in 1985 by Dr. Thomas Hilgers, who is also its Director.

Dr. Thomas Hilgers claims that NaPro’s success rate is two to three times higher than for IVF. If this claim is true NaPro would be a major breakthrough in reproductive health technology and welcomed by doctors and many couples who are unable to conceive naturally.  Yet the NaPro website admits there is no peer reviewed medical or academic literature that supports its approach (in the text under a heading misleadingly titled Peer-Reviewed and Academic Literature That Supports NaProTECHNOLOGY). 

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Bangladesh to shut Facebook pages for blasphemy

Originally published by AFP

DHAKA — A Bangladesh court on Wednesday ordered authorities to shut down five Facebook pages and a website for blaspheming the Prophet Mohammed, the Koran and other religious subjects, a lawyer said.

Judges at the high court in Dhaka ordered the telecommunications regulator, home ministry officials and police to block the offending pages immediately.

"These pages contain disparaging remarks and cartoons about Prophet Mohammed, the Muslim holy book of Koran, Jesus, Lord Buddha and Hindu gods," Nawshad Zamir, a lawyer of the petitioner who brought the case, told AFP.

"They mostly targeted the prophet and the Koran. These pages hurt the sentiments of the country's majority Muslim population and the followers of other religions. Some of the cartoons are very close to pornography."

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Church facilitates kidnapping of albino boy

An albino boy was abducted from a church in Kenya in March 2012.  He was taken while the people in the congregation had their eyes closed as prayers were being recited.

The congregation’s suspicions fell on the pastor who was interrogated and apparently confessed to facilitating the boy’s passage to Tanzania, a country known for ritual killings of albinos.  The pastor is said to have been ordered to bring back the boy – he left, but returned a few days later without the young albino boy.  Subsequently a mob descended on the church.

Lawrence Nyagah, a humanist activist and an albino himself, said”images of an enraged mob burning and tearing the church into pieces was aired on one of Kenya’s TV stations [which] spoke more than words could have said about the anger of the crowd, but it further said more: that by perpetuating superstitions the church as an institution was complicit in such incidences of human rights abuse.”  The matter is (allegedly) being pursued by the Kenyan police.

Lawrence said he is “attracted to humanism because of the work humanists are doing to end belief in superstition.  Lawrence said he converted from Catholicism to humanism about two years ago after reading about Leo Igwe and the IHEU, and expressed Africa’s need of more courageous people committed to the fight against belief in and practice of superstitions.

17 GLBTI Gambians Imprisoned

In Gambia lesbians, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons are not accorded their basic right to simply be who they are. 

Monday 10 April 2012 marked a historic day of the unrealistic denial of the diversity of sexual orientation.  Seventeen young Gambian men - Alieu Sarr, Kebba Ceesay, Abdoulie Bojang, Amadou Jallow, Amidou Nyang, Ousman Gomez, Sainey Fatty, Lamin Konateh, Lamin Sarr, Buba Banda, Ebrima Jallow, Lamin Saho, Abdoulie Cham, Lamin Jaiteh, Ousman Dibba, Adboulie Saidy, and Muhammed Manneh - were remanded at the Mile 2 Central Prison on grounds of being under police investigation for having engaged in  homosexual activities. An  eighteenth accused man, Nigerian immigrant Ogika Amenechi, was also charged. 

The seventeen Gambia nationals and Nigerian were charged with having been engaged in "indecent practice among themselves in public places" on 5 April 2012 at Serre Kunda and other places in The Gambia.

The seventeen accused, who pleaded not guilty to the charges against them, were denied bail on Monday on the grounds that they were being investigated. Even though the Magistrate who presided over the case told the court that the men were charged with a bailable offence and noted that they had been in detention since 5 April, the Police prosecutor persisted with his application for bail refusal. 

The case was adjourned to 19 April 2012 for hearing.  The accused were not represented during the first hearing.

Taslima Nasrin attacks 'cancer' of censorship in Indian society

 Taslima Nasrin - writer, feminist, atheist and a speaker at the upcoming 2012 European Atheist Convention - has attacked the "growing cancer" of censorship in Indian society.

"Writers and artists have become the soft targets of religious extremists," she said. "The authority tries to appease either Hindu fanatics or Muslim fanatics in India. All the political parties have different agendas, but they have no agenda or intention to value freedom of expression. It's a dangerous race, who can violate free speech more."

The relevant article in the The Guardian is here.

First National Atheist Meeting in Brazil

Recently Brazil has experienced how organization through social networks is resulting in protest and events in the real world. The first big event that comes to mind is the “March for the laic Government” that took place in August 2011. Since then, we have had public events against corruption, for feminism, and the latest - to gather atheists.

The idea of the event, according to Stiphanie Silva, is to meet each other and organize. “We need to get out of the closet, show we are good sons and daughters, parents, that morality is independent of faith” says Silva, who is a member of Sociedade Racionalista, the association responsible for the event organization.

