Dispatches > News

Silent treatment

"Silent treatment" Continued...

Issue: "Coming to America," April 6, 2013

In a separate incident, Libyan militants detained at least 50 Coptic Christians selling clothes in a Benghazi market on Feb. 26 and accused them of proselytizing. Egypt’s Foreign Ministry persuaded the Libyans to release the prisoners, but several of the freed Christians told the Associated Press they endured torture and humiliation during their ordeal.

Hundreds of thousands of Egyptians live in Libya, where many moved years ago to seek work during a failing Egyptian economy. Coptic Christians in Egypt called on President Mohamed Morsi to press Libyan officials to release any Christians still in jail on arbitrary charges. But considering Morsi’s reluctance to advocate for Christians in his own country, those pleas may go unheeded.

Homeless in Lahore

It took only a routine argument between drinking partners—a Muslim barber and a Christian sanitation worker—to spark the burning of Christian homes March 9. After the barber accused the sanitation worker of blaspheming the Prophet Muhammad, a mob descended on Joseph Colony, a community of minority Christians in the city of Lahore, and set fire to dozens of buildings. An aid worker said the mob burned around 160 homes, 18 shops, and two churches.

No one was injured since police warned residents to flee their homes before the attack began. The residents complained police later stood by while the Muslim mob looted and started fires.

The attack was similar to one in 2009, when extremists burned Christian homes and churches in Gojra. Human Rights Watch noted attacks against minority groups have escalated in the past year in Pakistan. Pakistan’s government condemns the violence, but local police often sympathize with the perpetrators and do little to stop them. The Christian sanitation worker, 26-year-old Sahwan Masih, faces a blasphemy charge that could carry a death penalty.

On trial

Prosecutors on March 18 opened the trial of Kermit Gosnell, the Philadelphia abortionist accused of severing babies’ spines with scissors and storing fetal body parts in jars. Gosnell, 72, faces the death penalty if convicted of murdering seven infants allegedly born alive in his abortion center. He pleaded not guilty to those deaths and to the 2009 death of a female immigrant who expired after Gosnell’s staff gave her too much anesthetic and pain medication. The 12-member jury won’t count Gosnell’s abortion profession against him, though: During jury selection, Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey Minehart dismissed Roman Catholics and others who expressed religious or moral qualms with killing the unborn.

Pain test

The fetal pain laws pro-life legislators have used to restrict abortion in 10 states (including Arkansas, as of February) since 2010 are facing their first major challenge after a federal judge ruled Idaho’s law unconstitutional March 6. The state’s ban on abortions after 20 weeks of gestation—based on medical evidence that a baby in the womb can feel pain at that age—places an “absolute obstacle” in front of women seeking abortions, wrote U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill. The judge ruled Roe v. Wade allows abortions to be restricted only after the point of viability, considered to be about 23 to 24 weeks.

Mary Spaulding Balch, state legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee, welcomed the ruling as an opportunity to have fetal pain laws constitutionally tested. If the case is eventually appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, she said, “there are strong indications that five of the sitting justices would look with sympathy” on laws protecting babies who feel pain in utero.

Academic choice

The White House on March 13 named Melissa Rogers, a religious academic known as an expert on church-state issues, as the new director for the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. “Melissa has long been a strong advocate of protecting the rights of religious organizations,” said Stanley Carlson-Thies, founder and president of the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance. Barrett Duke, of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, called Rogers “fair-minded.” Duke said Rogers “will approach her job by reaching out to all faith groups and providing them access to government funding on an equal playing field.” Rogers will confront tension between the administration and conservative religious groups over the contraceptive mandate found in the new healthcare law. A Baptist, Rogers has a law degree and in 2008 co-authored a book on religious freedom and the Supreme Court. Observers believe she may have been tapped to help the administration navigate lawsuits associated with the mandate.

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