Friday, August 31, 2012

For inspirational songs, there's no place like hope

For inspirational songs, there's no place like hope
Article by: KIM ODE Star Tribune August 26, 2012

The next time you're seeking a source of inspiration, try singing
"Over the Rainbow." You know, um, the song that ends, "Why, oh why
can't I?"

Perception is a funny thing.
While the lyrics of the signature song from "The Wizard of Oz"
actually paint a mood of wistfulness wilting into despair, the
feelings perceived from Judy Garland's serenade to a place beyond the
clouds apparently are enough to make it No. 1 on a list of "Top 100
Most Inspiring Songs" as determined by Beliefnet.

Beliefnet, which describes itself as a multi-faith online resource for
inspiration and spirituality, compiled the list "as a guide for
individuals who seek encouragement and strength," according to a

Granted, Dorothy sort of flew over a rainbow, and even though she
awoke vowing never "to leave here ever, ever again" because there's no
place like ... Oh, gosh, the music swells and you just know there must
be a place where dreams really do come true.

•"What a Wonderful World," by Louis Armstrong
•"Lean on Me," by Bill Withers
•"Wind Beneath My Wings," by Bette Midler
•"Man in the Mirror," by Michael Jackson
•"We Are the Champions," by Queen
•"Greatest Love of All," by Whitney Houston
•"Imagine," by John Lennon
•"You Raise Me Up," by Josh Groban
•"One," by U2.

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  • Spirituality often enhances health regardless of a person's faith

    Spirituality often enhances health regardless of a person's faith
    Published on August 21, 2012 at 2:48 AM

    Despite differences in rituals and beliefs among the world's major
    religions, spirituality often enhances health regardless of a person's
    faith, according to University of Missouri researchers. The MU
    researchers believe that health care providers could take advantage of
    this correlation between health - particularly mental health - and
    spirituality by tailoring treatments and rehabilitation programs to
    accommodate an individual's spiritual inclinations.

    "In many ways, the results of our study support the idea that
    spirituality functions as a personality trait," said Dan Cohen,
    assistant teaching professor of religious studies at MU and one of the
    co-authors of the study. "With increased spirituality people reduce
    their sense of self and feel a greater sense of oneness and
    connectedness with the rest of the universe. What was interesting was
    that frequency of participation in religious activities or the
    perceived degree of congregational support was not found to be
    significant in the relationships between personality, spirituality,
    religion and health."

    The MU study used the results of three surveys to determine if
    correlations existed among participants' self-reported mental and
    physical health, personality factors, and spirituality in Buddhists,
    Muslims, Jews, Catholics and Protestants. Across all five faiths, a
    greater degree of spirituality was related to better mental health,
    specifically lower levels of neuroticism and greater extraversion.
    Forgiveness was the only spiritual trait predictive of mental health
    after personality variables were considered.

    "Our prior research shows that the mental health of people recovering
    from different medical conditions, such as cancer, stroke, spinal cord
    injury and traumatic brain injury, appears to be related significantly
    to positive spiritual beliefs and especially congregational support
    and spiritual interventions," said Cohen. "Spiritual beliefs may be a
    coping device to help individuals deal emotionally with stress."

    Cohen believes spirituality may help people's mental health by
    reducing their self-centeredness and developing their sense of
    belonging to a larger whole. Many different faith traditions encourage
    spirituality though they use different names for the process. A
    Christian monk wouldn't say he had attained Nirvana, nor would a
    Buddhist monk say he had communed with Jesus Christ, but they may well
    be referring to similar phenomena.

    "Health workers may also benefit from learning how to minimize the
    negative side of a patient's spirituality, which may manifest itself
    in the tendency to view misfortune as a divine curse." As the authors
    note, spiritual interventions such as religious-based counseling,
    meditation, and forgiveness protocols may enhance spiritually-based
    beliefs, practices, and coping strategies in positive ways.

    The benefits of a more spiritual personality may go beyond an
    individual's mental health. Cohen believes that the selflessness that
    comes with spirituality enhances characteristics that are important
    for fostering a global society based on the virtues of peace and

    Source: University of Missouri-Columbia

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  • U.S. religious liberty feeling the weight of so many faiths

    Saturday, Aug. 18, 2012
    U.S. religious liberty feeling the weight of so many faiths
    The Washington Post

    WASHINGTON — In the United States, Muslim women trying to maintain
    modesty should get female-only hours at the public pool, right?

    What about Wicca troops who want a chaplain of their own, even if
    there are only a few thousand of them in the military?

    And Catholic business owners who believe that contraception is killing
    — should they have to provide it to employees, now that the health
    care law requires that workers get it?

    The debate over whether religious freedom is being threatened seems to
    have hit an apex, with the Catholic Church launching its biggest
    campaign in a generation against the contraception mandate. Even the
    presidential campaign is mixing it up; Mitt Romney's latest ad asks,
    "When religious freedom is threatened, who do you want to stand with?"

    But the real question is: What does religious freedom look like? As
    America gets more religiously diverse, the concept is becoming harder
    to define.

    The bishops poured resources into their "Fortnight for Freedom"
    effort, which warned that Americans' liberty to practice religion is
    at risk. It featured overflow mega-Masses with special prayers for the
    protection of religious liberty. A slew of lawsuits are pitting the
    president against some of the most prominent Catholic institutions in
    the nation.

    What do we mean when we talk about the freedom to practice religion in
    America? Who gets to define it? And when should religious liberty
    yield to other values?

    Muslim cabdrivers are refusing to carry alcohol in their vehicles.
    Some Christian bed-and-breakfast owners won't host honeymooning
    same-sex couples. And before America got a crash course in their
    beliefs after the recent shooting in Wisconsin, turban-wearing Sikhs
    have been fighting extra screening at airports.

    America has no road map out of this conflict. No vibrant democracy in
    history has had our level of religious pluralism or piety. We're on
    our own to figure out how to protect it. And the only thing people in
    the booming field of religious-liberty law seem to agree on is that
    Americans can expect more fighting.

    "I think now, as diversity is increasing, as secularists and other
    agendas move forward, we'll see that traditional base call out for
    more and more accommodations to respect their beliefs," said Hannah
    Smith, a senior counsel with the Becket Fund, one of the leading
    religious-liberty law firms.

    It's been an angry summer, particularly for religious conservatives.
    Catholic bishops have focused on the Obama administration's new health
    care law and its mandate that insurance companies provide
    contraceptives to subscribers at no cost. And on same-sex marriage,
    the once-neutral chicken sandwich has become a new rallying cry for

    When the bishops and their religious-conservative allies say their
    place in society is under assault, they have a point. Traditional
    Judeo-Christian beliefs about gender, sex, reproduction and marriage
    were for centuries treated as the norm, but consensus has since
    crumbled, not only in secular culture but in religious communities as
    well. Those beliefs — and the right to practice them in your life by
    what you wear, what you say at work, whom you hire and what kind of
    health care you have — are colliding with other, newly accepted
    beliefs and rights.

    There are new state laws requiring adoption agencies and foster-care
    providers to consider same-sex parents. Two years ago, the Supreme
    Court ruled that a Christian law school group in California couldn't
    ban gay students. Missouri voters just passed a sweeping "right to
    pray" ballot measure, which guarantees that residents can express
    their religious beliefs in public places, including students who want
    to opt out of class activities that violate their beliefs. The
    measure's critics have said that religious freedom is already
    protected and that the law will create endless litigation, but
    supporters say it's needed to protect views such as creationism and
    opposition to gay equality.

    Another major driver of tension has been, ironically, a generation of
    anti-discrimination measures. There are dozens of new protected
    classes, which can lead to conflict. If it's illegal in Texas to
    discriminate in employment against someone who is pregnant, can a
    Baptist school fire an unmarried teacher because she violated the
    faith? Can a married Catholic school teacher in Indiana claim
    disability discrimination for infertility after she was fired for
    using in vitro fertilization, also against church teaching?

