The British Humanist Association (BHA) has welcomed a new revision of the model funding agreement for Free Schools by the Government in order to preclude ‘the teaching, as an evidence-based view or theory, of any view or theory that is contrary to established scientific and/or historical evidence and explanations.’ This highly significant change has been made in order to ban creationism from being taught in Free Schools, and prevent creationist groups from opening schools. The change follows the BHA coordinating the ‘Teach evolution, not creationism!’ campaign, which called for this precise change.
In September, the BHA came together with thirty leading scientists and science educators including Sir David Attenborough, Professor Richard Dawkins and Professor Michael Reiss, and five national organisations to launch ‘Teach evolution, not creationism!’, which called on the government to introduce statutory guidance against the teaching of creationism and garnered significant press coverage. The BHA also launched a government e-petition making the same call, which has now garnered over 20,000 signatures.
In subsequent written correspondence with civil servants, the BHA stated that ‘Our concern is for the government to make absolutely clear that there is no chance it will ever accept [creationist Free School] bids, or allow any state-funded school to teach creationism as science, anywhere in the curriculum, and this is only possible through a change in the law… we would support any adjustment to the model funding agreement to add a statement [to this effect]… Could we request that the next time the [Free School] model funding agreement is reviewed, our desire for this point’s inclusion is considered?’
BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘We congratulate the government for taking this significant step to prevent creationist Free Schools. There is still further work to be done to ensure that all schools, not just Free Schools, are prevented from teaching creationism, to include evolution in the primary National Curriculum, and to ensure evolution’s teaching in all schools. We look forward to working with the government and all those who care about rational and evidence based education to achieve these additional changes.’
CAIRO: An Islamic cleric residing in Europe said that women should not be close to bananas or cucumbers, in order to avoid any “sexual thoughts.”
The unnamed sheikh, who was featured in an article on el-Senousa news, was quoted saying that if women wish to eat these food items, a third party, preferably a male related to them such as their a father or husband, should cut the items into small pieces and serve.
He said that these fruits and vegetables “resemble the male penis” and hence could arouse women or “make them think of sex.”
He also added carrots and zucchini to the list of forbidden foods for women.
The sheikh was asked how to “control” women when they are out shopping for groceries and if holding these items at the market would be bad for them. The cleric answered saying this matter is between them and God.
Answering another question about what to do if women in the family like these foods, the sheikh advised the interviewer to take the food and cut it for them in a hidden place so they cannot see it.
The opinion has stirred a storm of irony and denouncement among Muslims online, with hundreds of comments mocking the cleric.
One reader said that these religious “leaders” give Islam “a bad name” and another commented said that he is a “retarded” person and he must quite his post immediately.
Others called him a seeker of fame, but no official responses from renowned Islamic scholars have been published on the statements.
Father Gabriel Amorth has carried out more than 70,000 exorcisms in his capacity as Chief Exorcist at the Vatican.
The 85-year-old can boast 25 years in the post after being appointed by the late Pope John Paul II.
At a conference today, he surprised the delegates by revealing some of his greatest dislikes – yoga and Harry Potter.
Father Amorth, a colourful and often outspoken personality, said:’Practising yoga brings evil as does reading Harry Potter. They may both seem innocuous but they both deal with magic and that leads to evil.’
He added:’Yoga is the Devil’s work. You thing you are doing it for stretching your mind and body but it leads to Hinduism. All these oriental religions are based on the false belief of reincarnation.’
Father Amorth, speaking on the subject of People And Religion at a fringe event at the Umbria Film Festival in Terni, spoke of his distaste for JK Rowling’s young wizard.
He said:’People think it is an innocuous book for children but it’s about magic and that leads to evil. In Harry Potter the Devil is at work in a cunning and crafty way, he is using his extraordinary powers of magic and evil.
‘Satan is always hidden and the thing he desires more than anything is for people to believe he does not exist. He studies each and everyone of us and our tendencies towards good and evil and then he tempts us.
‘My advice to young people would be to watch out for nightclubs because the path is always the same: alcohol, sex, drugs and Satanic sects.’
