Monthly Archives: September 2012

Greece: Police have arrested a 27-year-old man for blasphemy

Greek man charged with blasphemy over a trivial pun on a monk's name.

A bitter blow against freedom of expression in Greece: a 27 year old internet user was arrested and charged with blasphemy because he ran a facebook page that satirised a renowned Greek Orthodox monk.

We, citizens of the world and advocates for free speech, demand the immediate withdrawal of the charges against the accused and we urge the Greek Parliament to abolish the Greek anti-blasphemy laws.

If Greece wishes to be a part of the modern globalized world it must adhere to the standards and principles of a free nation where its people have the right to have a free and open dialogue about all subjects. Discussion, debate, and action are the basic building blocks of a free society.

Here are the relevant laws:

Article 198 – Malicious Blasphemy:

1. One who publicly and maliciously and by any means swears blasphemes God shall be punished by imprisonment for not more than two years.

2. Except for cases under paragraph 1, one who by blasphemy publicly manifests a lack of respect for the divinity, shall be punished by jailing for not more that six months or by pecuniary penalty of not more than 3,000 euros.

Article 199 – Blasphemy Concerning Religions:

One who publicly and maliciously and by any means blasphemes the Eastern Orthodox Church of Christ or any other religion tolerated in Greece shall be punished by imprisonment for not more than two years.

This petition is supported by:
-The Humanist Union of Greece (HUG)

Petition Letter


I just signed the following petition addressed to: greek parliament.

Free ‘GeronPastitsios’ and abolish Greek anti-blasphemy laws!

A bitter blow against freedom of expression in Greece: a 27 year old internet user was arrested and charged with blasphemy because he ran a facebook page that satirised a renowned Greek Orthodox monk.

We, citizens of the world and advocates for free speech, demand the immediate withdrawal of the charges against the accused and we urge the Greek Parliament to abolish the Greek anti-blasphemy laws.

If Greece wishes to be a part of the modern globalized world it must adhere to the standards and principles of a free nation where its people have the right to have a free and open dialogue about all subjects. Discussion, debate, and action are the basic building blocks of a free society.


[Your name]

PLEASE SIGN THE PETITION | Petition to the greek parliament: Free ‘Geron Pastitsios’ and abolish Greek anti-blasphemy laws! 


Police in Greece have arrested a 27-year-old man for hosting a Facebook page taunting a late Orthodox monk with a cult following.

The police on Monday said the man was arrested on the island of Evia on Friday after the state cybercrime unit received “thousands of online complaints…from various countries around the world.”

The Facebook page mocking Elder Paisios was dedicated to ‘Elder Pastitsios’, a reference to pastitsio, a popular Greek dish of pasta and ground beef.

It showed a monk with his face covered in pastitsio slop.

The police said the page, which was yanked off the web and unavailable on Monday, contained “blasphemy and insults against Elder Paisios and Orthodox Christianity” in general.

The neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party had filed a complaint in parliament on the issue last week.

Elder Paisios, a monk who lived in the monastic enclave of Mount Athos in northern Greece and died in 1994 at the age of 70, has a large cult following in the country attributed to his alleged prophetic powers and teachings.

According to his followers, he foresaw the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Turkish invasion of Cyprus and Greece’s present economic crisis.

In July, the Facebook page moderator described how he had sent to Orthodox and nationalist blogs a fictitious story about a drug addict saved by a Paisios miracle as he lay dying in hospital.

The tale was uncritically reproduced online and even ended up on the front page of a nationalist newspaper with over 3,000 readers, the hoaxer said.

The arrest was slammed by many Greek bloggers as censorship, and a group titled ‘Free Geron (Elder) Pastitsios’ sprang up on Twitter.

A new Facebook page dedicated to an ‘Elder Parisios’ appeared as well, adorned with the caricature of a monk with the Eiffel Tower for a head.

“Remind me again, which country gave rise to (ancient Greek satirist) Aristophanes?” one user posted on Twitter while others compared Greece to Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Blasphemy in Greece is punishable by up to two years in prison.

