At least 16 killed in New Year church service attack in Nigeria

At least 16 killed in New Year church service attack in Nigeria

At least 16 people have been killed by gunmen at a church in southern Nigeria after a New Year’s Day service, police have said, with some local reports putting the death toll as high as 21.

Police told the BBC that the group had attended a midnight service before they were ambushed in the early hours of Monday.

The incident, which happened in the oil-rich region of Rivers state, has been linked in local media reports to growing tensions between rival gangs.

Nigeria Rivers State
WikipediaRivers State in Nigeria where the incident took place.

The gunmen are said to have fired at random and killed some at close range.

Reports said that the noise of fireworks for the New Year celebrations in Omuku town made it difficult for residents to realise that shots were being fired and people were being killed.

Omoku, which is about 85km (50 miles) from the state capital Port Harcourt, has a history of violent crime and the BBC said that there has been an increase in violence in the past year, after a government amnesty programme for former gang members was allowed to lapse.

The amnesty had reportedly brought relative peace to a region which had been plagued by attacks by militants demanding that a greater share of Nigeria’s oil wealth be kept by the country’s oil-producing regions.

However, the group has yet to claim any attacks in the largely Christian south of the country.


Pastor Dukes Books now published on Amazon and Kendle Proceeds  to be used to pioneer new work in Yerington NV.Sister Carol Dukes Book now published on Amazon

Indonesia: 9,000 Jailed Christians Receive Reduced Sentences

Indonesia: 9,000 Jailed Christians Receive Reduced Sentences

Indonesia reduced the sentences of more than 9,000 Christian prisoners on Christmas Day, according to reports.

According to Jakarta Post, Indonesia’s Law and Human Rights Ministry cut down the sentences of 9,333 Christian prisoners.

“Of the total, 175 inmates were freed upon receiving remissions,” a Law and Human Rights Ministry official told reporters.

The changes in sentences came because of administrative considerations and consideration for the type of crimes jailed for.

“If an embezzler wants a remission, for instance, they must first obtain justice collaborator status,” the official said.

The length of sentence reduction received depended on how much time had already been served. Reductions varied from 15 days to a maximum of two months, with the month-long reduction mostly given to prisoners who had already served from one to three years.

One of the Christians whose sentence was reduced was former Jakarta governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, who was sentenced to two years in prison after he was falsely accused of blasphemy in 2016.

The former governor was used in an edited Facebook video that showed him allegedly blaspheming the Quran, although Purnama had really issued a warning against politicians who used the Quran for political advancement.

The video led to protests of Purnama and a call for punishment.

A man named Buni Yani admitted to editing the video and was convicted. Meanwhile, Purnama was sentenced to jail.

His two-year sentence was reduced by 15 days.


Pastor Dukes Books now published on Amazon and Kendle Proceeds  to be used to pioneer new work in Yerington NV.  Sister Carol Dukes Book now published on Amazon

Preacher fights ban on spreading gospel on Atlanta sidewalks

ATLANTA  — A Georgia preacher who says he was barred from public sidewalks and feared arrest for spreading the gospel on the fringes of a large outdoor concert in Atlanta is challenging the restrictions in court.

In a federal lawsuit, Eric Love says his free speech rights were violated outside the Shaky Beats music festival, which drew thousands in May to downtown Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park.

Love is asking a judge to decide whether the Georgia World Congress Center Authority and its police force can prohibit preaching from the surrounding sidewalks. The authority oversees the park, which was created for the 1996 Olympic Games.

The authority has cited a Georgia law that allows it to ban solicitation and other activities on public sidewalks and streets bordering the park when large events are held. That amounts to an unreasonable ban on free speech, Love’s lawyer Terry Lloyd maintains in the suit.

Representatives of the authority and Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, who is named as a defendant, did not immediately return messages Wednesday from The Associated Press seeking comment.

Love cares deeply about people, so he “is compelled to tell people about Jesus Christ and his offer of salvation,” the lawsuit states.

“Love does not yell when he preaches; he only speaks loud enough to be heard by those near him, like someone delivering a speech in public,” Lloyd wrote.

At the May concert, Love was on a sidewalk outside the park near the entrance when he and two friends were confronted by the authority’s police officers, he said.

They were told they needed a permit to express their views on the sidewalk, but were not eligible for such a permit and would have to move, the complaint states.

At one point, one of Love’s two friends was handcuffed and placed in the back of a police vehicle but later was released, Love’s lawyer wrote.

“Love strongly desires to return to the public sidewalks adjacent to Centennial Olympic Park and share his religious views while large events are taking place in the park, but he does not want to risk criminal arrest,” Lloyd wrote.

His lawyer wants the matter resolved so that Love can preach without fear of being arrested outside the SweetWater 420 Fest, another large concert scheduled for the park in April.


Pastor Dukes Books now published on Amazon and Kendle Proceeds to be used to pioneer new work in Yerington NV.

Sister Carol Dukes Book now published on Amazon

Christians in India Strive to Overcome Typical Entrapment Scheme

Pastor Ajay Kumar (in blue) and a student from Bethany Bible College, in Kerala state, at a prayer service. (Morning Star News)

HYDERABADIndia (Morning Star News) – After being framed on false charges earlier this year, two Christians in eastern India recently spent a month in jail, where inmates beat them after discovering they were accused of defiling Hinduism, sources said.

Months after two Hindu extremists in Bihar state tried – and failed – to trap pastor Ajay Kumar and a Bible college student into actions that would serve as the basis for fraudulent conversion accusations, charges are still pending against the two Christians.