It is not the first time that Father Amorth has raised eyebrows with his forthright views – last year he said that the ongoing child sex scandals rocking the Catholic Church were evidence that ‘the Devil was at work in the Vatican.’
While in 2006, Father Amorth, who was ordained a priest in 1954, gave an interview to Vatican Radio in which he said that Nazi leader Adolf Hitler and Russian dictator Josef Stalin were both possessed by the Devil.
According to secret Vatican documents recently released the then wartime Pope Pius XII attempted a ‘long distance exorcism’ of Hitler but it failed to have any effect.
It is also not the first time that Father Amorth, who is president of the International Association of Exorcists, has spoken out against Harry Potter saying in the past that it opens children’s minds to dabbling with the occult and black magic.
Today Vanda Vanni, of the Italian Yoga Association, said:’A Satanic practice? Pardon the pun but that is an accusation that is neither in Heaven or on earth. Father Amorth’s accusation is completely without foundation.
‘It is an outrageous thing to say – yoga is not a religion but a spiritual discipline. It is about freedom and a search to find one’s inner self. It does not touch religion and has nothing to do with Satanic sects nor does it encourage people to join them.
Giorgio Furlan, who runs the Yoga Academy in Rome, said`:’There are some paths of yoga which do lead towards Hinduism but other paths are more philosophical but their is no direct link with religion and certainly no link with Satanism.
‘To say such things shows you have no idea of what you are talking about – yoga controls violent impulses of the nervous system and subconscious – to be honest with me it had the effect of bringing me closer to Christianity and in particular the Catholic Church which I had abandoned as a youngster.
Yeah, that’s not normal… but on religion, it is.
AN English expatriate in Viareggio (northern Italy) has been admitted to a psychiatric hospital after ripping out his own eyes with his naked hands during a church service.
The 46-year-old, a long-term resident in the Tuscan municipality, began screaming and banging his head against the floor during mass, explains his elderly mother, who was with him at the time.
He claimed he heard voices telling him to tear his eyes out.
The man was rushed to nearby Versilia hospital for an emergency operation, but surgeons were unable to save his sight, meaning he will now be blind for life.
Doctor Gino Barbacci, who treated him, said the man did not complain or show any signal of physical pain, and answered correctly when asked his name.
In the 26 years I have been practising, I have never seen anything like it, confessed Dr Barbacci.
Yet he appeared to be a completely normal person.
He would have needed absolutely super-human strength to pull his own eyes out with his hands.
He got up and started banging his head against the floor, he was covered in blood. I did not know what was happening, he didn’t say anything, explained the man’s mother when interviewed.
Medics say he had been in treatment for a psychiatric illness, but had not wanted to take the pills prescribed to him.
KARACHI, PAKISTAN — Kainat Soomro is a 17-year-old Pakistani girl who has become a local celebrity of sorts in her battle for justice in the Pakistani courts, a daring move for a woman of any age in this country, let alone a teenager.
She is fighting to get justice for a gang rape that she insists happened four years ago in Mehar, a small town in Pakistan.
We first met her in the office of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. A colorful traditional Pakistani shawl covered her head. Her father sat next to her as she recounted the 2007 incident.
“I was walking home from my school and I went to the store to buy a toy for my niece,” she said, staring at the floor of the office. “While I was looking at things a guy pressed a handkerchief on my nose. I fainted and was kidnapped. Then four men gang raped me.”
As she shared details of her days in captivity and multiple rapes, she kept repeating, “I want justice, I will not stop until I get justice.” After three days, she was finally able to escape she said. As she spoke, her father gently tapped her head. He said he tried to get Kainat’s alleged rapists arrested, but instead he was rebuffed by the police.
According to the Kainat family’s account, the tribal elders declared her kari, (which literally means black female), for losing her virginity outside marriage.
In Pakistan, women and men who have illicit relationships or women who lose their virginity before marriage are at risk of paying with their lives.
“These are matters of honor and the leaders call a jirga and they declare that the woman or the couple should be killed,” said Abdul Hai, a veteran field officer for the Human Rights Commission in Pakistan. These acts of violence are most commonly labeled as “honor killings.”
