NY Times’ Infantile Support for Gaza Rioters Empowers Reactionary Regime

There’s a difference between running an unfair piece which once again points the finger at Israel for this or that failure of its Arab neighbors – and actually contributing to the suffering and hopelessness of those same Arabs. Iyad Abuheweila and David Halbfinger on Sunday actually joined the forces of repression which have been devouring the Arabs of the Gaza Strip since 1948.

Their story, For Gaza Protester, Living or Dying Is the ‘Same Thing,’focused on Saber al-Gerim, 22, a Gaza Strip Arab whose grandmother fled her home in what is today the city of Ashdod in Israel. One of the thousands of Gazan youths who threw themselves against the border fence over the past five weeks, al-Gerim’s dispair has reached a level where he tells the Times’ writers: “It doesn’t matter to me if they shoot me or not,” because “Death or life — it’s the same thing.”

The CIA World Factbook in 2017 offered a grim analysis of things inside the Gaza Strip: “Movement and access restrictions, violent attacks, and the slow pace of post-conflict reconstruction continue to degrade economic conditions in the Gaza Strip,” goes the report. “Israeli controls became more restrictive after Hamas seized control of the territory in June 2007.”

The reason for that tightening of the controls had to do with the fact that Israel, which had let go of every last inch of Gaza in the summer of 2005, watched helplessly as the partner with which it had signed a peace agreement, the PLO, was being roughed up, its members thrown off rooftops, by the zealot terror group Hamas whose primary goal, above all else, was and has since remained the annihilation of the Zionist state.

Indeed, over the 11 or so years since the Hamas takeover, Israeli civilian populations were targeted by thousands of rockets, aimed at schools and kindergartens, private homes and synagogues. The fact that the Israeli response was devastating – disproportionate, according to some international bystanders – colored the aggressors as the victims and the injured party as the villain.

When I read the reports about the devastation of Gaza by the wrath of the IAF in 2014, I’m reminded of the Germans who complained about the firebombing of Dresden and the obliteration of Cologne. Knowing those fierce bombings were carried out while my father, skeletal and bewildered, was being tortured by Germans and all their Polish, Ukrainian and whatever other trash in Auschwitz, my heart sings the praise of those B-17 Flying Fortresses that rained divine justice on Germany.

The IAF devastated the Gaza Strip? Good, I’m thinking, let it avenge the four-year-old Israeli toddler Daniel Tragerman who was murdered by a mortar shell fired from the Gaza Strip on Friday afternoon, August 22, 2014, outside his home in Kibbutz Nahal Oz. Let it be a warning to Hamas the next time they wish to provoke us: we will rain divine retribution on you, on your wives and on your children.

“Under Hamas control,” goes the CIA report, “Gaza has suffered from rising unemployment, elevated poverty rates, and a sharp contraction of the private sector, which had relied primarily on export markets.”

The reason fewer goods are being let into Gaza is that Hamas usurps them to promote its efforts to dig terror tunnels stretching into Israel, manufacture rockets to be fired into civilian neighborhoods across the border, and plant explosive charges by the border fence to trap and kill Israeli patrols. Several times each month, the IDF Spokesperson’s office disseminates stories about cleverly disguised instruments of death which alert Israeli customs officials at the Ashdod harbor have discovered in one of those trucks destined for Gaza.

But Hamas has been at war not only with Israel, but with the Palestinian Authority and Egypt as well, reports the CIA World Factbook: “Since April 2017, the Palestinian Authority has reduced payments for electricity supplied to Gaza and cut salaries for its employees there, exacerbating poor economic conditions. Since 2014, Egypt’s crackdown on the Gaza Strip’s extensive tunnel-based smuggling network has exacerbated fuel, construction material, and consumer goods shortages in the territory. Donor support for reconstruction following the 51-day conflict in 2014 between Israel and Hamas and other Gaza-based militant groups fell short of post-conflict needs; only 53% of pledged aid had been delivered as of December, 2017.”

It’s as if God’s designation for Ishmael, father of the Arabs, in Genesis 16:12: “He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers” has been gulped in by Hamas and shared generously with all its miserable subjects. Indeed, Gaza today is the epitome of the Heart of Darkness notion, where it would make perfect sense for a young Arab to fail to recognize the advantage of being alive versus the alternative.

