Maha Shivaratri 2014: The Great Night Of Lord Shiva

27 02 2014

Maha Shivaratri (also Shivratri) is celebrated on February 27, 2014, by Hindus all over the world. This festival glorifies the Hindu god Shiva, believed to be the lord of cosmic destruction and dance. The festival is celebrated on the 14th night of the new moon during the Hindu lunar month of Phalguna.

The celebration of Maha Shivaratri begins with a night vigil leading up to the day of the festival during which many Shiva devotees fast and offer special prayers. Shiva is worshiped in the form of a lingam, a vertical, rounded column, representing the male creative force and the infinite, indescribable nature of God, and the yoni which represents female creative energy. Together they represents the totality of creation. Together it represents the union of organs, and the totality of creation.

Flowers, incense and other offerings are made, while prayers and bhajans are chanted. Bhang, an intoxicant made from the cannabis plant is consumed by many on the occasion of Maha Shivaratri.

The celebration of Maha Shivaratri is attributed to several tales in Hindu mythology. One of the most popular tales traces its origins to samudra manthan, or churning of the ocean of milk. According to this belief, when the gods and demons were churning the ocean of milk to obtain amrita (drink of immortality), they came across many unusual substances including a deadly poison. Terrified, the gods approached Shiva for help, and out of compassion for all living beings, Shiva swallowed the poison. The poison was so potent that it turned his neck to blue.

One of the most famous prayers recited to lord Shiva on the occasion of Maha Shivaratri is the Mahamrityunjaya Mantra, also known as the death-conquering mantra. Below are the words of the mantra in Sanskrit and a translation:

Om Tryambakam Yajamahe Sugandhim Pushtivardhanam
Urvarukamiva Bandhanan Mrityor Mukshiya Maamritat

Translation: We meditate on the Three-eyed reality which permeates and nourishes all like a fragrance. May we be liberated from death for the sake of immortality, even as a cucumber is severed from bondage to the creeper.

A sand sculpture of Hindu god Lord Shiva, made by Allahabad University students, is pictured on the eve of Maha Shivaratri festival at Sangam in Allahabad on February 26, 2014. (Sanjay Kanojia/AFP/Getty Images)

A sand sculpture of Hindu god Lord Shiva, made by Allahabad University students, is pictured on the eve of Maha Shivaratri festival at Sangam in Allahabad on February 26, 2014.
(Sanjay Kanojia/AFP/Getty Images)

A view of the illuminated Shivala temple on the eve of the Maha Shivratri festival in Amritsar on February 26, 2014. (NARINDER NANU/AFP/Getty Images)

A view of the illuminated Shivala temple on the eve of the Maha Shivratri festival in Amritsar on February 26, 2014. (NARINDER NANU/AFP/Getty Images)

Indian Hindu devotees dressed as Hindu god Lord Shiva (R), seen holding a snake to his mouth, and Mata Parvati (L) participate in a procession on the eve of the Shivaratri festival in Jammu on February 26, 2014. (STRDEL/AFP/Getty Images)

Indian Hindu devotees dressed as Hindu god Lord Shiva (R), seen holding a snake to his mouth, and Mata Parvati (L) participate in a procession on the eve of the Shivaratri festival in Jammu on February 26, 2014. (STRDEL/AFP/Getty Images)

A Hindu Sadhu (holy man) paints coloured paste onto his face during the Maha Shivaratri festival at the Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu on February 27, 2014. (PRAKASH MATHEMA/AFP/Getty Images)

A Hindu Sadhu (holy man) paints coloured paste onto his face during the Maha Shivaratri festival at the Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu on February 27, 2014. (PRAKASH MATHEMA/AFP/Getty Images)

Indian Hindu devotees pour milk over a Lingam representing Lord Shiva at a temple on the eve of the Maha Shivratri festival in Amritsar on February 26, 2014. (NARINDER NANU/AFP/Getty Images)

Indian Hindu devotees pour milk over a Lingam representing Lord Shiva at a temple on the eve of the Maha Shivratri festival in Amritsar on February 26, 2014. (NARINDER NANU/AFP/Getty Images)

A Hindu Sadhu (holy man) poses for a photograph during the Maha Shivaratri festival at the Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu on February 27, 2014. (PRAKASH MATHEMA/AFP/Getty Images)

A Hindu Sadhu (holy man) poses for a photograph during the Maha Shivaratri festival at the Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu on February 27, 2014. (PRAKASH MATHEMA/AFP/Getty Images)





DENMARK: Ban on kosher and halal slaughter comes into effect as Minister says ‘Animal rights come before religion’

22 02 2014

Related articles:
NETHERLANDS: MPs vote to ban religious slaughter
POLAND: Jewish leaders protest against the ban on kosher slaughterhouses

Denmark’s controversial ban on slaughtering conscious animals went into effect on Monday and has already come under fire from Jewish and Muslim groups who say it interferes with the requirements of halal and kosher slaughter.

sheeps-54913

Though the measure has faced opposition from religious groups since it was first proposed last year, Agriculture and Food Minister Dan Jørgensen was quoted as saying, “Animal rights come before religion,” according to the Jerusalem Post.

All slaughter that is not preceded by stunning is now illegal in Denmark, though Jewish and Muslim traditions require the animal to be conscious at the moment of death for the meat to be considered kosher or halal, reported Al Jazeera.Previously, Denmark compromised by requiring animals to be stunned immediately after their throats were cut.

However, some Danish religious leaders have said that the new law will not drastically affect religious practices. Khalil Jaffar, an imam at the Islamic Cultural Centre in Copenhagen, told Al Jazeera that “Danish Islamic leaders had issued a religious decree several years ago saying that animals stunned before slaughter were considered halal in Denmark.”