The most recent report from the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan noted that in 2009 roughly 46 percent of all female murders in Pakistan that year were in the name of “honor.” The report noted that a total of 647 incidences of “honor killings” were reported by the Pakistani press. However, experts say that actual incidences of “honor killings” in Pakistan are much higher and never get reported to the police because they are passed off by the families as suicides.
Kainat said that despite the pressures her family refused to kill her.
“It is the tradition, but if the family doesn’t permit it, then it won’t happen. My father, my brother, my mom didn’t allow it,” she said.
And that defiance has left the family fearing for their lives. The family’s new home in Karachi has been attacked a number of times.
But, according to Abdul Hai, Kainat is lucky: “The woman or the girl usually gets killed and the man gets away,” he said. “Over 70 percent of the murdered victims are women and only 30 percent of victims of honor killings are male.”
In Karachi, Kainat and her family are now sharing one room in a run-down apartment block, and they have to rely on charities to help them pay for food.
“We go hungry many nights,” said Kainat’s older sister.
But their fight might never pay off. A local judge has already ruled against Kainat in the case. “There is no corroborative evidence available on record. The sole testimony of the alleged rape survivor is not sufficient,” the judge said in a written decision.
Another problem is that material evidence is usually not collected in rape cases in Pakistan since the police rarely believe rape victims and therefore don’t order rape kits in a timely manner.
Without medical tests to corroborate her story, it remains Kainat’s word against the alleged rapists. But even having lost her case at the local court, Kainat insists, “I am not giving up, I will take this all the way to the Supreme Court of Pakistan.”
Well, this sure sounds constitutional…
If you’re charged with a nonviolent crime in one Alabama town, you might just have the chance to pray it all away.
Starting this week, under a new program called Operation ROC (Restore Our Community), local judges in Bay Minette, Alabama, will give those found guilty of misdemeanors the choice of serving out their time in jail, paying a fine or attending church each Sunday for a year.
The goal of the program is to help steer those who are not yet hardened criminals the chance to turn their lives around. Those who choose to go to church (there are no mosques or synagogues in the area) will have to check in with a pastor and the police department each week, CNN affiliate WKRG reported. Once you attend church every week for a year the case would be dismissed.
Police Chief Mike Rowland said the measure is one that would help save money and help direct people down the right path. Rowland told WKRG it costs $75 a day to house each inmate.
“Longevity is the key,” he told WKRG.
He said he believes 30-day drug programs don’t have the long-term capabilities to heal someone in the ways the ROC program might.
Police in the town said they think it is a simple choice, but others think it’s a choice that shouldn’t even be offered.
The ACLU in Alabama said the idea is “blatantly unconstitutional,” according to the Alabama Press-Register.
“It violates one basic tenet of the Constitution, namely that government can’t force participation in religious activity,” Olivia Turner, executive director for the ACLU of Alabama told the paper.
Rowland acknowledged there were concerns about separation of church and state complaints but said he didn’t see it as too big of a problem because offenders weren’t being forced to attend church, they are just being given the option.
The offenders who voluntarily choose church over jail get to pick the churches they attend. If they complete a year’s attendance, Rowland said, their criminal case would be dismissed.
It’s no secret fewer Canadians attend church today than 20 years ago, but what may be surprising is almost half of Canadians believe religion does more harm than good, according to the results of a survey conducted by Ipsos Reid.
Explanations from experts vary – from fear of extremists and anger toward individuals who abuse positions of power, to a national ‘forgetting’ of Canadian history.
“In the past few years, there have been several highprofile international situations involving perceived religious conflicts, as well as the anniversary of 9/11, and I think when people see those, it causes them to fear religion and to see it as a source of conflict,” said Janet Epp Buckingham, associate professor at Trinity Western University.
Canadians who don’t participate in religion themselves experience it in the news, which can sensationalize the negatives aspects of religion, said Dr. Pamela Dickey Young, the principal of the School of Religion at Queen’s University.
The survey, which was conducted ahead of the launch of a new Global TV show – Context – about religion in Canada, also found that 89 per cent of Canadians are comfortable being around people of different faiths.