Had Iyad Abuheweila and David Halbfinger made even a half-hearted effort to provide just part of the context above, their depiction of Saber al-Gerim could have been a magnificent, Pulitzer-prize worthy condemnation of the death cult of Hamas, perhaps helping to steer a few responsible adults in the West to end Gaza’s reign of terror. Instead, naturally, they put the blame on the Jewish state.

“The protests, with an outdoor festival’s schedule of fun and games, performances and creative programming — and carnage every Friday — is meant to build to a climax on May 15, the day Palestinians mark the Nakba, or catastrophe, of their flight and expulsion when Israel was established 70 years ago,” they report, depicting the obvious reason: “Israel continues to treat the tiny coastal enclave like a deadly virus to be quarantined and, other than that, more or less tunes it out.”

Never mind that the main source of power in Gaza, when its Arab providers fail, is the Israel Electric Company, which uses Israeli customers’ fees to feed Gaza’s lines; never mind that Israel remains the only reliable shipping source for Gaza, forgiving the terror-smuggling and processing the goods on truck convoys to the crossings; never mind that Israeli hospitals continue to take in critical patients from Gaza when no one else would. Makes no difference how much or how little Israel is doing, every failure and every measure of cruelty of Hamas against its people and of the PA against the people under Hamas is ignored in favor of casting the blame on the Jewish state.

Al- Gerim doesn’t have a girlfriend, and no prospects for marriage, because “Marriage is not free.” Which is why he assembles kites from sticks, clear plastic and paper, to which he would attach soda cans full of gasoline-soaked rags, to sail over the fence and set fire to the Israeli fields across the border.

Makes perfect sense. His kite might even ignite the field the belongs to the parents of little Daniel Tragerman who would have been eight this summer.

Later, al-Gerim crouches behind the barbed-wired fence, whirling his slingshot, aiming at Israeli soldiers “again and again.” Maybe he’ll hit one of them, maim or kill him. Why not? Death and Life – it’s all the same.

Around 5 PM, he sees a group of men a few hundred yards to the south, who had breached the barbed wire, and were trying to get to the main border fence, risking being shot. One of them collapses, apparently hit by a grenade fragment, the local version of a friendly fire.

“I could be shot or killed anytime,” al-Gerim tells the two nice reporters from the Times, “It doesn’t matter.”

Imagine, I’m thinking, if 10,000 Gaza Arabs, instead of hurling themselves at the barbed wire fence of a neighboring country, were to storm the offices of Hamas and drag out their dozens upon dozens of ranking tormentors and tied them up and declared: We’ve had enough of a life of nihilism and hopelessness. We ask for help. Please come in through the crossings with your bulldozers and your big spools of electric wire and your construction plans and your money, and help us rebuild our lives.

Someone should tell Iyad Abuheweila and David Halbfinger that if, say, that fantasy-storming of the Hamas offices were to take place at 2 PM, right after the afternoon prayer, the first Israeli rescuers would be at the gates of Gaza by 4 PM, max, probably sooner. But that’s just my private fantasy, knowing the quality and love in the hearts of my fellow Israelis.

Of course, the NY Times has no interest in such a scenario.

‘If Ashers lose, we all lose’, pro-gay marriage columnist says

Family-run Ashers Baking Company should not be forced to promote a cause with which its owners profoundly disagree with, a columnist says.

Writing in the Belfast Telegraph, Fionola Meredith said Ashers’ situation was “not a case of anti-gay discrimination” because the row is over a message – not an individual.

She made the comments ahead of the UK Supreme Court hearing arguments in the Christian Institute-backed legal case in Belfast this week.

No obligation

Meredith explained that she supports same-sex marriage but disagrees with earlier court rulings against the Christian bakers.

She reiterated her comments from the time that: “No company should be under any obligation to facilitate the dissemination of beliefs that are antithetical to the ethos of that business.”

And Meredith stressed: “The message itself – not the customer requesting it – has always been the issue for Ashers.”

Not tolerance

The columnist described the long-running legal case brought by the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland as “costly, vexatious and divisive”.

She said it was not equality to force everyone to “disseminate political beliefs that they fundamentally disagree with”.

“It is not tolerance. It is not freedom. If Ashers lose this week, we all lose”.

