Gambian President Declares an Islamic State

Map of GambiaThis week, the river nation of The Gambia is celebrating its 51st year of independence. The question is whether it is doing so as Africa's second official Islamic state.
"In line with the country's religious identity and values, I proclaim The Gambia as an Islamic state," President Yahya Jammeh declared in December. "Accepting Allah's religion as your religion and as your way of life is not negotiable."
Pakistan, Iran, and fellow African nation Mauritania also identify themselves as Islamic states.
However, the claim has drawn ire from opposition and pro-democracy groups.
Jammeh said the decision to declare the country an Islamic state was a response to the current reality in Gambia, a British colony until 1965.
"As Muslims are the majority in the country, Gambia cannot afford to continue the colonial legacy," he said.
Bounded by the overwhelmingly Muslim Senegal, Christians make up about 5 percent of Gambia's 1.7 million population. More than half of this group is Catholic, while Protestants make up 1.5 percent of the total population, according to 2010 data from the Pew Research Center's Global Religious Futures project.
Gambia's opposition leader objected to the announcement, arguing that Gambia is a secular state, and a change to that must be constitutionally confirmed.
"You cannot make such a declaration without going through a referendum," said National Reconciliation Party leader Hamat Bah.
Jammeh has been in power since his coup in 1994, and has a "deplorable human rights record and rampant corruption" which lost him Western support, said Human Rights Watch's Jeffrey Smith.
"As such, he is desperately attempting to foster a closer and more lucrative relationship with the Arab world," Smith told Al-Jazeera. "By couching his decision in terms of 'fighting colonialism,' we can see that he is trying to cozy up with other parts of the world that harbor anti-West sentiments."

AAI Gender Balance Report

2016-03 AAI Gender Balance ReportAtheist Alliance International has released a report on Gender Imbalance in the atheist community, its sources, and its possible responses and solutions.
Gender imbalance in the atheist / humanist community has been noted for many years, including in AAI's own Atheist Census project. AAI has determined this gender imbalance to be a problem in our community, rooted in centuries-old patriarchal systems and promoted and defended by many of the world's religions.
In today's modernist world with recognized human rights for women as outlined in the UN's Convention on Women's Rights, AAI believes that gender imbalance, both in our own communities as well as in the general populace, is an important issue for atheists to embrace and work to overcome as part of our responsibility to our humanity.
The report has been added to AAI's Position Statements webpage and can be read there.

Vatican Told to Get Tough on Money Laundering

vatican1VATICAN CITY (RNS) A European financial crimes watchdog on Tuesday (Dec. 15) called on the Vatican to prosecute those caught money laundering, stating the Holy See must act to ensure the success of its financial reforms.
"There is a need now for the anti-money laundering and counter terrorist financing system, to deliver effective results in terms of prosecutions, convictions and confiscation," said the report by the Council of Europe's Moneyval oversight agency.
Although the Holy See has adopted new legislation in recent years to tackle money laundering within the city-state, there have been no indictments or prosecutions as a result of the new rules.
The Vatican had to agree to the vetting procedure after it joined the European Union Monetary Convention in 2009 as part of an effort to clean up its finances and shed the Holy See's reputation for financial scandals.

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Four Reasons for Decline of Religion in US

Praying handsSteven Reiss, Huffington Post (15 Dec. 2015) - Religious participation is declining among Americans, even though religion is still very popular.
According to the latest Religious Landscape Study by the Pew Research Forum, the percentage of Americans who believe in God, attend religious services and pray daily has declined significantly during the last eight years, especially among adolescents. The drop in religious participation is larger among whites, and less among blacks. One group bucking the trend is political conservatives, who show no decline.
Psychologist Jean Twenge and her colleagues have cited a rise in narcissism and self-centeredness among young people, but in truth there are no hard data scientifically linking narcissism to the decline in religious participation.
Could something else be behind this important shift?

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Icelanders flocking to the Zuist religion

 An ancient Sumeran statue dating from around 2520 BC. The Sumeran mythology is thought to be one of the world's oldest religion, on which others are very much based.A new religion, Zuism, based on the worship of the ancient Sumeran gods promises a refund for government religion taxes for everyone registering with their religious group in Iceland.

On the Zuist website in Iceland it was advertised that anyone over the age of 16 registering with the religion (and thus unregistering from the National Church of Iceland) would get a refund for these fees called parish fees. However, tax authorities have responded to questions from news organizations explaining that if Zuists go ahead to refund parish fees to their members they will have to pay income tax from these funds.
Zuists would like to abolish government funding to religious organisations in the form of parish fees and believe that the "state should stop gathering data on the personal religious beliefs of Icelanders."

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Britain is no longer a Christian country and should stop acting as if it is, says judge

Anglican Church logoThe Telegraph (UK): A two-year commission, chaired by the former senior judge Baroness Butler-Sloss and involving leading religious leaders from all faiths, calls for public life in Britain to be systematically de-Christianised.
It says that the decline of churchgoing and the rise of Islam and other faiths mean a "new settlement" is needed for religion in the UK, giving more official influence to non-religious voices and those of non-Christian faiths.
The report provoked a furious row as it was condemned by Cabinet ministers as "seriously misguided" and the Church of England said it appeared to have been "hijacked" by humanists.
The report, by the Commission on Religion and Belief in Public Life, claims that faith schools are "socially divisive" and says that the selection of children on the basis of their beliefs should be phased out.

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All pupils at non-faith schools must study atheism, UK judge rules

BHA LogoLONDON, 25 Nov 2015 - All non-faith schools will be forced to teach non-religious views following a landmark judgment by the UK High Court that ruled the Education Secretary unlawfully excluded atheism from a new Religious Studies GCSE.
The decision was met with fierce opposition by religious groups which argued "humanistic ideas already dominate the rest of the curriculum", while teachers warned a slow official response might risk wasting valuable teaching time and resources.
The ruling was a victory for three families, supported by the British Humanist Association, who claimed Nicky Morgan had taken a "skewed" approach and was failing to reflect in schools the pluralistic nature of the UK.

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Masturbation & Porn Bigger Priority Than Planet & Poverty for US Bishops

By Patricia Miller, Religion Dispatches:

US Conference of Catholic Bishops (logo)

In another sign of just how far the agendas of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Pope Francis have diverged, it's worth noting that at their recently concluded fall plenary, the bishops signaled strongly about what's on their radar when the only formal pastoral statement they issued was about what they consider a pressing pastoral crisis—pornography.

The bishops couldn't be bothered to add either the environment or the plight of distressed peoples—whether they be refugees and immigrants or the poor—to their list of key priorities, despite the fact that they are a clear priority for Francis, and, therefore, the church. (Although they did work in some language about concern for the poor and immigrants.) And there was virtually no mention of growing economic inequality or the corrosive effects of unfettered capitalism. But pornography got a 22-page official pastoral statement.

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