Some 90 percent of Greeks are baptised into the Orthodox faith, but the Church of Greece — which is seen as excessively wealthy and lacking in motivation to help the poor — has lost its popularity in recent years.

AFP | 25 September 2012

UK: Parents object to school bus ‘apartheid’ in Northumberland

Northumberland: Catholic children get a free (and separate) bus to the local Catholic schools while non-Catholics attending the same schools have to pay (and go on another bus).

Northumberland County Council has introduced a new policy for school buses in which Catholic children get a free (and separate) bus to the local Catholic schools while non-Catholics attending the same schools have to pay (and go on another bus).

The scheme is costing the council £90,000 a year (less fares from non-Catholic children) and has been widely condemned by parents and teachers alike.

The policy was described as “apartheid” by one parent, Cherie Nelson, who hails originally from South Africa. She said she would try to get the council’s decision overturned by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

Con Todd, Headteacher at Bedlington’s St Benet Biscop Catholic High School said the school had asked the Council not to do this and was disappointed that Catholic and non-Catholic children were being separated.

Previously, children at the school had been able to share buses with their peers, but the new regulations mean that separate buses are now run for pupils of different faiths.

Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of theNational Secular Society, said the council should not be subsidising school transport on a sectarian basis in the first place.

Mr Wood said: “Parents in Northumberland have suddenly woken up to the fact that school transport is a hotbed of separatism and religious discrimination. We have been saying for years that it is iniquitous that the taxpayer should be funding transport to religious schools for religious families much more generously than that to any schools for non-religious families. It is religious discrimination of the worst and most despicable kind – the sort that keeps children apart and creates needless differences between them.”

Mr Wood said that all over the country local authorities were ditching these school transport subsidies because of budget cuts.

“It is a shame that so many councils are stopping this discrimination only because they can’t afford it any more. They should be doing it on the more principled grounds of equality. But, whatever the reason, it is ending an injustice. Northumberland Council should do the same.”

Find out more: Read the NSS briefing paper on faith school transport

National Secular Society | Friday 28th September 2012

Watch out: UK signs agreement on “religious freedom” with OIC

The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed by Baroness Sayeeda Warsi – the new "Minister for Faith" - and pledges that the UK and the OIC will "work together on issues of peace, stability and religious freedom."

Concerns have been raised by the National Secular Society that the UK’s stance on free speech could be compromised by an agreement signed at the United Nations between this country and the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation (OIC).

The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed by Baroness Sayeeda Warsi – the new “Minister for Faith” – and pledges that the UK and the OIC will “work together on issues of peace, stability and religious freedom.”

At present, the OIC is agitating at the United Nations for a global blasphemy law that would make criticising or satirising religion a punishable offence.

Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said: “We are all for co-operation between nations to try to foster peace and understanding, but the concept of ‘religious freedom’ is one that the OIC has distorted to mean restrictions on free expression.

“We hope that by signing this document the UK will not in any way compromise its commitment to human rights – particularly the human right to free speech. The British Government has been steadfast in its opposition to the OIC’s blasphemy proposals up until now. We hope that this document will not change that in any way.”

Baroness Warsi’s other remit – as well as being ‘Minister for Faith’ – is at the Foreign Office and includes being the lead minister responsible for Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Central Asia, the UN, the International Criminal Court and the OIC, which is the largest multi-lateral organisation in the world after the UN.

She became the first British minister to speak at the OIC’s conference in June 2011 in Astana, Kazakstan. Previously she had hosted the secretary-general of the OIC in London and visited its secretariat in Jeddah, while she was in Saudi Arabia for performing Hajj. This led to the appointment of Britain’s first special representative to the organisation and its 57 members. Baroness Warsi has visited Pakistan five times during the past two and a half years in government, a country which was so central to the formation of the Islamic Conference.

In the landmark agreement there is a particular emphasis on promoting the “key role Muslims have played in shaping modern Britain” and encouraging Muslim communities to play a key role at all levels in public life.