Totalitarian

Meredith’s comments came as Laura Perrins, co-editor of The Conservative Woman, said “compelled speech: endorse my view or else” is at the heart of the case.

She pointed out that Ashers is a small business and “to make them write this slogan is to force them to endorse something, a political idea, against their conscience”.

“Perhaps the courts cannot understand how personal this is to the McArthurs, and how it does indeed involve compelled speech”, Perrins said, adding: “Therefore, to compel the McArthurs to endorse a view against their conscience is totalitarian”.

She concluded by warning that if Ashers lost, other businesses would also be negatively affected.

Serious

Ahead of the case, Daniel McArthur – General Manager of Ashers – said the fact that the Supreme Court is hearing the arguments “shows they recognise the seriousness of the issues at stake”.

The Christian Institute is supporting the McArthur family, and is running a petition to enable others to show their support.

Find out more about the case

NUS: Help drug-taking students get more money

Students who are caught with drugs should not be reported to the police but could be given help to get more money, the NUS has said.

In a joint report with the drug activist group Release, the student body said discipline for drug taking should include “support to access a bursary if a student is facing financial pressure”.

It also called for students found taking drugs in their accommodation to be merely given a warning, rather than evicted.

Stress

‘Taking the Hit’ analysed both student and university approaches to drugs through a questionnaire and freedom of information requests.

It is for Parliament, not the NUS, to decide the law on drugs.

Chris McGovern, Campaign for Real Education

Of 2,810 students who responded, 39 per cent claimed to currently use drugs, with cannabis the most common substance.

Over half of drug users said they had taken cocaine, with two thirds admitting to taking ecstasy.

Reasons for taking drugs included attempts to “enhance their social interactions” and to attempt to deal with stress.

Police

Just 14 per cent had “come into contact with the criminal justice system” as a result of taking drugs.

According to the report, most universities and colleges used ‘formal warnings’ in their repertoire of actions against students in possession of illegal drugs.

Only around one in four incidents in 2016-17 were actually taken to the authorities.

Flexible

In response, the NUS called for ‘flexible’ disciplinary outcomes.

“This should also consider whether alternative outcomes might better tackle the root cause of drug-related misconduct (eg support to access a bursary if a student is facing financial pressure)”.

“Students should not be reported to the police or permanently excluded from their studies for simply possessing a drug”, it added.

Damaging

But Sir Anthony Seldon, vice-chancellor of the University of Buckingham, said drug use “needs to be made far less socially acceptable”.

Such substances, he said, “are profoundly damaging on the minds of the young, especially those with a propensity for mental health problems”.

Chris McGovern of the Campaign for Real Education said: “It is for Parliament, not the NUS, to decide the law on drugs.

“University authorities should not involve themselves in aiding and abetting criminal behaviour at the behest of student leaders.”

Alabama Teacher Goes Home to Change After Principal Asks Her to Cover Up ‘Just Pray’ T-Shirt

Photo Credit: WALA screenshot

MOBILE, Ala. — An elementary school teacher in Alabama says that she was sent home last week to change after she arrived in a t-shirt that read “Just Pray,” which she had purchased in support of a young girl with an inoperable brain tumor.

Chris Burrell, a third grade teacher at Pearl Haskew Elementary School in Irvington, says that she wore the shirt on April 23 not thinking that it would pose an issue. She had purchased it last year in a fundraiser for 11-year-old Aubreigh Nicholas, who was diagnosed with diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma in September.

“I purchased this shirt to raise money for #AubreighsArmy. I thought it was fitting to wear today since my kids were testing,” she said in a social media post. “I didn’t think twice about it. I wasn’t trying to promote religion; it was just my Monday feel good shirt.”

However, when the principal saw Burrell wearing a shirt with the word “pray” on it, she asked the teacher if she could put a sweater on to cover the wording.

She said that the principal was following district policy, which states that teachers should refrain from wearing clothing that promotes any particular religion.

Burrell took to social media over the matter, posting a photo of herself and writing, “Getting sent home from work today to change my Just Pray shirt. … In my 15 years of teaching, this has never been an issue. My heart hurts.”

The post has now either been deleted or privatized, but hundreds have shown their support for Burrell and/or shared her story.

The teacher will not face any disciplinary action.

