Young Saudi girl’s marriage ended

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Young Saudi girl’s marriage ended

Media reports say an arranged marriage between a Saudi girl aged eight and a man in his 50s has been annulled, in a case attracting worldwide criticism.

The Saudi Gazette says the divorce was agreed in an out-of-court settlement after a judge rejected two attempts to grant the girl a divorce.

The case prompted Saudi officials to say it would start regulating the marriages of young girls.

Rights groups say some Saudi families marry off young daughters for money.

The judge who first heard the case in the town of Unaiza refused to end the marriage at

, but he stipulated the groom could not have sex with the girl until she reached puberty.The girl’s father is said to have married her off against her mother’s wishes to a close friend in order that he could pay off a debt.

A new judge was appointed to oversee the case, who issued the annulment after the husband finally gave up his insistence that the marriage had been legal, reports say.

implements an austere form of Sunni Islam that bans free association between the sexes and gives fathers the right to wed their children to whomever they deem fit.Saudi commentators pointed out that the marriage took place in the central province of Qaseem – the heartland of Saudi Islamic fundamentalism.

Earlier this year, the country’s highest religious authority, the Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Shaikh, said it was not against Islamic law to marry off girls who are 15 and younger.

On 15 April, after this case generated considerable negative publicity, Justice Minister Muhammad Issa

in which parents and guardians could marry off their young daughters.However, he he did not say that the practice would be banned.

Story from BBC NEWS:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/middle_east/8026545.stm

Crime of blasphemous libel proposed for Defamation Bill

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Crime of blasphemous libel proposed for Defamation Bill

Legal Affairs Editor

A NEW crime of blasphemous libel is to be proposed by the Minister for Justice in an amendment to the Defamation Bill, which will be discussed by the Oireachtas committee on justice today. At the moment there is no crime of blasphemy on the statute books, though it is prohibited by the Constitution. Article 40 of the Constitution, guaranteeing freedom of speech, qualifies it by stating: “The State shall endeavour to ensure that organs of public opinion, such as the radio, the press, the cinema, while preserving their rightful liberty of expression, including criticism of Government policy, shall not be used to undermine public order or morality or the authority of the State. “The publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious, or indecent material is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law.” Last year the Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution, under the chairmanship of Fianna Fáil TD Seán Ardagh, recommended amending this Article to remove all references to sedition and blasphemy, and redrafting the Article along the lines of article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which deals with freedom of expression. The prohibition on blasphemy dates back to English law aimed at protecting the established church, the Church of England, from attack. It has been used relatively recently to prosecute satirical publications in the UK. In the only Irish case taken under this article, Corway -v- Independent Newspapers, in 1999, the Supreme Court concluded that it was impossible to say “of what the offence of blasphemy consists”. It also stated that a special protection for Christianity was incompatible with the religious equality provisions of Article 44. Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern proposes to insert a new section into the Defamation Bill, stating: “A person who publishes or utters blasphemous matter shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable upon conviction on indictment to a fine not exceeding €100,000.” “Blasphemous matter” is defined as matter “that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion; and he or she intends, by the publication of the matter concerned, to cause such outrage.” Where a person is convicted of an offence under this section, the court may issue a warrant authorising the Garda Síochána to enter, if necessary using reasonable force, a premises where the member of the force has reasonable grounds for believing there are copies of the blasphemous statements in order to seize them. Labour spokesman on justice Pat Rabbitte is proposing an amendment to this section which would reduce the maximum fine to €1,000 and exclude from the definition of blasphemy any matter that had any literary, artistic, social or academic merit.

This article appears in the print edition of the Irish Times

No Word From I.R.S. on Protest by Pastors

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No Word From I.R.S. on Protest by Pastors
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Nearly seven months after defying a prohibition on endorsing candidates from the pulpit, 33 churches across the country are still waiting to learn whether the Internal Revenue Service will take action against them.

The goal of a Sept. 28 event called Pulpit Freedom Sunday was to start a legal fight and ultimately overturn regulations that prevent places of worship from supporting or opposing candidates for office. But a conservative legal group that organized the effort says the agency has yet to notify the churches of any investigation.

Legal experts suggest a number of possibilities: The I.R.S. has nothing to gain from a costly and mainly symbolic battle, it has limited resources or it could still be deciding how to respond.

On Sept. 28, participating pastors urged worshipers to vote according to conservative views on abortion and same-sex marriage. Several endorsed the Republican presidential candidate, Senator John McCain.

Under the agency’s code, places of worship can distribute voter guides, run nonpartisan voter-registration drives and hold forums on issues, among other things. But they cannot endorse a candidate, nor can their political activity be for or against a candidate.