On March 17, the 32-year-old pastor was visiting a church member’s house in Begu Sarai District, where he leads his Assemblies of God church, when he received a call from an anonymous person at around 11 a.m.

“The caller told me that he really wanted to know about Christ and asked us to meet him at Har Har Mahadev Chowk,” Pastor Kumar told Morning Star News.

He and a 21-year-old student of a Bible college in Kerala state, identified only as Asharya, who was also visiting Begu Sarai, accompanied him to meet the unknown caller.

“After we waited for about 15 minutes at the chowk, two men in their 20s came on a two-wheeler, and one of them introduced himself as Neeraj Kumar,” Kumar said. “After a brief introduction, they started saying a Christian girl and Hindu boy back in their village are in love, and they need our help.”

The two men on a motorcycle then began to bombard them with questions.

“They asked me, ‘How much would it cost to convert and marry in Christianity? Tell us your price. We are ready to pay whatever it costs. Please help us,’” Pastor Kumar told Morning Star News. “I refused. Asharya and I understood it’s a trap.”

The Christians told them that if they wanted know about Christ, then they would share the gospel, but that they don’t convert anyone. The pastor told them that they don’t do marriages and didn’t want to be involved in the matter.

“I clarified that we can’t be of any help, and that is when they became aggressive and started slapping us,” Pastor Kumar said. “Then they dragged us both by the collar to the middle of the road and started shouting, ‘Look at these people. They do conversions. These are the people who do conversions,’ and because of his shouting a crowd, of over 50 people surrounded us.”

Neeraj Kumar also called media to the area, he said.

“It was all pre-planned. The media started clicking our photos,” Pastor Kumar said. “Police arrived on the spot, but Neeraj Kumar did not stop shouting. He told the police, ‘These people carry out conversions, arrest them.’”

Police took both Christians into custody, and soon members of the Hindu extremist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) arrived and pressured officers into filing a case against them, Pastor Kumar said. They were released at around 1:30 a.m. with the help of local pastors and other Christians.

Pastor Christopher Bhonsle was among those who went to the police station to help.

“Since I was also falsely charged by Hindu extremists back in 2002, I understood the situation and immediately rushed to the police station,” Pastor Bhonsle said. “The next morning, a band of Hindu extremists came with the media, demanded I come downstairs to meet them, and badgered me with questions – ‘Pastor, why are you helping the arrested Christians? Why are you involving in this?’”

The Hindu extremists began shouting, “Stop conversions,” and that they would not tolerate “foreign activities” in India, he said.

Protesting outside his church facility, they shouted, “Stop giving money and converting Hindus,” and, “We can even kill you,” he said.

Legal Switch

The two Christians were charged with destroying, damaging or defiling a place of worship or sacred object with intent to insult religion (Section 295 of the Indian Penal Code), punishable by up to two years in prison and/or a fine; and with maliciously insulting religion or religious beliefs (Section 295-A), punishable by up to three years of prison and/or a fine.

With the help of attorneys, the Christians filed a petition for anticipatory bail to prevent arrest, Bob Raj, senior pastor of Assemblies of God-Patna, told Morning Star News. On Sept. 14 a lower court judge issued an order stating the case “seems to be fit for regular bail.” At the same time, police were unable to find any evidence for the allegations, so the legal team decided to pursue regular bail, Pastor Raj said.

“Since the local lawyers advised us that the court can issue a regular bail in case an arrest is made, Ajay and Asharya appeared before the Chief Judicial Magistrate on Nov. 2, and surrendered before the court of law,” he said.

The two Christians were immediately taken into judicial custody, he said.

“Unfortunately, the petition for regular bail was transferred to another judicial magistrate, who rejected it,” Raj said. “As a result, they had to spend 28 days in judicial custody.”

The first 10 days in jail were the worst, Pastor Kumar said.

“Tensions in jail were heated during the first 10 days as the inmates got to know we were charged with defiling worship places of Hindus,” he said. “We suffered there, too. They tortured us. In the middle of the night at around 12 a.m., we woke up and prayed till 3:30 a.m., we meditated on the chapters in Revelation and Psalms. We devoted our time for prayer and worship.”

They did not try to convince anyone of their innocence, he said.

“Amazingly, after 10 days of observing us pray and meditate, they understood that we are framed in a false case,” he said.

They read the parables of Jesus and Psalms with the inmates every day, he added.

“God moved their hearts – when we bowed down to pray, the inmates would break down wailing and crying,” Pastor Kumar said. “They confessed they are sinners and came to Christ. God has done wonderful works inside the prison. We were 42 members in our ward, and over 30 of them came to Christ.”

One of the newly converted inmates subsequently received bail after six years of incarceration, he said.

Released

On Nov. 29, the two Christians’ case came up for hearing before the judge who had earlier stated it was fit for regular bail, and he ordered the Christians released, he said.

Even in the case diary submitted to the court, police could not produce any evidence to support the charges, Kameshwar Singh, an attorney representing the Christians, told Morning Star News.

“There are two options for them now,” Singh said. “Since the charges are false, they can appear before the court for the next hearings, and ultimately they will be acquitted, or they can go to the High Court in Patna to submit a petition to quash the FIR [First Information Report],” Singh said.

Pastor Kumar was able to celebrate Christmas with his wife, who is nine months pregnant, and family. His next hearing is scheduled for February.

Devesh Lal, coordinator of the Bihar Christian Leaders Fellowship, told Morning Star News that incidents of Hindu extremists attempting to entrap Christians in India are increasing at alarming rate.

