An Atlanta man turned the tables on his would-be carjacker, holding him at gunpoint until police arrived to arrest the assailant.
Hashim Fannin, the car owner, says the attempted carjacking occurred just after he had pulled into a parking spot at the Family Dollar on Marietta Boulevard in northwest Atlanta earlier this month.
Fannin says the
man slipped into the passenger’s seat when his doors automatically unlocked.
“He told me,
‘You know what this is,’ ” Fannin said. That is when Fannin says he pulled his gun out.
“I asked him to get out the car, probably not in those exact words,” Fannin said.
“I told him no, there’s no leaving, leaving was before you hopped into my car … at this point there is not leaving,” Fannin said.
Fannin kept the 61-year-old carjacker, Edgar Horn, face down in the store parking lot, berating him until authorities arrived.
“You were not trying to rob me,” Fannin said to the man on cellphone video of the incident. “Do you just get into random people’s cars … you thought I was your friend … you thought I was your friend … so you woke up stupid this morning?”
When police arrived, you can see Fannin wave them over, and put his gun down. The police officer shakes his hand, before putting the suspect in handcuffs.
“Honestly, I look at it like this. That is one less guy I got to worry about bothering my mom when she’s out grocery shopping,” Fannin said.
Horn went to jail on charges of attempted robbery and entering a vehicle.
Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock / Brad Sauter
Since the inception of the Christian church, after Jesus had ascended into heaven and His apostles began spreading His message beyond Judea and Samaria, preachers and pastors have set up new congregations in neighborhoods and areas where people need to hear the message of Christianity. In our modern parlance we call it “church planting,” but the idea is as old as Christianity itself.
In recent years, church planting has also involved partnering with public schools to provide temporary space on Sundays for churches until they can afford to build a building. The church where I work has partnered with a high school in our community to help launch our first multisite venture.
Now the Left has discovered the tactic, and they’re apoplectic. This week Alternet published an article relating how churches are attempting to reach out to left-leaning cities like Boston and Portland by establishing church plants in schools. The piece starts out straightforwardly enough:
Church planting is happening across the country, and it is organized on a national scale. Its presence in Boston is evidence of its efficiency even in the toughest markets. It has been enabled by pivotal shifts in the interpretation of constitutional law. And it is driven by a subtle yet profound transformation in evangelical culture in America—a transformation in both the religion itself and in its organizations forms.
But look past the first few paragraphs, and the article strikes an ominous tone.
While embracing many of the tools of modernity such as social media, rock bands, and hip graphics, they have become more aggressive in their outreach, taking hard-right positions on culture-war issues such as same-sex marriage, reproductive freedom, and prayer in public schools.
What are the core beliefs of the national religious groups planting churches in Boston and beyond? Many describe themselves as “nondenominational” or “interdenominational.” To the uninitiated, that may sound moderate, even interfaith, but evangelicals of a generally conservative type overwhelmingly dominate the leadership of this new field.
In many instances, church leadership promotes a Christian Nationalist version of American history that denies the Enlightenment roots of American democracy. The concept of “male headship,” found in the theological position papers of many of the religious organizations and sometimes referred to as a “complementarian” understanding of gender, underwrites a view of gender as Biblically based and hierarchical.
Most churches aren’t trying to set up new bastions of conservatism in these communities — they’re merely trying to save souls. But this breathless freaking out on the part of sites like Alternet demonstrate that, for all their carping about the decline of Christianity, the Left is scared of Judeo-Christian influences in “their” cities.
Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock / Paul Matthew Photography
When parents check their kids’ cell phones, they don’t expect to see what one suburban Atlanta mother discovered when she looked at her 14 year-old son’s phone. The mom, who chose to remain anonymous, found a series of texts between her son and his teacher, helping the boy plan to have sex with a girl in a storage room at the school.
The school system has fired 25-year-old Quinton Wright, who taught at Champion Theme Middle School in Stone Mountain, east of Atlanta. Wright also faces charges, but he hasn’t turned himself in.
WSB-TV’s Tom Regan spoke with the parent, who said she couldn’t believe what was happening.
“I was in a state of disbelief when I read all these messages,” the mother said, asking to remain anonymous.