    Major court decisions point in all different directions. The Supreme
    Court in 1990 ruled that Oregon could deny unemployment benefits to a
    Native American fired for using peyote, even though his faith includes
    it in prayer ceremonies. And this year the high court said that
    churches are generally exempt from employee discrimination claims if a
    worker's position has any religious component. The case centered on a
    parochial school teacher who was fired after she threatened to take an
    employment dispute to court, rather than resolve it within the
    community, as doctrine requires.

    Perhaps nothing has created more tension over religious freedom than
    something that was created to boost it: much-expanded partnerships
    between the government and faith-based groups.

    Court decisions in the 1990s made it easier for public money to flow
    to religious institutions — specifically, to religious schools in the
    form of vouchers and to overtly sectarian groups that provide social
    services such as anti-addiction programs or housing assistance.

    In an era of bigger government, faith-based groups argue that they
    need to be part of the social services being provided — with no major
    strings attached. That may mean a Christian group being able to hang a
    cross on the wall at a government-funded drug-addiction treatment
    office. Or not being forced to hire people of another religion at a
    government-funded disaster aid organization.

    If the government gives a Catholic group a grant and exempts it from
    some federal requirements, such as giving women access to
    contraception, is that a win for religion? Or is it a loss, since some
    might think that the government preferred one faith group over

    The Mormon Church's decision to ban polygamy in 1890, allowing Utah to
    join the United States, is seen today as a victory for mainstream
    values over an unpopular religious practice. But last year, when a
    ballot measure was proposed in California to ban male circumcision, it
    was clobbered as a violation of religious liberty.

    John Whitehead has as good a bird's eye view on this as anyone. When
    he launched a career as a religious-freedom lawyer in the late 1970s,
    he and the ACLU were practically the only people in the business. A
    conservative evangelical, Whitehead had a portfolio largely consisting
    of defending anti-abortion protesters tossed off sidewalks.

    Today, his Rutherford Institute in Charlottesville, Virginia,., is
    considered the model for half a dozen religious-freedom firms, and
    business is jumping.

    Whitehead has made a living off the subject but has come to this
    conclusion: "You can get 10 different groups in the room, and they
    will disagree about what religious liberty is."

    Michelle Boorstein is a religion reporter for The Washington Post.

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  • Sunday, August 12, 2012

    'Sikhs are not Muslims' sends a sinister Message


    This article raises important issues in interfaith dialogue



     ----- Original Message -----

    From: Shiban


    'Sikhs are not Muslims' sends a sinister message

    Such declarations by the news media and others has an insidious subtext: that there's something wrong with being a Muslim in America.

    By Scott C. Alexander

    August 10, 2012


    Almost from the beginning of their coverage of the horrific and deadly shooting at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin, CNN and other news media went out of their way to send a message to the American public: "Sikhs are not Muslims."

    But what were we to make of that message? If the temple's members had been Muslims, would the attack have then been justified?

    We say we don't endorse prejudice against one group or another, but for some reason we also want to make sure people know who the "we" and the "they" really are. CNN would probably say it was simply trying to clear up a common misunderstanding that, in this case, may have been shared by the gunman himself. Fair enough. The assertion that Sikhs are not Muslims is certainly true. Jains are not Hindus, and Mormons are not Methodists either.

    But in the post-9/11context of a deadly act committed by an apparent white supremacist against a congregation that is largely ethnically South Asian — a congregation that includes bearded men in turbans — broadcasting the mantra that "Sikhs are not Muslims" takes on a far more insidious subtext: Don't blame these people, it implies, for the unspeakable crimes of 9/11. It's Muslims you want.

    The media aren't alone in conveying, however unintentionally, this sinister message. When Barack Obamawas running for president in 2008, he responded to the inaccurate but surprisingly persistent assertion that he was a Muslim with this statement in a 2008 debate: "The facts are I am Christian. I have been sworn in [as a U.S. senator] with a Bible."

    As president, Obama has made an effort to stress how important Muslims are to the fabric of U.S. society and has praised the enormous contributions made by Islamic civilization to human history. Still, his behavior as a candidate was disappointing. When "accused" of being a Muslim, he didn't challenge the darker assumptions behind the assertion. He simply tried to distance himself from Muslims. His campaign also made sure there were no photo-ops in mosques and no women in hijab as part of the diversity tableau that served as a backdrop to his stump speeches.

    John McCain got into the act when attempting a noble defense of his opponent in the 2008 race. At a Republican rally late in the campaign, a woman said she couldn't trust Obama because "he's an Arab." McCain objected: "No, ma'am; no, ma'am. He's a … decent family man, [a] citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues." It was a defense that undoubtedly left many Arab Americans (as well as Arabs around the world) horrified by the implication that Arab men must be, therefore, indecent and un-American.

    At the height of the accusations that Obama was a closet Muslim, the only public figure I saw get it right was former Secretary of StateColin L. Powell, the first black man ever to hold that office. In his famous"Meet the Press"appearance on Oct. 19, 2008, Powell, like others, condemned the "false intimations" that Obama was a Muslim. But he then went on to say: "But really the right answer is, what if he is [a Muslim]? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer's 'No; that's not America.'"

    It's time for all of us — Democrats and Republicans, "tea partyers" and Occupiers, conservative evangelicals and progressive Episcopalians, Latinos, blacks, Asians and whites alike — to take the kind of wise and principled stand that Powell took. We need to insist with one voice that American Muslims are not a "they" to be demonized but a treasured part of who "we" are as a people, and that the demonization of any minority group runs contrary to the spirit of this great country. In fact, we need to go even further and declare that Muslims the world over are an important and vital part of the one human family, with whom the rest of this same family needs to partner and build relationships of trust for the sake of us all.

    If presidential candidates and television networks have trouble understanding these basic concepts, then there is obviously much work that has to be done.

    We can begin by taking a good hard look at the groups to which we belong and by inviting "outsiders" to help us see the ways in which any aspect of the religious or civic identities we espouse urge us to reject entire groups of "others." As we do this, we need to embrace the truth that hatred can never be the touchstone of authentic faith or authentic patriotism.

    For as tragedies such as 9/11 and Oak Creek remind us, hatred of any kind is nothing less than a profound betrayal of both God and country.


    Scott C. Alexander is an associate professor of Islamic studies and director of Catholic-Muslim studies at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.




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  • Thursday, August 09, 2012

    Public Invited to Hindu Temple Prayer Vigil Tonight (Thursday)

    From: Tom Heinen
    Dear Interfaith Conference Friends:
         The Hindu Temple of Wisconsin  [see below] , which has worked closely with the Interfaith Conference for many years, is inviting the public to a prayer vigil from 7 to 8 p.m. tonight in support of the victims of the Sikh Temple shooting.  The Hindu temple is in Pewaukee at N4063-W243 Pewaukee Road. Pewaukee Road is also Highway 164 at that point.  The simplest explanation is that, for those of you coming on I-94, take the Highway 164 exit for Pewaukee (Exit #294) and head north for about 2 to 2.5 miles. Cross Capitol Drive and keep heading north for about a half mile. The temple sign and entrance will be on your right.
         Dr. Lakshmi Bharadwaj, the Hindu temple’s Interfaith representative, included the following information in an e-mail to me:
           “Like the rest of us, the Hindu community has been deeply touched by the horrible act of violence committed on innocent and peaceful worshipers at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek. To stand in solidarity with their Sikh brothers and sisters, the Hindu Temple is holding a Prayer Vigil on Thursday from 7 to 8 PM.  In addition to the Chief Minister from Punjab, India, we are also expecting the Consul General of India and other dignitaries to participate in the prayer vigil. I am forwarding a copy of the announcement to you as an attachment to this e-mail. The temple is also collecting donations for the victims of this carnage and their families. Take care, Lakshmi”
    If you have any questions, you may call our office or reach me on my cell phone at 414-758-8985.
    Tom Heinen

       Tom Heinen, Executive Director
       5409 W. Vliet Street
       Milwaukee, WI 53208
       (414) 276-9050


    Prayer Vigil at the Hindu Temple of Wisconsin on Thursday, August 9, 2012 from 7 PM to 8 PM in Support of the Victims of the Carnage at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek

     The terrible tragedy at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek has touched us all very deeply and in many personal ways.   On behalf of our community and the Hindu Temple of Wisconsin our thoughts and prayers have gone out to the victims of this horrendous crime and to the officer who risked his life to protect them.  We have come forward and joined the other faith communities in large numbers in offering our heartfelt prayers for the victims of this tragedy and in participating in the peace vigil at the Sikh Temple in Brookfield.    

