Top Religion Stories of 2012

Sandy Hook Memorial

Sandy Hook Memorial

Despite popular conception, religion continues to remain relevant and does not appear to be going anywhere anytime soon. A look back at the big religious stories of 2012 makes it clear that many of the religious issues today will remain religious issues tomorrow. Religious news will change, no doubt, but it is not likely to disappear.

“Nones” on the rise

  • A good case in point was the research published by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life that observed a rise in the US in the religiously unaffiliated people called the “nones.” However, even though the “nones” make up the fastest-growing religious group in modern America (approaching 20 percent of the population) and the third-largest faith group in the world, the study also found that Americans are attending church just as regularly as they have for the last 80 years. In addition, a report from the Gallup group called “God is Alive and Well” suggests that “religion may become increasingly important in the years to come.”

Sandy

  • Unexpected tragedies like the Sandy Hurricane and the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut at Sandy Hook Elementary School remind us that we have a desire for something more than this world. For better or for worse, these tragedies remind us that this world is not perfect, and religion remains the primary way that we wrestle with the imperfections of this world, which will unfortunately, undoubtedly remain in 2013.

“Innocence of Muslims”

  • The anti-Islamic film “Innocence of Muslims” was initially uploaded to YouTube in July 2012 and sparked many demonstrations and violent protests against the film in Egypt and other Arab and Muslim nations that resulted in an estimated 75 deaths. The film was originally posted by someone using the pseudonym of Sam Bacile, but it is now reported that the film was written and produced by Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, a Coptic Egyptian living in LA. The film has sparked numerous debates around blasphemy, freedom of speech, and internet censorship.

Mitt’s Mormon Moment

  • When Mitt Romney first ran as a Presidential nominee for the Republican party in 2008, he was open about his controversial Mormon faith. But in 2012, when he won the Republican nomination, he barely talked about his faith, and Christians didn’t seem to care. American evangelicals supported Romney more strongly than they did John McCain in 2008 and seemed happy, in concert with Billy Graham, to remove the “cult” label from the Mormon faith.

Emergence of Sharia Law

  • The election of Mohamed Morsi as the President of Egypt virtually ensured the unavoidable rise of an Islamist government in Egypt. Morsi is a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood, which seeks to establish Islamic Sharia law as the governing constitution of the nation. Unfortunately, Sharia law also ignores the rights of women and religious minorities, including Christians. Egypt is currently in the midst of establishing a new constitution that would officially make Egypt an Islamic state.

Sex-same union

  • Same-sex unions continue to be an issue inside and outside religion. In the US, Maine, Maryland, Washington, and Minnesota chose to affirm same-sex marriage, and the Episcopal Church has adopted a trial ritual for blessing same-sex couples. But in Uganda, there has been much controversy over the proposal for an anti-homosexual bill that would make homosexuality illegal and represent an unwelcome form of Christendom in the 21st century.

Muslim prayer time under fire at Toronto public school

A Muslim man engaged in Muslim prayer

By S.K. Lawrence

Valley Park Middle School in Toronto has become the subject of an ongoing controversy because of the school’s accommodation of religion within their public institution. Reports have shown that 80-90 per cent of students attending Valley Middle Park are Muslim. That seems to be the justification for allowing a Muslim students to miss class for a weekly 30-minute prayer service with an imam.

Many parents of the non-Muslim students have raised concerns about this. The Canadian Hindu Advocacy, the Jewish Defense League, and surprisingly even the Muslim Canadian Congress were opposed to this activity to be allowed within a public institution.

The Muslim Canadian Congress feared that instructions from the wrong imams could lead to radicalization. Other arguments presented pointed to the fairness of accommodating the dominant religion over other religions and the exclusion of non-Muslims in prayer services.

Ron Banerjee of the Canadian Hindu Advocacy argued that if the public school system is to allow a particular religious group to practice their faith within school hours on school property, there is nothing stopping every other religion from demanding the same thing. “If they all demand these types of privileges, it just simply won’t work,” he said.

Until 1982, Christian prayers had been common in Canadian schools and were regularly recited in the early morning instruction hours. Many argues that this was a form of religious indoctrination and was unfair for children of other faith as well as for those without religion. Prayer was considered in violation of the Charter of rights and Freedoms because it was thought to hamper students choice of religion.

What are your thoughts on prayer in the public school system?

Religion in Quebec schools still a legal issue

Religion in schools and Ethics in QuebecThe Quebec government’s Ethics & Religious Culture (ERC) course is a point of contention in two ongoing court cases – one involving a high school, and the other a family.

Litigation about whether a Quebec private school can teach the ERC from a Catholic perspective recently entered a new stage.

Late last month, the Quebec Appeals Court agreed to deliberate the judgment rendered by Superior Court Justice Gérard Dugré. His 63-page judgment, issued June 18, ruled in favor of Loyola High School, stating that the private Catholic boys school has the right to continue teaching ERC from a Catholic perspective.

“The obligation imposed on Loyola to teach the ethics and religious-culture course in a lay fashion assumes a totalitarian character essentially equivalent to Galileo’s being ordered by the Inquisition to deny the Copernican universe,” wrote the judge. Premier Jean Charest announced the following Monday, June 21, that the government would appeal.

Loyola’s principal, Paul Donovan, says the appeal date is at least five months away. The court allows the appellant three months to submit its factum. Subsequently, Loyola’s lawyers will have two months to file their reply.

In a related case, a Drummondville couple, Suzanne Lavallée and Daniel Jutras, would like their children exempt from the ERC course in their public school. Their appeal to the Quebec Appeals Court was denied in February. At the end of April, their lawyers followed up with an application for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. A response about whether the Supreme Court will hear arguments is expected this fall. Both Loyola and the Drummondville couple are represented by Borden Ladner Gervais.

First ruling

When classes began at Loyola High School last month, it was business as usual, thanks to a Quebec Superior Court ruling, which states that the private Catholic boys school could carry on as usual with its Catholic religion and ethics courses.

Justice Gérard Dugré issued his decision during the last week of the 2009-2010 academic year, granting the school a legal exemption from teaching the government’s ERC course. The June 18 ruling was one year in the making; the case was heard June 8-12, 2009. The Quebec government appealed the ruling, and the Quebec Appeals Court issued its decision September 27 to hear the appeal.

Loyola took Quebec’s minister of education to court, after the minister refused the school’s request to teach the ERC course from a Catholic perspective. The ERC curriculum insists that the teaching of different religions and ethical issues be done from a “neutral” stance. Teachers are not allowed to infer that one religion or ethical position is superior or truer than another.

What is neutral?

The Jesuit school supports the teaching of different religions; students have been required to take a mandatory world religions course for the past 10 years. However, Loyola took issue with the methodology of the ERC curriculum.