Finn Schwarz, president of the Copenhagen-based Jewish Community Centre told Al Jazeera that the country’s Jewish community mainly imports its kosher meat, as so will not be overly affected by the new decree.

However, the quick implementation of the controversial ban in spite of strong religious objections is still a matter of concern for Danish Jews and Muslims. Schwarz said, “The issue here is both the Muslim organization and the Jewish community agree this has been pushed through in a non-democratic process in a quick way.”





Dalai Lama on capitalism: “What is rich?”

21 02 2014

content_The-Dalai-Lama

By Lauren Markoe / Religion News Service

WASHINGTON — Some of the brightest pro-business minds in the nation prodded the Dalai Lama on Thursday (Feb. 20) to offer a warm endorsement of capitalism.

But during an appearance by the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism at the American Enterprise Institute, one of the world’s most stalwart and, in conservative circles, respected free enterprise think tanks, they came up short.

The Dalai Lama was the star participant in a morning of panels on “moral free enterprise” and “human happiness.”

Asked by AEI President Arthur Brooks and Columbia Business School Dean Glenn Hubbard whether he agrees that the free enterprise system is the most moral of economic systems, and why he thinks the U.S. is the richest nation on earth, the Dalai Lama answered in broken English with his own question: What do you mean by rich?

He went on to declare the command economy of the former Soviet Union, “failed,” and then critiqued American capitalism: “At the same time, United States, capitalist country, most richest, but gap rich and poor.”

Both systems, he continued, have “drawbacks,” and he prescribed “more discussions, more concern for others’ well being.”

Then finally, the Dalai Lama said, “I myself don’t know,” and burst into laughter, adding, “unless I spend few years studying about world economies and become student of you.”

In his opening remarks to a rapt audience of several hundred, the Dalai Lama did underscore a value that many conservatives believe is in short supply: individual responsibility.

He said the next century, unlike the last, should be one of peace. “We must create it. … Peace only comes through our action, not through wishful thinking,” the Dalai Lama said. “Buddha cannot give you what you want. You must make effort.”

Brooks — who was joined on the first panel by Hubbard, hedge fund founder Daniel S. Loeb and New York University business and ethics professor Jonathan Haidt — also asked the Dalai Lama how nations could best protect private property, and how the poor could enjoy “the blessings of the free enterprise system.”

The Dalai Lama answered in general terms, repeating his call for human beings to be more compassionate and to dampen “too much greed.”

In the past, the Dalai Lama has called himself a Marxist. He has also previously praised the freedoms that opening markets has brought to China, whose leadership tried to assassinate him in 1959 for his work to free Tibetans from Chinese domination.

Believed by Tibetan Buddhists to be the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso was born in a poor Tibetan village and has lived most of his 78 years in exile in India, where until three years ago he was head of the Tibetan government in exile.

Since the communist invasion in 1950, China has ruled Tibet.

As Haidt noted, the Dalai Lama is greatly admired by those on the left side of the political spectrum. But the professor said he hoped the AEI event would help to “break out of the rut” of opposing narratives of the free enterprise system — one in which it is the savior of humanity, lifting the poor out of poverty and promoting liberty, and the other in which it is the oppressor of the worker, and the ruination of the environment.

The Dalai Lama, Haidt said, could help write a third, more “nuanced” story of capitalism, where all get to share in its bounty.

But Robert Thurman, a scholar of Tibetan Buddhism at Columbia University, said the Dalai Lama isn’t following anybody’s script. A Buddhist and supporter of the Occupy Wall Street movement, Thurman said he’s not nervous about those who might like to align themselves with the Dalai Lama to burnish their own reputations.

The Dalai Lama likes to talk to people you might not expect him to, Thurman said. He will engage with the downtrodden and leaders alike. He believes “the best kind of change comes from both ends.”





Pope Francis calls for flexibility, patience as he opens talks on church teaching

21 02 2014
Pope Francis on Thursday with Cardinal Santos Abril of Spain, left, and Cardinal Agostino Vallini, the vicar general of Rome. Photo by Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters.

Pope Francis on Thursday with Cardinal Santos Abril of Spain, left, and Cardinal Agostino Vallini, the vicar general of Rome. Photo by Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters.

By David Gibson / Religion News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis on Thursday (Feb. 20) opened a major two-day meeting on the church’s approach to the complexities of modern family life, telling the world’s Catholic cardinals that the church needs a “pastoral” approach that is “intelligent, courageous and full of love” and not focused on abstract arguments.

In brief introductory remarks released by the Vatican, Francis pushed the closed-door summit of about 150 cardinals to “deepen the theology of the family and discern the pastoral practices which our present situation requires.”

He asked that they do so “thoughtfully” and by keeping the focus on “the beauty of family and marriage” while at the same time showing that the church is ready to help spouses “amid so many difficulties.” Francis added the phrase “intelligent, courageous and full of love” extemporaneously.

Francis summoned the cardinals to Rome for a weekend of ceremonies at which the pope will appoint his first batch of 19 “princes of the church,” as cardinals are often called.

But he asked them to arrive early so that they could spend time discussing one of Francis’ signature themes: shifting the church’s approach on controversial topics like divorce and remarriage, cohabitation, gay marriage and contraception.

Those issues will also be the focus of two larger and longer meetings of bishops at the Vatican this fall and in 2015.

“The pope has opened a dialogue, he’s not decided anything yet and now he’ll let us discuss,” Cardinal Walter Kasper, a German theologian who is a favorite of Francis, told Reuters on Thursday.

Kasper said the talks were not about changing doctrine or watering down traditional marriage — “that’s not possible,” he said. But “it’s a question of how to apply (church teaching to) the concrete, difficult, complex situation.”

