Norway ends blasphemy law after Hebdo attack

According to The Local, Norway has scrapped its longstanding blasphemy law, meaning it is now legal to mock the beliefs of others, in a direct response to January’s brutal attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

The proposal to rush through the change was made in February by Conservative MP Anders B. Werp and Progress Party MP Jan Arild Ellingsen, who argued that the law “underpins a perception that religious expressions and symbols are entitled to a special protection”. 

“This is very unfortunate signal to send, and it is time that society clearly stands up for freedom of speech,” the two wrote in their proposal. 

Norway’s parliament first voted to scrap the blasphemy law back in 2009, against strong opposition from the Christian Democrat party. But the move has yet to come into force because the country’s new penal code remains delayed by problems updating the computer systems used by police and prosecutors. 

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TLC pulls ’19 Kids and Counting’ off the air over molestation claims against Josh Duggar

According Raw Story, TLC has pulled the plug on its long-running reality show, “19 Kids and Counting,” over revelations that stars Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar covered up their son’s molestation of his sisters and other girls.

The network has canceled all airings of the program from its schedule after Josh Duggar – the eldest son of the 21-member evangelical Christian family – admitted this week to “inexcusable” actions 12 years ago, when he was a teenager.


Police in Arkansas, where the family lives, said Duggar had fondled the breasts and vaginas of multiple young girls, sometimes as they slept, around 2002.

His father, a former Republican state lawmaker and failed U.S. Senate candidate, posted on Facebook this week, after the claims surfaced, that his son had “made some very bad mistakes” – but the experience had drawn the family “closer to God.”

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Faith Fight: Christians going after each other in the USA

Oh hey, let’s hate on other Christians. This will surely drive new members into our congregation.

According to Religion Dispatches, as reported by the local Fox television affiliate in Phoenix, eight traditionalist churches in the suburb of Fountain Hills, Ariz., have combined forces to work against “Progressive Christianity” and its beliefs

American Christianity is coming apart at the seams, which is not quite right. However, it does reflect some of the ways in which the faith is changing.

As the Christian pool in American society shrinks, it’s likely to become both more conservative and more liberal.

There’s only one problem: literally just down the street from one of the conservative churches, there’s a self-described “progressive Christian” congregation, Fountains United Methodist Church.

Call it a faith fight: religion is at the center of a controversy brewing in Fountain Hills.  It seems some traditional Christian churches are at odds with what's being labeled as "Progressive Christianity."

That community is known for stunning scenery, retirees and high-end homes -- religion took center stage when banners started showing up Tuesday on eight traditional Christian churches in the area.

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How Atheists Are Turning ‘Religious Freedom’ Laws Against Religion


Think Progress - For almost a year now, the nation has been locked in almost constant debate over various state and federal versions of the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA), a 20-year-old law that was broadened by the Supreme Court in 2014 and has since been embraced by right-wing politicians and pundits — especially religious conservatives. But in an unusual twist, an atheist activist is galvanizing support for a legal campaign to use the federal RFRA to remove the phrase “In God we trust” from U.S. coins and paper bills.



Michael Newdow, who unsuccessfully sued to have “Under God” removed from the Pledge of Allegiance in 2004, published a guest post on the The Friendly Atheist blog last Friday outlining a new initiative to challenge the decades-old policy of printing the religiously themed American national motto on U.S. currency. He explained that while courts have dismissed claims that the phrase violates the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution — which prohibits Congress from passing laws that establish one religion above others — his new legal argument is rooted in RFRA’s stipulation that religious activity cannot be “substantially burdened” without a “compelling government interest.” The government’s interest in emblazoning currency with “in God we trust,” Newdow argues, is suspect.