“Basically he’s allowing the students to have sex in a storage room of his classroom,” the mother said.
“He told my son you can have it from 7:30 to like 8:30,” the mother said reading some of the messages. “’Did you tell the girl what’s going to happen? That she cannot tell anybody?’ basically don’t tell anyone I’m allowing you to use my room.”
The mother said the teacher also sent her son a calendar showing teachers’ schedules and a text saying he did not have condoms.
The school system removed Wright from the classroom after the mother discovered the messages, but that was not enough for the distressed parent.
“It’s very sickening and disheartening, because we trust administrators and educators when we drop our kids off at school,” the mother said.
The mother told Regan she pulled her eighth-grader from school Friday and contacted the school’s principal and police. She said she also filed a complaint.
The student’s mother told Regan she was suspicious of the teacher from earlier behavior.
“He called me when the kids are at their eighth-grade prom and asked if he could come over and take pictures with the boys before the prom, and I said no,” the mother said.
Featured image courtesy of WSB Radio
Christians working to plant churches in Pakistan have faced recent death threats, while experts warn that conditions for Christians and other religious minorities may only get worse.
Javed David has been building churches in poor communities for the past two years, but says he is becoming increasingly afraid of the consequences, particularly in the wake of the double suicide bomb attacks on churches in Lahore, where he lives, in March.
“After the tragedy in Youhanabad [a Christian majority suburb of Lahore], circumstances have changed and now there is more fear,” David told Asia News. He has personally received two threats on his life since February. Once, a motorcyclist threw a piece of paper though his car window, reading: “This is an Islamic nation. We cannot allow church building. Either you convert to Islam or you leave this country! Stop building churches or you’ll pay the consequences!”
In a second incident on April 4, another motorcyclist told him: “We know what you are doing here. Stop building churches. Convert to Islam, which is the true religion. Otherwise we will make a horrible example of you.”
One of David’s colleagues, Ata-ur-Rehman, has also received threats. He said that though there has been some resistance from members of the local Muslim community, Christians and Muslims largely live in peace together. He did, however, express concern about “rising religious intolerance.”
Recent reports on human rights in Pakistan have highlighted the problems that Christians and other religious minorities face, and other experts have noted that persecution against religious minorities is on the rise.
The Minority Rights Group and International and Sustainable Development Policy Institute said that “violent attacks against religious minorities occur against a backdrop of legal and social discrimination in almost every aspect of their lives, including political participation, marriage and freedom of belief,” and called for increased protections for all citizens.
Religious freedoms granted by the government “are only confined in words,” [spokesperson for the British Pakistani Christian Association Mewhish] Bhatti said. “That’s not the real story that we’re facing”. Forced marriages are very common, she added, noting that many girls are abandoned or even killed by their Muslim husbands if they refuse to submit to Islamic teaching.
Bhatti also said that any government protections given in the wake of incidents such as the church bombings in Youhanabad are short lived. “Our lives are in danger. The government send higher-level security for one or two weeks, just for media coverage, but [there are] no long term measures.”
Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock / Asianet-Pakistan
Since tensions flared up in Yemen this spring, Christians in the city of Aden have faced what the Anglican bishop of Cyprus and the Gulf has referred to as “terrible” conditions, even as tensions appear to have died down.
More than 600 people have been killed in the city and 3,000 wounded, while 22,000 residents had been displaced since the Iran-backed Houthi rebels first pushed into the city on March 25.
Fighting in the city has seen damage to the city’s Christ Church and its associated clinic, Ras Morbat.
Rt Rev Michael Lewis wrote in a prayer letter that the buildings’ windows had been blown out as a result of blast waves from sustained shelling. However, he added, “we are told that all our staff are safe so far, and for that we thank God”.
He said: “The general state of Aden is terrible: lack of fuel means lack of electricity, and telecommunications and even basic movement around the large city have become hugely difficult. Food is limited, and money to buy it even more so.
“Our administrator is very thankful for the many prayers that he knows have been made for him, for all who work at Ras Morbat, and for the people of Aden and the Yemen as a whole, a country sorely abused by those with the power, if they chose to use, to promote the common good to the glory of God.”