Francis tapped Kasper to open the meetings with an address that would set the stage for the talks. Kasper — a onetime sparring partner of another German cardinal, Joseph Ratzinger, who later became Benedict XVI — delivered a two-hour talk that centered on marriage and took up most of the morning’s session.

Kasper has pushed for relaxing the ban against Communion for Catholics who have divorced and remarried without an annulment; as a bishop in Germany in the 1990s, he tried to institute a policy that would allow divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion in certain circumstances. The plan was rejected by the Vatican’s doctrinal office, then headed by Ratzinger.

In his talk on Thursday, Kasper did not offer any specific proposals, but repeatedly stressed the importance of pastoral flexibility and realism in dealing with people in challenging or unusual family situations.

The Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican’s chief spokesman, said Kasper’s talk would remain private but he provided reporters with an overview of the address.

“Our efforts are not about restating that the doctrine of the church is thus and so,” Lombardi said in summarizing Kasper’s remarks. “Our efforts are about returning to the beginning of the doctrine itself, which is the gospel.”

Lombardi described Kasper’s talk as “in great harmony” with Francis’ views, stressing the importance of accompanying people in difficult circumstances and the need for patience in helping them.

Even before he was elected pope last March, Francis — then Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires — blasted priests who “hijacked” the sacraments and refused to baptize the children of unwed mothers. He called such clerics “hypocrites” who “drive God’s people away from salvation.”

After his election, Francis continued to make the point, telling a pregnant single woman that he would baptize her baby if she couldn’t find another priest to do it, and baptizing — in the storied Sistine Chapel — the baby of a couple who were married civilly but not in the church.

In other venues Francis has also repeatedly stressed the priority of preaching God’s mercy rather than focusing on the details of doctrine and church rules. That, in turn, has led some to wonder if he was signaling a possible change in some teachings.

But Vatican insiders say the pope prefers to try to change the church’s approach rather than start a civil war over doctrine that would distract from the church’s mission to the poor and marginalized.

That doesn’t mean the shift toward mercy and away from finger-wagging is sitting well with all church leaders. Disagreements were expected as each of the cardinals gets a chance to weigh in with their own views.

“Everybody will have a chance to yell about something,” one cardinal quipped after the first day’s sessions.

Related post: Vatican harshly criticized by United Nations Human Rights Committee





Pope Francis welcomes American Jewish Committee members to the Vatican, urges a more ‘just and fraternal world’

14 02 2014
In this photo provided by the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, Pope Francis meets with members of the American Jewish Committee, at the Vatican, Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014. | ASSOCIATED PRESS

In this photo provided by the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, Pope Francis meets with members of the American Jewish Committee, at the Vatican, Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014. | ASSOCIATED PRESS

Pope Francis met with members of the American Jewish Committee at the Vatican on Thursday, reports Vatican Radio. He invited Jews and Christians to “cooperate in constructing a more just and fraternal world.” He concluded his remarks with a message of peace, “Shalom!”

Pope Francis has made it a point of his papacy to reach out to the Jewish community, specifically mentioning the importance of interfaith outreach in his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium.

Vatican Radio provided the full text of his address, which said:

Dear friends,
I welcome you here today. Your organization, which on various occasions has met with my venerable Predecessors, maintains good relations with the Holy See and with many representatives of the Catholic world. I am very grateful to you for the distinguished contribution you have made to dialogue and fraternity between Jews and Catholics, and I encourage you to continue on this path.

Next year we will commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of the Second Vatican Council Nostra Aetate, which today constitutes for the Church the sure point of reference for relations with our “elder brothers”. From this document, our reflection on the spiritual patrimony which unites us and which is the foundation of our dialogue has developed with renewed vigour. This foundation is theological, and not simply an expression of our desire for reciprocal respect and esteem. Therefore, it is important that our dialogue be always profoundly marked by the awareness of our relationship with God.

In addition to dialogue, it is also important to find ways in which Jews and Christians can cooperate in constructing a more just and fraternal world. In this regard, I call to mind in a particular way our common efforts to serve the poor, the marginalized and those who suffer. Our commitment to this service is anchored in the protection of the poor, widows, orphans, and foreigners as shown in Sacred Scripture (cf. Ex 20:20-22). It is a God given duty, one which reflects his holy will and his justice; it is a true religious obligation.

Finally, in order that our efforts may not be fruitless, it is important that we dedicate ourselves to transmitting to new generations the heritage of our mutual knowledge, esteem and friendship which has, thanks to the commitment of associations like yours, grown over these years. It is my hope therefore that the study of relations with Judaism may continue to flourish in seminaries and in centres of formation for lay Catholics, as I am similarly hopeful that a desire for an understanding of Christianity may grow among young Rabbis and the Jewish community.

Dear friends, in a few months I will have the joy of visiting Jerusalem, where – as the Psalm says – we are all born (cf. Ps 87:5) and where all peoples will one day meet (cf. Is 25:6-10). Accompany me with your prayers, so that this pilgrimage may bring forth the fruits of communion, hope and peace. Shalom!

vat-725x491

 





Vatican harshly criticized by United Nations Human Rights Committee

9 02 2014

catholic_church_vatican-HD

ASSOCIATED PRESS — The Vatican “systematically” adopted policies that allowed priests to rape and molest tens of thousands of children over decades, a UN human rights committee said Wednesday, urging the Holy See to open its files on pedophiles and bishops who concealed their crimes.

In a devastating report hailed by abuse victims, the UN committee severely criticized the Holy See for its attitudes toward homosexuality, contraception and abortion and said it should change its own canon law to ensure children’s rights and their access to health care are guaranteed.

The Vatican promptly objected and its UN ambassador accused the committee of having betrayed the international body’s own objectives by allowing itself to be swayed by pro-gay ideologues. He said it appeared the committee simply hadn’t listened when the Holy See outlined all the measures it has taken to protect children.

