Atheist Groups demand end to prayers at military graduation ceremonies

Two leading atheist groups have lodged a complaint with the Department of Defense to demand an end to prayers presented at military graduation ceremonies and other activities.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) and American Atheists have sent a complaint letter to Secretary of Defense James Mattis last week, claiming that service members have been “forced” into religious observances during training.

The two groups claimed to have received several complaints alleging that military training facility administrators have included prayers during graduation ceremonies across the country and families in attendance are instructed to stand during the delivery of the prayer.

“By scheduling prayers in graduation ceremonies and leading cadets in prayer prior to examinations, the country’s military training facilities are violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment,” the letter read, as reported by Independent Journal Review.

“While military chaplains may provide religious services to those who seek them out, their mission does not include proselytizing or infusing secular ceremonies with the chaplain’s personal religious beliefs,” it continued.

The American Atheists and the FFRF also claimed that prayers were held at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego prior to the Crucible, a 54-hour test that must be completed by cadets before they could become Marines.

The two groups also alleged that those who decide not to attend worship services on Sundays are given menial tasks to perform.

“Replacing expulsion with grunt work or other disfavored treatment as the consequence of avoiding worship services is equally impermissible. Such practices not only violate the Establishment Clause for the reasons laid out above, but also run afoul of the Due Process Clause,” they wrote.

The secularist organizations have called on Mattis to “take steps immediately to ensure that these violations do not occur in the future,” noting that such actions amount to “religious coercion and discrimination.”

This was not the first time that the FFRF called for an end to prayers in the military. In Feb. 2017, the group urged the leadership at New Hampshire Air National Guard in Portsmouth to disallow chaplains from offering invocations at official ceremonies.

The leadership at the base, however, ignored the complaint, saying no formal complaints were received from airmen regarding the matter.

Greg Heilshorn, a spokesperson for the New Hampshire National Guard, said at the time that the base intends to continue with its practice of conducting chaplain-led prayers at on-base events.

He noted that prayer is a “traditional part” of various events at the base, including promotion, deployment and retirement ceremonies, but he clarified that they are usually nondenominational prayers and no one is required to participate in them.

Government, Police in India Thwart Threatened Attacks on Christians

 Government, Police in India Thwart Threatened Attacks on Christians

The Rev. Shaju Devassy was quietly attending to his work as director of a Catholic graduate college in central India on Dec. 30 when police showed up and told him a mob of angry Hindu protestors was on its way.

Police in Vidisha, Madhya Pradesh state held the 70-strong mob outside the gate of St. Mary’s Post Graduate College as long as they could, but the protestors managed to jump a boundary wall, and soon they surrounded Devassy at his church presbytery.

Threatening and reviling him, they accused him of being anti-national for refusing to let them worship the Mother India goddess (Aarti of Bharat Mata) at the Catholic institution.

“In menacing tones, they warned him that should he refuse to do the Aarti, they would garland him with the ‘garland of shoes [juthe ki mala],’” Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, secretary general of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, told Morning Star News.

Another protestor questioned Devassy as to whether he knew Indian culture, the bishop said. “He asked the director, ‘Who is the goddess of education? Why is Saraswati Vandana [worship of goddess Saraswati] not being done in the college?’”

The mob told him that the worship of the Mother India goddess was to be performed as a sign of patriotism, the bishop said.

“As Indians, the activists claimed that they did not require permission from anyone and would perform it anywhere without anybody’s permission,” Mascarenhas said. “The leaders of the mob made it clear that many more would come again to the college campus on Jan. 4 and would not only perform Aarti but would force the director, Father Shaju, to do the same. Having imparted this ominous warning, the mob left the compound.”

‘Anti-National’ Accusation

As might be expected at an institution for which worship of anything but the Holy Trinity is idolatrous, the  posters and the worship of the Mother India goddess are against school regulations.

This incident and the two large-scale, attempted attacks that followed came about after members of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party’s student union wing, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (All Indian Student Council, or ABVP), captured all the posts on the student council last November, the bishop said. The ABVP is affiliated with the Hindu extremist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

Soon Devassy, who as director of the college for the past three years has not otherwise had such conflicts, found the hard-line Hindu students displaying a poster on campus with photos of the student council members around a picture of the goddess Bharat Mata. The ABVP put up two posters with photos of council members and a picture that they called Bharat Mata.

Devassy pointed out that this was done without permission and was against university regulations, and he gently requested they take the two posters down, Mascarenhas said. The students promised to remove the posters within three days, but when they failed to do so, the college administration had them removed.

On Dec. 29 Devassy received a phone call informing him that the ABVP members were running a Facebook campaign under the tag “Bharat Mata Ki Aarti” (Worship of Mother India goddess) describing college officials as anti-national.

“In the social media campaign, hatred was being promoted against the college with regard to Bharat Mata ki Aarti, describing the college authorities as anti-national,” Bishop Mascarenhas said. “The demand was that the Aarti of Bharat Mata be allowed in the college as an expression of nationalism.”

After the mob verbally attacked him the next day, Devassy reported it to the college chairman, diocese authorities and the Madhya Pradesh Regional Bishops’ Council. With their suggestions, he drafted a letter about the incident, and he and other representatives met with the Inspector General (IG) of Law and Order and other security officials in Bhopal and submitted a memorandum to them.