A coalition of Middle East nations have bombed Houthi army units and other rebel strongholds, while Sunni-led Saudi Arabia believes that Shi’ite Iran is behind the rebels, who have taken control of much of the country since late March. The coalition seeks to restore Yemen’s President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
A five-day cease fire, which began earlier this week, appears to be holding steady, though locals do not expect it to lead to a lasting peace.
Aid agencies said the five-day break in fighting to allow fuel, medicine, food and aid workers to enter Yemen could be a “lifeline” for civilians trapped in conflict zones.
The United Nations believes 828 civilians, including 182 children, have been killed across Yemen since March 26.
Aden locals expressed doubts that the ceasefire would last.
“Aden needs a humanitarian truce so badly, given the lack of food, fuel and everything else. But we question the intentions of the Houthis and believe they will take advantage of the truce to take more areas,” said Hassan al-Jamal, a resident of Aden.
Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock / patrice6000
High school sports can be as competitive as professional sports — especially in the South. Just ask the soccer team at Chattahoochee High School north of Atlanta. At their April 29 game, the last of the season, senior Andrew Gray disagreed with a call from the referee, so Gray responded with a sucker punch.
A police report obtained by Channel 2’s Mike Petchenik said the referee, Christopher Heintzman, told police the incident happened after Chattahoochee lost a playoff game to Milton High School on April 29.
“That student walked over to him and acted as if he wanted to shake hands but instead that student sucker-punched him on the right side of the face,” the report stated.
When police questioned Gray, the report said he began to cry and said that Heintzman’s penalty call against him near the end of the game messed up his career.
“He wanted to apologize to the official,” the report said, but Heintzman told police the next time he wanted to see the student was in front of a judge.
The school system would not comment on the specifics of the case, but athletics director Steven Craft said that the system would take measures to ensure that incidents like the one involving Grey do not happen again.
“When they put on that jersey they’re representing themselves, their family, the school and the community and we want them to understand that,” Craft told Petchenik. “We have an expectation of what we expect our student athletes to act like. They’re going to be respectful, they’re going to compete hard…but we’re going to do it the right way.”
Craft said he will require the Chattahoochee High School soccer team and its coaches to undergo sportsmanship training to ensure this does not happen again.
“It is an isolated incident, but it gives us the great opportunity to make sure we’re sending the right message to everybody,” he said.
Gray is due in court later this week to answer to the charges against him. When local media contacted his attorney, the attorney had no comment on the matter.
Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock / Gines Romero
Drivers on Interstate 285, the perimeter running around Atlanta, didn’t expect to see what they saw on Friday afternoon. A small plane taking off from Peachtree-Dekalb Airport east of Atlanta crashed onto the highway shortly after 10:00 a.m., killing four and creating hours of traffic snarls.
Traffic reopened on westbound lanes three hours later, but eastbound lanes remain closed Friday afternoon.
DeKalb County police’s Dr. Cedric Alexander said there were 3 men, a woman and a pet onboard the plane.
Local reporters gathered accounts from witnesses describing the horrific scene.
Witnesses say they felt the impact of the plane crash on the interstate, but somehow the pilot avoided hitting any vehicles.
“The impact was large, like a bomb being dropped,” said witness Don McGee.
Another witness, Blake Green, says the plane propeller flew off on impact. He said the impact sounded like a bomb.
The FAA tells Channel 2 Action News it was a Piper PA-32 aircraft that went down after departing from Runway 3 Left. It was flying to Oxford, Mississippi.
A spokesman with the NTSB said he will reconstruct the entire aircraft which will take about two weeks. A final crash report will take six months to a year.
Even though authorities reopened some lanes of Interstate 285, traffic backed up for miles in either direction, and traffic will likely be a mess in the area for at least the rest of the day.
Triple Team Traffic’s Mark Arum says sources tell him the interstate may be closed for at least 8 hours.
Traffic is being impacted across metro Atlanta on I-285, I-85 and Ga. 400.
All inner loop traffic on I-285 is being diverted on to Ga. 400.