The report, which took the Vatican by surprise in its harsh tone, puts renewed pressure on Pope Francis to move decisively on the abuse front and make good on pledges to create a Vatican commission to study sex abuse and recommend best practices to fight it. The commission was announced in December, but few details have been released since then.

The committee issued its recommendations after subjecting the Holy See to a daylong interrogation last month on its implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the key UN treaty on child protection, which the Holy See ratified in 1990.

Critically, the committee rejected the Vatican’s longstanding argument that it doesn’t control bishops or their abusive priests, saying the Holy See was responsible for implementing the treaty not just in the Vatican City State but around the world “as the supreme power of the Catholic Church through individuals and institutions placed under its authority.”

‘Code of silence’

In its report, the committee blasted the “code of silence” that has long been used to keep victims quiet, saying the Holy See had “systematically placed preservation of the reputation of the church and the alleged offender over the protection of child victims.” It called on the Holy See to provide compensation to victims and hold accountable not just the abusers, but also those who covered up their crimes.

Kirsten Sandberg, chairperson of the UN human rights committee on the rights of the child, talks during a news conference Wednesday where the UN human rights committee denounced the Vatican. (Anja Niedringhaus/Associated Press)

Kirsten Sandberg, chairperson of the UN human rights committee on the rights of the child, talks during a news conference Wednesday where the UN human rights committee denounced the Vatican. (Anja Niedringhaus/Associated Press)

“The committee is gravely concerned that the Holy See has not acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed, has not taken the necessary measures to address cases of child sexual abuse and to protect children, and has adopted policies and practices which have led to the continuation of the abuse by, and the impunity of, the perpetrators,” the report said.

It called for Francis’ nascent abuse commission to conduct an independent investigation of all cases of priestly abuse and the way the Catholic hierarchy has responded over time, and urged the Holy See to establish clear rules for the mandatory reporting of abuse to police and to support laws that allow victims to report crimes even after the statute of limitations has expired.

No Catholic bishop has ever been sanctioned by the Vatican for sheltering an abusive priest, and only in 2010 did the Holy See direct bishops to report abusers to police where law enforcement requires it. Vatican officials have acknowledged that bishop accountability remains a major problem and have suggested that under Francis, things might begin to change.

Non-binding recommendations

The committee’s recommendations are non-binding and there is no enforcement mechanism. Instead, the UN asked the Vatican to implement the recommendations and report back by 2017. The Vatican was 14 years late submitting its most recent report.

The committee is made up of independent experts, not other UN member states — the case on the larger and often politicized UN Human Rights Council, which also sits in Geneva. The Committee on the Rights of the Child is one of 10 UN bodies that monitor implementation of the core UN human rights treaties, and its 18 members include academics, sociologists and child development specialists from around the globe.

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi (L), ambassador of Vatican at U.N.

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi (pictured left), ambassador of Vatican at U.N.

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, who headed the Vatican delegation at the Jan. 16 session in Geneva, was clearly taken aback by the scathing tone of the report.

“It seems as if the document was prepared before the committee meeting, where the Vatican gave detailed responses on various points that weren’t reported in this concluding document or seem to not have been taken into consideration,” he told Vatican Radio.

While most attention has focused on child sex abuse, the committee’s recommendations extended far beyond, into issues about discrimination against children and their rights to adequate health care, matters that touch on core church teaching about life and sexual morals.

Mandatory sexual education urged

The committee, for example, urged the Vatican to amend its canon law to identify circumstances where access to abortion can be permitted for children, such as to save the life of a young mother. It urged the Holy See to ensure that sex education, including access to information about contraception and preventing HIV, is mandatory in Catholic schools. It called for the Holy See to use its moral authority to condemn discrimination against homosexual children, or children raised by same-sex couples.

Church teaching holds that life begins at conception. The Vatican, which therefore opposes abortion and artificial contraception, calls for respect for gays, but considers homosexual acts to be “intrinsically disordered.” The Vatican has a history of diplomatic confrontation with the United Nations over such issues.

Tomasi said the call to reconsider abortion ran against the UN treaty’s own objectives to protect the life of children before and after birth, and he accused pro-gay rights and gay marriage advocacy groups of having “reinforced an ideological line” with the committee.

Benyam Mezmur, a committee member and Ethiopian academic on children’s legal rights, rejected any such criticism and said the committee report was balanced and was aimed purely at ensuring the treaty was implemented.

“The Committee on the Rights of the Child is not in the business of saying ‘Well said.’ We are in the business of saying ‘Well done.’ We want to see concrete measures,” he said in a phone interview from Geneva.

Austen Ivereigh, coordinator of Catholic Voices, a church advocacy group, said the report was a “shocking display of ignorance and high-handedness.”

He said it failed to acknowledge the progress that has been made in recent years and that the Catholic Church in many places is now considered a leader in safeguarding children. And he noted that the committee seemed unable to grasp the distinction between the responsibilities and jurisdiction of the Holy See, and local churches on the ground.

“It takes no account of the particularities of the Holy See, treating it as if it were the HQ of a multinational corporation,” he said in an email.

But victims groups hailed the report as a wake-up call to secular law enforcement officials to investigate abuse and any cover-ups, and prosecute church officials who are still protecting predator priests.

“This report gives hope to the hundreds of thousands of deeply wounded and still suffering clergy sex abuse victims across the world,” said Barbara Blaine, president of the main U.S. victim’s group SNAP. “Now it’s up to secular officials to follow the U.N.’s lead and step in to safeguard the vulnerable because Catholic officials are either incapable or unwilling to do so.”

For the full text of the UN Human Rights Committee report on Vatican, click here.