“It has become a new trend of violence, where assailants approach the Christians unarmed but with a plan, frame them in false charges and put them behind the bars,” he said. “The apprehension and fear of threats and communal disturbances is very much there in the church and Christians.”

Pastor Raj agreed that such attacks are increasing.

“They don’t appear as one of great physical injury, and there is not vandalizing or destruction of structures or material, and all the assailants are very young, aged below 25,” he said. “In most of the cases, they are unarmed and their main motive is to create that psychosis of fear in the hearts of Christians. If we quantify the loss these false charges have led to in terms of money, it can be put as a huge sum, but the mental agony an accused Christian goes through cannot be quantified.”

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


 

Pakistan: mourners bury 11 killed in Quetta church suicide attack, as 50 injured

Mourners carry wreaths at the funeral of victims of the Bethel Memorial Church bombing, Quetta, Pakistan (World Watch Monitor)

Pakistani Christian mourners today (Monday) are burying their dead only days before they should be celebrating Christ’s birth.

Worshippers were lining up to take the Holy Communion when at least two men, armed and wearing suicide vests, attacked Bethel Memorial Methodist Church in western Pakistan’s restive city Quetta on Sunday morning. They left at least eleven dead and more than 50 injured, many in a critical condition, unofficial local figures say.

“It was a pleasant morning. We had sung songs and children had presented a Christmas program. Pastor Simon Bashir had finished his sermon and we were moving towards the altar when we started hearing gunfire outside the church,” said Sohail Yousuf. His 13 year-old daughter Mehak lost her life; her 16 year-old sister Wasiqa is critically ill after an operation in Quetta’s Combined Military Hospital (CMH).

Yousuf, a manager in an insurance company, migrated 16 years ago to Quetta from Punjab after his wife, a government schoolteacher, was posted there.

Crowds hold the coffin of a victim of the Bethel Memorial Church bomb attack, Quetta, Pakistan (World Watch Monitor)
Mourners carry coffin of victim of church attack (World Watch Monitor)

“We bolted all the doors and were praying that God would protect each of us. Then a suicide bomber blew himself up at the main door. The explosion shattered the door and injured many inside. When some rushed outside, they were injured by gunfire as the terrorists were on the church lawn. But soon the situation was brought under control by the volunteer church security guards and police present there.”

Caritas Executive Director Sheezan William told World Watch Monitor that the first person killed was the church security guard George Masih, who tried to stop the men advancing towards the church.

“I came to know what was happening while the exchange of fire was taking place. I phoned two youths in the choir. I could hear gunfire on the phone and then rushed to the church,” he said.

Leading Pakistani newspaper ‘Dawn’ also confirms that police intervened after the church security guard scuffled with one attacker. About two hundred congregants were inside the church, beautifully decorated for Christmas, when the terrorists unleashed their attack. Islamic State (IS) has claimed responsibility but provided no evidence for this claim.

Medics treating victims of a bomb blast, Quetta, Pakistan (World Watch Monitor)
More than 50 people were injured in the church attack, many taken to hospital in a critical condition (World Watch Monitor)

“The injured were taken to the Civil Hospital, CMH, Akram Hospital and other private hospitals. Relatives picked up two bodies from the church and took them away, which is why they are not counted in official numbering.”

Retired Brigadier Samson Simon Sharaf, a political analyst who is close to security agencies, told World Watch Monitor the attackers were four in number. “They were equipped with ample ammunition supply and were aiming to take worshippers hostage and kill them one by one, prolonging the scene of terror as much as they could.”

Video footage shows a church security guard was quick to close the door when he saw two men approaching. This provided more time for local security personnel to plan.

Video shows militants attacking the gates of Bethel Memorial Church, Quetta at midday 17 December 2017

“One terrorist was shot in the compound before he could blow himself up inside the church. Meanwhile, the other one rushed to the church entrance where he blew himself up,” said Sharaf. “The agencies chased the other two who fled, and a search operation is ongoing.

“The incident has taken place close to the sad day in the country’s history, December 16 [when Pakistani forces were defeated in 1971, leading to East Pakistan becoming Bangladesh]. Our enemy keeps reminding us of our history. This time Christians are targeted who stand united with other Pakistanis against the menace of terrorism.”

William added: “A team of about 70 youths is working day and night to provide blood supplies, food or any other assistance to the injured, and coffins for the burial.” He told World Watch Monitor that seven families living in the church compound, including that of Pastor Simon Bashir, were told to vacate their houses. “All of them have moved to relatives until the area is given clearance.”

Al-Jazeera reports Moazzam Jah Ansari, police chief of Balochistan province, as saying: “We have cleared the immediate area around the church, and we are now clearing a peripheral area”.

Balochistan, the largest province of Pakistan, is situated along the Afghan border. The mineral rich, mostly hilly, region – the least populated area in the country – is where an insurgent separatist movement has long been going on. Most Christians in this province have migrated from Punjab but mostly remain unharmed by the separatists, though the separatists are against Punjabis, believing they are doing an injustice to them by controlling their land and resources.

The Quetta Methodist church, established in 1959, came under the control of the Church of Pakistan in 1971 after six Protestant denominations, including the Methodist Church, united as one denomination.

Punjabi Christian protesters outside Lahore Press Club shortly after the church attack (World Watch Monitor)

Ten days ago, a seven-year-old boy and two others were killed during a hand grenade attack on the gates of a Christian colony in Chaman, also in Balochistan, south-western Pakistan.

