Thursday, August 26, 2010

Yaran: Religious Freedom & Human Rights Event in Madison

Yaran: Religious Freedom & Human Rights Event in Madison

Seven Baha'is in Iran have been sentenced to 20-year jail terms for being
part of a national level administrative group that was seeing to the needs
of the 300,000-member Baha'i community.

Please join us for a special interfaith gathering in recognition of the
vital importance of religious freedom and human rights.
Tuesday ~ September 14, 2010 ~ 7:00 PM
Madison Baha'i Center, 324 West Lakeside Street
Madison, Wisconsin

(sent by Ellie Jacobi)

Baha'i World News Service
For more information, contact:

Global support intensifies for Iran's seven Baha'i leaders

GENEVA, 26 August (BWNS) – An increasing number of governments, human rights groups and prominent individuals are raising their voices against the harsh prison sentences handed down earlier this month to Iran's seven Baha'i leaders.

As lawyers for the prisoners prepare to appeal against the 20-year jail terms, the government of New Zealand has voiced its concern that the trial "was conducted in a manner that was neither fair nor transparent."

"New Zealand is dismayed that Iran has failed to uphold its international human rights commitments, and its own due legal processes in this case," said Foreign Minister Murray McCully.

"The sentences appear to be based wholly on the fact that these people are members of a minority religious group," said Mr. McCully, in a statement issued on 20 August.

"New Zealand calls on the Government of Iran to protect the fundamental rights of all its citizens, and to end its ongoing and systematic persecution of the Baha'i," he said.

The governments of Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, United Kingdom and United States of America - as well as the European Union and the President of the European Parliament - have already condemned the sentencing of the seven.

In the wake of calls from numerous international organizations for the prisoners to be released, groups focused specifically on human rights abuses in Iran – such as the Human Rights Activists News Agency and United4Iran – as well as Amnesty International, have now launched letter-writing campaigns encouraging supporters to call for justice for the seven. Prominent individuals, including British barrister Cherie Blair, have also been raising their voices in support of the Baha'i leaders.

Minority Rights Group International (MRG) - which campaigns on behalf of disadvantaged minorities and indigenous peoples - has expressed it deep concern over the lengthy sentences.

"Given that independent observers were not allowed to attend the trial, and the history of persecution that the Baha'i community has faced in Iran, the outcome will do nothing to encourage faith in the Iranian justice system," said Carl Soderbergh, MRG's Director of Policy and Communications.

"MRG calls on Iran to quash the convictions and release the defendants immediately," Mr. Soderbergh added.

Human rights campaigns

Before their arrest in 2008, the seven prisoners were all members of a national-level group known as the "Yaran" – or "Friends" – that helped to see to the minimum needs of Iran's 300,000-strong Baha'i community.

Among the human rights groups now calling for justice for the seven, the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) is asking people throughout the world to join a "We are Yaran" campaign of letter writing.

The HRANA draft letter states: "There is no evidence in support of the charges leveled against these Baha'is, and the ultimate judgment of imprisonment is unjust and insupportable."

United4Iran – a non-partisan global network promoting fundamental human and civil rights in Iran – is requesting that visitors to its website call attention to the plight of the prisoners, by sending email letters to world leaders and Iranian officials.

"Considering the advanced ages of several of these spiritual leaders, the IRI (Islamic Republic of Iran) has effectively dealt life sentences," says the group. A spokesperson for United4Iran said that, as of Wednesday, more than 1100 messages had been sent via the website link.

In the United States, Amnesty International is urging its members to write to the head of Iran's judiciary to protest the trial and sentencing.

Prominent individuals speak out

Noted British barrister Cherie Blair described the legal proceedings against the seven as a "sham trial" in an article published on Wednesday by The Guardian newspaper in the UK.

"During two years of incarceration, lawyers working with [Nobel laureate Shirin] Ebadi were granted less than two hours with their clients," wrote Ms. Blair. "They had only a few hours to examine the case files, comprising hundreds of pages. In the little time they were granted, they discovered the files were compiled by officials from the ministry of intelligence, despite Iranian law stipulating that such agents 'should not be entrusted with the investigation ... of the accused.'