Mormon president ordered to appear in British court

8 02 2014
The worldwide headquarters for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints  located in downtown Salt Lake City, Utah,

The worldwide headquarters for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints located in downtown Salt Lake City, Utah,

By Dennis Wagner / USA Today

RELIGIOUS NEWS SERVICE – The leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been ordered to appear before a magistrate in England on fraud charges filed by a disaffected ex-Mormon who disputes fundamental teachings of the religion, according to documentation obtained by The Arizona Republic.

But some legal experts in England say it is unlikely prosecutors would seek to have him extradited, and they are surprised the summonses were issued at all.

Two summonses direct Thomas S. Monson of Utah, the church president, to attend a March 14 hearing in the Westminster Magistrates Court of London to answer accusations that key tenets of the LDS faith are untrue and have been used to secure financial contributions.

The criminal complaint was lodged by Tom Phillips, a Mormon who said he withdrew from the church after holding positions in England as bishop, stake president and area executive secretary. He now serves as managing editor of MormonThink, an online publication that critiques the church’s history and doctrine.

“The church occasionally receives documents like this that seek to draw attention to an individual’s personal grievances or to embarrass church leaders,” said Eric Hawkins, a spokesman at church headquarters in Salt Lake City who said he had not seen the legal document. “These bizarre allegations fit into that category.”

Legal scholars in England expressed bewilderment at the summonses, saying British law precludes challenges to theological beliefs in secular courts.

“I’m sitting here with an open mouth,” said Neil Addison, a former crown prosecutor and author on religious freedom. “I think the British courts will recoil in horror. This is just using the law to make a show, an anti-Mormon point. And I’m frankly shocked that a magistrate has issued it.”

Phillips’ complaint is based on the Fraud Act of 2006, a British law that prohibits false representations made to secure a profit or to cause someone to lose money. Conviction may carry a prison sentence of up to 10 years.

Judge Elizabeth Roscoe signed the summonses Jan. 31. A court official in London confirmed the issuance of the paperwork, which directs Monson to answer allegations that untrue religious precepts were used to obtain tithes comprising 10 percent of church members’ incomes. Two British subjects, Stephen Bloor and Christopher Ralph, are identified as victims.

Harvey Kass, a British solicitor, referred to the summons as “bizarre,” adding: “I can’t imagine how it got through the court process. It would be set aside within 10 seconds, in my opinion.”

Kass and Addison said they see no likelihood that the British government would seek to extradite Monson or that the United States would comply with such a request.

Phillips listed seven church teachings that he claims are demonstrably false, including the origins of the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham, part of the church’s canon of scripture. “These are not statements of mere ‘beliefs’ or opinions or theories,” he wrote. “They are made as actual facts and their truthfulness can be objectively tested with evidence.”

Phillips, who lives in Portugal, alleged that the LDS church in Great Britain has taken in $257 million in member donations since 2007. He said tithes are mandatory for good standing in the church.

According to Phillips’ online biography, he converted to Mormonism in 1969 and rose through church leadership for 33 years. Before leaving the faith in 2004, the biography says, he served as LDS area controller for the British Isles and Africa and as financial director for corporate entities in the United Kingdom.

Phillips said his belief in LDS doctrines eroded as he began researching questions raised by fellow Mormons. He now describes himself as “a secular humanist or atheist, or whatever you want to call it.”





Croatia has high level of religious rights, freedoms – says president

2 02 2014
Ivo Josipovic, President of the Republic of Croatia

Ivo Josipovic, President of the Republic of Croatia

Zagreb, Croatia, January 27 — President Ivo Josipovic on Monday issued a message on the occasion of International Religious Freedom Day, saying it was every man’s right to be or not to be a believer and that it was the state’s duty to make it possible for believers to freely practice their religion.

“This day also reminds each one of us of the obligation to accept every man, regardless of religion,” the president said, adding that tenets such as “common sense, tolerance and empathy are values in the foundation of all religions, values also of those who don’t believe but want peace and understanding between people.”

“It’s a day that concerns the whole world. There are many places in the world where people still die or suffer just because they have different beliefs. It’s a day when one should raise their voice against those who discriminate based on religion. It’s a day that also concerns Croatia,” Josipovic said, adding that “Croatia is a country in which a high level of religious rights and religious freedoms has been achieved and we can be proud of that.”

“The task of the Croatian state is to persevere in developing, within democratic processes, a political culture which protects the religious rights and freedoms of its citizens. It is their right to believe or not to believe and not to be discriminated against because of their choice. Nonetheless, there are still religious communities which have been fighting for the exercise of their rights for years. Let’s raise our voice for them,” the president said.

Source: Dalje.com





Hungary’s new system of church recognition: Rule of law or rule by decree?

1 02 2014

Upon the invitation of the International Association for Religious Freedom, Central-European Religious Freedom Institute attended the INFORM Conference at London School of Economics and Political Sciences. Prof. H. David Baer, associate professor of theology and philosophy at Texas Lutheran University and member of the Honorary Board of the Central-European Religious Freedom, held a lecture about Hungary’s Law on Churches and its implications on religious freedom in Hungary. Below you can see the full text of prof. Baer’s lecture.

LSE_Logo_long

HUNGARY’S NEW SYSTEM OF CHURCH RECOGNITION: RULE OF LAW OR RULE BY DECREE?

By prof. H. David Baer

H D Baer

In 2011 Hungary enacted a new law on “the Right of Freedom of Conscience and Religion, and on the Legal Status of Churches, Religious Denominations, and Religious Communities” (Act CCVI of 2011) which has had enormous implications for religious freedom. Prior to 2011, religious communities in Hungary were registered and recognized in accordance with a 1990 law which treated all groups equally. Act CCVI, however, abolished the previous practice and replaced it with a tiered system of recognition for religious communities that distinguishes between, on the one hand, “established churches” (bevett egyházak), which receive numerous rights and privileges, and, on the other hand, “organizations conducting religious activity” (vallási tevékenységet végző szervezetek), which receive different and fewer rights and privileges. In order to introduce this new classification system, Act CCVI had to repeal the legal status of numerous groups previously recognized as churches according to the 1990 law. The number of churches deregistered by the new law was approximately 200.