    To stand in solidarity with our Sikh brothers and sisters, and to collectively mourn and share the great pain and loss of the Sikh community and the affected families, The Hindu Temple of Wisconsin will be holding a Prayer Vigil this coming Thursday night.  Please join us on Thursday, Aug 9th from 7:00 PM - 8.00 PM. at the Hindu Temple of Wisconsin, Pewaukee to offer our sincere prayers and support for the victims and the families of those impacted by the awful tragedy at the Sikh Temple.  The Honorable Chief Minister of the Indian state of Punjab will also be participating in tomorrow’s prayer meeting at the Hindu Temple.

    The Hindu Temple is opening a PayPal connection for funds on behalf of the Hindu Temple and of all the Indian religious and community organizations in the area in support of the victim’s families. Personal contributions from community members as well as this week’s collections from the Hindu Temple cafeteria will be donated to the Sikh Temple. We invite your generous participation in this most worthy cause and expression of our genuine compassion and solidarity with the Sikh community.  Directions and details regarding the prayer vigil and for making a donation are given on the Hindu Temple website and its link at:

     Please do not hesitate to contact any of the board members or myself if you have any concerns or questions.


    Anand Adavi
    President, HTW

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  • Wednesday, August 08, 2012

    Beliefnet Announces Top 100 Most Inspiring Songs

    Beliefnet Announces Top 100 Most Inspiring Songs
    People Find Inspiration through Popular Top Hits

    (PRWEB) August 06, 2012
    Music acts as a conduit for different purposes but most notably as a
    source of inspiration. Beliefnet, the comprehensive multi-faith online
    resource for inspiration and spirituality, recently released its list
    of top 100 inspiring songs, based on data gathered by its writers and

    No.1 on the list is "Somewhere over the Rainbow" by Judy Garland,
    which obtained notoriety from the cult classic, The Wizard of Oz. The
    list touches on all genres, from acclaimed pop hits like Bill Wither's
    "Lean on Me" or Mariah Carey's "Hero" to classic rock's "We Are the
    Champions" by Queen and country artist Tim McGraw's "Live Like You
    Were Dying".

    "Music is one of the most influential tools in our society," said
    Beliefnet President and CEO Steve Halliday. "This list acts a as a
    source for upbeat, positive songs that reflect good-natured
    inspiration and helps people who need the strength to overcome

    The top ten songs, in order, are:

    1. "Somewhere over the Rainbow" by Judy Garland

    2. "What a Wonderful World" by Louis Armstrong

    3. "Lean on Me" by Bill Withers

    4. "Wind Beneath My Wings" by Bette Midler

    5. "Man in the Mirror" by Michael Jackson

    6. "We Are the Champions" by Queen

    7. "Greatest Love of All" by Whitney Houston

    8. 'Imagine" by John Lennon

    9. "You Raise Me Up" by Josh Groban

    10. "One" by U2
    A complete listing of the top 100 most inspirational songs will be
    released in increments over the next several weeks at

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  • Interfaith Conference Sikh Shooting Update

    From: Tom Heinen  
     Sent: Wednesday, August 08, 2012 5:15 PM

    Dear Interfaith Conference Friends:


        We have been very busy since the tragic shootings at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek. Here is a brief update.


    n       With the endorsement of Sikh leaders, we are collecting donations for the victims and their families, including the wounded Oak Creek police officer. We will give the money to authorized Sikh temple leaders, who will distribute it responsibly. You can donate online with us at or at the Sikh community website,

    n       We have begun inviting people to share condolences, prayers, thoughts and comments on our website at for people to read there and for us to collect and share with the Sikh community.

    n       We have been in communication with Sikh leaders regarding the holding of an interfaith prayer service that would be meaningful to the Sikh community. Our goal is to include them deeply in the planning and presentation of such a service, even if that means an undetermined delay. We are awaiting further word from them.

    n       The Sikh leaders and their people understandably are both grieving and busy. There has been little time available for discussion, with both temples holding separate Sikh prayer services/vigils, and with the community visitation and funerals starting this Friday from 9 to 11 a.m. at Oak Creek High School.

    n       In the meantime, I and others from the Interfaith Conference Cabinet and our supporters have attended some of the formal and spontaneous prayer services that have arisen, including the Sikh temple services. We have conveyed the interfaith community’s deep-felt condolences and support, and the Sikhs with whom we have communicated have been very appreciative.

    n      We have had a presence in the news media. The statement that we issued on the day of the shooting (posted on our website, at was excerpted by Journal Sentinel religion reporter Annysa Johnson as the conclusion of her story on Monday. The Rev. Jean Dow, chair of our Cabinet, was quoted in Annysa’s story on Tuesday. I was the guest on Kathleen Dunn’s Wisconsin Public Radio show for half an hour on Monday, and Dr. Swarnjit Arora, the longtime Sikh representative on the Interfaith Conference’s Milwaukee Association for Interfaith Relations, was her guest for a full hour on Tuesday. Both programs are archived at   I have fielded questions from a variety of other news media.

    n       I will alert to other developments as they occur.  


    Thank you all for your interest in the Interfaith Conference and for your continuing support.




    Tom Heinen



       Tom Heinen, Executive Director

       5409 W. Vliet Street

       Milwaukee, WI 53208

       (414) 276-9050





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  • Public visitation for slain Sikhs and Friday event

    From: Selena Fox

    Subject: Public visitation for slain Sikhs
    Here is latest info:

    Subject: Slain Sikh event Friday 9-11am

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  • Tuesday, August 07, 2012

    Sikh Support Vigils tonight, Tuesday, August 7 in Madison & Milwaukee

    Two vigils are being held tonightTuesday, August 7, in support of the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin Community of Oak Creek.  All are welcome at these events - below is an excerpt from email I just got from one of the Sikhs I have been in touch with by email today.


    The Madison vigil ceremony is tonight at 7pm at the Madison/Middleton Gurdwara (Sikh Temple). The address is 6970 Century Ave, Middleton. 

    Also tonight, following Oak Creek's "National Night Out" at 8:30pm, a procession to Henry Miller Park will occur, where the vigil will be held.  

    All are welcome at both of these events.

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  • Monday, August 06, 2012

    Reference to Shooting in Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, WI


    From: American Hindu Association -AHA

    Sent: 08/07/12 12:40 AM


    Dear AHA Devotees,

    American Hindu Association, on behalf of its Devotees and patrons, expresses deep sorrow and regret at the senseless killing of innocent worshipers at the Gurdwara ( Sikh Temple ) in Oak Creek , Wisconsin .  We are deeply saddened by the incident and our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who were diseased and injured during this incidence.

    Sikh's are our brethren and our family members and we stand with them in this difficult time.  Since times Sikhs have demonstrated their bravery and loyalty and remain a peace loving community. 

    We look forward to the opportunity to work with the Sikh communities in our neighborhood to initiate grassroots efforts to educate the broader American communities and more importantly to make an attempt to wipe out such hate and crime and to maintain sanctity of our religious establishments.

    AHA Board, Trustees and  Devotees.