Punjabi Christians staged a protest, about the way they feel the government does not do enough to protect them against radical Islamic militant extremists, outside the Lahore Press Club a few hours after the Quetta attack.

Last week, the EU Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Jan Figel, was in Pakistan, and took part in the set-up of an inter-faith advisory commission. Its main aim is to help stop misuse of the blasphemy law.

Since 9/11, Christians are the main religious minority that has come under both communal attacks on the pretext of blasphemy, and by terrorist attacks on their places of worship. Immediately after 9/11 there were six attacks on churches, Christian hospitals and educational institutions. Such attacks re-surfaced again in 2013 with the suicide attack on All Saints’ Memorial Church in Peshawar province, which is also on the Afghan border. About 90 people died in that incident, including many children.

Then on 15 March 2015, just before Easter, two churches in a Christian neighborhood in Lahore came under twin suicide attacks. About 25 people died. In 2016 in Lahore, Punjab – where the largest Christian population lives – a suicide attack took place on a park, killing mostly Christians as they celebrated Easter. This year, security was on high alert at Easter. In March, Pakistan’s military agency, to prevent an attack, killed a husband and arrested his wife, who’d been trained in Syria by IS. (She was later released by security agencies.) Security agencies are on high alert for Christmas.

The worst attack in Pakistan’s history (which changed the course of the country by triggering new anti-terrorism laws after showing the population how ruthlessly Islamist militant radicals could behave), took place exactly three years ago in Peshawar when terrorists raided an army public school, massacring 141, including 132 children.


Pastor Dukes Book now published on Amazon and Kendle Proceeds  to be used to pioneer new work in Yerington NV.Sister Carol Dukes Book now published on Amazon

Why are Chile’s churches under attack?

Seven hours’ drive south of Chile’s capital, Santiago, in the Araucanía region, 27 churches have been burnt down in the past couple of years by a radical indigenous group, Weichan Auka Mapu.

The attackers leave behind messages spelling out the demands of the Mapuches, an ancestral tribe whose land was taken from them during Chile’s colonisation by Spanish Catholics. A high percentage of Mapuches now identify as Christian: 55% Catholic, 32% Protestant. But for some others, Christians are still seen as invaders.

“I was inside with my children… They broke the windows and entered, firing their guns into the air, and then they threw us out… They came after us with large guns, machine guns, and they were wearing masks. They told us to leave or they would set us on fire as well – the children and all.”

Of the 20 churches burnt down between 2015 and 2016, 12 were Catholic, eight Protestant. In 2017, a further seven have been torched. These churches also served as schools, meeting places and shelters for those fleeing natural disasters. Many belonged to the poorest sectors of the poorest region in Chile, and were attended by Mapuches themselves.

The leader of an Assemblies of God church burnt down in July recalls the moment his attractive wooden church, built 15 years ago using money church members had raised, was reduced to ashes.

Juan Mella, president of the local Pastors’ Council (Photo: Israel Vilches)

Juan Mella, who is also head of the local Pastors’ Council, said the event demonstrated an intolerance among the Mapuches.

“Each human being can have their own views with regard to faith, spirituality. We have never imposed our faith, but we have shared it with everyone because the Lord sent us to every nation, every tribe,” he said.

Abelino Apeleo, an Anglican bishop in Araucanía and also an ethnic Mapuche, said the primary issue is ignorance on the part of some of his fellow Mapuches.

“One sector of the Mapuche people – those with a more radical, violent attitude – blame the Church for creating the problems of the Mapuches,” he said. “This is totally wrong. And of course we cannot support violence as a response.”

The incident that has received the most publicity took place in June 2016, when masked men invaded a Sunday service at La Iglesia del Señor in Padre Las Casas, a city just south of the regional capital, Temuco. It has become known as the “Case of the Burnt Church”, and is the only case so far that has led to arrests.

A lady from the church, identified only by her initials, MC, explained what happened that day.

“I was inside with my children, my husband, my brother-in-law and my brothers,” she recalled. “They broke the windows and entered, firing their guns into the air, and then they threw us out. Then they came after us with large guns, machine guns, and they were wearing masks. They told us to leave or they would set us on fire as well – the children and all.”

The note the attackers left behind on that occasion read: “Christianity: accomplice of the repression of the Mapuche people.”

The attackers leave notes behind, in which they blame Christianity for the repression of the Mapuche people. (Photo: Radio BioBio)

Four people were detained after the incident: Alfredo Tralcal, and three brothers – Benito, Pablo and Ariel Trangol Galindo, who are being investigated for links with Weichan Auca Mapu, a radical group that demands the release of Mapuche prisoners and has claimed responsibility for the church attacks.

The attacks have continued despite police efforts to find other possible perpetrators. In fact, after four more churches were burnt down on 20 September this year, many other congregations also received threats, forcing the police to station guards outside two Protestant churches in the region.

“It isn’t only the attacks on the churches, it’s the pamphlets they leave behind, on which they write their demands and also provide a context for their behaviour,” said Luis Torres, in charge of the prosecution of the four men.

“It is the responsibility of the State to ensure that events such as these don’t happen again, by ensuring that those responsible are brought to justice, as well as protecting the victims and ensuring their church is rebuilt.”

Araucanía Pastors’ Council

However, Pamela Nahuelcheo, acting for the defence, has called into question the evidence against her clients.

