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NEWS OF RELIGIOUS INTOLERANCE & CONFLICT

1999-NOVEMBER

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We also have a list of religious tolerance news items for this month.

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bulletSaudi Arabia: Government vs Christians: Excerpts taken from an article by Steven Snyder of International Christian Concern, in Newsroom on NOV-1:
Saudi Arabia...prohibits the public practice of any religion other than Islam. [The interior of a private home is apparently considered a public place.] Thirteen Filipino Christians arrested in a house church raid by Saudi religious police in Riyadh were released on Sunday after 24 days in detention...Authorities at Nasariyah detention center turned over the expatriate Christians to their employers and gave them 10 days to prepare to be deported...
bulletChina: Government vs Christians: Excerpts taken from an article by  Newsroom on NOV-2: A bishop in China's underground Roman Catholic church has been detained, according to the U.S.-based Cardinal Kung Foundation. Chinese police arrested Bishop Jia Zhiguo of Zhengding in Hebei Province on August 15. The bishop's whereabouts are unknown, the Kung Foundation said. The South China Morning Post of Hong Kong reported Tuesday that police in Zhengding denied any knowledge of Bishop Jia or of his arrest. The 65-year-old bishop -- who has spent a total of 20 years in prison -- has been arrested frequently on the eve of Catholic feasts, presumably to prevent him from convening large public celebrations.
bulletIsrael, Nazareth: Christian/Muslim tension: Excerpts taken from the Reuters Group PLC, NOV-3:
Muslims wish to erect a mosque in Nazareth on Muslim-owned land which contains the grave of the nephew of an Islamic military hero, Saladin. The location is near the Basilica of the Annunciation. The basilica is thought by Roman Catholics to be the location where the Angel Gabriel informed Mary that she was pregnant. (Luke 1:26-38). Bishop Joseph Fiorenza, president of the U.S. National Conference of Catholic Bishops, has protested the decision by the Israeli government to allow the mosque to be built. He wrote that the Christians in Nazareth are "fearful that the building of the mosque will only worsen their already insecure place in the community.
[Notes:
bulletThe Muslim-owned land is about 100 meters (330 feet) from the Basilica. Muslims wanted to build a mosque there. The mayor of Nazareth, a Christian, wanted to convert the area into an open square. The Israeli government decided on a compromise: two thirds of the area would become an open square; a mosque would be built on the other third. This appears to be unacceptable to the Christians in the area; they want it all. 
bulletWe hope that in the future, people might view the close proximity of the mosque and basilica as symbols of cooperation between the world's two largest monotheistic faiths, which are followed by about 55% of humanity. 
bullet There are absolutely no records from the 1st century BCE concerning the exact location in Nazareth of the angel's visit. The location of the basilica was arbitrarily chosen.]
bulletU.K.- Government vs. Neopagans: According to ReligionToday.com for NOV-2:
Britain has stripped pagan groups of their status as charities. Paganism -- including druids, witches, and followers of a Viking god -- is not a religion "in the charitable sense," the country's Charity Commission ruled. "Any charity must be established for public benefit. This is not apparent in the case of paganism," a spokesman said...Groups that will lose their charitable status include The Pagan Hospice and Funeral Trust and Odinof, a foundation established to promote the teachings of the Norse god Odin. The groups will now have to pay taxes on direct donations.
bulletNorthern Nigeria - Christian/Muslim Tension: According to ReligionToday.com for NOV-2:
Tensions are increasing in Nigeria because of the adoption of Islamic law. The country is on the brink of religious strife after Zamfara state adopted Sharia law, Christian Solidarity Worldwide said. A declaration was made Oct. 28 by the Zamfara state governor, Ahmed Sani Yerima, despite the objections of national government, Muslim, and Christian leaders, including the head of the Nigerian Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs...Nigeria's 100 million people are divided into the mostly Muslim north and Christian south, with some areas heavily mixed, CSW said. The constitution prohibits an official state religion. Christian-Muslim relations have been strained by violent attacks and persecution of the Christian communities in the north. More than 150 churches in Kano were designated by authorities for demolition this year, CSW said. Despite the persecution, there has been a significant growth of Christianity among the indigenous population, making it a large minority, it said.
bulletNorthern Nigeria - Christian/Muslim Tension: Excerpts taken from  Newsroom for NOV-5:
The creation of an inter-religious council in Nigeria could go a long way toward promoting mutual cooperation between Christians and Muslims, religious leaders in Africa’s most populous country believe. But they are concerned that membership on the 2-month-old council ignores animists and does not reflect the diversity within the Christian and Muslim communities.