Featured image courtesy of WSB Radio
One of metro Atlanta’s strangest incidents in a long time isn’t getting any clearer. After Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill allegedly shot a woman 43 miles away from his jurisdiction over the weekend, he has minimally cooperated with authorities while Gwinnett County authorities seek to speak with him about the case.
Gwinnett officials said Hill called 911 Sunday night, saying he accidentally shot his friend, realtor Gwenevere McCord in her office as they “practiced police tactics.”
Porter said not everything said in the call matches the evidence gathered, specifically the locations of the victim and the weapons.
Officials also want to question Hill about who he called and when.
“A number of members of his command staff were there. We are interested in interviewing them to try and determine who did he call first, what was said in those calls,” Porter said.
While Porter said Hill’s refusal to talk won’t hinder the investigation, he said it could affect what charges might be filed.
“He did to a certain extent cooperate with the investigation,” Porter told WSB’s Sandra Parrish. “He just didn’t give a statement. I would qualify it as cooperative or uncooperative, it’s just the way it is.”
Meanwhile, Hill finally released a statement that referred to the incident as an accident and did not address the investigation.
“As reported, on May 3, 2015, I was involved in a tragic and heartbreaking accident,” Hill said in a statement just before 12:40 p.m Tuesday. “Gwenevere McCord, who is very dear to me, was critically injured in this accident. Please understand that for the past 48 hours, I have been entirely focused on Gwenevere and her family. I will continue to pray unceasingly for her recovery. I ask you all to please pray for Gwenevere and her family throughout this most difficult time.”
Featured image courtesy of Kent D. Johnson/AJC
Victor Hill, the sheriff of Clayton County, just south of Atlanta, is no stranger to controversy. In 2013, he faced 25 charges of corruption amid allegations that he used his office for personal gain between 2004 and 2008, but a jury acquitted him of all charges.
Last weekend, the popular sheriff stepped into another controversy when he shot a woman at a model home in an area of metro Atlanta over 40 miles away from Hill’s jurisdiction.
Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill shot and critically injured a woman inside a model home Sunday night, according to police. But when officers arrived at the Gwinnett County subdivision, Hill declined to provide any information on what happened and was allowed to leave.
“He refused to cooperate and give any statement,” Sgt. Brian Doan with Gwinnett police said.
The woman, a Paran Realty agent who worked inside the 3,800-square-foot, Lawrenceville-area model home, was shot in the abdomen and taken to Gwinnett Medical Center, according to police. Her name was not released late Sunday, but she and Hill were acquaintances, police said.
Though Hill initially refused to cooperate with investigators, he did turn in his gun and the clothing he was wearing at the time of the shooting to the Gwinnett County district attorney’s office the next day.
“I asked the police department not to take him into custody at that point, to make sure we didn’t mess it up at the beginning,” District Attorney Danny Porter said. “He had already asserted the right to remain silent.”
Though Hill called 911 at 5:39 p.m. Sunday, his attorney told investigators that the sheriff was “too shaken to give a statement,” Porter said. The sheriff turned over his clothing and two guns, but still had not talked to investigators late Monday afternoon.
Gwinnett County Police Department Corporal Deon Washington did not know the nature of the relationship between Hill and the victim, 43-year-old Gwenevere McCord, but said that they were acquainted. McCord’s office was at the model home, and it appears that Hill had visited her there before, Porter said.
For his part, Hill has maintained that the shooting was accidental and that the gun discharged while he was “practicing police tactics,” according to a statement from District Attorney Porter.
“It’s pretty clear it didn’t just discharge in a holster,” Porter said. “It’s pretty clear he had a gun out.”
“You have to ask yourself, ‘Why did he have a gun out on Sunday afternoon in a model home where the public can come in?’” Porter said.
While the investigation is ongoing, the Clayton County Commission has sought to reassure citizens that public safety is paramount while the sheriff is mired in controversy.
Featured image courtesy of WSB Radio
Nigerian military officials have rescued 200 girls and 94 women from Boko Haram this week, but the rescued hostages are not the same ones who had been kidnapped from Chibok last year and were the subject of the infamous #BringBackOurGirls hashtag.
“Troops have captured & destroyed three camps of terrorists inside the Sambisa forest & rescued 200 girls & 93 women,” defence spokesman Chris Olukolade said in a text message, referring to the area in northeast Borno state where the Islamists have bases.