 

Many countries in Europe have tiered classification systems for religious communities, and a superficial look at Hungary might leave the impression that its religion law resembles that in other European countries. However, Hungary’s tiered system was introduced after the country had established a twenty year legal practice of treating religious groups equally. Introducing a tiered system in Hungary was thus impossible without stripping numerous religious communities of rights they had already secured under law. Furthermore, because the structure of the new religion law depends upon the retroactive withdrawal of rights, the Hungarian government has been unable to preserve the tiered classification system without creating a registration system that is arbitrary and unaccountable, which fails to comply with OSCE/ODIHR-Venice Commission guidelines for legislation pertaining to religion or belief, and which contravenes fundamental democratic principles such as equality under the law and the right to due process.

 

The challenge of introducing a tiered classification system

 

Any tiered system for classifying religious communities inevitably raises questions concerning equality under the law. The essential characteristic of a tiered system is that it treats religious communities differently, granting privileges to some groups that it denies to others. But the right of religious freedom, including the right to the group-differentiated expression of religious belief, is held by all persons equally. The question therefore becomes: how can the unequal treatment of different religious groups be reconciled with the legal equality all citizens enjoy under the law?

 

Although the Hungarian government has not been altogether clear in providing answers to this question, one can, I think, discern in some public comments the outlines of an argument that goes something as follows: The right of religious freedom consists of an essential minimum that is protected by Hungarian law. Extending rights and privileges that go beyond the basic minimum, however, is a matter for political discretion. Thus, if the state wants to distinguish between churches and religious organizations, it can do so provided this differential treatment does not impinge upon the essential minimum guaranteed by the right of religious freedom. In Hungary, the argument goes, religious organizations enjoy the essential minimum; established churches enjoy privileges that go beyond the essential minimum. So Tamás Lukács, chair of a parliamentary committee on human rights and a member of the government coalition party, has stated that no religious community has a “subjective right” to be recognized as a church, even in circumstances in which that community meets the criteria for recognition laid down in the law. This is because, in Lukács’s view, whether or not the government bestows recognition as a church on a religious community is a matter purely for political discretion. Indeed, according to one press report, Lukács told the committee of human rights which he chairs that acquiring church status was not a matter of “right, but of grace.”[1]

 

Yet even if one grants that the state can differentiate in its treatment of religious groups under some circumstances, the proposition that differences in treatment need no justification whatsoever is preposterous. The state cannot distinguish between religious communities willy-nilly, favoring some groups over others on the basis of, say, the prime minister’s personal preferences. All religious citizens are entitled to equal treatment under the law, and therefore the associations those religious citizens form are also entitled to equal treatment. Differential treatment of religious communities can be justified only as the byproduct, or social outcome, of the equal treatment of their citizens.

 

A few brief illustrations may serve to illustrate the ways in which equal treatment under the law allows space for certain kinds of differential treatment. Imagine a state that decides to support the religious aspirations of its citizens by providing direct subsidies to the religious communities in and through which citizens pursue those aspirations. Equality under the law means those subsidies need to be accessible in principle to everyone. At the same time, the state might well decide to distribute its subsidies proportionally in ways that provide larger sums to larger communities. It might also reasonably establish a minimum threshold for receiving financial support. But in these cases the differences in subsidy correspond to legitimate social differences among the religious communities. That is, the different treatment arises from a process that begins by treating all citizens equally. To use another example, the state may decide to extend tax exemptions to clergy, property, or activities of religious communities. The principle of equality under the law requires that these exemptions be offered in a neutral way to all religious groups,[2] although again, the extent of the benefits will correspond to the size of a religious community.

 

In the case of the Hungarian law, however, the different treatment of established churches and religious organizations does not correspond to a principle of proportional equality, nor does it consistently reflect objectively different social circumstances. Established churches receive certain types of direct subsidy, regardless of size or kind of activity, which religious organizations, regardless of size or kind of activity, do not. The salaries of clergy in established churches are tax exempt, but those of clergy in religious organizations are not. Furthermore, the law treats the two groups differently as concerns rights of religious practice. The different rights enjoyed by established churches and religious organizations would therefore seem to arise from differences in the underlying posture the Hungarian state has adopted toward different groups of people. In other words, the state is discriminating against certain of its citizens.

 

Further evidence of this discriminatory posture can be adduced from the way Act CCVI of 2011 was implemented. Introducing a tiered classification of religious groups into a legal structure where those groups had previously been treated equally proved impossible without disregarding basic rights and legal principles. Hungary’s new religion law recognizes 27 established churches. At the time the law went into effect, all other previously recognized churches were stripped of legal personality. As a result, their leases, their contracts with utility companies, and any other legal relationships they had were voided. Deregistered churches were also informed that they needed to secure recognition as a civil organization to avoid having their property liquidated by the state. Given that OSCE/ODIHR guidelines for legislation concerning religion caution against retroactive provisions and re-registration procedures, the problematic character of this deregistration process should be obvious.[3] Even so, I would like to call attention to some distinctive aspects of the Hungarian case.

