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Religion News Report

January 5, 2001 (Vol. 5, Issue 305) - 2/3

See Religion News Blog for the Latest news about cults,
religious sects, world religions, and related issues
Rainbow


» Continued from Part 1

=== Islam
14. Bangladesh court bans religious edicts

=== Jehovah's Witnesses
15 Court OKs hospital's bid for transfusion
16. Jehovah's Witness suicide plunge

=== Paganism / Witchcraft
17. Brandi: The Teenage Witch
18. Boy turned into yam is guarded by police

=== Hate Groups / Hate Crimes
19. Extremist Group's Headquarters Raided
20. FBI Raids Brooklyn Jewish Center
21. Judge orders KKK leader to pay news crew
22. White supremacist objects to prison diet
23. Limits of free speech online
24. Yahoo looks for hate
25. MTV to List Hate Crimes Victims

» Part 3

=== Other News
26. Suicide-Cult Tale Spurs NYPD Alert
27. Bizarre cult-suicied threat chills city hall
28. Man Justifies Attack In Ranting Statement
29. Russia registers 9,000 religious groups
30. Students Fail To Prove Yale Violated Religious Rights
31. ISKCON's free meals get kids back to school
32. Santeria Priests Predict Stormy, Lusty 2001
33. Better Future Predicted for Nigeria
34. Rapist, Inspired by Bible, Cuts Off Penis

=== Death Penalty
35. The Death Penalty's Days Are Numbered (Robert Jay Lifton)

=== Noted
36. In Japan, spirituality search can lead to cults
37. Support for people leaving sects
38. Teen virginity pledges surprisingly effective, study says

=== Islam

14. Bangladesh court bans religious edicts
UPI, Jan. 1, 2001
http://beta.yellowbrix.com/Off-site Link

DHAKA, Bangladesh, Jan. 1 (UPI) -- The Bangladesh High Court Monday ruled religious edicts illegal and said only courts could decide questions about legal opinions on Muslim and other laws.

The decision came after reports that a rural housewife was forced by Muslim clerics to marry her cousin.

''We hold that any fatwa including the instant ones are all unauthorized and illegal,'' Justice Mohammad Gholam Rabbani and Justice Nazmun Ara Sultana said while delivering a judgment.

They recommended that ''giving a fatwa by unauthorized person or persons must be made a punishable offence by the parliament immediately.''
(...)

''We find it necessary to answer a question as to why a particular group of men, upon either getting education from madrasa (religious educational institutes) or forming a religious group, are becoming fanatics with wrong views,'' the judgment said. ''There must be defect in their education and their attitude.''

Bangladesh is one of the most populous Muslim countries and the decision could have far-reaching implications.
[...more...]


=== Jehovah's Witnesses

15. Court OKs hospital's bid for transfusion
Tulsa World, Jan. 3, 2001
http://beta.yellowbrix.com/Off-site Link

St. Francis Hospital obtained an emergency court order Friday to give a blood transfusion to a 5-year-old girl whose parents refused to consent to the treatment for religious reasons.

Brianna Blake is suffering from rhabdomyosarcoma -- a form of cancer -- and ''will require a blood transfusion or blood transfusion products for her survival,'' Dr. Martina Hum, a physician for the girl, stated in an affidavit dated Friday.

She stated that Brianna's parents, ''who to my understanding are Jehovah's Witnesses, will not consent to the blood transfusion.''

Tulsa County District Judge Thomas Thornbrugh ordered that St. Francis Hospital and/or The Warren Clinic may administer the transfusion if it becomes necessary and that the hospital and doctor will not be subject to civil or criminal actions as a result.
[...more...]


16. Jehovah's Witness suicide plunge
Evening Mail (England), Jan. 1, 2001
http://beta.yellowbrix.com/Off-site Link

A Jehovah's Witness suffering from severe mental illness plunged head first to her death through a first floor window, a Birmingham inquest heard.

Jennifer Mary Baker, aged 52, who had a history of mental problems, was in the bedroom of her home in Woodthorpe Road, Kings Heath, when she jumped and fell 12 ft onto her head, suffering fatal injuries.

Minutes before she had told her husband, Michael Baker, that if her worsening mental state continued, she wanted to end her life.
(...)

'She said she wanted to put her faith in the Resurrection, which we both believe in. Then she asked me to get her something to eat, that's when I heard the crash.'
[...more...]