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  • ELCA presiding bishop expresses sympathy to the U.S. Sikh community


    August 6, 2012

    ELCA presiding bishop expresses sympathy to the U.S. Sikh community

    CHICAGO (ELCA) -- On behalf of the 4.2 million-member Evangelical
    Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding
    bishop, expressed sympathy, love, solidarity and prayers in an Aug. 6 letter
    to the American region of the World Sikh Council in response to the Aug. 5
    shooting at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis.
    The tragedy there "has touched our lives deeply with sadness and
    concern," Hanson wrote. "Violence has entered into our lives and world in
    too many places. The actions of individuals in recent weeks have brought a
    dark cloud over our nation and lives."
    Committed to building bridges of understanding and relationships,
    Hanson wrote that the ELCA would welcome an active dialogue with Sikh and
    other religious leaders "in order to help those in our country and world to
    gain respect, love and understanding about one another."
    "There is so much ignorance of religions, cultures and people, and too
    often those in the minority bear the heaviest burdens in our shared
    society," he wrote. "We believe that love of God and love of neighbor is
    what is needed in our communities and in our country, and we extend
    ourselves to you brothers and sisters -- as children of God."
    Hanson said prayers will be offered in the days ahead for the victims,
    families, neighbors in Wisconsin, the Sikh community and for those who turn
    to violence.
    About the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America:
    The ELCA is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States,
    with 4.2 million members in 10,000 congregations across the 50 states and in
    the Caribbean region. Known as the church of "God's work.
    Our hands," the ELCA emphasizes the saving grace of God through faith in
    Jesus Christ, unity among Christians and service in the world. The ELCA's
    roots are in the writings of the German church reformer, Martin Luther.

    For information contact:
    Melissa Ramirez Cooper
    773-380-2956 or
    Facebook: Living Lutheran:

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  • Fwd: Sikh Temple shooting and next steps for your congregation

    From: Wisconsin Council of Churches <>
    Date: Mon, Aug 6, 2012 at 10:11 AM
    Subject: Sikh Temple shooting and next steps for your congregation

    Having trouble viewing this email? Click here
    Wisconsin Council of ChurchesAugust 6, 2012

    WCC Calls for Statewide Day of Prayer for the  
    Sikh Community August 12

    In the wake of the tragic shootings at the Sikh temple in Oak Creek, the Wisconsin Council of Churches is calling for Day of Prayer for the Sikh Community in Christian congregations throughout the state next Sunday, August 13.   

    Our hope is that next Sunday will provide an opportunity for Christians to pray for the victims, their families, and for the Sikh community, which has experienced much tragedy and hardship in this country since the Sept. 11 attacks (Sikhs are at times mistaken for Muslims).  We also hope next Sunday will be an occasion for Christians in Wisconsin to learn more about the Sikh religion (   There are approximately 3,000 Sikhs in the greater Milwaukee area and over 700,000 nationwide.   We know there are Sikh Temples in Oak Creek, Brookfield, Madison and Menasha, and there are no doubt smaller communities elsewhere in the state.
    In the coming days and weeks there will be opportunities for Christians to stand in solidarity with the Sikh community.  Two vigils were held last night, in Madison and Milwaukee, and more are planned.  The WCC will assist in getting the word out as local events and other occasions for support are announced.

    We join with Rev Betsy Miller, President Provincial Elders' Conference at Moravian Church Northern Province, who issued the following statement Sunday evening:

    On behalf of the wider Moravian Church, we pray for the victims of violence against worshippers at a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. We pray for peace and calm in the midst of heated tensions, for the family members of those who were killed, including the perpetrator. Lord, in your mercy, bring healing to the religions of your world. We pray for a spirit of respect, that we may honor all people as beloved children of the living God.

    Rev. Scott Anderson
    Executive Director
    Wisconsin Council of Churches

    Wisconsin Council of Churches
    750 Windsor St #301
    Sun Prairie, Wisconsin 53532

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  • Sunday, August 05, 2012

    FW: Milwaukee Massacre

    From: alex   patico 
    Sent: Sunday, August 05, 2012 7:51 PM


    August 5, 20012

    Contact persons:
    Dr. Shaik Sayeed (414) 324-9105
    Dr. Shaik Ubaid    (516) 567-0783


    Indian Minorities Advocacy Network (ImanNet) and Muslim Peace Coalition USA ( have condemned the heinous terrorist attack on Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, WI and the cold-blooded massacre of innocent worshipers.

    According to initial reports a white gunman shot thirty worshipers in the Sikh temple killing six people. The victims include one police officer who valiantly shot the gunman down in spite of himself being gravely wounded himself.

    Dr. Shaik Ubaid, a founding member of both advocacy organizations, ImanNet and MPC-USA, have expressed his heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims. He has urged the Muslims to hold special prayer services in this holy month of Ramadan for the victims of the massacre.  He has urged mosques and temples to ask for extra police protection and to put security measures in place.

    Dr. Ubaid said "The campaign of hatemongering against the religious minorities and immigrants that is being supported by some mainstream politicians has endangered all Americans.  Some Hindu extremist groups in the US have joined hands with other Islamophobic hate-peddlers. They should now realize that the hate that they are spreading endangers all South Asians irrespective of their religious backgrounds and will not be limited to hatred against Muslims. Attacks on Muslims and Sikhs are on the rise in the US as a consequence of hate propaganda.The first person who was killed after 9/11 was a Sikh who was mistaken for a Muslim."

    ImanNet also announced that it will redouble the efforts to mobilize the inter-faith groups and coalitions to counter hate mongering at the grassroots level in cities and towns across the US. They had launched this campaign with Burma Task Force to increase awareness about the religiously sanctioned ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims going on in Myanmar (Burma) and to urge the Buddhist leadership in the US to take a more high profile stand. The campaign will now incorporate the hate mongering going on in the US.

    Statement from the World Sikh Council:

    The World Sikh Council - America Region (WSC-AR) is shocked and deeply saddened by the senseless shooting which occurred earlier today at the Sikh Gurdwara of Wisconsin in Oak Creek near Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It has been reported that a suspect opened fire on a weekly congregation of the Sikhs while a reading of the Sikh scripture was in progress. Current reports say that there are 7 deaths, including an assailant, and many injured. One brave police officer was also one of those injured.
    WSC-AR offers its condolences and support to the victims, their families, the law enforcement agencies (especially the police officer shot in the line of duty) and the surrounding community. This is a troubling day, not only for Sikh-Americans, but also for all Americans.
    In the coming days, along with Sikh advocacy organizations, we will be working with public officials, and law enforcement authorities, to understand the events of today and to help the community in whatever way we can. The Council will also be providing support mediums for our interreligious partners and the public as we sort out this situation. This shooting comes on the heels of another tragedy, as our country continues to recover from the senseless shootings in Aurora, Colorado.
    We urge all to pray for the victims, their families and friends, and the surrounding community. We also express our gratitude towards the law enforcement authorities for their prompt and effective response to the situation as it unfolded. We offer our appreciation for the bravery of the police officer shot, offer condolences, and pray that he will recover fully soon. As we learn more about the situation, we will keep the public updated and informed. We thank you for your patience and prayers during these difficult times.
    The World Sikh Council - America Region (WSC-AR) is the umbrella organization representative of Sikhs in the United States. It is an elected body of Sikh Gurdwaras and institutions. Currently 47 Gurdwaras and other Sikh institutions across the nation are members of WSC-AR. The major governing purpose of the organization is to represent the collective view of Sikhs in the United States. WSC-AR works to promote Sikh interests at the national and international level focusing on issues of advocacy, education, and well-being of humankind.

    Statement from the Maine Council of Churches:

    "As people of faith we deplore and lament such senseless acts of violence and terror.  When these incidents occur against a community of people, worshipping peacefully, there is an extra element of grief and outrage.  Our prayers are with our Sikh brothers and sisters in Wisconsin and across the country, with all the victims and their families."