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Combating Ignorance and Superstition: Berkeley's "Origins” Course

By Frances Huang with Mark Kolsen

In 2012, Pitzer College introduced the first secular studies program in the United States. Directed by sociology professor Phil Zuckerman, the program offers several courses - and a major - enabling students to understand secularism from a historical, philosophical and sociological perspective. The program attracts many different students; during an interview last year, Zuckerman said the program attracts its fair share of theists, who usually develop a more nuanced view of what it means to be an atheist (for more see)

 However, as Zuckerman admitted, Pitzer’s groundbreaking program has one major shortcoming: it lacks courses devoted to scientific cosmology. That shortcoming, however, is being addressed at UC Berkeley, Pitzer’s neighbor to the north. “Origins: From the Big Bang to the Emergence of Human Beings,” a Big Ideas Course I took last semester as a Berkeley freshman, offers a wonderful overview of both scientific cosmology and evolutionary biology.

During the first part of the course, students learn about the formation of the universe and the origin of the elements, which were created by nuclear fusion inside stars. They understand why, as Carl Sagan famously said, we are all made of stardust. Students also learn the five key theoretical steps required for the origin of life: the making of building blocks, restricting these building blocks to a certain environment, separating the inside of the cell from the outside, replicating the cells, and harnessing the energy.

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Invisible Atheists: The spread of disbelief in the Arab world.

By Ahmed Benchemsi

New Republic - LAST DECEMBER, DAR AL IFTA, a venerable Cairo-based institution charged with issuing Islamic edicts, cited an obscure poll according to which the exact number of Egyptian atheists was 866. The poll provided equally precise counts of atheists in other Arab countries: 325 in Morocco, 320 in Tunisia, 242 in Iraq, 178 in Saudi Arabia, 170 in Jordan, 70 in Sudan, 56 in Syria, 34 in Libya, and 32 in Yemen. In total, exactly 2,293 nonbelievers in a population of 300 million.

Many commentators ridiculed these numbers. The Guardian asked Rabab Kamal, an Egyptian secularist activist, if she believed the 866 figure was accurate. “I could count more than that number of atheists at Al Azhar University alone,” she replied sarcastically, referring to the Cairo-based academic institution that has been a center of Sunni Islamic learning for almost 1,000 years. Brian Whitaker, a veteran Middle East correspondent and the author of Arabs Without God, wrote, “One possible clue is that the figure for Jordan (170) roughly corresponds to the membership of a Jordanian atheist group on Facebook. So it’s possible that the researchers were simply trying to identify atheists from various countries who are active in social media.” 

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Liberia Conquers Ebola, but Faces a Crisis of Faith


NY Times - Now, it is officially over. The Ebola outbreak has ended in Liberia, the World Health Organization announced Saturday, an enormous milestone that seemed impossibly far off last year when dead bodies blocked roads and the sick prayed for ambulances that never came.

Deasprately, the country is trying to rebuild just about everything, from its health and education systems to its economy and international image. 

But in the dim hall of the United God Is Our Light Church, its generator turned off to shave costs, the congregation has been trying to repair something more fundamental: its spirit. 

The large circle of plastic chairs inevitably drew attention to the low attendance at Friday morning prayer, a monthly gathering intended to bring together a church torn asunder by Ebola. Three, four, sometimes half a dozen empty seats separated the attendees from one another.

Like many people here, church leaders often denied that Ebola, a disease new to West Africa, was real. At an emergency meeting last July, the Liberia Council of Churches, the country’s main group for Christians, described Ebola as divine punishment for acts of homosexuality and government corruption.

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By Mark Kolsen


By international standards, Americans are poorly educated.  Their ignorance extends beyond the oft-reported low math, science and social science scores achieved by high school students (See, for example). Adult Americans know relatively little about their own political system or other cultures (see, for example).   

They know even less about scientific cosmology or evolutionary biology (See, for example). In personal matters, where one might think Americans would know more, they are equally hapless.  Americans are laughingly ignorant of their own sexuality (See, for example).  

A comedy series could feature Americans’ responses to more complicated questions, such as “Which factors predict a successful relationship?” or “What is the best predictor of your child’s social-economic status”?


Given that only Italians--90% of whom call themselves “Catholic”-- are more ignorant than Americans, it could be persuasively argued that a religious Weltanshauung is a primary “cause” of ignorance.  If a human assumes that the universe was created by an omnipotent and omniscient god, and that god still intervenes in human daily life, then that human has donned blinders to real knowledge.   Why read, why learn, when you have the Bible, the word of god?

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