=== Paganism / Witchcraft

17. Brandi: The Teenage Witch
Independent (England), Jan. 5, 2001 (Column, Andrew Gumbel)
http://www.independent.co.uk/Off-site Link

Brandi Blackbear never stood out at school as anything other than a perfectly average teenage kid. She had acceptable, if not scintillating, grades. She wasn't exactly Miss Popularity, but she had a decent number of friends. She never got into serious trouble, had no problems with lateness or truancy, and had no bad habits or delinquent pastimes.

That, though, was before the authorities at her school began to accuse her of practising witchcraft.

Just over a year ago, Brandi was summarily suspended from Union Intermediate High School in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, and told to stay at home for two weeks. The reason had to do with her ceramics teacher, a certain Mr Kemp, who had fallen suddenly ill and had been rushed in to hospital.

According to the assistant principal of the school, Brandi had caused this sudden illness by casting a spell on Mr Kemp.

No proof was offered for this startling assertion other than the evidence of Brandi's right hand, which was scrawled with a five-pointed star in a circle. Charlie Bushyhead, the assistant principal, insisted it was a witch's pentagram and badgered her into admitting that she was an adherent of the Wicca, the popular New Age religion that harks back to pagan models of spirituality.
(...)

Having called her into his office, Mr Bushyhead bombarded Brandi with accusations, quickly reducing her to tears. A school counsellor, Sandy Franklin, joined in the interrogation and also accused her of casting spells. By the time her father arrived 45 minutes later, Brandi's eyes were blood-red from all the crying. Tim Blackbear demanded to know what was going on, and the teachers told him their story about Mr Kemp.
(...)

That was last December. In the intervening period, several troubling new facts have come to light. First, Mr Kemp was not stricken by some mystery ailment but, rather, underwent a routine emergency operation for appendicitis and has since fully recovered. The ceramics teacher was not himself a party to the accusations against Brandi and appears to have been one of her favourite instructors at the school.

Secondly, Brandi's association with the Wicca - while not in itself incriminating in any way - appears to have been a matter of rumour rather than fact. She had been reading up on the Goddess movement as research for a short story she was working on, and did not, at least according to the account she gives now, fall under its influence. If she admitted being a member of a Wicca ''coven'', her family says, it was only because of the duress of her interrogation.

Even if she was a Wiccan, that should not have been a cause of alarm. With an estimated 200,000 adherents, Wicca is now one of the fastest growing religious movements among young people in the United States, and has inspired its own books, films and even TV series such as Sabrina the Teenage Witch.
(...)

The Blackbears, meanwhile, have sought the help of the Oklahoma chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and filed suit in federal court alleging multiple violations of Brandi's civil rights. (The school board is obliged to respond within the next few days, but has yet to do so.)

The picture that emerges, both from the court filing and from conversations with the family, is a lot more troubling than a simple dispute between an impressionable student and an over-zealous school administrator. It touches on the intolerance of the fundamentalist Christian organisations that hold considerable sway in suburban Oklahoma, and on a sort of hysteria capable of erupting across much of the American heartland, a hysteria that can seize on anybody who appears to be in any way different from the conservative, church-going, liberal-hating, virulently anti-intellectual norm.
(...)

The social and cultural tone in Broken Arrow, including its school district, is set by three hugely powerful fundamentalist Christian organisations: the Rhema Bible Training Center, whose founder Kenneth ''Dad'' Hagin believes the Bible is a more effective healer than modern medicine and that wealth is a sign of God's blessing upon the faithful; the Victory Christian Church; and, in nearby Tulsa, Oral Roberts University, best known for a notorious fund-raising appeal by its eponymous founder, who said God would kill him if he did not receive $4m from his supporters. (Miraculously, he survived.) According to the ACLU, the fundamentalists have consistently sought to erode the separation of church and state in Oklahoman schools, piping prayers through the intercom system and having school marching bands play evangelical hymns at sports events. At the same time, non-evangelical Christians and members of other religions are looked down upon and sanctioned whenever they display symbols of their own religious beliefs.

Catholics are regularly belittled by fundamentalists as idolators and told they will rot in Hell; occasionally, such views are expressed by teachers. Anyone sporting a pentacle - the proper term for the Wicca symbol - can expect to be accused of Satan-worship and membership of a criminal gang, as occasional ACLU lawsuits attest.