Worried by incessant conflicts between Christians and Muslims, religious leaders agreed to form the Nigeria Inter Religious Council (NIREC) in August. 

Hundreds of people have died in the West African country in the last decade during bloody religious clashes with ethnic and political undertones. 

The omission of adherents of traditional religion, who often clash with Christians and Muslims, is a major defect in the composition of the council, according to Dr. Ola Fadeyi, secretary of the Nigerian Baptist Convention. "It is high time that Nigerians come to terms with this sector of the country’s religious life," he said. "There is no way we can pretend that traditional religion does not exist."

bulletIsrael, Nazareth: Christian/Muslim tension: Excerpts taken from The Boston Globe, 1999-NOV-5, Page A02:
The patriarchs of the Greek Orthodox, Latin, and Armenian Churches in the Holy Land and the Franciscan ''Custos of the Holy Land,'' released a declaration that stated (in part) that ''all Sanctuaries of the Holy Land will be closed on 22 and 23 November 1999." They also commented: ".'' This might be a veiled threat to close the sanctuaries at Christmas time.

They believe that the decision by the Israeli government to allow Muslims to build a mosque on Muslim land in Nazareth near a Christian Bassilica represents: ''clear discrimination against the Christian community in Galilee.'' Suleiman Abu Ahmed, a local Muslim leader commented: ''I can't believe what I am hearing. I thought that religious people were supposed to be more forgiving." The mosque's cornerstone is scheduled to be laid on 1999-NOV-8. 

bulletOntario, Canada: Government vs. minority religions: Excerpts taken from Canoe Limited Partnership's Cnews, 1999-NOV-5:
The Ontario government runs a public, secular school system. It also financially supports the Roman Catholic separate school system. The latter is protected by a grandfather clause in the 1967 articles of Confederation for Canada. But smaller religious groups with schools, like Islam, Judaism, Seventh Day Adventists, and Sikism, are denied funding. Anne Bayefsky of York University's Osgoode Hall law school successfully initiated a charge of religious discrimination against the government on behalf of Arieh Waldman, a Toronto man who spent $95,000 to educate his sons in Jewish day schools. Ms Bayefsky announced "Today, the [United Nations] human rights committee has ruled that Ontario's policy of refusing to fund anything but Roman Catholic schools is discrimination." Canada must respond to the charge within 90 days. If they wish to meet U.N. guidelines, they would have to either give full funding to the schools of all religions, or to none. Both options are political dynamite.
bulletCanada: Government vs. minority religion/culture: According to the Globe and Mail, a Toronto ON newspaper on 1999-NOV-5:
"Survival International"
is a worldwide organization "supporting tribal peoples. It stands for their right to decide their own future and helps them protect their lives, lands and human rights." On 1999-NOV-8, they issued a report 'Canada's Tibet – the killing of the Innu.' They report that the Innu people of Labrador and Quebec in Canada's northeastern regions have the highest suicide rate in the world: 178 per 100,000 person per year. This compares to an average suicide rate of 14 per 100,000 elsewhere in Canada. According to the Toronto Star newspaper, there are two main  causes: 
bulletIncompetent, paternal, racist government policies under the guise of benevolent control, and 
bulletThe sexual and physical abuse of Innu children at the hands of Roman Catholic priests over a period of generations.