 

In Hungary, deregistered communities were essentially compelled to seek legal personality under threat of losing their assets. This would appear to violate OSCE/ODIHR guidelines, which indicate religious communities should not be required to seek legal personality. However, OSCE/ODIHR guidelines also recognize that certain legal benefits properly attach to legal personality. Thus for the Hungarian government to require religious communities to acquire legal personality in order to own property or enter into contracts would seem compatible with European guidelines. The problem is that Hungary’s deregistered communities had already entered into legal relationships as churches. Retroactively stripped of rights they had once acquired, they were told to apply for the same rights again as a different kind of entity. Many deregistered religious communities have reported to me that the process of registering as a civil organization required making institutional changes that violated their religious conscience. Although perhaps in a strict sense these groups were free not to apply for legal personality, the choice to exercise that freedom would certainly come with a cost.

 

As a matter of due process and equal treatment, we should note that the 27 established churches recognized by the law were not required to apply for that status in accordance with the new recognition procedure laid down in the law. If the purpose of Act CCVI was to wipe the slate clean, so to speak, by establishing a completely new procedure for recognizing churches, then all of Hungary’s religious communities should have been deregistered and made to apply for the new status according to the new requirements. However, the churches currently recognized received their status as part of the legislation that brought the religion law into effect. Act CCVI of 2011 undid twenty years of established legal practice, but did so unequally, exempting some religious communities from its draconian measures. Once again, therefore, the state adopted a fundamentally unequal posture toward different groups of citizens, discriminating against some of them.

 

An arbitrary registration procedure

 

Yet further evidence that Hungary’s tiered classification system is discriminatory can be adduced from the legal procedure established by the law for conferring the status of established church. Even if the government’s expert on human rights, Tamás Lukács, were right that religious organizations do not have a subjective right to receive church status, the citizens belonging to those religious organizations certainly do have a subjective right to due process under the law. Thus any justification of Hungary’s tiered system must show, at the very least, that the citizens of all religious communities have an equal opportunity under equal circumstances to secure recognition as a church. Judged by the standards of equal treatment and due process, however, Hungary’s religion law falls egregiously short.

 

In many cases, the actual classification of specific religious communities into the categories does not conform clearly to the requirements of the law itself. Some religious communities on the list of established churches do not appear to meet the conditions for recognition, while other communities appearing to meet those conditions have been excluded. The list of established churches therefore appears arbitrary. To demonstrate this, I need only discuss a few of the numerous (and we should add parenthetically, burdensome) conditions for recognition.

 

According to the law, a religious organization applying for church status must demonstrate either (1) that it has been operating internationally for at least 100 years, or (2) that it has been operating in Hungary for 20 years and that its membership reaches 0.1% of the total population.[4] Let us consider this second condition first, particularly the requirement that a religious community’s membership reach 0.1% of the population. According to the 2011 census, Hungary’s total population is just below 10 million inhabitants (9,937,628). Thus, a religious community with a membership reaching 0.1 percent of the population would have approximately 10,000 members. This number arguably contradicts OSCE/ODIHR guidelines against high membership requirements.[5] Based on the most recent census data, only 6 of the 27 established churches in Hungary have 10,000 members or more. Thus, insofar as the current list was established according to the conditions enunciated in the law, the majority of those groups were recognized not on the basis of condition (2), but because they conform to condition (1).

 

Condition (1) requires a religious community to have been operating internationally for at least 100 years. The law stipulates further that a religious community must demonstrate international operation by meeting one of three, additional conditions. It must (a) provide “a certificate issued by churches that have church status in at least two countries and have the same confession;” or it must (b) provide “a certificate of membership in an association issued by churches, church associations that operate in at least two countries and have the same confession;” or it must (c) provide “a certificate issued by a world church that has member churches in at least two countries.”[6]

 

Condition (b), which provides for membership in international associations, seems to be written with a view toward Protestant churches, which often belong to international ecumenical organizations. Most of those ecumenical organizations are, however, less than 100 years old. The World Methodist Council, for example, was formed in 1931, the Lutheran World Federation in 1947, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches in 1970. Membership in one of these ecumenical organizations, therefore, would not demonstrate 100 years of international operation. Currently in Hungary there exist two separate Methodist churches. The smaller one is legally recognized, the larger is not. One possible explanation for this might be that the smaller church belongs to the World Methodist Council; except the World Methodist Council is less than 100 years old. This Methodist church is also affiliated with the United Methodist Church based in America, but the United Methodist Church was established only in 1968. Meanwhile, the unrecognized Methodist church in Hungary, called the Hungarian Evangelical Fellowship, has recently demonstrated a membership of more than 10,000.

 

Condition (c) provides for member churches of a world church. The clearest example of this might be the Roman Catholic Church, although the various Orthodox churches recognized in Hungary would probably also qualify under this provision; so also would the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the Mormons), which is recognized in Hungary. However, other groups which clearly meet this condition are excluded. The Armenian Apostolic Church, which has a presence in Hungary and which is one of the oldest Christian churches in the world, is not on the list of established churches. The Unification Church, present in Hungary, would also qualify under this condition. Admittedly, the Unification Church is not 100 years old, but as we have seen, that did not seem to matter in the case of the Methodist church.

 

Condition (a) provides for churches with the same confession existing in at least two countries. This condition seems quite similar to condition (c), but perhaps it was written with sister churches in mind, rather than churches with a single international organization and leadership. Perhaps the Seventh-Day Adventists, who are recognized, would fit under this condition, as would the United Methodists – if the United Methodist Church were 100 years old. But again, churches which appear to meet this condition have been denied recognition. For example, a Pentecostal church in Hungary (Isten Gyülekezete Egyesült Pünkösdi Egyház) affiliated with the United Pentecostal Church, International has so far been denied church status, even after producing a signed and notarized certificate from the American leadership of the church, as the law requires. The response of the relevant government minister, Zoltán Balog, has been to request that the United Pentecostal Church, International produce evidence that it is legally recognized in two countries.