Lady Warsi said: “When I addressed the OIC Conference in Kazakhstan in June 2011, I said we face the global challenges together. This agreement formalises that, establishing our many, many areas of co-operation, from security to conflict prevention; from religious freedom to human rights. One of the central aims of my new role will be to strengthen this relationship further and I am looking forward to ensuring we continue to work closely to achieve our mutual goals.”

She also praised the Framework Co-operation Agreement, signed with the OIC’s secretary-general, for its focus on promoting inter-religious understanding and interfaith dialogue, especially as these are two vital areas in the senior minister’s new governmental role.

Terry Sanderson commented: “There is certainly a need for some kind of inter-religious understanding among OIC member states, a number of which suppress Christianity and other religions in a brutal and merciless fashion.

“The blasphemy law which is being proposed by the OIC on behalf of its members would be an entirely dangerous and regressive step if it were to be approved at the UN. It is quite clear that it would be used to persecute and oppress non-Muslim minorities in Muslim-majority countries, as the domestic blasphemy law in Pakistan does at present.

Mr Sanderson continued: “In Egypt the blasphemy laws are also used to get rid of political opponents and are sometimes used as a means of revenge by neighbours or colleagues who are in dispute. We do not need this kind of primitive legislation in our democracies and we need reassurance from our Government that their resolve remains unaffected by the signing of this agreement with the OIC.”

National Secular Society | 27 September 2012

Italy: Catholics outraged at suggestion that they shouldn’t have a monopoly on RE

Rome, September 26 – Italy’s education minister refused to back down Wednesday from his earlier suggestions that schools in the country should teach more than Catholicism in the classroom. But Francesco Profumo said he had no immediate plans to change “certain rules or terms” of the curriculum for religion classes. The minister triggered controversy recently when he suggested it was time to update school curricula with respect to teaching the Catholic religion in public schools. As Italy becomes more multicultural, it may be important to teach students about other faiths, Profumo said. He expanded on his views in a letter to Catholic philosopher Giovanni Reale, a copy of which was obtained by ANSA Wednesday. “Our country is at the center of a tumultuous evolution, both political and spiritual, in the Mediterranean, which has always been a crossroads of peoples and faiths,” Profumo wrote. It’s time, therefore, that Italian schools “deal with this changing reality” of a multicultural world, he added. Religious education teachers have responded to Profumo’s ideas by saying the Catholic faith is a deeply embedded part of Italy’s historical heritage, and curricula shouldn’t be changed. These teachers, and an association for Italian families, noted that in June Profumo signed new agreements on what would be taught in religious education classes and now is no time for change. “Christianity is inextricably inserted in the history of our country,” said Francesco Belletti, president of the Forum of Family Associations. Religious teachers are appointed by schools in consultation with local religious Catholic authorities. Students who opt out of religion classes are not given alternative teaching. One in 10 Italian students are not Italian and a slightly higher percentage are not Catholic. A small minority of atheist or agnostic parents insist their children should not be given lessons in Catholicism.

Gazzetta del Sud | 26/09/2012

UN: Obama defends freedom of speech as a human right

U.S. President Barack Obama addresses the 67th United Nations General Assembly at the UN Headquarters in New York, September 25, 2012 (Keith Bedford/Courtesy Reuters).

From the podium at the opening session of the 67th UN General Assembly, President Barack Obama defended freedom of speech as a human right that must not be infringed and expressed confidence that “the rising tide of liberty”—as witnessed in the Arab spring—“will never be reversed.” His speech was a welcome riposte to demands from Muslim leaders, outraged by a crude video mocking the prophet Mohammed, for global rules against the defamation of religion. At the same time, his address reminded us of how turbulent the “Arab spring” that Obama lauded in last year’s speech had become.

In insisting on freedom of speech, the president was right on target. For years, Islamic religious and political leaders have advocated for international laws against the defamation of religious beliefs and texts. The United States has rightly resisted such efforts, recognizing that tyrants could use such tools “to silence critics or oppress minorities.” The U.S. Constitution thus enshrines freedom of speech as a fundamental right, Obama explained, to the degree that “we do not ban blasphemy against our most sacred beliefs.” The answer to offensive hateful speech is not persecution or imprisonment, but “more speech,” so that voices of tolerance and mutual understanding shout down those of “bigotry and blasphemy.” At the same time, the president doubled down on stressing the abhorrent content of the video, helping preserve some goodwill in the new Arab spring democracies.