But, on the question of whether religion does more harm than good, Rev. Canon Dr. Bill Prentice, director of Community Ministry for the Anglican diocese of Ottawa, said: “We forget our history.”
He pointed out that the first hospitals, schools, and universities in Canada were founded by religious institutions.
Religious leaders are calling on Mayor Michael Bloomberg to reverse course and offer clergy a role in the ceremony commemorating the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.
Rudy Washington, a deputy mayor in former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani‘s administration, said he’s outraged. Mr. Washington organized an interfaith ceremony at Yankee Stadium shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
“This is America, and to have a memorial service where there’s no prayer, this appears to be insanity to me,” said Mr. Washington, who has suffered severe medical problems connected to the time he spent at Ground Zero. “I feel like America has lost its way.”
City Hall officials, who are coordinating the ceremony, confirmed that spiritual leaders will not participate this year—just as has been the case during past events marking the anniversary. The mayor has said he wants the upcoming event to strike a similar tone as previous ceremonies.
“There are hundreds of important people that have offered to participate over the last nine years, but the focus remains on the families of the thousands who died on Sept. 11,” said Evelyn Erskine, a mayoral spokeswoman.
But the mayor’s plans this year have drawn increased scrutiny and some disapproval, as the event will attract an international audience and President Barack Obama will attend.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has publicly criticized the mayor about the list of speakers, and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has quietly sought to play a larger role.
But the exclusion of religious leaders has struck some as particularly glaring.
City Council Member Fernando Cabrera, a pastor at New Life Outreach International, a Bronx church, said he is “utterly disappointed” and “shocked” by the event’s absence of clergy. When the terrorist attacks occurred, people in the city and nationwide turned to spiritual leaders for guidance, he said.
“This is one of the pillars that carried us through,” he said, referring to religious leaders. “They were the spiritual and emotional backbone, and when you have a situation where people are trying to find meaning, where something is bigger than them, when you have a crisis of this level, they often look to the clergy.”
Mr. Cabrera described the religious leaders’ exclusion as “wiping out the recognition of the importance that spirituality plays on that day.”
Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis and one of the participants in the September 2001 interfaith ceremony at Yankee Stadium, said it would be difficult to include all faiths in the ceremony.
“I understand the feelings,” he said. “[But] I don’t know how we make it possible for everyone to have a place at the table.”
“Who’s going to agree as to who the representatives of the faith…will be? We have all the different groupings. If we have four denominations, what about the fifth denomination?” he said. “There are practical considerations when planning something, where you want to be as inclusive as possible but sometimes you find it impossible to have everyone present who should be present. It’s very difficult.”
A spokesman for Archbishop Timothy Dolan, the city’s most prominent religious leader, said he had no knowledge that Mr. Dolan had been invited. On Sept. 11, the archbishop plans to celebrate Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in the morning, and later in the day he’ll be at St. Peter’s Church in Lower Manhattan.
Many religious institutions will be holding events to commemorate the anniversary. There will be an interfaith event recognizing first responders on Sept. 6.
During the 2001 “Prayer for America” service at Yankee Stadium, leaders from the major religions—Roman Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Protestants, Sikhs, Greek Orthodox—addressed the crowd of thousands and an even larger TV audience from a podium atop second base.
“I brought every major religion to this event in Yankee Stadium,” said Mr. Washington, who is considering holding a news conference on Sept. 11 to object to the exclusion of clergy.
“I’m very upset about it,” he said. “This is crazy.”
An Austrian atheist has won the right to be shown on his driving-licence photo wearing a pasta strainer as “religious headgear”.
Niko Alm first applied for the licence three years ago after reading that headgear was allowed in official pictures only for confessional reasons.
Mr Alm said the sieve was a requirement of his religion, pastafarianism.
The Austrian authorities required him to obtain a doctor’s certificate that he was “psychologically fit” to drive.
The idea came into Mr Alm’s noodle three years ago as a way of making a serious, if ironic, point.
A self-confessed atheist, Mr Alm says he belongs to the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, a light-hearted faith whose members call themselves pastafarians.