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  • American Muslims Stand with Sikhs After Wis. Shootings


    From: CAIR []
    Sent: Sunday, August 05, 2012 3:15 PM


    CAIR: American Muslims Stand with Sikhs After Wis. Shootings
    Houses of worship urged to review advice in CAIR community safety kit

    (WASHINGTON, D.C., 8/5/12) -- The Council on American-Islamic Relations
    (CAIR) said today that American Muslims "stand with their Sikh brothers and
    sisters" following a deadly shooting attack targeting a house of worship of
    that faith this morning in Wisconsin.

    SEE: Gunman, Six Others Dead at Wisconsin Sikh Temple


    In a statement, the Washington-based Muslim civil rights organization said:

    "While details of the attack and the motivation of the attacker are still
    emerging, American Muslims stand with their Sikh brothers and sisters in
    this time of crisis and loss. We condemn this senseless act of violence,
    pray for those who were killed or injured and offer sincere condolences to
    their loved ones."

    CAIR officials are in contact with the Milwaukee Muslim community as it
    offers support to its Sikh neighbors.

    Because of this and other violent incidents, CAIR is urging mosques and
    houses of worship of all faiths nationwide to review advice on security
    procedures contained in its "Muslim Community Safety Kit."

    SEE: Muslim Community Safety Kit


    CAIR: Mosque Attacks Common Nationwide


    CAIR has in the past spoken out against bias-motivated attacks on American
    Sikhs. [NOTE: Sikh men who wear beards and turbans as part of their faith
    are often targeted by bigots who mistake them for Muslims.]

    Last year, CAIR offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to the
    arrest and conviction of the individual or individuals who gunned down two
    elderly Sikh men in Elk Grove, Calif.

    SEE: Muslim Civil Rights Group Offers Reward for Info on Gunman in Deadly



    CAIR: Muslim Organization Offers Reward


    In 2010, CAIR called for an FBI investigation of an attack on a Sikh cab
    driver in West Sacramento, Calif. The driver said his passengers made
    anti-Muslim remarks during the attack. Two men were later arrested on
    charges of felony assault and commission of a hate crime.

    CAIR is America's largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization.
    Its mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue,
    protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that
    promote justice and mutual understanding.

    - END -

    CONTACT: CAIR National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper, 202-744-7726,; CAIR Communications Manager Amina Rubin,
    202-488-8787, 202-341-4171, E-Mail:

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  • RFPUSA's Response to the Heinous Murders at Wisconsin Gurdwara


    From: Religions for Peace-USA
    Sent: Sunday, August 05, 2012 4:13 PM

    Religions Working for Peace and Justice

    Dear Esteemed Religions for Peace USA Colleagues:

    Warm greetings to you under sad circumstances.

    Please find below an early statement which I offer on behalf of the greater
    Religions for Peace family in response to the heinous murders early on
    Sunday morning, August 5 in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.

    Details and the motivations of the individual(s) responsible for this
    incident are not yet known. Yet our message of support and solidarity is
    immediate and strong.


    Rev Bud Heckman,

    Secretary General , Religions for Peace USA
    Statement of the Secretary General

    Religions for Peace USA

    Concerning the Heinous Murders at Sikh Temple of Wisconsin

    August 5, 2012

    On the morning of Sunday, August 5, an assailant entered the Sikh Temple of
    Wisconsin in the southern Milwaukee suburb of Oak Creek and killed six
    innocent congregants and wounded at least three others. The assailant was
    put down, but not before badly wounding a responding police officer.

    These are reprehensible acts of violence and must be condemned in the
    strongest terms possible. There is no justification for these acts. This
    is especially so in a place of holy worship and amongst innocent and unarmed

    Our heartfelt condolences are extended to the affected families and
    congregation and the wider Sikh community.

    The Sikh gurdwara (temple), which enjoys a congregation of approximately 400
    participants, was occupied at the time, including many women and children.
    Temple member Harpbreet Singh said that every Sunday morning there is a
    peaceful service for families of the gurdwara at the same time as this

    Sikhism is the fifth largest religion in the world with a population of
    upwards of 30 million worldwide. There are an estimated 500,000 Sikhs in the
    United States. The Washington-based Sikh Coalition has reported more than
    700 incidents of bias attacks against Sikhs in the U.S. since 9/11.

    The leadership of Religions for Peace USA, which is comprised of senior
    representatives of more than 60 US religious communities, offers our
    heartfelt condolences and pledges of support to the leadership and families
    of the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, the wider Sikh community, and all those
    affected by this tragedy. The Sikh Temple of Wisconsin is affiliated with
    the World Sikh Council - America Region, an active and leading member body
    of Religions for Peace USA.

    Representatives from a vast array of religious communities - Buddhist,
    Christian, Hindu, Jain, Jewish, Muslim, Native American, Shinto, Sikh,
    Unitarian Universalist, and Zoroastrian - who compromise Religions for Peace
    in the United States and beyond stand in steadfast solidarity with their
    Sikh colleagues and the people of faith and goodwill who were the victims of
    these heinous attacks.

    Religions for Peace USA is part of the world's largest interreligious
    organization - Religions for Peace, which has a presence in over 90
    countries around the globe and which has a respected track record of more
    than four decades working to transform conflict and end violence.

    Thanks to a generous foundation partnership, Religions for Peace USA's
    central work during 2012-14 is the development of a long-term, multi-party,
    collective impact approach to combating religious discrimination. Religions
    for Peace USA recommits itself to a path of education, outreach, and
    compassion in the face of such intolerance and violence.

    Messages of condolence and solidarity should be sent to:

    Sikh Temple of Wisconsin
    441 E. Lincoln Avenue
    Milwaukee, WI 53207.

    Religions for Peace - USA
    777 United Nations Plaza
    9th Floor New York, NY 10017
    Tel: 212.338.9140 | Fax: 212.983.0566
    Web: | Email:

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  • Saturday, August 04, 2012


    From: Anne Wynne
    Dear Friends, 
    We are beginning to make plans for Interfaith Awareness Week 2012. We will not meet in August. 
    Our next Committe meeting will be Thursday, Setember 13th at 6pm at Perkins on University Ave near Witney Way.   
    We look forward to seeing you then. 
    Below is some information about Interfaith Awareness Week at the Capitol this year.
    Capitol Use Permit for displays for the weekdays of December 3-7, 2012 - noon program Wednesday, December 5, 2012!
    There is now a cost for using Capitol equipment:
    Capitol Bldg Tables will be $35 per table for the week (but you can bring your own) 
    Chairs $1 per chair  - we ordered 50 this year 
    PA system  is $42.50 
    Contributions to cover the cost of the chairs and PA system ($92.50) for noon program can be made to Inroads, P. O. Box 5207, Madison, WI 53705 
    Cost for the tables will have to be each groups responsibility.  

  • Buy "Neighbors, Strangers and Everyone Else" a book by Rev John Brian Paprock
  • International Religious Freedom Report for 2011

    Sent: 08/02/12  


    Dear Friends

    Greetings of peace and blessing from United Religions Initiative Africa. The peace of the creater of the univers be with you all.

    As you may know the congress of the USA passed the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) of 1998 that established the Department of State's Office of International Religious Freedom headed by an Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom. The Office of International Religious Freedom has the mission of promoting religious freedom as a core objective of U.S. foreign policy. The office is now headed by Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom H.E. Dr. Suzan Johnson Cook. The office monitor religious persecution and discrimination worldwide, recommend and implement policies in respective regions or countries, and develop programs to promote religious freedom.

    Here I send you the report on International Religious Freedom for 2011 which is issued by the office for your information. May Peace Prevail on Earth.