 

On February 12th (Charles Darwin’s birthday) several States held atheist meetings, each one organized by local atheists. The places were usually public parks, and in most of the cases the activities were decided during the meeting. Among them, speeches from participants and debates were the most common.  Atheist meetings have happened before, however, this was the first time coordinated meetings occurred all over the nation on the same date - and it was mentioned in the press.

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Teachers, Be Not Afraid

Across the US, representatives in state Senates and Houses of Representatives are attempting to legislate curriculum that would substitute mythology for science in biology classes by teaching creation instead of evolution.  By mandating curriculum in this way, Christian representatives could circumvent state boards of education, comprised of experts who set scholastic standards in our public schools.  The Christian base, preaching to their representatives, chant, “Teach the controversy,” demanding our schools be forced to teach creationism alongside evolution because they believe that their disagreement with experts is equivalent to a disagreement among experts.  It isn’t, of course.  No more than a high school classroom is the place to discuss scientific controversies (assuming, for the sake of the argument, a controversy existed).  It should be obvious—though it isn’t to everyone—that the place for that kind of discussion is in the field, or a dissertation, or a peer-reviewed journal, where cases are judged by experts on the quality of the evidence, not by laypeople on the circuity of the reasoning.

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Limbaugh, Santorum, Sex, and the Origins of the Roman Catholic Church

Originally published on BuzzFlash@Truthout.

In the year 312, the Roman Emperor Constantine saw some kind of a religious vision at some time before a battle in which he defeated his major rival at the time, Maxentius (1). Just what the nature of the vision was is unclear, but it did lead to Constantine's conversion to what became Roman Catholicism. This event functionally ended close to 300 years of an often underground existence of the early Christian religion, which had previously suffered major episodes of violent persecution from a succession of Roman emperors. Now the Church could exist out-in-the-open. Constantine's conversion led to the calling of a grand Council of Church leaders under the direction of the Emperor himself. (No separation of church-and-state back then. Rick "JFK's-separation-of-church-and-state-speech-made-me-want-to-vomit" Santorum would have fit right in.) It was held in the lake-side town of Nicea (now Iznik, in Turkey). It produced what came to be known as the First Nicean Creed, the first coordinated statement of Catholic doctrine.

Nevertheless, the bishops were hardly unchallenged in the field of competitive religion. There still were a wide variety of both polytheistic and competing monotheistic religions within both the Eastern and the Western sectors of the Empire. As well, there were major schisms (sometimes leading to violent struggles) within their own house over such issues as the true nature of Jesus: human, divine, or both. Nevertheless, over time those conflicts were resolved, sometimes through the use of force (yes, even over such matters as the nature of Jesus.) Then the bishops struggled with what they could do to enlarge their flock and retain their allegiance. They developed a variety of approaches to solving this problem. One major initiative was to focus on sex.

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Atheist faces three counts in court

This article was originally published in the Jakarta Post.

A civil servant who incited controversy by declaring that he was atheist was on Monday indicted on three charges, including one for violating the Information Transaction Law (ITE).

The first charge brought against Alexander at the Muaro Sijungung District Court was for violating Article 28, Clause 2 of the ITE. Next was for Article 156a(a) of the Criminal Code (KUHP), and the last for violating Article 156a(b) of the KUHP.

Alexander was indicted for creating a Facebook group called Minang Atheists. Alexander wrote about Prophet Muhammad on the Facebook wall. The trial was attended by five witnesses, Hendri, Mulyadi, Doni Saptri, Yon Riadi, and Hendri Martariko, who had seen the pictures and posts on Alexander's Facebook group.

Prosecutor Ibrahim Khalil, in the indictment, said the Facebook posts and pictures insulted Islam. The posts also caused a public disturbance and outcry.

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Apostasy Campaign in Chile

The AECH, Skeptics Association of Chile, started as a group of people who got to know each other through debates on online forums.  They were familiar with the work of Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens, among others, and were also catalyzed by the appearance of a very well known charlatan on television.

AECH’s work involves publishing articles online, running two radio shows, and also going after possible charlatans or quacks, explaining people why some benefits-for-little-money might be a scam.  They spread science through the internet and their radio shows, which a lot of people still don’t have access to in our country, where statistics about reading skills and reading comprehension are frantically depressing.

AECH’s objectives are to undertake an educational role in the mass media, create debate wherever and whenever it’s needed and raise awareness of all the quackery still going on.

I contacted Luis León Cárdenas Graide, better known as ‘Luchostein’, who is a member of this association.

But before Luis’ interview, what is the apostasy campaign and how does it work?

The apostasy campaign is a (hopefully) massive gathering of people to formally renounce their religion. People participate by attending a meeting in their communities where they are given apostasy letters to fill in.  The letters are handed in by groups to their respective archdiocese, which then has two days time (by law) to go through the papers and delete the apostates from its records permanently.

For more information on the apostasy campaign in Chile see: http://www.aech.cl/2012/03/convocatoria-participar-en-apostasia.html.

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