Churches that violate the rule can lose their tax-exempt status.

The protest was organized by the Alliance Defense Fund, based in Phoenix, and involved pastors in 22 states.

“The wheels of bureaucracy move slowly,” said Erik Stanley, the group’s senior legal counsel. “We’re prepared if they do come after these churches, and we’re also prepared if they do not.”

An I.R.S. spokesman, Christopher Miller, declined to comment. At the time of the protest, the agency said it would “monitor the situation and take action as appropriate.”

Officials with the Alliance Defense Fund view the regulation as a violation of the pastors’ right to free speech. Some legal scholars counter that the government has the right to treat political and nonpolitical speech differently.

A number of the pastors said they hoped the I.R.S. would respond immediately so the legal challenge could get under way.

One of them, Luke Emrich, pastor at New Life Church in West Bend, Wis., had urged about 100 congregants to support an anti-abortion platform by voting for Mr. McCain. Mr. Emrich said he was disappointed the tax agency had not responded.

“It would have been nice to have a direct conversation with the I.R.S.,” he said. “I thought they would at least contact us, talk to us about the issues.”

Mr. Stanley said the organization would continue its protests, holding Pulpit Freedom Sundays every year ahead of federal, state or local elections.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/26/us/politics/26churches.html

More Atheists Shout It From the Rooftops

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April 27, 2009

More Atheists Shout It From the Rooftops

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Two months after the local atheist organization here put up a billboard saying “Don’t Believe in God? You Are Not Alone,” the group’s 13 board members met in Laura and Alex Kasman’s living room to grapple with the fallout.

The problem was not that the group, the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry, had attracted an outpouring of hostility. It was the opposite. An overflow audience of more than 100 had showed up for their most recent public symposium, and the board members discussed whether it was time to find a larger place.

And now parents were coming out of the woodwork asking for family-oriented programs where they could meet like-minded nonbelievers.

“Is everyone in favor of sponsoring a picnic for humanists with families?” asked the board president, Jonathan Lamb, a 27-year-old meteorologist, eliciting a chorus of “ayes.”

More than ever, America’s atheists are linking up and speaking out — even here in South Carolina, home to Bob Jones University, blue laws and a legislature that last year unanimously approved a Christian license plate embossed with a cross, a stained glass window and the words “I Believe” (a move blocked by a judge and now headed for trial).

They are connecting on the Internet, holding meet-ups in bars, advertising on billboards and buses, volunteering at food pantries and picking up roadside trash, earning atheist groups recognition on adopt-a-highway signs.

They liken their strategy to that of the gay-rights movement, which lifted off when closeted members of a scorned minority decided to go public.

“It’s not about carrying banners or protesting,” said Herb Silverman, a math professor at the College of Charleston who founded the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry, which has about 150 members on the coast of the Carolinas. “The most important thing is coming out of the closet.”

Polls show that the ranks of atheists are growing. The American Religious Identification Survey, a major study released last month, found that those who claimed “no religion” were the only demographic group that grew in all 50 states in the last 18 years.

Nationally, the “nones” in the population nearly doubled, to 15 percent in 2008 from 8 percent in 1990. In South Carolina, they more than tripled, to 10 percent from 3 percent. Not all the “nones” are necessarily committed atheists or agnostics, but they make up a pool of potential supporters.

Local and national atheist organizations have flourished in recent years, fed by outrage over the Bush administration’s embrace of the religious right. A spate of best-selling books on atheism also popularized the notion that nonbelief is not just an argument but a cause, like environmentalism or muscular dystrophy.

Ten national organizations that variously identify themselves as atheists, humanists, freethinkers and others who go without God have recently united to form the Secular Coalition for America, of which Mr. Silverman is president. These groups, once rivals, are now pooling resources to lobby in Washington for separation of church and state.

A wave of donations, some in the millions of dollars, has enabled the hiring of more paid professional organizers, said Fred Edwords, a longtime atheist leader who just started his own umbrella group, the United Coalition of Reason, which plans to spawn 20 local groups around the country in the next year.

Despite changing attitudes, polls continue to show that atheists are ranked lower than any other minority or religious group when Americans are asked whether they would vote for or approve of their child marrying a member of that group.

Over lunch with some new atheist joiners at a downtown Charleston restaurant serving shrimp and grits, one young mother said that her husband was afraid to allow her to go public as an atheist because employers would refuse to hire him.