''We see a lot of problems with violations of individual religious liberty within public school systems in Oklahoma as the result of actions by over-zealous Christian fundamentalists who are often in charge,'' said Michael Canfield, who works at the ACLU office in Oklahoma City.

Occasionally, the intolerance can spill over into violence. When Joann Bell, now the executive director of the Oklahoma ACLU, filed a lawsuit in 1981 to try to stop school-sponsored prayer meetings, which are banned under the US Constitution's First Amendment, she was beaten up by a school employee and had her house burned down. Her children, who were in school at the time, had upside-down crosses scrawled on their lockers and were openly denounced as Satan-worshippers.
[...more...]
Note: Brandi Blackbear was suspended in October; not December.


18. Boy turned into yam is guarded by police
The Sunday Telegraph (England), Dec. 31, 2001
http://beta.yellowbrix.com/Off-site Link

Hundreds of curious people flocked to the police station in the northern Nigerian town of Maiduguri in Borno state earlier this year after radio reports that a local schoolboy had been turned into a large yam by witchcraft.

Three pupils at the local primary school had rushed into the headmistress's office the previous morning and said the boy, whose name was not given, had been transformed into the root tuber after accepting a sweet from a stranger.

The headmistress found the tuber and took it to the local police station, where at the time of the report it was being kept under guard by Divisional Police Officer Adamu Tukur, who said the sweet- giver was being sought.
(...)

Such stories of witchcraft are not confined to the developing world, as the following reports show. Charlie Bushyhead, the assistant principal of Union Intermediate High School in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, suspended 15-year-old Brandi Blackbear for 15 days in December last year for supposedly casting a magic spell that caused a male teacher to become sick.
(...)

The ACLU is seeking an undisclosed amount of damages for Ms Blackbear, a declaration that the school violated her rights, and an order expunging her school record.
[...more...]
Note: Brandi Blackbear was suspended in October; not December.


=== Hate Groups / Hate Crimes

19. Extremist Group's Headquarters Raided
Washington Post, Jan. 5, 2001
http://www.washingtonpost.com/Off-site Link

NEW YORK, Jan. 4 -- The FBI raided a Brooklyn community center today that allegedly has served as headquarters for a Jewish extremist group labeled by the State Department as a foreign terrorist organization.

Early this morning, more than 20 FBI agents arrived at the Hatikva Jewish Identity Center with a warrant to seize all materials related to the late Rabbi Meir David Kahane and his followers, said the center's director, Michael Guzofsky.

Kahane was assassinated in a Manhattan hotel 10 years ago. His son, Binyamin Kahane, was killed Dec. 31 in an ambush in the West Bank. They had been associated with two radical political groups, Kach and Kahane Chai, which were outlawed in Israel in 1994 and were designated by the State Department as foreign terrorist organizations the following year.

The Kahane-affiliated organizations have been accused of fomenting hatred against Arabs, and some of their members have been connected to attacks on Palestinians, including the slaying of 29 Muslims in a Hebron mosque in 1994.

Despite the terrorist designation, some of the rabbi's supporters have continued to operate in Brooklyn, teaching martial arts, running Web sites and advocating the expulsion of Arabs from Israel.
(...)

An FBI spokesman said the search warrant was connected to an ongoing investigation and declined any other comment.

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, speculated that the raid was prompted by ''hate rhetoric'' from Kahane-related groups since the killing of Binyamin Kahane on New Year's Eve. ''They're calling for vengeance,'' Foxman said. ''The level of it has reached a crescendo.''
[...more...]


20. FBI Raids Brooklyn Jewish Center
Newsday, Jan. 5, 2001
http://www.newsday.com/Off-site Link

FBI agents removed a truckload of computers, equipment and documents yesterday afternoon from a Flatbush Jewish center with suspected ties to Jewish terrorist organizations.

Law enforcement sources said the search of the Hatikvah Jewish Identity Center on Coney Island Avenue was part of an ongoing investigation by the U.S. Attorney in Brooklyn into whether the center was raising money for Jewish terrorist groups.

Members of the center dispute any links to terrorists, saying they are peaceful followers of Rabbi Meir Kahane, the radical Zionist who was killed in a Manhattan hotel in 1990.
(...)

Hatikvah has been linked in the past to Kahane Chai -- or Kahane Lives -- which was founded by Binyamin Kahane after his father's death and has been designated as a Jewish terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department.

Michael Guzofsky, the Hatikvah center's director, said that while he was not officially informed why the search took place, he assumes it is because of the center's connections to Kahane.

