In the News (October 2020)

Congressional Freethought Caucus

Rep. Rashid Tlaib joins Freethought Caucus

Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, a first-term representative and Muslim, has joined the Congressional Freethought Caucus.

The Freethought Caucus was formed in 2018 by Rep. Jared Huffman, who is the only openly non-religious member of Congress, and Rep. Jamie Raskin. It now has 13 members:

Rep. Sean Casten, D-Ill.

Rep. Steve Cohen., D-Tenn.

Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif.

Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash.

Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif.

Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Calif.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C.

Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis.

Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md.

Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich.

Rep. Susan Wild, D-Pa.

The Freethought Caucus “promotes public policy formed on the basis of reason, science, and moral values; protects the secular character of our government by adhering to the strict Constitutional principle of the separation of church and state; opposes discrimination against atheists, agnostics, humanists, seekers, religious and nonreligious persons, and to champion the value of freedom of thought and conscience worldwide; and provides a forum for members of Congress to discuss their moral frameworks, ethical values, and personal religious journeys.”

Nigerian atheist, arrested for blasphemy, is missing

Mubarak Bala, head of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, was seized by the police and has disappeared in custody.

On April 25, he logged on to Facebook and typed a post calling the Prophet Muhammad a terrorist.

Three days later, he was arrested by the state police after being accused of violating anti-blasphemy laws, which can carry a death sentence. He has not been seen since.

“We are concerned that he may be prosecuted under anti-blasphemy laws that provide for capital punishment in Nigeria,” wrote a group of U.N. experts who have called for his release.

Other nonbelievers are worried that other Nigerian atheists will be prosecuted and that more arrests may be coming.

FFRF is urging the Nigerian authorities to release Bala and has contacted the Trump administration to do the utmost to ensure Bala’s well-being.

Nigerian teen gets 10 years for blasphemy

Omar Farouq, a 13-year-old boy, was convicted of blasphemy in a Sharia court in Nigeria and sentenced to 10 years in prison in September.

Farouq was accused of using “foul language” toward Allah in an argument with a friend. He was sentenced on Aug. 10 by the same court that recently sentenced Yahaya Sharif-Aminu to death for blaspheming Prophet Mohammed, according to lawyers.

Farouq’s punishment is in violation of the African Charter of the Rights and Welfare of a Child and the Nigerian constitution, said his counsel Kola Alapinni, who told CNN they filed an appeal on his behalf on Sept. 7.

NYC banquet halls host large Jewish weddings

Three banquet halls in Brooklyn’s Borough Park neighborhood hosted Hasidic Jewish wedding parties less than a week after Mayor Bill de Blasio warned that a similar gathering there led to an increase in coronavirus cases, the Washington Post reported. Celebrations were witnessed involving as many as 200 people at three different sites along a 10-block stretch.

At Torah Vyriah and Ateres Chaya, the windows were covered with paper to prevent anyone from looking in, but witnesses saw dozens of people getting out of cars and entering through side or rear doors.

Study: Nonbelievers more likely to sleep better

A new study shows that Americans who don’t believe in God are more likely to get the recommended amount of sleep each night than those who do believe in God.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends seven to nine  hours of sleep a night.

In the journal Sleep, it says, “The psychology of religion literature indicates that religious engagement is beneficial to physical and mental health,” the study’s authors wrote. They anticipated that this might be reflected in better sleep.

The co-authors surveyed 1,501 participants in the Baylor Religion Survey on how many hours they slept each night and how easy they found it to go to sleep. Contrary to expectations, they found 73 percent of atheists and agnostics usually got the recommended sleep quotient. By contrast, only 65 percent of people who considered themselves religious got the same. The figure was just 55 percent for Baptists.

Medically assisted death can proceed, court rules

On Sept. 9, a Nova Scotia Court of Appeal judge denied a request to shelve a lower court decision that effectively allows a man to go ahead with a medically assisted death, in spite of his longtime wife’s efforts to stop him.

The 83-year-old man from Bridgewater, Nova Scotia, was approved for medical assistance in dying (MAID) earlier this year, but his wife of 48 years filed for an injunction with the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia, forcing him to cancel his plans.

The wife threatened to sue health-care providers who help her husband access a medically assisted death. She has also expressed a religious opposition to MAID.

The husband says he’s suffering and near the end of his life because of advanced chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), but his wife says his wish to die is not based on physical illness, but rather anxiety and mental delusions.

Sudan government agrees to state-church separation

Sudan’s transitional government agreed to separate religion from the state, ending 30 years of Islamic rule, according to a report on Bloomberg.com.

Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and Abdel-Aziz al-Hilu, a leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, signed a declaration on Sept. 3 adopting the principle.

“For Sudan to become a democratic country where the rights of all citizens are enshrined, the constitution should be based on the principle of ‘separation of religion and state,’ in the absence of which the right to self-determination must be respected,” the document states.

Charlie Hebdo terror trial under way in Paris

Fourteen people have gone on trial in Paris over their alleged involvement in the deadly terrorist attack, which began in the offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, and ended at a supermarket two days later.

The suspects are accused of having provided logistical support to the perpetrators — brothers Said and Chérif Kouachi, and their accomplice Amedy Coulibaly — and face charges of participating in a terrorist criminal association.

Charlie Hebdo was targeted over the magazine’s publication, in 2006, of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed. Depictions of Islam’s prophet are considered blasphemous by many Muslims. At the beginning of the trial in September, the magazine republished the same cartoons about the Prophet Muhammad.

Eleven of the suspects will appear in court — 10 of them from behind bulletproof glass. Three others, who traveled to Syria in the days before the attacks began, will be tried in absentia.

A total of 17 people were killed in the attacks, which took place in the French capital over three days in January 2015. Twelve of those who died were shot in the Charlie Hebdo building.

N.C. county won’t say pledge at meetings

The Orange County (N.C) Board of Commissioners voted on Sept. 1 against a resolution to open its meetings by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

The board voted 5-2 against a resolution proposed by Commissioner Earl McKee, according to Chapelboro.com. McKee brought forth the resolution as the result of a petition that pushed for the pledge to be recited, which circulated around Orange County earlier this year.

Several of the commissioners said the manner it was brought forth to the board, by a county resident who described himself as a “nationalist,” felt like a move to shame the county officials for not regularly reciting it.

Chair of the Board Penny Rich said she has not said the Pledge of Allegiance for years, citing the addition of “under God” in the 1950s as a lack of separation between church and state.