"The catch-all charge of espionage exposes the reality behind the regime's cruel behaviour. Over the years, Baha'is have found themselves accused of being tools of Russian imperialism, British colonialism, American expansionism and most recently Zionism.

"But when we learn that Baha'is accused of spying for Israel are offered exoneration and the restoration of all the rights of citizenship if they will simply recant their faith, we can see such charges are totally baseless.

"The desecration of Baha'i cemeteries, the demolition of shrines and confiscation of Baha'i property are unlikely punishments for a band of spies.

"The truth behind this sentence is that it is an attempt to decapitate Iran's 300,000 strong Baha'i community. As members of Iran's biggest religious minority, they have suffered decades of discrimination, harassment and appalling treatment. Most recently, 50 Baha'i homes were razed in northern Iran, and we know of at least 47 other Baha'is currently imprisoned," wrote Ms. Blair.

The leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, the Archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, today called the 20-year jail terms for the Baha'i leaders "a most appalling transgression of justice and at heart a gross violation of the human right of freedom of belief."

"I unite myself in prayer for those of the Baha'i Faith who are suffering at this present time in Iran and also to the many other peoples of goodwill who are suffering for their faiths in other parts of the world," said Cardinal Keith Patrick O'Brien.

In a video statement posted on YouTube, the actor and comedian Omid Djalili said he was "very upset" by news of the prison sentences.

"The Baha'i Faith is a peaceful religion with a world embracing vision of unity for all people, of all faiths. It is a staunch defender of human rights. So the fact that these seven are held in prison as if they are perpetrators of the most heinous crimes is just ridiculous," said Mr. Djalili, whose clip received more than 8,000 views in its first few days.

"International outcry will continue"

The prisoners – Fariba Kamalabadi, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi, Saeid Rezaie, Mahvash Sabet, Behrouz Tavakkoli, and Vahid Tizfahm – denied all the allegations made against them which included espionage, propaganda against the Islamic republic and the establishment of an illegal administration. They are now incarcerated in Gohardasht prison in Karaj, some 20 kilometers west of Tehran.

"By all accounts, the charges against them were utterly baseless, and the trial itself was nothing but a charade," said Diane Ala'i, representative of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations in Geneva.

"For as long as they are held in prison, this international outcry will continue," said Ms. Alai.

To see the article images and links, go to:

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  • UK Study: Nonreligious Doctors Hasten Death More

    UK Study: Nonreligious Doctors Hasten Death More

    UK study: Nonreligious doctors twice as likely to hasten death of terminally
    ill patients
    The Associated Press

    By MARIA CHENG AP Medical Writer
    LONDON August 26, 2010 (AP)

    Doctors who are atheist or agnostic are twice as likely to make decisions
    that could end the lives of their terminally ill patients, compared to
    doctors who are very religious, according to a new study in Britain.

    Dr. Clive Seale, a professor at Barts and the London School of Medicine and
    Dentistry, conducted a random mail survey of more than 3,700 doctors across
    Britain, of whom 2,923 reported on how they took care of their last terminal

    Many of the doctors surveyed were neurologists, doctors specializing in the
    care of the elderly, and palliative care, though other specialists like
    family doctors, were also included.

    Doctors who described themselves as "extremely" or "very nonreligious" were
    nearly twice as likely to report having made decisions like providing
    continuous deep sedation, which could accelerate a patient's death.

    To ensure doctors are acting in accordance with their patients' wishes,
    Seale wrote that "nonreligious doctors should confess their predilections to
    their patients."

    Seale also found that doctors who were religious were much less likely to
    have talked about end of life treatment decisions with their patients.

    According to guidelines from the British Medical Association, doctors must
    not allow their religious beliefs to interfere with their treatment of

    "Whatever your personal beliefs may must be respectful of the
    patient's dignity and views," the association says.

    The guidelines also recommend that when patients are unable to communicate
    their wishes, doctors must not simply rely on their own values, but that
    they "should take all reasonable steps to maximize the patient's ability to
    participate in the decision-making process."

    The study was paid for by Britain's National Council for Palliative Care and
    was published online Thursday in the Journal of Medical Ethics.


  • Buy "Neighbors, Strangers and Everyone Else" a book by Rev John Brian Paprock
  • Monday, August 16, 2010

    Do Americans Change Faiths?