“We’re totally supporting [Aubrey],” Peek said, referring to the child whose cancer sparked the shirt fundraiser. “I think that this was just an unfortunate connection there, but still the principal would have had to exercise her judgment.”

As previously reported, in 1828, just 52 years after the nation’s founding, Noah Webster, known as the Father of American Scholarship and Education, wrote, “In my view, the Christian religion is the most important and one of the first things in which all children, under a free government, ought to be instructed. … No truth is more evident to my mind than that the Christian religion must be the basis of any government intended to secure the rights and privileges of a free people.”

20 US lawyers give 5 busloads free advice at border

Illegals on top of train

Approximately 20 volunteer United States immigration attorneys have traveled south of the U.S.-Mexico border to Tijuana to hold legal workshops and counsel a caravan of some 400 Central American asylum seekers who have snubbed warnings of separation from their children and detention before deportation.

After traveling to the northern border of Mexico’s Baja California State, the Spanish-speaking American lawyers met with about 300 of the 400 defiant migrants – excluding 100 children – to provide them personal legal advice and immigration information at Tijuana’s largest migrant shelter … before they illegally cross the border.

Free legal consultation for aspiring illegals?

Journalists were not permitted to sit on in on the free legal sessions given to five busloads of migrants – free workshops that were also held at a gallery that previously served as a secret entrance to a cross-border tunnel used by smugglers to transport illegal drugs into San Diego, California.

“Lawyers reportedly offered information about the U.S. asylum process while children of the migrants played in the background,” TheBlaze announced from an Associated Press (AP) report on the workshops. “Migrants were also warned that they could be separated from their children and face detention if they are allowed to stay in the U.S.”

Even though it was reported that many of the migrants met with U.S. attorneys one-on-one for private legal consultation, one organizer of the defiant pro-immigration display insisted that the lawyers did not coach the aspiring illegal immigrants on what to say once they turned themselves in to border agents.

 “We always emphasize you have to tell the truth,” Alex Mensing – who helped lead the Pueblos Sin Fronteras group’s anti-Trump display – told AP.

One Southern California lawyer participating in the event claimed that the caravan traveling through Mexico – while crammed into five old school buses – was warned by the attorneys giving free advice and information that they could be separated from their kids and be detained for months.

“We are the bearers of horrible news,” attorney Nora Philips from Los Angeles said, according to AP. “That’s what good attorneys are for.”

Not on our watch …

President Donald Trump and his tough-on-immigration administration reaffirmed its strong condemnation of the asylum-seeking migrants who set out from Central America to test the commander-in-chief’s tightened border enforcement.

Aware of the 400-strong group’s plan to turn themselves in at the San Ysidro border crossing in San Diego – where 75,000 enter the U.S. daily – the Trump administration has been monitoring its northward migration since March from Guatemala through Mexico and called their attempt to illegally enter the U.S. and bypass its immigration laws a threat to the U.S.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions specifically addressed the Tijuana caravan and vowed to send more immigration judges to the U.S.-Mexico border to decide the immigration cases of the migrants – if they enter the U.S. illegally.

“[The caravan is] a deliberate attempt to undermine our laws and overwhelm our system,” Sessions asserted, according to Fox News.

Other administration officials also reiterated America’s tough rhetoric on immigration – a stance that many conservative critics argue was lacking during former President Barack Obama’s two terms in the White House.

“Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said any asylum seekers making false claims to U.S. authorities could be prosecuted, as could anyone who assists or coaches immigrants on making false claims,” Fox News reported.

She stressed that the caravan migrants should also be seeking protection in the first “safe” country to which they travel – including Mexico and numerous Central American nations, according to TheBlaze.

Ongoing border battle

Those joining the anti-Trump border stand have amassed for months, and the president is using the defiance to bolster his 2016 campaign promise to erect a continuous 2,000-mile wall spanning the U.S.-Mexico border from California’s Pacific Coast to Texas’ Gulf Coast.

“As many as 1,000 people had joined the caravan as it crossed Mexico,” TheBlaze’s Teri Webster informed. “Trump and other officials portrayed it as proof of an unsecure border and support for the border wall he wants to build.”

Attempts to overcome Trump’s augmented border security have increased while Obama’s failed DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program – which provides a path for citizenship to children of illegal immigrants – continues to stall in Washington.