As the president acknowledged, not all UN member states share this unquestioned commitment to free speech. But it is the only workable solution in an age of of instantaneous communications, when an unending supply of offensive messages and images can be spread to all corners of the world at the press of a button. In such an interconnected world, the effort to control the flow of information is a fool’s errand. Nor does the spate of violent outbursts we have witnessed in recent weeks bring anything but destruction and division, while empowering the worst among us. “It is time,” Obama declared, “to leave the call of violence and the politics of division behind.” Political leaders must speak out against hateful messages. But official censorship is never the answer.

President Obama’s second major theme was that the ideals of the Arab spring endure, despite the turbulence that has engulfed the Middle East and Muslim world in recent weeks. Here, he had a tougher case to make. A year ago, the president spoke at a heady time, touting the toppling of dictators in Tunisia and Egypt, as well as the UN-mandated operation that deposed Muammar al -Qaddafi in Libya and saved thousands of innocent lives. Today’s speech was somber, and appropriately so, given anti-American riots that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya, the unending slaughter in Syria, and Iran’s continued race for nuclear weapons.

The president opened with a moving remembrance of Christopher Stevens, the slain U.S. ambassador, who had dedicated his life to U.S.-Arab understanding and, ultimately, sacrificed it in the effort to make Libyans free. He did not die in vain, Obama implied, for the majority of Libyans—and Arabs generally—yearn to live under democratic freedoms. “History is on our side,” the president insisted, and “a rising tide of liberty will never be reversed.”

This argument is harder to sustain in the case of Syria, where the death toll now exceeds 25,000, thanks to Bashar al-Assad’s determination to remain in power and the failure of the UN Security Council to agree on forceful action in the face of repeated vetoes from Russia and China. Faced with this context, the White House appears paralyzed, calling the situation unacceptable yet remaining unwilling to arm the rebel forces, much less assume the tremendous risks of leading a “coalition of the willing” to support them militarily. An understandable position, perhaps, given uncertainty about the coherence of the Syrian opposition and the constraints of a tight presidential race and uncertainty—but a recipe for continued, grinding conflict. Just last summer, the president created an Atrocities Prevention Board to address just these sorts of contingencies. It was notable that he avoided any mention of that body in his speech.

On the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the speech criticized the virulent opposition to Israel in countries like Iran—but also included a soft jab between the lines at his domestic presidential competitor, Mitt Romney. A media firestorm erupted after a recently leaked video showed Romney stating that the Palestinians were uninterested in peace and that a two-state solution would be “almost unthinkable to accomplish.” Obama clearly separated himself from his opponent, by forcefully stating that the “the destination is clear – a secure, Jewish state of Israel; and an independent, prosperous Palestine.” Given that the United States is currently pressuring the Palestinian Authority to refrain from pursuing non-member observer state status at the UN, the statement was also intended to reinforce support for a two-state solution negotiated between Israel and Palestine.

The toughest Middle East challenge confronting the White House, of course, is Iran. Here, the president repeated what he has said before: “the United States will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.” Although strategists disagree over whether a nuclear armed Iran could be subject to deterrence, the president is clearly skeptical: “A nuclear Iran is not a challenge that can be contained,” he asserted, and one that would pose an existential threat to Israel and the Gulf nations, as well as triggering a regional nuclear arms race and unraveling the NPT. At the same time, Obama clearly disappointed the Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanahu, by maintaining the U.S. “red line” at the actual acquisition of a nuclear weapon—as opposed to simply the “capability” to produce one. Nor did he offer any signal that the UN Security Council—and particularly the Russian and Chinese permanent members—were prepared to tighten the screws on Tehran.

In short, the Obama administration’s positions all remain unchanged. The president used the speech to pressure the new heads of Arab Spring allies not to slip towards extremism, and to remain engaged with the United States. But on the two major flashpoints—Iran and Syria—Obama merely sought to make the case for the current path.