    In Peace, Mussie Hailu

    International Religious Freedom Report for 2011

    Executive Summary


    Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

    Article 18, Universal Declaration of Human Rights


    To think, believe, or doubt. To speak or pray; to gather or stand apart. Such are the movements of the mind and heart, infinitives that take us beyond the finite. Freedom of religion, like all freedoms of thought and expression, are inherent. Our beliefs help define who we are and serve as a foundation for what we contribute to our societies. However, as the 2011 International Religious Freedom Report documents, too many people live under governments that abuse or restrict freedom of religion. People awaken, work, suffer, celebrate, raise children, and mourn unable to follow the dictates of their faith or conscience. Yet, under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, governments have committed to respect freedom of religion. As President Barack Obama said, they ought to "bear witness and speak out" when violations of religious freedom occur.


    With these reports, we bear witness and speak out. We speak against authoritarian governments that repressed forms of expression, including religious freedom. Governments restricted religious freedom in a variety of ways, including registration laws that favored state-sanctioned groups, blasphemy laws, and treatment of religious groups as security threats. The report focuses special attention on key trends such as the impact of political and demographic transitions on religious minorities, who tended to suffer the most in 2011; the effects of conflict on religious freedom; and the rising tide of anti-Semitism. Impacted groups, to name just a few, included Baha’is and Sufis in Iran; Christians in Egypt; Ahmadis in Indonesia and Pakistan; Muslims in a range of countries, including in Europe; Tibetan Buddhists, Christians, and Uighur Muslims in China; and Jews in many parts of the world.


    Religious minorities in political and demographic transitions

    In 2011, the world watched as people in North Africa and the Middle East stood up for dignity, opportunity, and civil and political liberty. In countries in political transition, such as Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt, people took the first steps of what will likely be a challenging path toward democracy. In times of transition, the situation of religious minorities in these societies comes to the forefront. Some members of society who have long been oppressed seek greater freedom and respect for their rights while others fear change. Those differing aspirations can exacerbate existing tensions.


    The interim government of Egypt began to take measures toward greater inclusiveness, such as passing an anti-discrimination law; arresting and prosecuting alleged instigators of sectarian rioting; and allowing dozens of churches previously closed to reopen. Nevertheless, sectarian tensions and violence increased during the year, along with an overall increase in violence and criminality. This report documents both the Egyptian government’s failure to curb rising violence against Coptic Christians and its involvement in violent attacks. For example, on October 9, 2011, the Egyptian security forces attacked demonstrators in front of the Egyptian radio and television building in the Maspiro area of Cairo. Twenty-five people were killed and 350 injured, most of whom were Coptic Christians. To date, government officials have not been held accountable for their actions, and there were indications in early 2012 of mounting Coptic emigration.

    Following the overthrow of Muammar Qadhafi in October 2011, the new government in Libya chose not to enforce some old laws that restricted religious freedom, ceased actively regulating all aspects of religious life, and enshrined the free practice of religion in an interim constitution, which also outlawed discrimination based on religion or sect. Early in 2012, the Libyan Supreme Court overturned a law that criminalized insults against Islam, the state, and religious symbols. Qadhafi-era laws prohibiting certain affronts to Islam, however, remained on the books even though there were no attempts to enforce them.


    Transitions were not limited to the Middle East and North Africa in 2011. In Burma, a Country of Particular Concern, the government took steps toward overcoming a longstanding legacy of intense religious oppression. The government eased some restrictions on church construction and generally permitted adherents of religious groups registered with the government to worship as they chose. However, the government continued to impose restrictions on certain religious activities and frequently limited religious freedom. It also continued to monitor the meetings and activities of all organizations, including religious organizations, and required religious groups to seek permission from authorities before holding any large public events. Some of the Buddhist monks arrested in 2007 were released during the year and have not faced harassment since their release, but others were released with conditions attached or remained in prison serving long sentences. The government also refused to recognize the Muslim Rohingya ethnic minority as citizens and imposed restrictions on their movement and marriage.

    Countries in Europe are becoming more ethnically, racially, and religiously diverse. These demographic changes are sometimes accompanied by growing xenophobia, anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim sentiment, and intolerance toward people considered "the other." The report documents a rising number of European countries, including Belgium and France, whose laws restricting dress adversely affected Muslims and others. In a separate context, Hungary’s parliament passed a law that regulates registration of religious organizations and requires a political vote in parliament to secure recognition. The law went into effect on January 1, 2012, reducing the number of recognized religious groups from over 300 to fewer than 32.


    Effects of conflict on religious freedom


    In 2011, governments responded to conflict and to groups they considered to be “violent extremists” in ways that restricted religious freedom and contributed to societal intolerance in countries as diverse as Bahrain, Russia, Iraq, and Nigeria. Authorities often failed to distinguish between peaceful religious practice and criminal or terrorist activities.

    In Bahrain, the Sunni minority enjoyed favored status. During the state of emergency from March 15 to June 1, the government arrested and detained protestors, the vast majority of whom were members of the Shia community. The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry received reports that 53 religious structures were demolished, largely during the ongoing unrest. The Commission recommended that the government rebuild some of the demolished structures.


    In Russia, violent extremism in the North Caucasus region led to negative popular attitudes in many other regions toward traditionally Muslim ethnic groups. The government continued to use the “Law on Combating Extremist Activity” to justify raids on religious organizations, detain and prosecute their members, and restrict the freedom to worship of minority group members, particularly targeting Muslim followers of Turkish theologian Said Nursi’s works, Jehovah's Witnesses, Falun Gong, and Scientologists. Additionally, a number of small radical-nationalist newspapers printed anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and xenophobic articles that were readily available throughout the country. Russia labeled 19 Muslim groups as terrorist organizations and banned them. Such bans made it easier for officials to detain some individual Muslims arbitrarily for alleged connections to these groups.

    In Iraq, attacks by violent extremist groups and sectarian violence between Sunni and Shia in some parts of the country had a negative impact on the ability of all citizens to practice their religion. A combination of sectarian hiring practices, corruption, targeted attacks, and the uneven application of the law contributed to the departure of significant numbers of non-Muslims from the country, including Christians, Yezidis, and Sabean-Mandeaens. Notably, and in response to these challenges, the government reinforced its commitment to religious freedom by increasing security at places of worship and forming investigative committees to follow up on violent incidents.


    In Nigeria, attacks by elements of the violent extremist sect Boko Haram claimed the lives of both Christians and Muslims. The government did not effectively quell rising hostility or investigate and prosecute those responsible for violence. There also were reports of abuses of religious freedom by certain state governments and local political actors who stoked communal and sectarian violence with impunity.


    Expanded use and abuse of blasphemy laws

    In 2011, governments increasingly used blasphemy, apostasy, and defamation of religion laws to restrict religious liberty, constrain the rights of religious minorities, and limit freedom of expression. In Pakistan, individuals accused of blasphemy or who publicly criticized the blasphemy laws and called for their reform continued to be killed, including Governor Punjab Salman Taseer and Minister of Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti, the only Christian in the cabinet. Aasia Bibi, a Christian, remained in prison, awaiting an appeal of her 2010 death sentence, the first such sentence for blasphemy handed down against a woman. The verdict in the case touched off a debate within the country about the blasphemy laws, with extremists calling for her execution and more moderate voices calling for her pardon or an appeal of the guilty verdict.


    In Saudi Arabia, blasphemy against the Wahabi interpretation of Sunni Islam is punishable by death, but the more common penalty is a long prison sentence. In mid-November 2011, Mansor Almaribe, an Australian Shia of Iraqi descent, was arrested and convicted in the country of blasphemy and for “insulting the companions of the Prophet.” He was sentenced to 500 lashes and a year in prison. His sentence was reduced to 75 lashes and no jail time. Almaribe was allowed to return to Australia after he received the lashes.