The group’s website states that “the only dogma allowed in the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster is the rejection of dogma”.
In response to pressure for American schools to teach the Christian theory known as intelligent design, as an alternative to natural selection, the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster wrote to the Kansas School Board asking for the pastafarian version of intelligent design to be taught to schoolchildren, as an alternative to the Christian theory.
In the same spirit, Mr Alm’s pastafarian-style application for a driving licence was a response to the Austrian recognition of confessional headgear in official photographs.
The licence took three years to come through and, according to Mr Alm, he was asked to submit to a medical interview to check on his mental fitness to drive but – straining credulity – his efforts have finally paid off.
It is the police who issue driving licences in Austria, and they have duly issued a laminated card showing Mr Alm in his unorthodox item of religious headgear.
The next step, Mr Alm told the Austrian news agency APA, is to apply to the Austrian authorities for pastafarianism to become an officially recognised faith.
I am shocked…. shocked I say!
(GENOA) — The latest sex-abuse case to rock the Catholic Church is unfolding in the archdiocese of an influential Italian Cardinal who has been working with Pope Benedict XVI on reforms to respond to prior scandals of pedophile priests.
Father Riccardo Seppia, a 51-year-old parish priest in the village of Sastri Ponente, near Genoa, was arrested last Friday, May 13, on pedophilia and drug charges. Investigators say that in tapped mobile-phone conversations, Seppia asked a Moroccan drug dealer to arrange sexual encounters with young and vulnerable boys. “I do not want 16-year-old boys but younger. Fourteen-year-olds are O.K. Look for needy boys who have family issues,” he allegedly said. Genoa Archbishop Angelo Bagnasco, who is the head of the Italian Bishops Conference, had been working with Benedict to establish a tough new worldwide policy, released this week, on how bishops should handle accusations of priestly sex abuse.
Bagnasco said that when he met the Pope this weekend, he “asked for a particular blessing for my archdiocese” in light of the alleged crimes, adding that “like every father toward a son [feels] great pain in seeing a priest who is not faithful to his vocation.”
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi praised Bagnasco’s handling of the Sastri Ponente case, lauding its “timeliness and competence.” On Saturday, May 14, the Cardinal visited the Santo Spirito church, where Seppia was the parish priest.
According to investigators, Seppia told a friend — a former seminarian and barman who is currently under investigation — that the town’s malls were the best places to entice minors. In tapped phone conversations the two cursed and swore against God. The priest is charged with having attempted to kiss and touch an underage altar boy and of having exchanged cocaine for sexual intercourse with boys over 18.
Seppia’s defense lawyers are expected to argue that those conversations — monitored since Oct. 20, 2010 — were just words, sex games that were played by adults. It was just a game even when he claimed to have “kissed on the mouth” a 15-year-old altar boy, according to the defense.
On Monday, May 16, during formal questioning by Genoa’s investigating magistrate Annalisa Giacalone, Seppia chose not to respond. The magistrate decided to keep him in custody to avoid a risk of relapse or tampering with evidence. Defense attorney Paolo Bonanni said the defense wants to evaluate all the charges, reserving the right to respond to public prosecutor Stefano Puppo in the coming days.
Questioned by the investigators, the altar boy reportedly confirmed the attempted kiss. Another male minor who, according to the investigators, was stalked with messages and pressing invitations, will be questioned soon. Psychologists are helping Carabinieri police officers obtain testimony from the alleged victims. “The boys are ashamed to talk and to admit what happened,” says one of the investigators. The evidence amounts to at least 50 messages and phone calls. In the tapped phone conversations, the drug dealer contacted the boys and gave their phone numbers to the priest, who paid them with cocaine or 50 euros each time for sexual intercourse.
“[The investigators] made us listen to that man saying terrifying things about our children. Things so terrible that I cannot repeat them,” a father of one of the boys said.
Investigators are also examining three confiscated computers: the priest allegedly looked for partners via chat as well.
Seppia is currently being kept in a confinement cell in a Genoa prison. He met the jail’s priest and psychologist. “He has read the newspapers, and he is pained by his parishioners’ comments,” says his lawyer. The investigation is ongoing.