    Do Americans Change Faiths?

    August 16, 2010

    When author Anne Rice recently “quit Christianity” on her Facebook page, she lit up the blogosphere and sparked interest among media. Though the novelist announced that this time she was quitting “in the name of Christ,” her previous journey away from – and back to – the Christian faith had been well chronicled.

    Just how common is this type of experience for Americans? How many Americans change faiths? A multi-year study conducted by the Barna Group explores the percentage of Americans who report shifting to a different faith or significantly changing their faith views during their life.

    Changing Faith
    Anne Rice is not alone. She shares a spiritual profile with nearly 60 million other adults nationwide. In the Barna study, the matter of faith switching was explored in several ways. First, respondents identified their childhood faith, if any, and then were asked to list their current faith allegiance. A comparison of the two answers showed that nearly one-quarter of adults (23%) had moved from one faith or faith tradition to another. This definition of faith change included those who switched from Catholic to Protestant and vice versa, but did not include those who changed from one Protestant denomination to another within the Protestant tradition. Overall, an additional 12% of adults had shifted affiliations but had not altered their Protestant orientation.

    A second survey approach mirrored the findings of major faith change. Respondents to the same study were also asked if they had ever “changed to a different faith or significantly changed their faith views” or if they were “the same faith today as they were as a child.” Once again, about one-quarter of Americans (26%) said they had changed faith. Based on the research profile, these types of individuals were more likely than average to be women, divorced adults, residents of the Western states, atheists or agnostics, unchurched, and political independents.

    The most common type of spiritual shift was from those who were Christian, Protestant or Catholic in childhood to those who currently report being atheist, agnostic or some other faith. In total, this group represents about one out of every eight adults (12%), a category that might be described as ex-Christians.

    Converts to Christianity (those converting from another faith or from non-belief as a child to the Christian faith as an adult) represent 3% of the population. About twice as many (7%) moved from Protestant to Catholic or from Catholic to Protestant. Another 2% of adults were no longer the same as their childhood faith but did not fit into any of these three categories.

    Why People Change
    The survey also explored the top-of-mind reasons why people change faiths. The most common reasons for moving away from Christianity included life experiences, such as gaining new knowledge or education; feeling disillusioned with church and religion; feeling the church is hypocritical; having negative experiences in churches; being in disagreement with Christianity about specific issues such as homosexuality, abortion or birth control; feeling the church is too authoritarian; wanting to express their faith outside of church; and searching for a new faith or wanting to experience other religions.

    Among those who were shifting toward Christianity, the most common motivations were going through difficult life events (such as divorce, a health crisis or death of a loved one); getting older and seeing life differently; wanting to connect with a church and grow spiritually; discovering Christ; or wanting to know what was in the Bible.

    Age and Change
    Most of the people who have made these changes did so as a teenager or young adult. The study discovered that the median age at the time they changed faiths or significantly altered their faith perspective was 22.

    One-third of those who experienced a significant faith shift did so during their twenties and another one-third did so before age 20. In total, two-thirds of people who had a major faith change experienced that outcome before the age of 30 (68%). In fact, among respondents over 40, only 5% of them reported making a major shift in their religious affiliation after the age of 40.

    David Kinnaman, who directed the research, pointed out: “It is difficult for many faith leaders to relate fully to the spiritual lives of people who struggle with their faith, particularly those who are younger. Clergy are typically older than those going through significant questions about their faith and are less likely to have personally experienced a period of major faith re-orientation themselves. What’s more, not every person goes through a crisis of faith, so individuals who are going through spiritual transitions often go unnoticed. Staying in tune with people’s questions and doubts—at whatever age they occur—is an increasingly important part of being an influential faith leader.”

    Kinnaman, the president of Barna Group, also indicated that despite the fluctuations of faith among millions of Americans, “the study underscores that the spiritual allegiances of childhood are remarkably sustainable in our society. Nearly three out of every four American adults said they are the same religious faith today as they were during their childhood. That means the most common faith journey that people take is to form spiritual commitments as children and teenagers that typically last for the duration of their life.”

    About the Research (and more information about Barna Group) visit their web page


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