The Internationalist | Stewart M. Patrick | September 25, 2012

Italy: Foreign Affairs Minister must defend free speech and secularism

Italian Foreign Affairs Minister Terzi asked to penally prosecute those offending religions...


22 September 2012

Italian ministers, and especially Foreign Affairs ministers, have had us used to disparaging nonbelievers. Two years ago Franco Frattini, minister under the last Berlusconi government, said that “atheism, materialism and relativism are perverse phenomena characterized by intolerance that undermine society”. A few days ago his successor, Terzi, commented on the facts surrounding the cartoons published on Charlie Hebdo, showing once more, as if it were necessary, how the current technical Monti goverment is tied to the Catholic Church.


Read below UAAR’s reaction :

(UAAR is the largest Italian humanist association)


Minister Terzi,


It came to our attention that, while discussing the publication of the cartoons on Charlie Hebdo, you talked of “irresponsible sensationalisms” that “provokes the believers”, of “great sensitivities that must be respected”, of the necessity to “penally prosecute those offending religions”. Because “nobody must be allowed to mock these values and joke on them”.

Yours are very weighty declarations, and in a way they are not new: in the past you expressed in favour of “Christian values” and of recognizing the “Christian roots” of Europe. But they still represent a definite step.

Certainly not forward. Don’t you realize, Minister, that with your declarations you are, to put it bluntly, throwing away two centuries of civil, secular and democratic achievements, not to mention the international declarations on human rights our country signed? Don’t you realize, Minister, that the freedom to voice one’s opinion is the very foundation of our civilization?

We didn’t read any declarations of yours (did we miss them?) defending the atheists that, in Tunisia, Egypt, Indonesia and other Islamic countries, have been incarcerated for expressing their opinion, even though such incarcerations have been justified on the same basis as the detentions that, in the same countries, punished Christians. But lo! in those cases your voice was high and loud in condemnation. Now we understand: you do in fact propound the legitimacy of those incarcerations. Double standards.

We remind you that atheists, agnostics and humanists, who make up a significant portion of the Italian population, are frequently the object of slander on the part of the Church hierarchies: you can read some of that here: And yet they are not used to assailing churches and embassies: a host of studies agree in showing that they are in fact more respectful than believers towards minorities and of human rights. Unlike the majority of believers, we do not ask for the freedom of those who think differently from us to be revoked. We just demand that to equal obligations do correspond equal rights. Which you seem to want to deny us

We do not know if your words proceed from white-hot clericalism or just a faint heart. Still they are definitely out of place on the lips of minister of a secular Republic. We hope you won’t be so inconsiderate as to have our country join an international Sacred Alliance with freedom-killing nations. We firmly invite you to respect our constitutional charter on which you swore.

Raffaele Carcano, UAAR Secretary | 22nd September 2012


Free speech is the only answer to bigotry

The West must stand firm in the face of a barrage of intolerance from militant Muslims

Pakistan imprisoned a disabled 14-year-old girl on charges of blasphemy, stands by as minorities are slaughtered, and allows international terrorists to operate with impunity Photo: AFP/Getty Images

‘I announce today that this blasphemer who has abused the Holy Prophet, if somebody will kill him, I will give that person a prize of $100,000” – the words of which extremist? Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri? An Iranian cleric, hankering after the days of the Rushdie fatwa?

No – it was Pakistan’s railways minister, Ghulam Ahmed Bilour, a cabinet minister in the government of a major Western ally. Mr Bilour volunteered personally to kill Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, the California-based Egyptian Coptic Christian who made the controversial film, The Innocence of Muslims, which has been blamed for the recent riots in the Islamic world.

The minister, like a good number of his venal and incompetent colleagues, is undoubtedly a buffoon of the highest order. He once dismissed Pakistan’s need for railways, suggesting that Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan had done without. Yet these comments are no laughing matter. It is intolerable that a senior official, in a country scarred by violent extremism, should urge the murder of an allied nation’s citizen, for no other reason than their expression of an offensive view. It is an outrageous assault on free speech, deserving of a robust response from every liberal democracy worth the name.