“It has been reported that the defendants were found at the place where the fire took place and were detained on the spot,” she said. “But that isn’t true. They were actually arrested two and a half hours after the fire, 7km away from the church. One of the police officers said they smelt strongly of petrol and this is why they were detained. But there have been complaints about the actions of the police officers, that they fired shots at my defendants and beat them. And that the backpack supposedly found on them was not theirs at all.”

It was in this context and due to overwhelming pressure, including by the defendants, who had undertaken a four-month hunger strike, that the government in October said the charges against the men should be changed to arson, instead of terrorism.

This message says “all churches will be burned” (Photo: Radio BioBio)

There have been two further hearings since then, and prosecutor Luis Torres is determined the arsonists – whoever they are – are brought to justice.

“It can’t be normal to attack people attending a church service,” he said. “Children are attacked and thrown out of the church. They shoot at them to make them leave, and then the church is set on fire. If they didn’t do it and weren’t running away, why were their clothes wet? Why were some of their clothes torn? Why did they have evidence on them that links them directly to the attack?”

The local pastors say they continue to hope the situation will be resolved.

“We know that God protects us,” said Juan Mella. “And though our church was burned, we will rebuild it. And anyway, Jesus said: ‘Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.’”

Bishop Apeleo added: “We will continue to bear witness to the Gospel. We have to apply the teachings of Jesus: to forgive, to have mercy and to love our enemies. At some point they may need our help and we will be there for them.”

The Pastors’ Council of Araucanía released a statement, saying: “It is the responsibility of the State to guarantee events like these don’t happen.”

It called on the government to protect its citizens, and bemoaned the decision to change the charges against the men, saying violence can never be justified, “whether by State, or non-State actors”.

The Council demanded that the government “takes charge of the very serious situation … [which] led to a service being stopped, preventing 15 people – mostly women and children – from continuing with their meeting. They were driven out violently from their own church, and then forced to watch as their place of worship was burned down in front of them.

“It is the responsibility of the State to ensure that events such as these don’t happen again, by ensuring that those responsible are brought to justice, as well as protecting the victims and ensuring their church is rebuilt.”


Pastor Dukes Book now published on Amazon and Kendle Proceeds  to be used to pioneer new work in Yerington NV.Sister Carol Dukes Book now published on Amazon

Muslim anti-Semitism spurs Jewish exodus from Paris

Paris police post-terror attack

 

The most intense wave of anti-Semitism to hit Europe since World War II spurred by the mass Muslim immigration into France is forcing French-Jewish families to flee from their Paris suburb homes.

The changing demographics in the Seine-Saint-Denis suburb – which is now more than 40 percent Muslim – on the outskirts of Paris is making it nearly impossible for French Jews to live without fearing for their lives – as Muslims continue to take over neighborhoods and spread anti-Semitism.

Islam in, Judaism out

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe condemned the “well-rooted” open hostility shown toward French Jews, as an accelerated exodus from the northeastern fringe of Paris has been taking place for more than a decade.

“This ‘internal exodus’ is difficult to quantify, but it is clear that many synagogues of Seine-Saint-Denis have closed, for lack of people,” the Paris commuter newspaper 20 Minutes reported. “In Pierrefitte, the rabbi has recorded a 50-percent decline in the congregations since his arrival 13 years ago. A similar story is told in (nearby) Bondy, where attendance on Yom Kippur – the holiest day of the Jewish calendar – has fallen from about 800 to 400 in the last decade.”

The president of the Bondy synagogue says that the exodus of French Jews has been driven by the “deteriorating climate” that he has witnessed over the past 15 years.

“It’s hard to explain – it’s provocations, it’s looks,” Bondy expressed, according to Breitbart. “There are places where we do not feel welcome.”

This is basically the same story that was shared by Rabbi Moshe Lewin of nearby Raincy a year prior, when he lamented over the fact that he could very well be one of the last Jewish leaders in all of Seine-Saint-Denis.

“What upsets me is that in some areas of France, Jews can no longer live peacefully, and that just five minutes from my home, some are forced to hide their kippas (skullcaps) or their Star of David,” Lewin shared, according to another Breitbart report last year.

And the year before this, French Jews were also recorded as “not feeling welcome” wearing their traditional kippas in the streets of Paris.

“[Paris is now a city] where keffiyeh-wearing men and veiled women speak Arabic on every street corner, [but where] soldiers are walking every street that houses a Jewish institution,” journalist Zvika Klein discovered in 2015.

BNCVA President Sammy Ghozlan, who heads the Jewish communal security organization in France, warned of the dire circumstances in which the remaining Jews find themselves.

“[It is vital] not to underestimate the anti-Semitism we experience on a daily basis,” Ghozlan told 20 Minutes. “For a long time, Jews were targeted through their symbols – today, people themselves are targeted directly.”

Even though the largest Jewish community in Europe still resides in France – at approximately 500,000 people – it is quickly diminishing because they increasingly feel that Israel is the only place left that can ensure their safety.

“The 5,000 departures in 2016 add to the record 7,900 who left in 2015 and 7,231 in 2014,” Breitbart Jerusalem informed in a separate report. “In total, 40,000 French Jews have emigrated since 2006, according to figures seen by AFP.”

No longer isolated violence

Whereas violence against French Jews used to be a rarity, the tide of Muslims into the country has made such incidents more and more common in recent years.

“In the Parisian suburb of Bagneux, someone recently vandalized the memorial plaque for Ilan Halimi – a young Jew who was kidnapped, tortured and murdered by a ‘barbarian gang’ in 2006, just for being a Jew,” the Gatestone Institute reported last month. “At the time, it was France’s first case of murderous anti-Semitism in many years. After it, Islamists murdered Jews at a school in Toulouse and a kosher supermarket in Paris.”