“Administration officials and their allies claim asylum fraud is growing and that many who seek it are coached on how to do so,” the AP noted. “The Border Patrol said ‘several groups’ of people in the caravan have entered the country illegally since Friday by climbing a dilapidated metal fence – it didn’t say how many people.”

Once illegals break into the U.S. illegally at the southern border, a number of things could happen.

“Asylum-seekers are typically held up to three days at the border and turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement [ICE],” the AP report added. “If they pass an asylum officer’s initial screening, they may be detained or released with ankle monitors. Nearly 80 percent of asylum-seekers passed the initial screening from October through December – the latest numbers available – but few are likely to eventually win asylum.”

Even though many enter the U.S. illegally, an overwhelming majority fail to be granted asylum – but most remain in the country as illegal aliens still benefiting from holes in the system.

“Mexicans fared worst among the 10 countries that sent the largest numbers of U.S. asylum seekers from 2012 to 2017, with a denial rate of 88 percent – according to asylum outcome records tracked by Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Action Clearinghouse,” AP relayed. “El Salvadorans were close behind with a 79 percent denial rate, followed by Hondurans at 78 percent and Guatemalans at 75 percent.”

Scotland’s Evangelical Island Gets Its First Mosque

Scotland’s Evangelical Island Gets Its First Mosque

Despite its size and location, the Isle of Lewis off the northwest coast of Scotland occasionally makes national news in the United Kingdom because of its conservative religious practices—including the strict observance of the Sabbath by many on the island.

Lewis was the site of the UK’s last great revival—beginning in 1949 and carrying on for three years—and remains one of the most devout parts of the country.

Over the years, there have been controversies relating to the operation of ferries to the mainland on Sundays. More recently, a movie theater has opened seven days a week, while a leisure center maintains its Sunday closure. All have drawn media coverage with quotes from Christian spokespeople reported as being “outraged” by the proposals.

The latest twist in religious affairs has occurred in Stornoway, with 8,000 people the largest town in the group of islands. However, it doesn’t involve Christians outraged about Sunday openings, but that a Free Church of Scotland minister was not outraged by plans to build the first mosque on the largely evangelical churchgoing island.

The last census in 2011 showed just 61 Muslims living in the Western Isles; however, this number has been bolstered in recent years by six refugee families arriving in Stornoway fleeing the war in Syria. Plans to build a mosque have been granted planning approval and funds crowdsourced for the conversion of a derelict house—hoped to be completed in time for Ramadan in May.

The press did manage to find a source who was outraged by the plans. But the quote came from a small breakaway denomination, the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing). This was not representative of the majority of local Christian opinion.

James Maciver, leader of the largest church on Lewis, was quoted in The Guardiannewspaper saying: “They [Muslims] have always been regarded by the local community as people who’ve contributed to the local economy and integrated well. I don’t remember any animosity towards them. Outsiders may have got the impression that the Christian community here have resisted the mosque, but that’s not the case.”

Men fly fish in a boat on a loch in Harris.

Image: Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images

Men fly fish in a boat on a loch in Harris.

Writing about the attempt to concoct controversy where it did not exist, David Robertson, a minister in the island’s main denomination, the “biblical Presbyterian” Free Church of Scotland (not the smaller breakaway group), commented: “So what is going on when the Free Church does not oppose the building of a mosque in what was our heartland? Have we gone soft? Given into political correctness?”

He explains:

“The Free Church would prefer that there was no need for a mosque to be built in Stornoway, because we would love everyone, including Muslims, to come to a saving knowledge of Christ. But we also believe that there is no coercion in real Christianity and that people have the right to reject, or to worship as they see fit. It is for God to judge, not the State. We defend the freedom to preach the gospel as we also defend the freedom of others. The Christian message is pleading and persuasion, not force and coercion. In a world where religious and secular groups alike are seeking to use the power of the state to impose their beliefs, we must not go the way of the world.”

Robertson cites how a Free Church leader made the same argument before the House of Commons in 1847, and goes on to say: “We don’t agree with Islam and maintain that Jesus Christ is the only way. But equally we don’t believe that our beliefs can be imposed upon other people by denying them the religious liberty that we demand for ourselves.”