    Indonesia detained and imprisoned individuals under its blasphemy law. For example, Antonius Richmond Bawengan, a Christian, was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment for blasphemy on February 8 for distributing books deemed “offensive to Islam.” Discrimination and violence against Ahmadis also continued: Ahmadis who violate a government-imposed ban on proselytizing can be imprisoned for blasphemy; more than 26 regional governments enacted additional restrictions on the group; and the government failed to stop the murder of three and beating of five Ahmadis in Cikeusik, Banten province by a mob of 1,500 individuals. Video footage of the attack posted to the Internet shows members of the mob beating victims to death while police officers failed to intervene.

    A rising tide of anti-Semitism


    This report also documents a global increase in anti-Semitism, manifested in Holocaust denial, glorification, and relativism; conflating opposition to certain policies of Israel with blatant anti-Semitism; growing nationalistic movements that target “the other;” and traditional forms of anti-Semitism, such as conspiracy theories, acts of desecration and assault, “blood libel,” and cartoons demonizing Jews. In Venezuela, the official media published numerous anti-Semitic statements. In Egypt, anti-Israel sentiment in the media was widespread and sometimes included anti-Semitic rhetoric and Holocaust denial or glorification. Web sites promoting Holocaust denial operated with Iran's consent. In France, the report documents desecration of Jewish synagogues and cemeteries. Hungary saw the rise in popularity of an openly anti-Semitic party, the Jobbik party. Jewish property was defaced in Ukraine, including a synagogue and several Holocaust monuments. In both Ukraine and the Netherlands, soccer matches were marred by anti-Semitic slogans.


    Chronic violators of religious freedom


    A range of countries remained chronic and systemic violators of religious freedom. This report documents the ongoing state of religious repression in China, North Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Eritrea, and other countries with authoritarian governments. In Iran, Christian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani remained jailed and faced possible execution simply for practicing his faith. The Iranian government also continued to imprison seven leaders of the Baha’i community: Fariba Kamalabadi, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi, Behrouz Tavakkoli, Saeid Rezaie, Vahid Tizfahm, and Mahvash Sabet. Like other freedoms, religious freedom simply does not exist in North Korea.

    Executive summaries of select countries


    This section summarizes overall conditions in some countries where violations, improvements, or positive developments in religious freedom were noteworthy; additional information can be found in the country reports. States that Secretary Clinton designated as Countries of Particular Concern in August 2011 are denoted with an asterisk.

    Afghanistan: The constitution states that “Followers of other religions are free to exercise their faith and perform their religious rites within the limits of the provisions of law,” but also states that Islam is the “religion of the state” and that “no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam.” The government’s failure to protect minority religious groups and individuals limited religious freedom. For example, while the constitution expressly protects free exercise of faith for non-Muslims, in situations where the constitution and penal code are silent, including apostasy and blasphemy, courts relied on interpretations of Islamic law, some of which conflict with the country’s international commitments to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.


    China*: There was a marked deterioration during 2011 in the government’s respect for and protection of religious freedom in China. In the Tibetan Autonomous Region and other Tibetan areas, this included increased restrictions on religious practice, especially in Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and nunneries. Official interference in the practice of these religious traditions exacerbated grievances and contributed to at least 12 self-immolations by Tibetans in 2011. The repression tightened in the lead-up to and during politically and religiously sensitive anniversaries and events, such as the third anniversary of the protests and riots in Tibetan areas that began on March 10, 2008; the observance of “Serf Emancipation Day” on March 28; the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party on July 1; the Dalai Lama’s birthday on July 6; and the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the “peaceful liberation” of Tibet on July 19.


    China only allows groups belonging to one of the five state-sanctioned “patriotic religious associations” (Buddhist, Taoist, Muslim, Roman Catholic, and Protestant) to register with the government and legally hold worship services. Other religious groups, such as Protestant groups unaffiliated with the official patriotic religious association or Catholics professing loyalty to the Vatican, are not permitted to register as legal entities. Proselytizing in public or unregistered places of worship is not permitted. Some religious and spiritual groups are outlawed. Tibetan Buddhists in China are not free to venerate the Dalai Lama and encounter severe government interference in religious practice. The government continued to severely repress Muslims living in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region and other parts of China. Crackdowns on Christian house churches, such as the Shouwang church in Beijing, continued. Chinese Communist Party (CCP) members are required to be atheists and are generally discouraged from participating in religious activities.


    Cuba: The government’s respect for religious freedom improved, although significant restrictions remained in place and the Cuban Communist Party, through its Office of Religious Affairs, continued to wield regulatory control over most aspects of religious life. Most religious groups reported increased ability to cultivate new members, hold religious activities, and conduct charitable and community service projects, while at the same time reporting fewer restrictions on religious expression, importation of religious materials, and travel. However, the government’s repression of peaceful human rights activists included preventing some of them from attending religious services. For example, members of the Ladies in White (Damas de Blanco) group were routinely prevented from attending church, a practice that was particularly pronounced in the eastern provinces of Holguin and Santiago. Adisnidia Cruz, mother of political prisoners Marcos and Antonio Lima-Cruz, was prevented from leaving her house in Holguin on Sundays to attend mass on dozens of occasions. In other instances the government harassed human rights activists immediately after religious services. On September 8, for instance, members of the Damas de Blanco were arrested after attending mass in Santiago to celebrate the day of Cuba’s patron saint.

    Eritrea*: The situation deteriorated as the government continued to harass and detain members of registered and unregistered religious groups, some of whom reportedly died in detention as a result of torture and lack of medical treatment. The government retained significant control over the four registered religious groups. Many places of worship closed because of government intimidation and mass conscription of religious workers and parishioners. At year’s end, many estimated that the population of religious prisoners remained at 2,000 to 3,000. This estimate did not include the approximately 3,000 religious workers that were compelled to national service against their will, nor the members of the Catholic Church who engaged in protests, all of whom reportedly were released subsequently. It was unknown how many of the approximately 100 individuals detained during the year were released on the condition of recanting their faith or paying a fine.


     Iran*: Religious freedom in Iran deteriorated further from an already egregious situation. Government imprisonment, harassment, intimidation, and discrimination based on religious beliefs continued during the year. Christian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani remained jailed and faced possible execution for practicing his faith, and sentences of the seven Baha’i leaders were re-extended to the original 20 years after having been reduced to 10 years in 2010. The government arrested the seven in 2009 for “espionage for Israel, insulting religious sanctities, and propaganda against the Islamic Republic.” The government created a threatening atmosphere for nearly all non-Shia religious groups, most notably for Baha’is, as well as for Sufi Muslims, evangelical Christians, Jews, Sunni, and Zoroastrians. Shia adherents who did not share the government’s official religious views also faced harassment and intimidation.


    North Korea*: Religious freedom does not exist in any form in North Korea. The government continued to repress unauthorized religious groups, and dealt harshly with those who engaged in religious activities it deemed unacceptable. Reports by refugees, defectors, missionaries, and nongovernmental organizations indicated that religious persons who engaged in proselytizing in the country and those who were in contact with foreigners or missionaries were arrested and subjected to harsh penalties. Refugees and defectors stated that they witnessed or heard of arrests and possible executions of underground Christian church members in prior years. Due to the country’s inaccessibility and the inability of foreigners to gain timely information, the continuation of arrests and executions during the year remained difficult to quantify.

    Pakistan: The situation deteriorated as some government practices limited freedom of religion, particularly for members of religious minority groups. Freedom of speech is constitutionally “subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of the glory of Islam.” Abuses continued under the blasphemy law and other discriminatory laws, such as “the anti-Ahmadi laws”; the government did not take adequate measures to prevent these incidents or reform the laws to prevent abuse. Since the government rarely investigated or prosecuted the perpetrators of extremist attacks on religious minorities and members of the Muslim majority promoting tolerance, the number of attacks increased and the climate of impunity continued. There were instances in which law enforcement personnel reportedly abused persons belonging to religious minorities in custody. The government took some steps to improve religious freedom and promote tolerance, such as the creation of a Ministry of National Harmony after devolution of the Ministry of Minorities. Following the assassination of Minister of Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti, the president appointed his brother, Paul Bhatti, as his special advisor for minority affairs.