''But we're not Kahane Chai. We are Kahane. We're perfectly legal in America,'' Guzofsky said.

Guzofsky questioned the timing of the search, saying that officials were trying to frighten militant Jewish groups while leaders try to broker a peace deal in the Middle East.
(...)

Abraham Foxman, national director for the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, said the league has been monitoring the Hatikvah center because of its relationship with known terrorist groups.

''They have all kinds of pseudonyms and names, but what they are in fact is an extremist fringe group,'' Foxman said. ''They have been violent, they spew forth with hateful rhetoric. And since the assassination of Binyamin Kahane, the level of hate and extremist rhetoric has increased dramatically. I think that was probably what triggered the FBI.''
[...more...]


21. Judge orders KKK leader to pay news crew
AP, Jan. 4, 2001
http://news.findlaw.com/Off-site Link

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (AP) _ A federal judge has ordered Ku Klux Klan leader Jeff Berry to pay $120,000 to a television news crew that accused him of holding them hostage at his home.

George M. Sells IV and Heidi Thiel of WHAS-TV in Louisville, Ky., were awarded $60,000 each in punitive and compensatory damages stemming from a civil lawsuit they filed against Berry in U.S. District Court.
(...)

Sells, a reporter, and Thiel, a camera operator, went to Berry's home on Nov. 17, 1999, to interview him about an upcoming rally of the American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, which Berry leads.

After the interview, Berry asked whether they intended to interview Brad Thompson, a former Klansman who left Berry's organization and later denounced the Klan.

When Sells replied that they planned to speak to Thompson, Berry said he no longer wanted to be part of the news story and demanded they give him the interview tapes, the lawsuit said.

When they refused, Berry and several of his Klan followers locked and blocked the doors, refusing to allow Sells and Thiel to leave, the lawsuit said.
(...)

Berry, who represented himself in court, had sought to dismiss the complaint, alleging that the Southern Poverty Law Center had conspired with the television crew and Thompson to deprive him of his freedom of religion.

The law center, which tracks hate groups, provided attorneys for the reporter and photographer.

Cosbey denied Berry's motion to dismiss the case, saying there was no evidence to support his allegations.
[...more...]


22. White supremacist objects to prison diet
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Dec. 30, 2001
http://www.accessatlanta.com/Off-site Link

Michael Scatena has a devil of a time eating in prison because he says his white supremacist religion imposes strict dietary restrictions.

He says he is not permitted to eat or drink anything that is approved as kosher for Jews because he is a member of the World Church of the Creator, which the Anti-Defamation League calls a violent hate group on the radical right.
(...)

Scatena sought a court order to force prison authorities to give him ''non-rabbinical food and liquid staples that are free of the Jewish religious food symbols'' and to provide him a vegetarian diet.

Pondering the problem, Connecticut Judge J.T.R. Rittenband said under American law he ''is willing to accept the WCC as a religion'' no matter how racist and abhorrent the principles of the religion may be.

Rittenband said he found that making Scatena eat the food he objects to ''is a violation of his religious principles.''

But the judge denied the inmate's request for a court order, suggesting ''the remedy for the plaintiff is simply, 'Don't eat or drink such foods.'''

To keep up his nutrition, the judge recommended Scatena follow the example of picky school children: Eat a lot of peanut butter and jelly, which do not have the offending labels on them.
[...more...]


23. Limits of free speech online
Reuters, Jan. 4, 2001
http://www.news24.co.za/Off-site Link

Palo Alto, California - Yahoo! has had a lot of trouble defending free speech on the Internet, becoming a target of American Jewish groups and even the French government over Nazi materials, such as old military uniforms, traded on its auction site.

The company apparently decided it was no longer worth all the trouble. On Tuesday it reversed a long-standing policy that allowed the sale of such potentially offensive items, saying it would follow the sensibilities of its audience rather than the letter of the law.

''At this point we are just not interested in being associated with people deriving revenue from these things,'' explained Brian Fitzgerald, senior producer for Yahoo! Auctions.

Specifically banned under the new policy were Nazi ''militaria'' - a category encompassing things like weapons, medals and recruitment posters; and Ku Klux Klan memorabilia. Although Yahoo has always sought to remove items deemed to be promoting violence, it has until now allowed the sale of many items associated with hate groups, citing their historic value.
(...)