And this is the crux of the issue. We don’t have to agree with the religious beliefs of others in order to support their religious liberty. In fact, it is because we believe in the significant differences between belief systems, and the vital importance of personal acceptance of faith in Jesus, that we cannot compel people to believe.

Confident pluralism, as John Inazu sets out, is not the same as relativism. We can have confidence in what we believe, and also give other people the space to practise their beliefs. Paul’s approach at the Areopagus in Acts 17 was uncompromising in the message he preached, but respectful of the cultural context he was speaking in.

Our response to people from different cultures and belief systems should never be one of hostility. That is not a helpful starting point to witness the goodness of God or to tell people about Jesus and saving faith. We should work for a society where there is maximum freedom for us to speak the Good News, and maximum freedom for people to accept or reject that.

Welcoming people of different beliefs into our neighborhood is a way of demonstrating our commitment to that freedom. Freedom of religion for all is good for all, and over the centuries has laid the foundation for many other freedoms we enjoy today.

Our attention should also look overseas. This week, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom reported on deteriorating conditions in 28 countries of concern. Chairman Daniel Mark said: “Sadly, religious freedom conditions deteriorated in many countries in 2017, often due to increasing authoritarianism or under the guise of countering terrorism.”

Recognition of the challenges Christians, and people of other faiths, experience in regimes across the world should never be used as an excuse to restrict the liberty of other faiths in the UK or the US. We provide more of a witness to the persuasive, powerful message of the gospel through a commitment to respect the consciences of those who follow other religions than we would through any form of coercion to believe.

Our advocacy for freedom of religion for people of other faiths also enables us to speak more credibly as we push for the freedom of Christians to worship, pray, preach, and practice their faith in countries across the world where currently doing so puts their lives at risk. For example, if we want to demand that Saudi Arabia allow Christians to worship in churches, we need to reciprocate back home.

A mosque built on a Scottish island known for its devout evangelicalism is a novelty that unsurprisingly garnered press attention. But it is not a threat to Christians, and it is vital that we do not treat it as one.

‘Anti-Conversion’ Bill Becomes Law in Uttarakhand State, India

Uttarakhand state, India. (Wikipedia)

Northern state becomes seventh to put into effect legislation routinely used to jail Christians with baseless accusations.

NEW DELHI (Morning Star News) – Uttarakhand has become the seventh state in India to put “anti-conversion” legislation in force.

Gov. Krishna Kant Paul on April 18 signed the “Freedom of Religion” bill (Dharma Swatantrata Adhiniyam), which the state Legislative Assembly passed.

“The bill has been signed by the governor,” Ravi Bijarniya, assistant director for information in the governor’s office, told Morning Star News.

Despite confirmation from the governor’s office, sources at the Uttarakhand Legislative Assembly (Vidhan Sabha) denied receipt of the signed bill.

“We confirm the receipt of 10 bills, which do not include the anti-conversion bill,” Officer on Special Duty R.B. Pant told Morning Star News. “We had sent the anti-conversion bill for approval on April 17, and if it has been signed, we might receive it soon.”

While staff members of the concerned office deny receiving the signed bill, local media and Jagran, a national newspaper, have reported the news of the governor’s approval of the bill and enforcement of the act.

Uttarakhand now joins Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh and Jharkhand as states that have adopted anti-conversion bills, which Hindu extremists routinely use to falsely accuse Christians of forcible or fraudulent conversion.

Dr. John Dayal, spokesman for the United Christian Forum and the All India Catholic Union, told Morning Star News that enacting the anti-conversion law was driven by the ruling group’s communal agenda.

“It fails the very basic test of explaining to the world the need for having such a law,” he said. “There is no forcible or fraudulent conversion in the state to the Christian or Muslim or Sikh faiths shown either by the Census data or by the police statistics. In the absence of such reality, the only explanation can be that it is to threaten the minority communities or to curb the freedom of religion of the Dalit and backward communities whose rights are being crushed by the upper castes which exercise political power in the state.”

The ruling party came to power on a “rabid communal platform,” he added.

“We will challenge such a law, in the court of law and the court of public opinion,” Dayal said.

Regulating the Holy Spirit

The new law makes forced conversions a non-bailable offense punishable by a jail term of between one and five years. If a victim of “forced conversion” is a minor, woman or person belonging to either a Scheduled Caste (Dalit) or a Scheduled Tribe (Tribal), the minimum jail term is two years.