    Russia: The government generally respected religious freedom, but some minority denominations continued to experience difficulties. The most significant constraints on religious freedom during the year included the use of extremism charges to target minority religions and some broad restrictions on the freedoms of expression and association, in addition to efforts related to denial of registration as a religious organization, preventing access to places of worship, denial of visas for religious visitors, and detention of members of religious organizations. While there is no state religion, the Russian Orthodox Church and selected other “traditional” religious communities received preferential consideration.


    Saudi Arabia* does not recognize freedom of religion and prohibits the public practice of any religion other than Islam. The government subjected Muslims who did not adhere to the government’s interpretation of Islam to political, economic, legal, social, and religious discrimination. Some non-Muslims faced harassment, detention, and death. The Saudi government revised some school textbooks, but Arabic and religion textbooks still contained overtly intolerant statements against Jews and Christians as well as intolerant references by allusion against Shia and Sufi Muslims and other religious groups.

    Sudan*: The interim constitution and other laws and policies provide for some religious freedom; however, apostasy, conversion from Islam, blasphemy, and some interfaith marriages are prohibited. In addition, observers asserted that Salafists were growing as a proportion of the total Muslim population and that this growth was creating new sources of conflict with Christians and non-Salafist Muslims.


    Syria: As the government's unconscionable attacks against its people escalated, civilians in the Sunni majority endured the greatest violence. The regime also targeted and destroyed churches and mosques across the country during this period of protest which began in response to regime abuses. The regime contextualized the protests within a sectarian framework, maintaining that the protesters were associated with "extreme Islamist factions." At times, popular perception among the protesters conflated the regime's brutality and killing of over 5,000 civilians with alleged Alawite violence against Sunni Muslims. This led to an increase of tension, violence, and killing between largely Alawite and Sunni communities. Some Christians, Druze, and opposition members also suffered at the hands of the regime. As the violence grew, members of minority religious communities were increasingly vulnerable.


    Turkmenistan: The government’s respect for religious freedom remained low, despite provisions for religious freedom in the constitution and in some laws and policies. Discriminatory government practices in the treatment of some registered and unregistered groups continued. Authorities often failed to distinguish between peaceful religious practice and criminal or terrorist activities. Several religious groups remained unable to register and the government restricted even registered groups’ ability to obtain places to worship and to print, distribute, or import religious materials. Although there were fewer reports of raids and arbitrary detentions involving Jehovah’s Witnesses, the government continued to arrest, charge, and imprison Jehovah’s Witnesses who were conscientious objectors to military service.


    Uzbekistan* requires religious groups to register and prohibits some activities, such as proselytizing, as well as publishing, importing, and distributing religious materials without a license. Most minority religious groups had difficulty meeting the government’s strict registration requirements. In some cases, members faced heavy fines and even jail terms for violations of the state’s religion laws. The government restricted religious activities that it proclaimed to be in conflict with national security and generally dealt harshly with Muslims who practice and discuss Islam outside of government-sanctioned mosques. Uzbek law prohibits religious groups from forming political parties and social movements, as well as the private teaching of religious principles.

    Vietnam restricted religious freedom in a number of ways. Christians, in particular, faced challenges. The government held religious prisoners, including lay preachers Ksor Y Du and Kpa Y Ko. Hundreds of churches continued to await registration by local authorities in the Northwest Highlands, and the government has not allowed publication of the Bible in the modern H’mong language, despite pledging to do so. Authorities harassed some groups and individuals. In March authorities of An Giang, Dong Thap, Vinh Long, and Can Tho ordered surveillance of unsanctioned Hoa Hao monks, and police blocked roads and harassed or threatened followers. Police beat one follower severely. Protestant Khmers reported harassment, intimidation, and, in some cases, property damage and beatings by Khmer Krom Buddhists in certain districts of Tra Vinh Province.



    Even as this report documents abuses of religious freedom, the events of 2011 show that change is possible and suggests that countries whose constitution, laws, policies, and practices protect religious freedom and human rights will be the most vibrant and stable. This report documents places where intolerance does not have the last word. Turkey issued a decree facilitating the return of property confiscated from religious community foundations in the past. In Ukraine, the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations, which represents 95 percent of religious congregations in the country, discussed with the government legal protections for religious freedom, visas for foreign religious workers, and procedures for religious organizations to obtain legal status in Ukraine. In France, members of a Jewish - Muslim friendship association traveled around the country to educate youth about Islam and Judaism.


    The United States was active around the world promoting religious freedom, and challenging threats to such freedom. For example, senior U.S. officials, including President Barack Obama, raised deep U.S. concerns about increased religious violence and discrimination against Copts with senior Egyptian officials, including concerns about the government’s failure to prosecute perpetrators of sectarian violence. The United States also sponsored programs in Egypt to promote religious tolerance and freedom.

    To promote religious freedom in Burma*, U.S. embassy representatives offered support to local nongovernmental organizations and religious leaders, including through small grants and training programs. The U.S. government has a wide array of sanctions in place against the country for its violations of human rights; steps to ease those sanctions depend on the government undertaking significant reform.


    U.S. officials from the Department of State, the Department of Defense, and the U.S. embassy and consulates in Iraq met regularly with representatives of all of Iraq’s religious and ethnic communities, including its minority communities. A U.S. government-funded program sponsored successful interfaith dialogues in areas with religious tensions, such as Kirkuk. The assistant chief of mission for assistance transition led the embassy’s efforts to reach out to ethnic and religious minority communities.

    The U.S. government’s efforts to promote religious freedom are intertwined with our efforts to promote freedom of expression. Blasphemy laws silence voices in the name of “protecting religion.” They are anathema to religious freedom since the deeply held beliefs of one religious group may be interpreted as blasphemous by another group. The United States strongly opposed the Organization of the Islamic Conference’s (OIC) 12-year campaign at the United Nations to ban so-called “defamation” of religion. At the March 2011 session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC), the OIC, the United States, the European Union, and all other members joined consensus on Resolution 16/18 “Combating intolerance, negative stereotyping, and stigmatization of, and discrimination, incitement to violence, and violence against persons based on religion or belief.” In the fall, the UN General Assembly passed a similar resolution by consensus. This resolution helped the HRC move past the divisive and problematic debates about intolerance and expression to an action-oriented approach that is protective of human rights.


    In December, the United States hosted the first expert-level implementation meeting. Experts from 27 countries discussed effective government strategies to engage members of religious minorities, train officials on religious and cultural awareness, and enforce laws that prevent discrimination on the basis of religion or belief.


    The United States is also giving voice to others. At an Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe conference, Hannah Rosenthal, our Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, and Farah Anwar Pandith, our Special Representative to Muslim Communities, traded speeches to launch the 2011 Hours Against Hate campaign. Special Envoy Rosenthal spoke out against Muslim-hatred and Special Representative Pandith spoke out against anti-Semitism. They ended their remarks with this simple line, “Jews cannot fight anti-Semitism alone. Muslims cannot fight “Islamophobia” alone… Hate is hate, but we can overcome it together.”

    This campaign called upon young people to volunteer their time to assist persons from other communities -- a Jew for a Muslim charity, a man for a women’s shelter, a Muslim for a Jewish clinic, a Christian for a Baha’i food pantry. The campaign generated so much interest and so many hours of volunteer time that it has been endorsed by the London Olympic and Paralympic Games Organizing Committee as one of its tolerance campaigns for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, now called 2012 Hours Against Hate.


    President Obama said at a celebration of Coptic Christmas in January 2012, "as history repeatedly reminds us, freedom of religion, the protection of people of all faiths, and the ability to worship as you choose are critical to a peaceful, inclusive, and thriving society." These reports document where people live, think, pray, and speak freely and where, in contrast, governments limit those freedoms, abusing the rights of their people, violating international agreements, and diminishing the reputations of their own countries.


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