First Attack

On Jan. 4, more than 800 protestors gathered at the gate of the college and began to pressure police stationed there, trying to break through the barricades and enter the campus.

More than 300 officers were deployed at three Catholic institutions on the campus – the college, St. Mary’s Senior Secondary School and Senior Secondary Trinity Convent School, Vidisha. The protestors shouted slogans, threw stones and broke the barricades before performing the worship of the Mother India goddess in a temple opposite the college gate on a national highway, sources said.

At the same time, another group broke a side boundary wall onto the college campus, and police rushed to the area and stopped them from entering. Officers reportedly were forced to resort to baton charges and tear gas. At least three policemen were reported injured.

Tensions remained high for two hours at the main gate, and the mob slowly moved away after about 2:30 p.m. Police security remained till late at night.

“A copy of the letter issued by the SDM [Sub-Divisional Magistrate] to the college council secretary denying the permission to perform the Aarti was also received by the college management on Jan. 4, thus confirming that Fr. Shaju’s decision in refusing permission to do the Aarti on the 30th of December was correct,” Mascarenhas said.

Second Attack

After Hindu nationalists, including members of the Vishwa Sanatan Sangh, issued more threats of a massive attack, however, the protestors returned on Jan. 16 with an even larger crowd.

When the threats grew a few days beforehand, Mascarenhas immediately got in touch with Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and appraised him of the highly volatile situation. The Madhya Pradesh Catholic Diocesan School’s Association filed a writ petition at the Jabalpur High Court seeking protection for their institutes in Vidisha.

With the federal home minister’s intervention and the state government’s action with the high court, the Madhya Pradesh government provided heavy security. A huge police force was deployed in and around the college, and several Hindu nationalist leaders were arrested as a precautionary measure on Jan. 15-16.

The Additional Attorney General of Madhya Pradesh on Jan. 15 gave assurance at the Jabalpur High Court that complete protection would be given to the college against the threatened Jan. 16 attack.

“It must be said that they kept their word,” Mascarenhas told Morning Star News. “More than 500 fully equipped police personnel were deployed for the protection of the college.”

The Superintendent of Police reportedly said 30 Hindu nationalists, including Updesh Rana, leader of Vishwa Sanatan Sangh, were arrested as they were heading for the college to perform the Hindu worship.

“With no leaders to coordinate, the action fizzled out and the situation went on peacefully,” said Mascarenhas, who was also grateful to the Union Home Minister and the Madhya Pradesh administration for intervening.

The security was a rare instance of federal and state help in a country increasingly marked by local officials colluding with Hindu extremists to persecute Christians. The 1,800-student college, where most students are Hindus, falls in the Assembly constituency of Vidisha, which was once represented by Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan. The Parliamentary representative is the current Union Minister of External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj. Thus Vidisha is considered a place of political significance, with events there deemed to have serious state and national level significance.

“I think the college has sent a signal to the whole of India that with the good will of the government and our political leaders, this country can maintain its tradition of peace and harmony and protect and strengthen its secular fabric,” Mascarenhas said.

The government intervention came in striking contrast to the hostile tone of the National Democratic Alliance government, led by the Hindu nationalist BJP, against non-Hindus, which 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, up from 15th the previous year, and ahead of Saudi Arabia, Nigeria and Egypt.

Evangelism Could Be Banned in Bolivia

(Evangelical Focus)  Evangelical churches in Bolivia have reacted to what could be the end of religious freedom in the country.

The new penal code includes an article to stop the activities of both criminal groups and religious organizations.

Specifically, Article 88.11 reads: “Whoever recruits, transports, deprives of freedom or hosts people with the aim of recruiting them to take part in armed conflicts or religious or worship organizations will be penalised 7 to 12 years of imprisonment.”

A rigorous application of the Penal Code, Christians in Bolivia are saying, could ban preaching in the streets and the sole action of inviting someone to a Christian event.

Kevin Sorbo Banned from Comicon Due to Conservative Political Leanings

Kevin Sorbo Banned from Comicon Due to Conservative Political Leanings

A conservative Christian actor has been banned from a Comicon conventiondue to his political leanings.

The Daily Caller reports that the founder and promoter of East Coast Comicon, Cliff Galbraith, announced that he will not be inviting actor Kevin Sorbo to the convention. Galbraith explained his reasoning for not inviting Sorbo:

“I turned down Kevin Sorbo for East Coast Comicon. He’s pals with Sean Hannity. I just can’t do it.”

Some who saw Galbraith’s post and also have liberal leanings urged him to also ban other actors such as Clint Eastwood, Mel Gibson, James Wood, Jon Voight, and Chuck Norris who are known to have conservative viewpoints.

Others, however, decried Galbraith’s decision. Sorbo himself previously acknowledged that there is a clear bias toward conservative Christians in Hollywood:

Sorbo would have been a candidate for East Coast Comicon due to his role as Hercules in Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and as the main character is the sci-fi series Andromeda.

Sorbo has also starred in faith films such as Soul Surfer and God’s Not Dead.

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