Following news of the rescue, Colonel Sani Usman sought to clarify that the rescued hostages were not the same group of girls whose plight unchained the #BringBackOurGirls global campaign.
“They were not, however, from Chibok, the village from which more than 200 girls were abducted in April 2014,” he told Reuters in a text message.
Boko Haram claimed the abduction of 276 girls from a secondary school in Chibok, also in Borno, on April 14 last year. Fifty-seven girls escaped within hours of the attack but 219 remained in captivity. At the anniversary of their abduction, Nigeria’s president-elect Muhammadu Buhari admitted it may never be possible to find the group.
One source says that officials will conduct screenings with the freed hostages to determine where they are from and whether they have been married to Boko Haram men or made slaves to the group.
“Now they are excited about their freedom,” he said. “Tomorrow there will be screenings to determine whether they are Boko Haram wives, whether they are from Chibok, how long they have been in the camps, and if they have children.”
Some of the girls were injured, and some of the militants killed, he said without giving more details.
The group was rescued from camps “discovered near or on the way to Sambisa,” one army official said.
Nigerian forces backed by warplanes invaded the vast former colonial game reserve late last week as part of a push to win back territory from Boko Haram.
Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock / Miro Novak
Dublin, Georgia, middle school teacher Nancy Perry will retire at the end of this school year, and chances are she won’t receive a gold watch. Dublin City Schools voted to force Perry to retire because she allegedly told her students that President Obama is not a Christian, and neither is anyone who voted for him.
Dublin City Schools Superintendent Dr. Chuck Ledbetter announced the retirement of Nancy Perry early Tuesday morning, while simultaneously apologizing to students and parents for Perry’s actions.
“It is not the place of teachers to attempt to persuade students about religious or political beliefs,” Ledbetter said. “In doing so, the teacher was wrong and that has been communicated to her… Just as importantly, we are communicating this message to all staff of the school district.”
In March, Perry a veteran teacher at Dublin Middle School, told her students that the president is not a Christian — and that anyone who voted for him was not a Christian. Parents protested and the NAACP called for sanctions against Perry.
Immediately after parents complained to Nancy Perry about her comments, a meeting was set up to address them.
Although Perry has said that she never made the comments, at the meeting, according to the NAACP, she “presented to the parents a packet of several pages from a website that expressed her views on religion and politics. … The parents’ concern was exacerbated by the teacher’s unwillingness to even consider the possibility that her classroom conduct was not conducive to a healthy learning environment.”
Added to the accusations leveled against Perry was that she allowed her husband to be in on meetings between her and parents. Perry’s husband Bill is a member of the local board of education, as well as a former local talk radio host.
Parents saw that as a form of intimidation…
Ledbetter has ordered all school principals to call his office immediately when a school board member tries to get involved in day-to-day school activities. NAACP officials had threatened to involve the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, an accrediting agency, arguing that Bill Perry was “micromanaging” the schools.
“An individual board member should not participate in a parent/teacher or parent/principal conference nor should an individual board member in any way attempt to involve himself in a parental concern or a personnel matter at the school level,” Ledbetter said.
Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock / Valerii Ivashchenko
Still Waters United Methodist Church occupies an idyllic location in a beautiful neighborhood in Atlanta. The church has been in existence for about 15 years and has had one pastor leading the congregation — Dr. Carole Hulslander. The members of Still Waters have built the church literally with their own hands, giving both money and sweat equity to the congregation they love.
Dr. Hulslander and her husband love and care for their parishioners, and the pastor preaches the Bible to this multicultural congregation. The church members would have no reason to believe that their beloved leader’s position would be in jeopardy. But all of that changed one Sunday this past March.
Two weeks before Easter, the District Superintendent showed up with a new pastor. When the Chair of the Pastor-Parish Relations Committee refused to allow a service that Sunday morning, because the District had violated the church’s Book of Church Discipline, the congregation retreated to their fellowship hall to sing and pray. The new pastor came in and began berating one of the members of the congregation. The new pastor demanded keys be handed over. When others intervened to calm the situation, the new pastor told the congregation to ‘f*ck off’.” The lion that would separate the sheep from their shepherd now paces around the walls of this church.