Full story.

bulletRomania - Government vs. minority religions: According to ReligionToday.com for NOV-10:
A proposed religion law in Romania would severely restrict religious freedom. The General Status of Religious Organizations Bill would virtually eliminate churches of minority religions, Newsroom reports...The bill calls for all religious groups to be approved by the secretary of state for religion to gain legal recognition, but the requirements are so strenuous that few churches would be approved, Newsroom said. Churches must have memberships of at least .5% of the national population, 115,000 people, and at least 5% of the local population, requirements that would exclude most evangelical Protestant groups. The bill bans "aggressive proselytism" and requires congregations to give to the government the names and addresses of all members. Orthodox, Jewish, and Muslim religious groups already have official recognition.
bulletUnited States: "Dogma" movie accused of blasphemy: According to MSNBC on NOV-10:
Lions Gate, a movie company, is releasing "Dogma" on NOV-12. The film was actually made by Miramax. But Disney is being targeted by some Roman Catholics for allegedly writing an anti-Catholic movie.  "But co-star Lee respectfully sums up the underlying story as 'a woman’s journey from jaded non-believer to regaining her belief in faith and herself.' Irreverent though the plot may sound, it entails belief in miracles, angelic visitations, divine grace and papal infallibility." The movie has been viewed by a number of "traditional Catholic groups" none of whom found the movie anti-religions. But "some 2,500 gathered last month at the movie’s debut at the New York Film Festival at a protest sponsored by the Pennsylvania-based American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property." Presumably, none of them had actually seen the movie. The society has allegedly "distributed 4 million fliers about “Dogma” to churches, religious groups and those who requested them..." More details
bulletRussia - Government vs. minority religions: According to Konstantin Krylov of the Public Relations Center on NOV-11:
On Nov. 5, 1999 the final hearing took place in the St. Petersburg City Court of two separate suits to liquidate the Collegiate Association for Research of the Principle (CARP), a public student organization founded by Rev. Sun Myung Moon.

...The court ordered a psychiatric evaluation of the CARP members whose parents were bringing the suits. The evaluation found the CARP members to be mentally healthy and competent. In addition, criminal experts who studied CARP and Unification Church literature found nothing unlawful in their teachings or activities. 

...On Nov. 5, 1999 the City Court of St. Petersburg rejected the City Prosecutor's and Justice Department's suits to liquidate CARP and... accused the city Justice Department of acting illegally when it rejected the attempt by CARP to re-register.

This decision finally vindicated CARP, despite the attacks and opposition from the authorities. This victory also provides a glimmer of hope for the establishment of an independent judiciary in Russia.
bulletTurkmenistan - Government vs. Christianity: According to ReligionToday.com for NOV-12:
Authorities in Turkmenistan delayed the trial of an imprisoned pastor whose family has not seen him for weeks. Rahim Tashov has been in prison since Oct. 31, but his family has been denied visits, Compass Direct News said. The postponement of his Nov. 11trial has them concerned, Compass said. "We want to know where he is -- even to know if he is still alive," a source said. Tashov's wife, Narjemal, has been turned away from the prison and has been denied information about his whereabouts or condition, Compass said. The couple has a 3-year-old son and is expecting another child in six months. Police arrested Tashov Oct. 24, but released him a day later with a warning to curtail his religious activities. They arrested him again a week later.
bulletChina - Government vs. a spiritual movement: According to DayWatch for NOV-12: 
China jailed four leaders of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement for up to 12 years on Friday in the first known trial of members of what the Communist government has decreed "an evil cult." More than 100 Falun Gong members have been formally arrested in a nationwide crackdown and are expected to face trial. Many more are under various forms of administrative detention, like labor camps, which are not subject to the judicial process.
bulletUSA - Public vs. Christians: According to DayWatch for NOV-15, quoting the Conservative News Service
Republican presidential hopeful Gary Bauer Tuesday addressed anti-Christian bigotry in America, saying that prejudice against Roman Catholics "is one of the last socially acceptable prejudices left in America."

