Religion Today Summaries - Nov. 25, 2009

Compiled & Edited by Crosswalk Editorial Staff

Religion Today Summaries - Nov. 25, 2009

Daily briefs of the top news stories impacting Christians around the world.
In today's edition:

  • Worldwide Poll Finds Strong Support for Right to Criticize Religion
  • Heavy Fines, Bans Levied on Uzbek Baptists
  • Religion-Based Hate Crimes Highest Since 2001
  • Pope Meets with Artists, Filmmakers for Sacred Art

Worldwide Poll Finds Strong Support for Right to Criticize Religion

The Christian Post reports that countries in the Western Hemisphere overwhelmingly favor the right to criticize religions, while strong Muslim majority countries were more likely to favor restrictions. Of the 18,000 people surveyed, 57 percent agreed that "people should be allowed to publicly criticize religion because people should have freedom of speech." A full third of those surveyed, however, said government should have the right "to fine or imprison people who publicly criticize a religion because such criticism could defame the religion." In the United States, 89 percent said public criticism should be allowed, the highest of any country surveyed. Egypt most fully supports the counter position, with 71 percent agreeing that religion should not be criticized.

Heavy Fines, Bans Levied on Uzbek Baptists

Baptist Press reports that a court in Uzbekistan has effectively removed three leaders of the country's Baptist Union on fabricated charges of tax evasion and illegally teaching religion to children. Pavel Peichev, Yelena Kurbatova and Dmitri Pitirimov each were fined the equivalent of 260 times the monthly minimum wage and were banned from all administrative and financial activity for three years. The court also ruled the Baptist Union will have to pay 107 months in unpaid taxes on alleged profit from Joy Baptist Children's Camp operations. The children's camp is held on recreational property owned by the Baptist Union for their adult members and their children. The three were convicted even though some of the parents involved denied their children were forced to listen to religious teaching. "Despite the fact that it was proven in the court the whole case was fabricated, the judge still went ahead and made a decision against us," Pitrimov said.

Religion-Based Hate Crimes Highest Since 2001

Religion News Service reports that hate crime incidents targeting people based on their religion were at their highest frequency last year since 2001, according to a new report. The report, compiled by the Anti-Defamation League from FBI data, found 1,519 religious hate crimes in 2008, accounting for about 20 percent of all bias crimes. It was an increase from 2007, when 1,400 crimes of religious bias were reported. The number of crimes targeting Jews or Jewish institutions also increased in 2008. There were 1,013 hate crimes against Jews last year, accounting for about two-thirds of all religious bias crimes. It was the largest number of crimes against Jews since 2001. Overall, hate crimes rose slightly in 2008, with participating agencies reporting 7,783 bias crimes. Racial bias accounted for about half of all those reported, with attacks aimed at ethnicity and sexual orientation accounting for much of the balance.

Pope Meets with Artists, Filmmakers for Sacred Art

Catholic News Service reports that Pope Benedict XVI met with artists, filmmakers and actors this week to discuss the possibility of modern art in the service of the Church. Appropriately held at the Sistine Chapel, the pope said the meeting was "my invitation to friendship, dialogue and cooperation" that could lead to new works of sacred art in modern styles. Artists said such a partnership lies in the Church's hands. "The artist is really at the service of society, but to serve you have to be asked," said John David Mooney, a sculptor and installation artist from Chicago. "I think that there has just been no communication between the church and the artists, that's the problem." The pope reported on the meetings Nov. 21, asking artists to "speak to the heart of humanity" with works of beauty.