But another member, Beverly Long, a retired school administrator who now teaches education at the Citadel, said that when she first moved to Charleston from Toronto in 2001, “the first question people asked me was, What church do you belong to?” Ms. Long attended Wednesday dinners at a Methodist church, for the social interaction, but never felt at home. Since her youth, she had doubted the existence of God but did not discuss her views with others.

Ms. Long found the secular humanists through a newspaper advertisement and attended a meeting. Now, she is ready to go public, she said, especially after doing some genealogical research recently. “I had ancestors who fought in the American Revolution so I could speak my mind,” she said.

Until recent years, the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry were local pariahs. Mr. Silverman — whose specialty license plate, one of many offered by the state, says “In Reason We Trust” — was invited to give the invocation at the Charleston City Council once, but half the council members walked out. The local chapter of Habitat for Humanity would not let the Secular Humanists volunteer to build houses wearing T-shirts that said “Non Prophet Organization,” he said.

When their billboard went up in January, with their Web site address displayed prominently, they expected hate mail.

“But most of the e-mails were grateful,” said Laura Kasman, an assistant professor of microbiology and immunology at the Medical University of South Carolina.

The board members meeting in the Kasmans’ living room were an unlikely mix that included a gift store owner, a builder, a grandmother, a retired nursing professor, a retired Navy officer, an administrator at a primate sanctuary and a church musician. They are also diverse in their attitudes toward religion.

Loretta Haskell, the church musician, said: “I did struggle at one point as to whether or not I should be making music in churches, given my position on things. But at the same time I like using my music to move people, to give them comfort. And what I’ve found is, I am not one of the humanists who feels that religion is a bad thing.”

The group has had mixed reactions to President Obama, who acknowledged nonbelievers in his inauguration speech. “I sent him a thank-you note,” Ms. Kasman said. But Sharon Fratepietro, who is married to Mr. Silverman, said, “It seemed like one long religious ceremony, with a moment of lip service.”

Part of what is giving the movement momentum is the proliferation of groups on college campuses. The Secular Student Alliance now has 146 chapters, up from 42 in 2003.

At the University of South Carolina, in Columbia, 19 students showed up for a recent evening meeting of the “Pastafarians,” named for the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster — a popular spoof on religion dreamed up by an opponent of intelligent design, the idea that living organisms are so complex that the best explanation is that a higher intelligence designed them.

Andrew Cederdahl, the group’s co-founder, asked for volunteers for the local food bank and for a coming debate with a nearby Christian college. Then Mr. Cederdahl opened the floor to members to tell their “coming out stories.”

Andrew Morency, who attended a Christian high school, said that when he got to college and studied evolutionary biology he decided that “creationists lie.”

Josh Streetman, who once attended the very Christian college that the Pastafarians were about to debate, said he knew the Bible too well to be sure that Scripture is true. Like Mr. Streetman, many of the other students at the meeting were highly literate in the Bible and religious history.

In keeping with the new generation of atheist evangelists, the Pastafarian leaders say that their goal is not confrontation, or even winning converts, but changing the public’s stereotype of atheists. A favorite Pastafarian activity is to gather at a busy crossroads on campus with a sign offering “Free Hugs” from “Your Friendly Neighborhood Atheist.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/27/us/27atheist.html?_r=2&src=twt&twt=nytimes

Helicopter escape for cult leader

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Helicopter escape for cult leader A convicted sex offender and cult leader has escaped by helicopter from a prison on the French Indian Ocean island of Reunion, officials say. Juliano Verbard, 27, serving a 15-year term, and two followers, were pulled on to the helicopter by three accomplices. The accomplices had pretended to be tourists when boarding the helicopter, but then forced the pilot to land in the prison grounds before flying off. They then landed a few hundred metres away, and drove off in a waiting van. The island’s police force said a major search was now under way for Verbard and his fellow prisoners, Alexin Jismy and Fabrice Michel. “ One of them put a gun to my temple while another threatened to set fire to a bottle of petrol he had in his hand with a cigarette lighter ” Pilot of hijacked helicopter Verbard, the leader of the pseudo-religious cult, the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary, was jailed in 2008 for rape and sex attacks on children, and the other two for their roles in a kidnap. At the time of his trial, psychiatrist Gerard Toulfayan described Verbard as an “extremely powerful manipulator with great intelligence”. The two helicopter crew members were unhurt. The pilot later told a local radio station about the hijacking: “One of them put a gun to my temple while another threatened to set fire to a bottle of petrol he had in his hand with a cigarette lighter.” “You see, they had nothing more to lose. They were ready to blow it up, ready to die.”

Story from BBC NEWS:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/europe/8020401.stm Published: 2009/04/27 12:47:18 GMT