Just a few months ago, when Yahoo was still defending the sale of such historic items, it was challenged to behave more like big retailers such as Wal-Mart and 7-Eleven. The Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Centre, which closely monitors hate material, maintained that those stores also had a legal right to sell controversial material but had chosen not to.

The World Jewish Congress applauded Yahoo's decision on Wednesday, saying that free speech had its limits.

''I think people have to be honest, there is a tension here between the right to free speech and the right to protect ourselves from hate mongers,'' said Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress.
(...)

In what could be seen as a contradiction, Yahoo's new policy will not apply to the content areas of its site. Visitors will still be able to devote Yahoo chat rooms and message boards to the discussion of volatile topics like neo-Nazis, provided, the company says, that they are not advocating the use of violence.

''The notion here is that if the Internet is going to be a tool for inclusiveness and greater understanding, you have to let people share their ideas and many will be offensive or ignorant,'' Yahoo's Wrenn said.
(...)

While Yahoo is adding a filter to detect offensive content, other big auction sites wonder whether that can be implemented successfully.

''Filtering is very difficult,'' said a spokesman for eBay, the largest Internet auction site, which continues to allow the sale of Nazi artefacts and says it depends on its large community to alert it to items that cross the fuzzy line into hate material.

''In some of these categories it is not black and white. It can depend on specific details. You'd need an equivalent of the FBI to figure it out,'' the spokesman said.

Many Jewish groups, however, insist that it need not be so complicated. For all the arguments that Jews themselves may be interested in collecting things like Nazi weapons to help preserve the history of the Holocaust, the World Jewish Congress says that is simply not what is happening.

''When the offices of extremist groups are raided, you will find caches of Nazi memorabilia,'' Steinberg said. ''Those who argue that these things are of interest to historical collectors are simply not being honest.''
[...more...]


24. Yahoo looks for hate
BBC, Jan. 3, 2001
http://news.bbc.co.uk/Off-site Link

Yahoo has taken the easy route by deciding to self-regulate the auction of Nazi memorabilia.

The decision is a recognition that it is easier to stop memorabilia reaching the site than it is to spot who is viewing the sales.

Despite this, Yahoo will have some technical hurdles to overcome to make its filtering system work.

Although Yahoo claims it made its choice unilaterally, the decision is widely seen as a response to a French court ruling that decreed Yahoo must stop people in France viewing the offending auctions.
(...)

From 10 January, Yahoo says that all auctions started on its site will be scrutinised by software designed to spot sales of Nazi or race-hate memorabilia.
(...)

Unfortunately, filtering systems have a poor reputation because they tend to be too inclusive. A simple ban on anything associated with the word ''nazi'' may stop sales of first editions of The diary of Anne Frank or Primo Levi's The Periodic Table.

Yahoo says anyone who thinks their auction has been wrongly stopped can appeal and have the sale scrutinised by people rather than computers.
(...)

It is unlikely that anyone could claim the ban infringes their freedom of expression because there are hundreds of auction sites on the internet, many of which are happy to host sales of items Yahoo has declined. Also, other parts of the Yahoo portal host neo-nazi and supremacist webpages.

Some of Yahoo's competitors have taken a different approach to stopping offending auctions.

Rival eBay uses software that can recognise French language browsers, and its French site does not allow people to search for Nazi items. It also bans the sale of hate materials in Germany, Austria and Italy.

Amazon uses in-house software to recognise French postal addresses and stops anything illegal being shipped to anyone living in the country.
[...more...]


25. MTV to List Hate Crimes Victims
AP, Jan. 4, 2001
http://news.findlaw.com/Off-site Link

NEW YORK (AP) _ MTV will break away from regular programming for 17 hours next week to run a continuous list of hate crime victims' names.

The gesture, a scroll starting at 10 p.m. EST Wednesday, kicks off a yearlong public service campaign against discrimination.

The commercial-free airing of victims' names will cost MTV about $2 million in advertising, said Brian Graden, the network's programming president.
(...)

The campaign is prompted, at least in part, by MTV's own corporate soul-searching over its role in the rise of Eminem. The rap star, who received four Grammy nominations this week, has been criticized by homosexual rights groups for profane anti-gay lyrics. His latest album also depicts the killing of his wife and the rape of his mother.
(...)

Also next week, the cable music channel will air a made-for-MTV movie about the bias-related murder of Matthew Shepard and an MTV News special on hate crimes.
[...more...]


» Part 3