The local daily Le Monde reported that French Jews are now “internal refugees” because of the Muslim migration into France.

Numerous anti-Semitic attacks are now reported throughout France, as those who believe in jihad look to wipe out their Jewish neighbors.

“French Jews are now not only threatened in their synagogues and schools, but in their homes,” Gatestone’s Giulio Meotti informed. “A Jewish family was recently held hostage, beaten and robbed in their home in the suburb of Seine Saint-Denis. Before that, a retired Jewish doctor and schoolteacher, Sarah Halimi, was beaten and thrown to her death from her balcony, in the Belleville district of Paris. The man who murdered her, while yelling ‘Allahu Akbar’ (‘Allah is Greater’), was a Muslim neighbor. Two Jewish brothers were recently attacked on a Paris street by men wielding a hacksaw and shouting ‘You dirty Jews! You are going to die.’”

Many Muslim migrants have made it clear that Jews are not welcome in the neighborhoods they are taking over.

“Recently, ‘Paul’ received a letter containing death threats in his mailbox at Noisy-le-Grand,” Meotti added. “The note said, ‘Allahu Akbar’ and contained a 9mm bullet. The next day brought [a] second letter. That one said, ‘You will all die.’ This time it contained the bullet of a Kalashnikov rifle. Many Jewish families, warns Le Monde, are under pressure. In Garges-lès-Gonesse (Val-d’Oise), young Jewish men who had built a temporary autumnal hut (a sukkah) in the yard of their synagogue were attacked in the neighborhood by people shouting, ‘Dirty Jews.’”

The latest demographic figures show that Muslims are taking over French regions and displacing Jews quickly.

“In Seine-Saint-Denis, 40 percent of the inhabitants are now Muslim,” Meotti divulged. “The result? Historical Jewish communities in towns such as La Courneuve, Aubervilliers, Stains, Pierrefitte-sur-Seine, Trappes, Aulnay-sous-Bois, Le Blanc-Mesnil and Saint Denis are now vanishing.”

As more and more Muslims filter into France, less and less Jews remain.

“Because of the lack of security, in places such as Courneuve – where there were 600 to 700 Jewish families – there are now fewer than 100,” Meotti noted. “In a suburb south of Paris, Kremlin-Bicêtre, with a population of 25,000 people, 25 percent now are Muslim. Until 1990, 10 percent of the population was Jewish; now it is 5 percent.”

 

 

Pastor Dukes Book now published on Amazon and Kendle Proceeds  to be used to pioneer new work in Yerington NV.Sister Carol Dukes Book now published on Amazon

Johnson Amendment Repeal Removed from Final GOP Tax Bill

No freedom of speech for the church as Trump promise to let churches make political endorsements blocked by Senate rule.

Johnson Amendment Repeal Removed from Final GOP Tax Bill

President Donald Trump’s biggest religious freedom policy promise to evangelicals—repealing the Johnson Amendment—will no longer take place via Republican tax reform.

A Democratic senator announced Thursday night that the repeal included in the House version of the tax bill, which would allow churches and other nonprofits to endorse candidates without losing their tax-exempt status, was removed during the reconciliation process with the Senate version, which did not include a repeal.

According to Senator Ron Wyden, the senior Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, the Johnson Amendment repeal was blocked by the Senate parliamentarian. Because of a requirement called the Byrd Rule, reconciliation bills—which are passed through a simple Senate majority—cannot contain “extraneous” provisions that don’t primarily deal with fiscal policy, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Trump made a political speech by churches a major part of his presidential platform, and since taking office has repeatedly brought up his pledge to “totally destroy” the 1954 tax code provision named for Lyndon B. Johnson. Trump saw the Johnson Amendment as a restriction on religious groups’ free speech rights since it prevents any nonprofit from opposing or endorsing a political candidate—therefore keeping political contributions from becoming tax-deductible.

Democrats have opposed the measure, and Wyden said he was pleased they prevented the repeal and would “continue to fight all attempts to eliminate this critical provision.”

Republican Senator James Lankford, a Southern Baptist and religious liberty advocate, criticized the move to block the measure.

“The federal government and the IRS should never have the ability, through our tax code, to limit free speech; this tax reform bill was an appropriate place to address this historic tax problem,” the Oklahoma senator said in a statement to The Hill.

“Nonprofits are allowed to lobby Congress or their local elected officials, but the ambiguity of the current tax code keeps nonprofits in constant fear that they might have crossed a line that no other organization has to consider.”

The President assured evangelicals that the Johnson Amendment was dead in his remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast in February and the National Day of Prayer in May, when he unveiled an executive order addressing free speech and religious liberty.

“This financial threat against the faith community is over,” Trump said. “You’re now in a position to say what you want to say. … No one should be censoring sermons or targeting pastors.”

While campaigning, he had characterized the Johnson Amendment appeal as his greatest contribution to the faith. “My greatest contribution to Christianity—and other religions—is to allow you, when you talk religious liberty, to go and speak openly, and if you like somebody or want somebody to represent you, you should have the right to do it,” he said.

Some of Trump’s top evangelical backers, including Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr. and Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, championed the change as a way to keep the government from controlling what pastors could say from their own pulpits. (Pastors are already free to endorse candidates outside of their official role at a religious nonprofit.)