The law also makes it mandatory to obtain permission from the state government prior to religious conversion. An affidavit has to be submitted with the respective District Magistrate at least one month prior to conversion. Persons converting for the purposes of marriage also must submit the same affidavit one month prior to marrying.

If this procedure is not followed and conversion is discovered, it will be invalidated and considered illegal by the state government.

The law also requires the clergy performing the conversion ceremony to give a month’s advance notice to the district magistrate. After receiving such information, a police enquiry will be conducted “with regard to the real intention, purpose and the cause of that proposed religion conversion,” according reports.

The law stipulates that any marriage solemnized for the sole purpose of conversion by a man belonging to one religion with a woman of another religion may be declared null and void by the family court, according to reports. The law also allows immediate family members of a person who has been converted to register a case to nullify the marriage.

Swift Passage

The entire process of introducing, passing and signing the bill took less than six months in a state where Christians are just 0.37 percent of the population, according to the 2011 Census. The state is ruled by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The government of Uttarakhand, headed by Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat, prepared a draft bill after the Uttarakhand High Court in November 2017 suggested the state legislate a “Freedom of Religion Act” to keep a check on “sham” conversions, which in some cases were “only to facilitate the process of marriage,” according to the court.

While the judges admitted that “it is not the role of the court to give suggestions to the state government to legislate,” nevertheless it justified the suggestion, “due to fast changing social milieu.”

The state cabinet, in a meeting led by the chief minister, cleared a draft of the bill on March 12, and it was subsequently introduced in the State Legislative Assembly and passed on March 22. The BJP enjoys a three-fourths majority in the 70-member House.

According to Pant, the bill was sent for the governor’s approval on April 17. Local media on April 19 reported that the governor gave his approval on April 18.

The swiftness of the Uttarakhand government to comply with a mere suggestion by the High Court has led many to believe the process was a mere formality.

Before passage, Dr. Indira Hridayesh, leader of the Opposition in the Uttarakhand Legislative Assembly, was quoted in media as saying, “There was no need to come up with this piece of legislation; they know they cannot win the elections solely on their own work and are now going back to the RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh] agenda of Ram Mandir [temple] and religious conversions.”

She had highlighted that the bill would violate the provisions of religious freedom that allows individuals to practice religion of their choice without interference.

The Rev. Theodore Mascarenhas, general secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, told Morning Star News that the law empowers the government to trespass on private life.

“It is a complete encroachment on the private life of a person,” Mascarenhas said. “Religion and faith is something very private; it cannot be taken into public domain and controlled from the outside. These are personal decisions.”

Dr. Satish John, vice president of the Minority Commission of Uttarakhand, saw the law as very serious matter.

“This could be misused against minorities,” he told Morning Star News. “We must safeguard ourselves by approaching the Minority Commission if discrepancy is noticed in any individual case. The commission is established to make sure that such laws are not abused.”

Passed v. Enforced

Anti-conversion laws are currently in force in Odisha (formerly Orissa), Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand and now Uttarakhand. Arunachal Pradesh passed legislation but has not framed corresponding rules, and a bill passed in Rajasthan was not signed by the then-governor of the state.

The Gujarat, Jharkhand and now Uttarakhand laws necessitate prior permission in order to convert while the other six laws require notification.

Uttarakhand is the tenth state to pass anti-conversion legislation and the seventh since 2000. Orissa (now Odisha), Madhya Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, and Jharkhand have passed similar laws, with Tamil Nadu passing a law in 2002 and repealing it in 2004.

Though attempts to enact anti-conversion laws happened even before India’s independence in 1947, Orissa (now Odisha) was the first state to enact an anti-conversion law in 1967, ironically titling it a “Freedom of Religion” law.

Uttarakhand’s BJP-ruled government, led by Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat, completed one year in power on March 18. Rawat is a known RSS worker who has worked his way up the organization, serving as the Organizing Secretary for the RSS in the Uttarakhand region, and later the state before he entered politics through the BJP in 2002.

The hostile tone of the National Democratic Alliance government, led by the Hindu nationalist BJP, against non-Hindus, has emboldened Hindu extremists in several parts of the country to attack Christians since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in May 2014, religious rights advocates say.

India ranked 11th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2018 World Watch List of countries where Christians experience the most persecution.