 

On the other hand, several of Hungary’s established churches would seem to have trouble meeting any of the conditions just discussed. In calling attention to this, I do not mean to suggest these groups should not have been recognized, I merely wish to point out inconsistencies in the application of the law. One of the most perplexing instances of a recognized church is the Transylvanian Congregation (Erdélyi Gyülekezet). The Transylvanian Congregation is a group that broke away from Hungary’s Reformed Church in the 1990’s. It may be barely 20 years old, but it almost certainly does not have 10,000 members. Given its unique mission to ethnic Hungarians, the likelihood that the Transylvanian Congregation shares an identical confession with churches recognized in at least two countries also seems low. One is left to wonder, therefore, why this group is included among the established churches, especially when many other religious groups with a greater presence in Hungary have been excluded.

 

The explanation for these inconsistent applications of the law is to be found in one of the law’s provisions, according to which a church can only be recognized by a 2/3 majority vote of Parliament. Since nothing binds members of Parliament to respect the conditions for recognition laid down in the law, the list of recognized churches need not conform to those conditions. Indeed, according to Tamás Lukács, Parliament need not recognize a religious community as a church even when it meets all the conditions in the law, because recognition is a matter of political discretion rather than subjective right.

 

However, everyone has a right to due process. As the Venice Commission noted in its report on Hungary’s religion law, a provision that grants Parliament exclusive authority to bestow recognition on religious groups cannot be viewed as complying with the standards of due process of law.[7] Nor can such a provision satisfy the right of effective remedy, which, as the OSCE/ODIHR guidelines remind us, is a right “rooted in general rule-of-law conceptions” and embodied “in a number of international norms.”[8] Insofar as Parliament’s decision is both arbitrary and final, religious groups unfairly denied recognition have no avenue of legal appeal.

 

Serious concerns about due process and the right to effective remedy were at the core of a ruling by Hungary’s Constitutional Court that struck down significant parts of Act CCVI of 2011. The Court ruled that the recognition procedure carried out under the new law did not afford unrecognized groups due process and legal remedy, and, therefore, the Court restored the legal status of numerous deregistered communities. The response of the Hungarian government was to amend the constitution and the religion law so as explicitly to allow Parliament political discretion in determining which religious groups to recognize as churches. By explicitly granting Parliament a right of discretion, these amendments also give Parliament the constitutional authority to ignore the conditions for recognition laid down in the law. Nor did Parliament choose to change the list of established churches in light of the high court’s ruling.

 

Instead, the Hungarian government responded to concerns about legal remedy by introducing a passage into the religion law that allows religious communities to appeal their rejection by Parliament before the Constitutional Court. That is, a rejected religious community would ask the high court to review Parliament’s specific decision to deny it church status. However, since both the Basic Law and the law on religion allow Parliament to exercise political discretion in determining which religious groups to recognize as churches, it is hard to envision a scenario in which the Constitutional Court could ever overturn a decision by Parliament. If Parliament has a constitutional right to enact arbitrary decisions, the Court cannot strike down Parliament’s decision for being arbitrary. Rather than provide for legal remedy, the constitutional amendment has effectively removed it.

 

Conclusion

 

In seeking to rebut international criticisms of its religion law, the government of Hungary tries to describe its tiered classification of religious communities as a common European model, a system analogous to that in other democratic countries. However, the numerous problems with the law that I have outlined above call this analogy into question. Indeed, most of the problems with the Hungarian law originate in the way its classification system differs from those found elsewhere in Europe. In other European countries, tiered classification systems are the result of historical development, reflecting compromises achieved over time between national histories and a growing acknowledgment of the right of religious freedom. The defining characteristic of Hungary’s religion law, by contrast, is its effort to repeal historical developments by revoking rights previously held by Hungary’s citizens and reducing the scope of religious freedom. From the point of its inception, to the moment of its implementation, and through its continuing application, Act CCVI of 2011 has been discriminatory in ways that raise justifiable concerns not only about the state of religious freedom in Hungary, but also about the rule of law itself.

 

 

 

 


[1] “Állami kegy az egyházi statusz” Népszava online February 10, 2012 (http://www.nepszava.hu/articles/article.php?id=520174).

[2] See Guidelines for Review of Legislation Pertaining to Religion or Belief, OSCE/ODIHR, adopted by the Venice Commission, June 2004, page, 16.

[3] Ibid, page, 17.

[4] Act CVII of 2011, 14. § “The Parliament recognizes a religious organization if c) it has operated for at least ca) a hundred years internationally or cb) twenty years in an organized fashion as a religious community in Hungary and has a membership equalling at least 0.1 percent of the population of Hungary. „14. § A vallási tevékenységet végző szervezetet az Országgyűlés egyházként ismeri el, ha…c) legalább ca) százéves nemzetközi működéssel rendelkezik vagy cb) húsz éve szervezett formában, vallási közösségként működik Magyarországon és Magyarország lakosságának 0,1 százalékát elérő taglétszámmal rendelkezik”.

[5] Guidelines for Review of Legislation Pertaining to Religion or Belief, page, 17.

[6] Act CCVI of 2011, “14/A. § (1) A 14. § c) pont ca) alpontja szerinti nemzetközi működést a) legalább két országban egyházi státusszal rendelkező és azonos hitelveket valló egyházak által kiállított igazolás, b) legalább két országban működő és azonos hitelveket valló egyházak, tagegyházak szövetsége által a szövetségi tagságról kiállított igazolás, vagy c) legalább két országban működő részegyházakat összefogó világegyház által kiállított igazolás alapján kell megállapítani.”

[7] Opinion 664/2012 European Commission for Democracy Through Law (Venice Commission), paragraphs 76-77.

[8] Guidelines for Review of Legislation Pertaining to Religion or Belief, page 13.








%d bloggers like this: