Religion News 14 July

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Prevent programme threatens free speech at universities

Academics from several leading British universities are calling for an overhaul of the government’s Prevent programme, after claiming that it harms students and threatens free speech and the freedom of research. Their report, Islam and Muslims on UK University Campuses: Perceptions and Challenges, says the Prevent programme reinforces negative views about Islam and Muslims. Professor Alison Scott-Baumann from SOAS, who led the research team, told the Religion Media Centre that the findings challenge the government’s insistence that the Prevent programme was essential for tackling radicalisation. Many Muslim students reported feeling that they were treated with suspicion. In reply, the Department of Education said Prevent explicitly requires universities to uphold freedom of speech. Full report here

Faith leaders call for third world debt cancellation

More than 70 bishops, rabbis, imams, other faith leaders and heads of Christian relief charities have written to the Chancellor calling on him to press for the cancellation of debt for poor countries under extreme pressure due to the coronavirus pandemic. In April this year, G20 finance ministers agreed to temporarily suspend debt payments for 77 countries. The G20 is due to meet again on 18 July and a coalition of international groups is urging an extension of the debt payment freeze. The letter from faith leaders says payments should be cancelled,  as the virus threatens disastrous effects from inadequate healthcare and rising food insecurity.

Clergy domestic abusers

An investigation by the Daily Telegraph has uncovered stories of clergy raping, hitting and threatening to kill their wives, engaging in multiple affairs and still allowed to continue in their job.  Women who have brought complaints to the church say they have been dismissed and ignored, with the disciplinary process geared to considering offences committed within the previous year and the onus on the woman to prove her case, difficult when the crimes are committed in private and there is no corroborating evidence. Broken Rites, a support group for former clergy spouses, says there are an increasing number of complaints. The Church of England says it is reviewing its disciplinary process and the welfare of wives and partners is taken seriously.

500 Muslims gearing up to celebrate Eid at Croke Park

Croke Park, the sports stadium in Dublin, is to host a celebration of the festival of Eid, after a mosque asked for a  venue to accommodate a large gathering of 500 people, in compliance with social distancing rules. It will take place on July 31st or August 1st, based on the sighting of the new moon. Political and church leaders have been invited and 300 Muslims from all parts of Ireland have registered to attend. The Irish Times quotes the president of the Gaelic Athletics Association John Horan, welcoming the initiative.  “Normally Croke Park and our other stadia would be a hive of activity at this time of the year with the staging of games but we are living through a very different year. We are delighted to welcome members of the Muslim Community to Croke Park to mark Eid Al Adha, an important date in the Muslim calendar. I believe the staging of this celebration fully supports our commitment to inclusion and a GAA welcome linked to our belief that it’s ‘Where We All Belong’.


American senators targeted in retaliation over Uighur concerns

China is imposing sanctions on three United States senators and the Ambassador for Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, in response to the Americans imposing sanctions against Chinese officials over alleged human rights abuses against Uighur Muslims in the Xinjiang region.  The four Americans, who include Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, have been critical of the Chinese government’s policies toward minority groups and people of faith. The Associated Press is quoting the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying, saying the American action had “seriously damaged China-U.S. relations” and that China was determined to uphold its national sovereignty against what it sees as interference in its internal affairs.

Los Angeles ‘spiritual heart’ mission church ravaged by fire

Fire has destroyed the Mission San Gabriel Arcángel church, the spiritual heart and oldest mission church in Los Angeles. It was preparing to celebrate a “Jubilee Year”, commemorating the 250th anniversary of St. Junípero Serra’s founding of the mission, on 8 September 1771. But the plans were postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. In the recent anti-racism protests, statues of St. Junípero have been toppled in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Sacramento. The Catholic News Agency reports that on the weekend of the fire, churches were vandalized in other parts of the country. The Mission Church was undergoing renovations and the cause of the fire is under investigation.