In a speech at St. Anselm College, a Catholic institution, Bauer promised to make sure that "all Americans of faith will be able to acknowledge their Creator in public as the founding fathers did in our founding documents and public institutions."

Bauer told his audience, "Racism and anti-Semitism, thankfully have been relegated to the lunatic fringes and extreme elements of our society. Racial epithets and anti-Semitic slurs are no longer tolerated in polite company...yet expressions of anti-Catholic bigotry not only abound but are tolerated, especially by the cultured elite, often in the name of free expression or artistic license."

The candidate said today's anti-Catholicism is part of a pattern of hostility from "radical secularists...toward those institutions that stand in defense of Judeo-Christian moral values and the ideals of Western civilization."

He also questioned whether obscene and blasphemous [artistic] exhibits contribute to "a climate of hate that inflames the unbalanced and inspires them to commit murderous acts," a reference to recent shootings around the country.

bulletTurkmenistan - Government vs. Non-Islamic groups: According to Maranatha Christian Journal for NOV-17, quoting  Compass Direct
"...the government continues to crush unregistered religious communities across Turkmenistan, both Christian and non-Christian. Authorities have raided worship services, confiscated religious literature and detained and fined believers."

"Only two months ago, Turkmen authorities destroyed two Hare Krishna temples." During the weekend of NOV-13, city authorities in Ashgabad had the Seventh Day Adventists church bulldozed to the ground. Their registration as a religious organization had been cancelled by the government, and they had been unable to have it renewed. "Baptist congregations of the Council of Churches of Evangelical Christian/Baptists" were raided on the same weekend. Bibles, hymn books and some personal possessions of their leader were carted away for burning. In Turkmenistan, a pastor or minister can be criminally charged if he/she holds services in an unregistered church. Yet in a classical Catch 22 situation, a religious group has to have hundreds of members before it can be registered.

bulletChina - Government vs. Christian group: According to Newsroom for NOV-18:
Chinese authorities break up another church meeting near Guangzhou. Three Christian women were arrested Tuesday at the meeting place of Chinese pastor Li Dexian, who remains in prison after his arrest last week, according to sources in Hong Kong.
bulletIsrael - Government mainly vs. conservative Christians: According to Newsroom for NOV-18:
Members of the Israeli Knesset are circulating the draft of a proposed bill that would criminalize missionary activity... 

The new proposal, led by Rabbi Porush of the National Religious Party, would mandate a five-year prison sentence to anyone convicted of trying to persuade an Israeli citizen to change his religion, whether directly or indirectly. The sentence would be double for anyone who tried to convert a minor or "needy person," used deceptive means, or was successful in converting a person to another religion. The law would apply even if the conversion took place outside of Israel.

The Knesset Internal Affairs Committee held a preliminary hearing on November 10 led by the committee's chairman, David Azoular of the Shas Party. Azoular said that the committee had gathered to find ways to deal with the "missionary menace threatening our people." The discussion centered on accusations that a long-established Messianic Jewish congregation, Grace and Truth, and other groups were using bribes to lure Jews into their fold. Messianic Jews believe that Jesus Christ is the Messiah. 

A 1977 Israeli law forbids any attempt to persuade an individual to change his religion for the motive of "financial gain." Baruch Maoz, the leader of the Grace and Truth Congregation, attended the committee meeting. He insists that the bribery charges are unsubstantiated. "It apparently never occurred to those participating in the discussion that repeated failure to find evidence could actually mean that bribes were never offered," said Maoz, former chairman of the Messianic Action Committee, a group that has lobbied against previous anti-missionary bills...

The proposed bill would confer a three-year sentence on anyone who solicits someone to their faith through advertising. A one-year sentence would be imposed upon anyone who receives or brings a minor or a needy person to the event of "another religion." "Another religion" is one that is not of the religious community to which the individual belongs according to Israeli law.

