Muslim couple booted from Empire State Building for praying

A Muslim family has filed a lawsuit after being kicked out of the Empire State Building…for praying. Last July, Fahad and Amina Tirmizi and their two young children were on the observation deck of the Empire State Building when the time came for a mandatory evening prayer. According to the court documents, the family found a secluded area with no traffic to kneel and begin their ceremonies when Fahad was interrupted by physical harassment from a security guard.

The guard reportedly prodded Fahad several times with his hands and feet before declaring that the family was not allowed to pray and forcing them into the elevator back to the ground floor. The suit demands an unspecified amount of monetary damages for being “shamed, humiliated and embarrassed in front of each other, their children and the general public.” A spokesperson for the Empire State Realty Trust believes that “the claims are totally without merit and we will respond to them in court.”

It’s important to remember that racism is no longer the loud, brash presence it once was. Real racism is quiet and takes place in private conversations beyond closed doors but can be felt all the same. The fact that the incident happened at one of America’s most iconic buildings only amplifies the message that as long as it’s not a public policy and everyone else is willing to look the other way, cultural discrimination is acceptable.

A new Arizona bill is on the horizon

As opponents of Arizona’s SB 1062 celebrate its downfall at the hands of Governor Jan Brewer, another bill is brewing that would allow for discrimination on the basis of religious freedom. Named House Bill 2481, it states that the state government cannot force religious authorities or judges to “solemnize a marriage that is inconsistent with the minister’s sincerely held religious beliefs.” It is currently making its way through state legislature and from there it will go to a floor debate in the Arizona House of Representatives.

Pastor and Arizona Rep. Steve Montenegro drafted the bill and said he was inspired by cases in New Jersey and England, where clergy were ordered to conduct religious ceremonies for same sex couples. “The intent of my bill is to directly protect clergy, churches, man or woman of the cloth, to protect them from doing marriage ceremonies that go against their faith,” Montenegro said to the Arizona Republic.

The bill is significantly narrower in scope than SB 1062, but it does put down a major roadblock for same-sex marriage when any official who can officially recognize the marriage has an unrestricted right to refuse to do so. Arizona’s history with gay marriage is mixed. Though they did turn down Proposition 107 (a ban on gay marriage) in 2006, the state still does not recognize same-sex marriage from within the state or from elsewhere.

Dr. Sakena Yacoobi: a leader in women’s education

Sakena Yacoobi is a humanitarian leader in women’s rights in one of the most difficult battlegrounds – Afghanistan. She is the leader of the Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL), an Afghan women’s education NGO she founded in 1995 to support education for girls (and boys), provide education training to prospective Afghan teachers and to provide health education for girls. The organization is recognized worldwide for bringing education and health services to rural, poor or otherwise underprivileged Afghans in the face of severe cultural opposition.

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Image courtesy of flickrcc

After receiving her education in the United States in the 1970’s, Sakena left a promising life as a professor and consultant to go aid her people in Afghanistan at the height of Taliban rule. AIL has come a long way since 1995 and currently consists of 38 women’s learning centers and 5 health clinics. AIL has reported trained over 20,000 teachers and provides health education to over 2 million people.

Sakena has seen outstanding recognition from the global community for her work. She was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2005, and has been awarded in honorary doctorate in law from the University of the Pacific in California for her work with AIL. Marie-Josee Kravis (formerly Marie-Josee Drouin) presented her with the Henry R Kravis Prize in Leadership in 2009, a prestigious award catering to non-profits and humanitarian efforts. Just some of her many awards, she continues to be a thought leader in education and a strong advocate for women’s rights today.

Turn Away the Gay Laws

Originally posted on icanhasgrace:

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Any business who is turning anyone away from services based on religious belief is not Christian. I’ve said it before: if you disagree with another person’s beliefs or actions, your only option is to pray for that person. It’s right out of Jesus’ mouth, folks: “Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you.”

Now, if you’re praying for someone, really praying, 99% of the time God is going to change you. So just prepare yourself for that.