What would be the reason for such drastic measures? Dr. Hulslander’s outspoken support for traditional marriage is to blame, according to the pastor.
But after Dr. Hulslander signed a “Unity and Integrity” statement calling on the United Methodist Church to maintain its standards of Biblical integrity with regard to marriage, the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church sought to remove her.
The culture war has arrived at the door of Still Waters United Methodist Church.
The congregation has dug in their heels, unwavering in their support for Dr. Hulslander. As a result, Still Waters may lose its building and property. But the physical building is a small price to pay to these people as they stand firm in their convictions and their attempts to be the church that Jesus Christ called them to be. The church has started a GoFundMe account to help them in their fight. Share this story to help get the word out.
As the world commemorates the 100th anniversary of the slaughter of nearly 2 million Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Empire, President Obama and his administration are refusing to refer to the massacre as a genocide – the term most historians use to describe the event, as well as the same language Obama used before taking on the office of president.
“President Obama’s surrender to Turkey represents a national disgrace. It is, very simply, a betrayal of truth, a betrayal of trust,” Ken Hachikian, the chairman of the Armenian National Committee of America, said.
Officials decided against calling the massacre a genocide after some opposition from the State Department and Pentagon.
“We know and respect that there are some who are hoping to hear different language this year,” CNN quoted an administration official.
“We understand their perspective, even as we believe that the approach we have taken in previous years remains the right one — both for acknowledging the past and for our ability to work with regional partners to save lives in the present,” the official said.
On April 24, 1915, the Ottoman Empire set out to expel the Armenians from their region. Armenians had lived in what is now Turkey for 3,000 years, but by the early 1920s, a million and a half of them were dead, with many more expelled from the country. In 2010, a Congressional committee voted to recognize the massacre as a genocide, but the Obama administration still has not done so.
This move by the White House may not have stirred up so much passion had then-Senator Obama not made a campaign promise to call the incident a genocide. Critics suggest that Obama has performed his about-face as an act of loyalty toward Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan.
CNN reports that even California Rep. Adam Schiff, the Democratic leader of the House Intelligence Committee, expressed disappointment with the White House decision.
“How long must the victims and their families wait before our nation has the courage to confront Turkey with the truth about the murderous past of the Ottoman Empire?” Schiff wrote in a statement.
“If not this president, who spoke so eloquently and passionately about recognition in the past, whom? If not after 100 years, when?” he asked.
Any IT technician will tell you that it’s not wise to take matters into your own hands. Most computer users should leave it to the professionals. Lucas Hinch, 37 of Colorado Springs, didn’t believe that advice, so he riddled his computer with bullets and walked away from the experience with a citation for discharging a weapon in public. The police language is priceless.
According to the Colorado Springs Police Department, officers responding last night to a 911 call about shots fired discovered that a “fed up” Lucas Hinch took his computer into a back alley and “fired 8 shots into the computer with a handgun, effectively disabling it.”
Hinch, 38, was cited for discharging a firearm within city limits, according to a police blotter entry that includes the summary description “Man Kills His Computer.”
When asked about the shooting, Hinch [said], “I just had it,” adding that he tired of the balky computer’s “blue screen of death.” Hinch said that he whacked the computer with a 9mm Hi-Point pistol recently purchased from a Craigslist seller. The gun was seized by police, who left the computer behind.
The late Dell XPS 410 model, seen in the above police evidence photo, is survived by a monitor and a keyboard.
The ponytailed Hinch operates a homeopathic herb store out of the apartment he shares with his girlfriend. He massacred the computer in the alley behind the house. If only he’d had some kind of all-natural remedy to help him relax.
The lesson here, kids, is simple: leave your IT problems to the professionals. Chances are the bill from a technician or shop will be cheaper than a fine and court costs.
Photo courtesy of The Smoking Gun
Three months after a brutal attack at the hands of a Muslim mob, Christians in the west African nation of Niger have vowed to rebuild and move on.
Ten people lost their lives and hundreds were injured when Muslim mobs went on the deadly rampage in early January.