Minors or needy persons also would not be allowed into an educational institution, youth hostel, or club in Israel that is under the auspices of another religion.

bulletLaos - Government vs. Christians: According to Newsroom for NOV-22:
Six Laotians were arrested for their Christian activities on November 8 and 13, according to a document from Thailand that reports an increase in religious persecution by Lao Communist authorities. According to The South China Morning Post of Hong Kong, Thai-based monitors of the church in Laos say the government is determined to shut down churches because they view them as a threat to security.

The Thai report refers to 46 Christians known to be in prison in Laos. According to Laotian government documents, several have been charged with "believing in the Jesus religion" or "religious belief." Nine Christians are being held in Savannakhet city jail and 11 are jailed in Attapeu.

The report says that one of the Christians being held in Savannakhet is church leader Pa Tood, 45, who according to relatives is suffering from poor health in solitary confinement. Authorities want him to sign a declaration renouncing his faith. The relatives say that he is in a dungeon with one leg in wooden stocks 24 hours a day and is often deprived of food for several days at a time.

The Lao constitution prohibits "all acts of creating division of religion or creating division among the people." According to the U.S. State Department's Annual Religious Freedom Report, the ruling "Lao Peoples Revolutionary Party (LPRP) and government appear to interpret this constitutional provision narrowly, thus inhibiting religious practice by all persons, including the Buddhist majority and a large population of animists. Although official pronouncements accept the existence of religion, they emphasize its potential to divide, distract, or destabilize."

bulletUSA - Southern Baptists vs. Hindus: Expanding on an article by Thomas Grillo of the Boston Globe on 1999-NOV-22:
Chandrakant Panse is one of the organizers of New England Hindus Against Religious Intolerance. About 60 people staged a peaceful march outside the Beacon Hill Baptist Church on Cambridge Street in Boston. They carried signs: "Respect All Religions" and "Intolerance is Un-American". Ms. Panse said: ''We're asking the Baptists to retract their malicious attacks on the Hindu religion and its people.'' The group was protesting a Hindu prayer guide distributed by the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. The SBC released the guide just before the most important Hindu festival of the year: the three-day celebration of Diwali.  Some of the statements in the guide are:
bullet''Hindus seek power and blessing through the worship of gods and goddesses and the demonic powers that lay behind them."
bullet"Hindus lack a concept of sin or personal responsibility."
bullet"They are slaves bound by fear and tradition."
bullet"...the darkness in their Hindu hearts that no lamp can dispel.''
bullet''...demonic powers lie behind Hindu gods.'

The other organizer of the protest, Suresh Jain, commented that ''None of this is true. We are offended by statements in the prayer book which say the only path to salvation is to follow Jesus Christ.''

The regional director of the American Jewish Congress, Sheila Decter, attended the rally. She noted that the SBC had previously targeted the Jewish faith with a similar campaign just before the Jewish High Holy Days this year. She said: ''The price of democracy is the right to spread the good news about one's faith to others. But this guide crossed the line from being a statement of faith to denigrating another religion.''

The pastor of the Baptist church, David Draper, apologized to the group. He said: ''I am embarrassed by the guide. Several statements about the Hindu faith were offensive and insensitive. While there are differences in our traditions and convictions, we should not be intolerant of other faiths.'' He plans to meet with the group and to persuade the Mission Board to be fore accepting of other faiths.

Deprecation of non-Christian faiths is consistent with SBC beliefs in the inerrancy of the Bible. There are passages in the New Testament that state that the Gods of other religions are actually demons. There are many passages that say that people need a saving faith in Jesus Christ in order to avoid hell. Most Southern Baptists believe that both sets of passages are true. 