The real kicker is, as a Christian, what I just wrote applies to me as well. All these idiots who claim to need a law to defend their bigotry? Damn it! All I can do as a Christian is pray for them. And I have to be open to how God will change me when I do.

But let me set aside the Christian aspect of what’s happening Tennessee, Georgia, Kansas…

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Benghazi “scandal”: Round 3

Unfortunately for Hillary Clinton, Benghazi is once again rearing its ugly head in the wake of an Armed Services Committee investigation report last Tuesday. The investigation concluded that the military response to the attack was free of blame, and that US personnel in Benghazi were “woefully vulnerable” because “..White House officials failed to comprehend or ignored the deteriorating security situation in Libya and the growing threat to US interest in the region.” The report also found that Defense Department officials believed that it was a terrorist attack from its onset, rather than a protest gone awry has Clinton claimed following the attack.

The report is a bullet list of every accusation pointed at Clinton by the GOP since the attacks in 2012. The RNC continues to call Benghazi “..the defining moment of Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state” and there is no end in sight to critical reports. OPSEC (short for “operational security”), a right-leaning group composed of former special forces and intelligence operatives, plans to release a report within days on their take of Benghazi. Given that OPSEC president Scott Taylor believes Clinton “did nothing to help prevent the death of four Americans in Benghazi”, a glowing review seems unlikely.

However Clinton is certainly not without allies of her own. Supporters are quick to point out the State Department review in 2012 that cited two leadership departments as to why security at Benghazi was so unprepared but did not blame Clinton herself. Support can also be found in unlikely places. The GOP’s favorite ex-general David Petraeus, who currently chairs the Global Institute at KKR, stated that Clinton would make a “tremendous President” and that ”In the wake of the Benghazi attacks, for example, she was extraordinarily resolute, determined, and controlled.” A surprising endorsement, given that Clinton publicly criticized Petraeus during his time as theater commander in Iraq.

Clinton’s response to the controversy so far has been largely evasive, but as we enter 2014 it is clear that Republicans consider Benghazi a weak point in her defenses and are unlikely to stop poking at it as long as she is expected to seek a presidential bid in 2016.

Saudi Arabia hamstrings women’s rights…again

A “fatwa” or edict issued by the Council of Senior Scholars in Saudi Arabia declared that women are not allowed to visit a male doctor without a male guardian present. The Commission for Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice has confirmed the new ruling and will legally enforce it in the future. Saudi Arabia’s highest religious authority believes that Islamic law cannot permit women to expose parts of their body to male doctors except in the case of medical emergencies. “Islamic jurisprudence does make exceptions” claimed a member of the Council of Senior Scholars.

Only next of kin qualify as male guardians in Islamic tradition, which includes fathers, brothers, sons, uncles and husbands but many Islamic women protest the rule on grounds that it is impractical. “This is going to be a huge burden for us. Many of us don’t have male guardians. Those of us who do, can’t depend on them, as they have work and travel commitments,” said Muneera Dawood, a stay-at-home mother.

The fatwa states that male doctors may examine female patients only if female doctors are unavailable and the patient has a male guardian. Doctor visits that violate these rules could have “negative implications” according to a member of the Council of Senior Scholars. This represents another major step backwards in women’s rights for Saudi Arabia, comparable to the ban on women driving though movements to repeal that ban are beginning to gain momentum.

Ronald Reagan is not a friend of the gays

Ever since President Reagan’s daughter Patti Davis released her letter arguing that her father would have been pro-LGBT, speculation on Reagan’s LGBT leanings have been rampant. Liberal blogs and websites immediately took the headline and ran with it, claiming that Reagan, the conservative icon, had seen the light and come to join the good guys.

There is some merit to the conclusion. Those close to Reagan claim that he didn’t subscribe to the homophobia that was the prevailing conservative attitude at the time, and his family was reportedly close friends with a lesbian couple that, according to Davis, babysat from time to time. Together it paints a rosy picture, and that’s all well and good until you remember his response to the HIV epidemic (lack thereof) that resulted in thousands infected in the LGBT community.