The amendment’s main critic, the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), is confident it would not withstand judicial scrutiny, and has ironically tried to make the IRS punish pastors in order to prove it. Their effort gained an unexpected ally in the Commission on Accountability and Policy for Religious Organizations, a congressional advisory panel led by the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. Meanwhile, the Pew Research Center has been surprised how many Americans want religion back in politics—including religious nones.

But overall, most evangelical leaders—and most people in the pews—did not want to see pastors endorsing politicians. Among the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), 90 percent of its board of directors, including the leaders of major denominations and ministries, said they opposed pulpit endorsements in a survey conducted earlier this year.

A LifeWay Research survey conducted during the 2016 campaign found that 73 percent of Americans with evangelical beliefs said pastors should abstain from endorsing candidates, and about 65 percent said churches overall should abstain.

“Americans already argue about politics enough outside the church,” said LifeWay executive director Scott McConnell. “They don’t want pastors bringing those arguments into worship.”

Yet fewer than half of Americans—and just 33 percent of evangelicals—want churches to be punished if they do endorse candidates.

John Inazu, a professor at Washington University School of Law, told CT earlier this year, “When it comes to challenges to religious liberty, the Johnson Amendment is just about the least important issue I can think of.”

Though the Johnson Amendment has been in place for decades, the Internal Revenue Service very rarely uses it against churches—even when pastors blatantly violate the rule. ADF rallies more than a thousand pastors a year to bring political speech into their sermons on its annual Pulpit Freedom Sunday.

The Washington Post reported this week that opponents to the repeal were concerned about rich donors using religious institutions and nonprofits as a channel “to quietly funnel money to political candidates.” The Joint Committee on Taxation estimated that the government would miss out on $2 million due to write-offs for such donations.

Johnnie Moore, co-chairman of Trump’s evangelical advisory group, thinks concerns over “dark money” flooding into churches are misguided.

“This is actually not about money at all. Those who oppose the Johnson Amendment primarily do so not because they want to endorse candidates. They oppose it because they view this as a violation of freedom of speech,” he said. “Pastors can choose not to be political at all or otherwise, and people will go to whatever church they choose.”

Moore said that while the IRS rarely if ever enforced the Johnson Amendment, the provision was still used to threaten conservative groups. “I can’t tell you how many times Liberty University was threatened during my 13 years there because of this amendment,” he said. “Every time we had a Republican candidate speak on campus, we would receive tax-exemption threats on the basis of it—despite the fact that we never endorsed a candidate institutionally and had always invited ‘the other side’ though they almost never accepted our invitations.

“Pastors ought to be able to speak openly and freely without fear or intimidation,” he said. “In America, we believe in free speech and we foster a marketplace of ideas, and the pulpits of America—liberal or conservative—should not be any less free than the street corners.”


Pastor Dukes Book now published on Amazon and Kendle Proceeds  to be used to pioneer new work in Yerington NV.Sister Carol Dukes Book now published on Amazon

Police Officer Suspended for Attending Church While on Duty

Police Officer Suspended for Attending Church While on Duty

A Pennsylvania police officer has been suspended for attending church services during his shift, reports The Christian Post.

Middletown Patrol Officer Mark Hovan reportedly attended two church services at the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church several months ago while he was on duty. He has now been given a 10-day suspension, which he is fighting because he believes it is a violation of his religious freedom.

Hovan, who has been with the Middletown Police Force for 20 years, says previous police chiefs have allowed him to occasionally attend church while on duty, due to changing shifts and his devout faith. Hovan also said that his church attendance never caused him to neglect his work or miss a call.

Police Chief George Mouchette reportedly warned Hovan about his church attendance and ordered him to “never conduct personal business on Middletown Police Department time.”

Hovan did not obey Mouchette’s wishes, but admitted he had gone against them when Mouchette questioned him.

“I think there should be some action taken, but I can’t go along with the 10 days,” Reid said.


Pastor Dukes Book now published on Amazon and Kendle Proceeds  to be used to pioneer new work in Yerington NV.Sister Carol Dukes Book now published on Amazon

Suicide Attack on Church in Pakistan Darkens Christmas Celebrations

At least nine killed, more than 50 wounded, sources say.

Boy wounded in attack on church in Quetta, Pakistan on Sunday (Dec. 17). (Morning Star News)

Boy wounded in attack on church in

Quetta, Pakistan on Sunday

 Terror struck Christians in Pakistan’s Balochistan Province today as four terrorists allegedly linked with the Islamic State (IS) attacked a church, killing at least nine worshippers and injuring more than 50 others.

Police and church officials told Morning Star News that four suicide attackers stormed the Bethel Memorial Methodist Church in the provincial capital, Quetta, in the southwestern part of the country.

“There were around 400 worshippers inside the church when the attack began,” the senior leader of the church, pastor Saimon Bashir Masih, told Morning Star News, adding that the church was holding a “Sunday School Christmas Program” at the time of the attack.

Pastor Masih said that police assigned to the church’s security reacted timely, averting a much larger tragedy, as one suicide attacker was shot dead after an exchange of fire with police while the other detonated his explosive-packed jacket before being able to enter the main prayer hall.

Their two accomplices fled the scene during the exchange of fire.

“The loss of lives would have been colossal had either of the two suicide bombers detonated inside the church hall,” Pastor Masih said. “Zarghoon Road is a very sensitive area, and the church is already listed in the A+ category of high threat places.”

Police guards deployed at the main gate and on the roof opened fire on the terrorists when one of them scaled the church gate and opened it for his accomplice, he said.