The British government should make it plain that Mr Bilour is not welcome in the UK, where he, like much of the Pakistani elite, owns property. As this newspaper reported yesterday, the minister spends summers in his London apartment. If he thinks he can avail himself of British law and order, while cheering on assassination to score cheap political points, he should be quickly disabused of this notion.

Better still, Parliament should make it possible for the assets of such murder-inciting provocateurs to be confiscated. The European Union and the United States should do likewise, clarifying that anyone who advocates violent responses to free speech will face a travel ban.

The Government has, after all, issued bans for lesser offences. Last year, an American martial arts expert was denied entry because his presence was deemed not “conducive to the public good”. A Right-wing American talk show host, Michael Savage, was also barred.

Although the Pakistani government has distanced itself from the bounty, it has hardly distinguished itself. On Friday, the government declared a national holiday, “Love the Prophet Day”, in a craven effort to appease the religious Right. The predictable result was widespread rioting, in which more than 20 people were killed.

This is par for the course in a state which has imprisoned a disabled 14-year-old girl on charges of blasphemy, stands by as minorities are slaughtered, and allows international terrorists such as Lashkar-e-Taiba to operate with impunity. Last year, the governor of the Punjab and the government’s only Christian minister were both shot dead for advocating reform of blasphemy laws.

It is heartening that thousands of Pakistanis volunteered to clean up their cities after last week’s rampages. But these are small currents in a torrent of bigotry. Mr Bilour, unsurprisingly, remains in office despite his dalliance with international contract killing.

Pakistan is not the only culprit in this regard. Egypt’s President Mohammed Morsi, instead of apologising for his disgraceful delay in halting and condemning the recent ssault on the US embassy in Cairo, demanded that the United States “respect” Arab norms.

The problem, however, is not that we in the West have too much free speech – it’s that we have too little. We ourselves are content to proscribe insults under the guise of public order. Yet our response in such times should be to redouble our efforts to protect even unpopular ideas, including those with no literary or artistic merit. The solution is categorically not a global ban on the defamation of religion, a perverse idea that keeps popping up in the UN, and was again raised last week by Pakistan’s prime minister, but rather laws that demonstrate a consistent and absolute commitment to free speech, short of inciting violence.

Even before the furore over The Innocence of Muslims, Channel 4 was forced to cancel a screening of the historian Tom Holland’s film, Islam: the Untold Story, because of “security concerns”. But that is a euphemism. Security concerns do not make threats. Extremists do. Every time someone threatens free speech with violence, and particularly when the agitator is in a position of authority, like Mr Bilour, the fog of self-censorship thickens and the insidious climate of “security concerns” weighs a little heavier on all those deciding whether to exercise their basic rights.

Salman Rushdie wrote earlier this year: “If the creative artist worries if he will still be free tomorrow, then he will not be free today.” But this isn’t really about creative artists. If Holland or Nakoula are worried about their safety today, then none of us are free tomorrow.

The Telegraph | Shashank Joshi | 24th September 2012

Germany: Catholics criticise ruling for those who opt out of “church tax”

Pope Benedict XVI visits Cologne cathedral in 2005. Photograph: Michael Dalder/AFP/Getty Images

Roman Catholic activists in Germany have criticised a decree that denies sacraments and religious burials to people who opt out of a “church tax”.

Bishops issued the decree on Friday, warning Catholics who stop paying the tax they would be excluded from all religious activities, including working in a church, becoming a godparent or taking part in parish activities.

“‘Pay and pray’ is a completely wrong signal at the wrong time,” the reformist movement We Are Church said on Monday. The group said the decree “shows the great fear of the German bishops and the Vatican about further serious losses in church tax revenue”.

A conservative group called the Union of Associations, which is loyal to the pope, asked why Catholics who stopped paying the tax would be punished but those it called heretics could stay in its ranks.

“So sacraments are for sale – whoever pays the church tax can receive the sacraments,” it said in a statement, saying the link the decree created “goes beyond the sale of indulgences that [Martin] Luther denounced” at the start of the Reformation.