It’s also hard to imagine that as a devout Christian Reagan would have been able to cleanly break away from the narrative that homosexuality is a sin and to be condemned. Put that way, it’s hard to compare him to the gay-friendly Republicans of today like Ken Mehlman, Paul Singer and Ted Olson who actively campaign to bring about positive change.

Most importantly, there is no way to tell what Ronald Reagan would have said on any modern issue because he’s dead. I reject the idea that equality is relative to culture and time period, and more than that I reject the idea of someone posthumously propped up to support a cause we can’t guarantee they would have endorsed. His son and Patti Davis’ brother Michael Reagan may have said it best. “Back in the 1980s when he was president, no, he wouldn’t have [supported gay marriage] … It’s easy to say he would do or not do something when he’s not here to answer.”

Maryland teenager becomes first openly gay Eagle Scout

Maryland teenager Pascal Tessier has made Boy Scout history by being the first openly gay teenager to achieve Eagle Scout. He accepted the badge Monday night and is the first documented gay Eagle Scout since the Boy Scouts of America lifted their ban on gay members last May.

The acceptance is bittersweet for Tessier. “It’s kind of a backhanded acceptance: ‘We accept you for now.’ It says to you, you’re a monster of some sort.” He is referring to the fact that though the Boy Scouts allow gay members, they do not allow gay adult leaders.

The Boy Scouts’ policy on adult members reads “…we do not grant membership to individuals who are open or avowed homosexuals or who engage in behavior that would become a distraction to the mission of the BSA,” Tessier nearly didn’t get his chance to earn Eagle Scout at all as he was involved in a public protest that could have resulted in the Boy Scouts expelling him. In the meantime, there is hopeful speculation that this event will help to show the Boy Scouts that a person’s sexual preference has no bearing on their ability to be community leaders.

No Facebook, Hobby Lobby is not closing

The Hobby Lobby v Sebelius Supreme Court case has seen some unintended side effects for the arts and crafts giant. For those unaware, Hobby Lobby is currently objecting to the Affordable Care Act, citing that due to the religious beliefs of the business owners the requirement to provide certain type of abortive contraception is a violation of their religious freedoms.

As with any notable event involving religion, the case has raised significant controversy but at some point during the online discussion a rumor developed on conservative blogs that Hobby Lobby intended to close most or all of its stores. The rumor caught fire, and social media channels were ablaze for weeks on Hobby Lobby’s demise though much of it was overshadowed by the amicus brief arms race in which the Hobby Lobby supporters came out ahead in raw numbers.

Image courtesy of flickrcc

Fans of homemade crafts can rest easy, as Hobby Lobby recently released a press release staunchly denying the rumors of closure. To the contrary, they are opening 70 new locations in the US by the end of 2014 (unrelated but according to the press release, Hobby Lobby employees get paid $14/hr. Time to quit my job). Many believe that Hobby Lobby v Sebelius could become a landmark case drawing the boundary of religious expression for business entities, and if you want to tune in keep an eye out for the oral arguments which have been scheduled on March 25th.

Rainbows over Sochi

Originally posted on One Blessed Fool's Way to Happiness:

So I watched the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics today – and applauded Thomas Bach, IOC President, for the courage and strength of his statement. The basics of his message were these: The Olympic games are about diversity and about building bridges, about friendship and mutual respect; they exist to support a growth of understanding and tolerance between all participants and their nations. No form of discrimination has a place in this event.

And rainbows were visible in the ceremony today.

The German team outfits… Yes, maybe not the greatest design achievement – but a loud and clear statement nonetheless. 

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And I was stunned to see the Russian-designed outfits of the volunteers that also feature all the colours of the rainbow. Rather strange, that.

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I spent the whole time I was watching the ceremony wondering what went on behind the scenes during the building and planning phase, what political…

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