bulletIsrael, Nazareth: Christian/Muslim tension: According to Religion Today:
Pilgrims visiting Christian churches in Israel are finding them closed. The churches were closed temporarily Nov. 22-23 to protest the planned construction of a mosque outside the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, The Associated Press said. Tensions have escalated over the proposed mosque, spreading from the mostly Muslim town of Nazareth into the rest of the Holy Land. Compromises proposed by Palestinian
leader Yasser Arafat have been rebuffed, as have pleas by the town's mayor to end the controversy, the AP said. Pilgrims who have traveled thousands of miles to see sites such as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, believed to be where Jesus was crucified,
are being denied entrance.
bulletIndonesia: Muslims vs. Christians: According to Newsroom on 1999-NOV-26: 
Church lawyers representing Catholics and Protestants in Ambon have asked the United Nations and the United States to intervene to stop escalating violence in the Indonesian province. Christian commercial districts and residential areas have been targeted in recent months, and up to 700 Christians killed. As repatriation of refugees from East Timor proceeds, religious extremism is being blamed for more bloodshed in Ambon. The province is one of several that may seek independence in a trend that some nationalists fear will lead to the breakup of Indonesia.
bulletUSA: Attack on Neopagans: Robert Kirby, a columnist for the Salt Lake Tribune in Salt Lake City, UT, wrote an opinion piece for NOV-27: "If you shop your brains out for Xmas, You're no Christian -- You're an X-ian." In it, he mentioned that every faith except for the Jehovah's Witnesses celebrated religious holidays: "The Jews celebrate Hanukkah by lighting the menorah and feasting. Druids do something obscure and disturbing during the Spring Equinox. Buddhists celebrate Tet by . . . I don't know, probably something Bhuddist. Shamefully, Christians celebrate Christmas by shopping their brains out." [We include this quote for two reasons:
  1. To show an example of how some writers feel free to ridicule or attack Druids or other Neopagans. They would not dare say "Roman Catholics do something obscure and disturbing during Easter." But Neopagans are fair game for any insult.

  2. To show how relatively tolerant North America is. In some places in the world, people are being killed, imprisoned, or having their churches bulldozed. In the U.S., religious intolerance is shown only by the occasional insulting and unfounded remark.

bulletTanzania: Murdering "Witches": According to Panafrican News Agency for 1999-NOV-29:
In the Mwanza, Shinyanga and Tabora regions of Tanzania, 34 suspected witches were murdered by mobs and vigilante action during the first ten months of 1999. Victims are typically elderly women with blood-shot eyes who are believed to be evil "witches."  They are believed to kill newborns, and be responsible for the high infant mortality in the country. "Masked assailants routinely invade elderly people at night and hack them to death with machetes." No action is usually taken because "members of their communities who share their superstitious beliefs refuse to unveil their identity." Popular belief in the reality of witchcraft is reinforced by a 1928 law which criminalizes "witchcraft," and which is still on the books. [There is no relation between the beliefs of some of the Tanzanian public in "witchcraft" and Wicca/Witchcraft as practiced in the U.S. and Europe. They are two unrelated religions who share the same name.]

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References:

  1. DayWatch is a daily service of Maranatha Christian Journal. It provides "a daily summary of news headlines with a Christian perspective..." The newsletter is free on request. Their web site is at: http://www.mcjonline.com 
  2. Newsroom is a service of Worldwide Newsroom Inc. Their articles are written by "a network of journalists, scholars and other professional contacts in country." You can subscribe to their free service from their website at http://www.newsroom.org/ 
  3. ReligionToday provides free newsletters to which you can subscribe at: http://www.ReligionToday.com. These summaries are part of GOSHEN.net, which also includes LiveIt.net, Devotionals.net, ChristianShareware.net, ChristianClassifieds.net, ChristianMessageBoards.net, BibleStudyTools.net, MediaManagement.net, WorldNewsToday.net, WebCastGuide.net, and ChristianCollegeGuide.net
  4. Reuters is "the world's leading financial information and news group. Their web page is at: http://www.reuters.com/ 
  5. Panafrican News Agency articles are distributed by Africa News Online at http://www.africannews.org 

Copyright © 1999 
Originally written: 1999-NOV-3
Latest update: 1999-NOV-22
Author: B.A. Robinson

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