“Our church gatekeeper, George Masih, was the first person who fell to the terrorists’ bullets,” he said.

The congregation erupted in panic as soon as the shots rang out in the church compound, he said.

Child wounded in attack on church in Quetta, Pakistan on Sunday (Dec. 17). (Morning Star News)

Child wounded in attack on church in Quetta, Pakistan on Sunday (Dec. 17). (Morning Star News)

“We immediately asked the people to take shelter beneath the benches, as we were not sure about the attackers’ location,” the pastor said. “Many panic-stricken people rushed towards the main door and that’s when the second bomber exploded his jacket in the compound, resulting in the casualties.”

The dead included a married woman, Sona Nadif, two girls, Madiha Barkat and Mehak Suhail, a boy named Akash, and others identified as Naseem, George Masih, Gulzar Bhatti, Sultan Masih and Fazal Masih.

Hiding Under Benches

Broken wooden benches, shards of glass and musical instruments were scattered around a Christmas tree inside the prayer hall that was splashed with blood stains.

Sunil Pervaiz, who was present in the church with his sister when the attack happened, told Morning Star News that the congregation was busy worshipping when the firing started.

“We hid the women and children under the benches, but just then a deafening explosion occurred, breaking the wooden door and the glass windows,” Pervaiz said. “I saw several people covered in blood … some were lying on the floor, some limping away to safety. It was sheer chaos.”

Aqil Anjum, who was shot in his right arm, said bullets were hitting people inside the closed hall.

“The situation was so chaotic that my mind had numbed,” he said. “My condition was such that I initially didn’t even feel the bullet piercing my arm.”

Mehreen Joseph, 43, said her 17-year-old son suffered multiple wounds from gunfire and the explosion.

“I am thankful to God Almighty that my son is alive, but my heart grieves for the families of our congregation who have lost their loved ones today,” she said. “The church was brimming with activity for the pre-Christmas Mass, and we all were very excited to be there, but our happiness has been turned into sadness.”

According to Balochistan Police Chief Moazzam Ansari, the injuries resulted mainly from wooden splinters from the door and from glass blown out of the church’s windows in the explosion.

Ansari praised the quick response of the police guards posted to the church, which he said had prevented the attackers from causing maximum damage.

The assailants were between 16 and 20 years old and had strapped 15 kilograms of explosives to their bodies. One successfully detonated his explosive vest, while the other was defused, Ansari said, adding that two other attackers fled without putting up a fight. Authorties are searching for them.

Islamic State Claims Responsibility

The Islamic State, also known by its Arabic acronym Daesh, claimed responsibility for the attack, the group’s Amaq news agency said in an online statement, without providing any evidence for its claim.

The Bethel Memorial Church was the target of a previous terrorist attack. Security had been beefed up for the church after the last attack, which occurred a few years ago. The church is located in the city’s high-security zone.

Jacob Masih, another worshipper, said that the attack occurred so suddenly that the congregation was thunder-struck.

“People started running to the corners of the church when the firing started,” he told Morning Star News. “All of this happened very quickly, leaving most of us in a state of shock and disbelief. Many, including myself, thought that it was the last day of our lives.”

Sidra Shams, a member of the church, said that several children participating in the Sunday school program remained safe while firing continued around them.

The church attack came a day after the third anniversary of a Taliban attack on an army-run school in Peshawar in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa that killed 144 persons, mostly schoolchildren, one of the single deadliest attacks in the country’s history.

Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa condemned the attack, calling it an attempt to cloud Christmas celebrations.

The United States also strongly condemned “the shocking and brutal attack on innocent worshippers,” U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan David Hale said in a statement.

Christian political and religious leaders condemned the attack and urged the government to provide maximum security to churches across the country for Christmas services next week.

Rufus Solomon of the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) said that terrorist attacks would not cease in Pakistan until the country implements the National Action Plan in letter and spirit.

“The government came up with the national plan against terrorism and extremism after the Peshawar school attack, but not much has been done regarding its implementation,” he said. “This lethargy is costing precious human lives, but sadly the government remains unconcerned, and a traditional condemnatory statement is issued after every attack.”

Solomon said that the Quetta attack has sent shockwaves throughout Pakistan’s Christian community and dampened the festive season.

“The government must ensure special protection for churches as Christmas approaches,” he said. “My prayers go to the victims’ families and for the speedy recovery of the injured.”

The senior-most bishop of the Anglican Church of Pakistan, Alexander Malik, condemned the attack, saying he hoped the government would put in place extra security at all churches to avoid a similar catastrophe.

“Today is a very sad day, as several families have lost their loved ones, while many others are left tending for their injured just a week before Christmas,” Malik said. “My heart grieves for their loss, and I pray that God may grant them patience and courage in this time of grief.”

He urged Christians in Pakistan the world over to keep the grieving families in their prayers.

Christians make up 2 percent of Pakistan’s population and face persecution from hard-line Islamists who want to see a strict interpretation of Islamic law take precedence in the legal system.

A 7-year-old boy and two others were killed earlier in December during a hand grenade attack on the gates of a Christian colony in Chaman in Balochistan. The victim was identified as Lucky Saleem. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack.

Previous attacks on Christians include a suicide attack in Lahore that killed at least 14 people in March 2015, and suicide attacks on a church in Peshawar in 2013 that killed more than 80 people.


Pastor Dukes Book now published on Amazon and Kendle Proceeds  to be used to pioneer new work in Yerington NV.Sister Carol Dukes Book now published on Amazon