German tax offices collect a religious tax worth 8-9% of the annual regular tax bill of registered Catholics, Protestants and Jews and channel it to those faiths. An official declaration that one is leaving the faith frees the citizen from this tax.

Defending the decree, bishops had earlier said they were spelling out the consequences of a worshipper choosing to leave the church to avoid paying. Some Catholics had tried to remain active in their parish despite officially quitting the church.

But “it’s rubbish to assume one could leave the institutional church and remain a Catholic,” said the secretary of the German Bishops Conference.

“Whoever leaves the church,” Rev Hans Langendoerfer told a Catholic radio station in Cologne, “leaves it completely.”

The annual total of Catholic church-leavers, usually around 120,000, rose to 181,193 two years ago as revelations of decades of sexual abuse of children by priests shamed the hierarchy and prompted an apology from German-born Pope Benedict XVI.

Church taxes brought in about €5bn (£4bn) for the Roman Catholic church and €4.3bn for the Protestant churches in 2010, according to official statistics. With such full coffers, the German Catholic church runs a large network of schools, hospitals and charity organisations at home and is one of the biggest contributors to the Vatican and to Catholic projects worldwide.

Some commentators suggested the bishops issued their decree on Friday to sidestep a looming legal case by a retired theology professor challenging the right of the Catholic church to excommunicate those who opt out of the tax.

The German bishops had long told Catholics they would be excommunicated from the Church if they officially declared they were leaving it. But the Vatican ruled in 2006 that a simple declaration to a tax office that one was leaving the church was not enough to justify excommunication, Rome’s stiffest punishment. The church-leaver must also declare this to a priest, it said.

That prompted retired canon law professor Hartmut Zapp to file a legal case against the German church, saying it could not excommunicate him for leaving simply to avoid paying the tax if the Vatican did not agree he deserved that punishment.

After contradictory lower court rulings, Zapp’s case will go on Wednesday before the Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig. A ruling in his favour could throw into doubt Germany’s whole church tax system, which was introduced in the 19th century. The bishops’ Friday decree, described as “excommunication lite” by the German media, could however undermine Zapp’s case because the exclusions it listed were not described as a formal excommunication.

German bishops are due to open their autumn plenary meeting in Fulda on Tuesday and the issue is expected to play a part in the discussions over the following three days.

The Guardian | 24 September 2012

James McGuire: video of the March & Rally in London, 15 Sep 2012

I travelled to London to support and document 2012’s march & rally for a secular Europe, this is what I saw.

With thanks to Frank Turner for use of his song ‘Glory Hallelujah’ (used with permission).

James McGuire |

UK: Petition to end discriminatory Sharia court system

We, the undersigned, support the Arbitration and Mediation (Equality) Bill introduced to the House of Lords in 2011, which aims to tackle discriminatory practices, particularly against women and children, in arbitration and mediation carried out in the UK via Sharia courts. We call on the Government to take immediate action, support the passing of the Bill and defend equality for all before the law.

Why this is important

The Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill introduced into the House of Lords by Baroness Caroline Cox in 2011 aims to tackle the discrimination faced by Muslim women within the Sharia court system.
The Bill, which applies to all arbitration tribunals, will firmly outlaw the practice of giving women’s testimony half the weight of men’s.
The Bill’s proposals include:
  • a new criminal offence of  “falsely claiming legal jurisdiction”  for any person who adjudicates upon matters which ought to be decided by criminal or family courts.
  • Explicitly stating in legislation that sex discrimination law applies directly to arbitration tribunal proceedings. Discriminatory rulings may be struck down under the Bill.
  • Requiring public bodies to inform women that they have fewer legal rights if their marriage is unrecognised by English law.
  • Explicitly stating on the face of legislation that arbitration tribunals may not deal with matters of family law (such as legally recognised divorce or custody of children) or criminal law (such as domestic violence).
  • Making it easier for a civil court to set aside a consent order if a mediation settlement agreement or other agreement was reached under duress.
  • Explicitly stating on the face of legislation that a victim of domestic abuse is a witness to an offence and therefore should be expressly protected from witness intimidation.


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