UN faces renewed calls for blasphemy ban
Some Christian leaders have joined Muslim counterparts in calling on the United Nations to ban certain types of speech. In September, the YouTube film Innocence of Muslims, which targeted the Prophet Muhammad, led to Muslim protests that killed scores of people in 10 countries. The crude video, linked to Coptic activists in the United States, prompted the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation to revive its demand for a UN ban on the defamation of religion (after dropping its decade-long effort last year). Anglican bishops in the Middle East also called for a similar ban. President Barack Obama, addressing the UN, countered that "the strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression, it is more speech."
Legal fight over contraception mandate grows
Religious institutions received more time to implement the Department of Health and Human Services' controversial contraception mandate after its "safe harbor" provisions were expanded. The last-minute rewrite prompted a federal judge in September to dismiss challenges by Wheaton College and Belmont Abbey, but the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed to consider the cases. Lawsuits by 30 other Christian colleges and businesses, including Biola University and Grace College, remained pending. Meanwhile, Hobby Lobby and Tyndale House Publishers joined Catholic-owned businesses in filing suit. A federal judge in Colorado granted one business a temporary injunction against the mandate, but a federal court in Missouri dismissed a similar challenge.
Good news for persecuted Christians
IRAN/PAKISTAN Religious freedom advocates were encouraged by developments in the cases of two high-profile persecuted Christians. In Iran, pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, jailed in 2009 and sentenced to death in 2010, was released from prison for time served after being acquitted of apostasy. He was instead convicted on a lesser charge of "evangelizing Muslims." In Pakistan, 14-year-old Rimsha Masih, a developmentally disabled Christian girl accused of burning pages of the Qur'an, was released on bail after police arrested a local imam for falsifying evidence against her. "The government should make this case an example so that nobody will dare misuse the blasphemy law in the future," Allama Tahir Ashrafi, chairman of the All Pakistan Ulema Council, said to Agence France-Presse, expressing unprecedented Muslim support for a Christian charged with blasphemy.
New type of religious refugee approved
EUROPE The European Union will grant refugee status to religious applicants whom it previously denied. Newly eligible are those who seek asylum on the basis of religious persecution even if they are still able to practice their faith in private. The September ruling by the European Court of Justice affirmed a previous ruling in favor of two Pakistani members of the Islamic Ahmadiyya sect who were denied asylum in Germany in 2004.
For-profit Christian college wins free campus
Hobby Lobby will donate a 217-acre Massachusetts campus to Grand Canyon University (GCU). The campus, founded by D. L. Moody, will now be owned by the for-profit Christian school based in Phoenix. GCU edged out the Southern Baptist Convention's North American Mission Board for the Northfield Mount Hermon School campus after establishing a non-profit arm to qualify.
Southern Baptists break rank on Communion
A new survey shows that nearly all Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) pastors observe Communion contrary to their denomination's faith statement. Last revised in 2000, the Baptist Faith and Message (BFM) stipulates both baptism and church membership as prerequisites for the Lord's Supper. But according to LifeWay Research, 96 percent of SBC churches allow nonmembers to participate, and only 35 percent restrict it to those who have been baptized. Roger S. Oldham, SBC vice president for communications, explained the BFM "is not a creed" but a "guide in interpretation" of the Bible. But he acknowledged it "seems clear" the denomination's position on Communion "may have slipped to a minority position among pastors and churches."