It happened January 17, just 10 days after two Muslim terrorists stormed the offices of French magazine Charlie Hebdo, executing 12 people for publishing satirical images of the Islam’s Prophet Mohammed.
About 3,600 miles away in Niger, Muslims, angered by the cartoons, attacked the country’s Christians in revenge.
“We spent years building the church,” [Pastor Musa] Issa told CBN News while standing in the ruins of his church. “Within minutes it was all gone!”
And it wasn’t just Pastor Issa’s church. Mobs also destroyed Boureima Kimso’s church.
“Sixty-nine churches and 11 homes were destroyed. That’s a total of 80 Christian buildings within a few hours,” Kimso said.
In one town, a single Christian church remains standing, and the militants ransacked a Christian school. Officials have yet to arrest or prosecute a single person for the attacks.
Local Muslim officials deny any wrongdoing and have even claimed that Christians orchestrated the attacks, even though the militants wrote pro-Islamic messages on walls and blackboards in the school.
“Islam is a religion of tolerance and peace,” Boubacar Seydou, of the Islamic Association of Niger, said. “In Islam, we are not familiar with such acts of violence!”
“Muslims did not take part in these attacks. Sure, there were many Muslims protesting the cartoons, but no one pushed them to attack churches. I’m sure if we arrested some of those involved in the church burnings you’d discover that in fact Christians were among those taking part in the violence!” Seydou said.
Pastor Zakaria Jadi, whose church and home were among those destroyed, says it is ludicrous to claim Christians were involved.
“The mob kept chanting over and over in Arabic ‘God is great!’ God is great’ as they robbed and burned my home. I’ve lived with Muslims all my life. I know a Muslim when he stands in front of me!” Jadi said.
The government of Niger is working with these churches to help them figure out how to rebuild, and the pastors are preaching a message of forgiveness and preparing for revival.
“The Lord is training us; He’s building us. There cannot be increase without hardships. If you want to go to the next level you have to go through hardship,” Jadi said.
Image courtesy of Fox News
In 2013, the eyes of Atlanta fell on 15-year old Anthony Stokes when Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta refused to put him on a heart transplant list due to his prior behavior. Less than two years later, Stokes would die, not from heart problems, but from a car crash while attempting to evade police after an attempted burglary.
Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta informed Stokes’ family in an August 2013 letter that they would not place him on their heart transplant list.
The family of Anthony Stokes on Sunday released to the media an Aug. 7 letter that states, in part, “the decision was made that Anthony is currently not a transplant candidate due to having a history of non-compliance, which is one of our center’s contraindications to listing for heart transplant.”
“As we discussed today with Anthony’s mother, we will not place Anthony on the heart transplant waiting list at this time due to this decision,” the letter continues.
Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta released a statement to Channel 2 Action News on Sunday that read, “The well-being of our patients is always our first priority. We are continuing to work with this family and looking at all options regarding this patient’s health care. We follow very specific criteria in determining eligibility for a transplant of any kind.”
Family members told Channel 2 that doctors are afraid that Anthony, who has been diagnosed with an enlarged heart, wouldn’t follow the strict regimen of medications and follow-up treatments necessary for a transplant to be successful.
Public outpouring led the hospital to change its mind, according to an August 13, 2013 report in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“We met with hospital officials about 30 minutes ago,” family spokesman Mark Bell said this afternoon. “After reviewing the situation, they said Anthony would be placed on the list for a heart transplant and that he would be first in line, due to his weakened heart condition.”
After his surgery and recovery, Stokes continued to live the life of a troubled teen. And this week, he committed the crime that would end his life.
Police say a burglary suspect being chased by police struck a pedestrian and then crashed his car.
Police say the man kicked in the door of a home and then shot at a woman during an attempted burglary on Alpine Drive in Roswell Tuesday afternoon.
They said the driver died Tuesday night.
They said the pedestrian who was struck is Clementina Hernandez, 33, of Roswell.
Hernandez was taken to North Fulton Hospital. She is stable in good condition.
Crews had to cut Stokes from his car, which was nearly cut in half by the pole. He was taken to a nearby hospital, where he died.
In the face of criticism from many areas of society, Indiana’s governor Mike Pence is seeking clarification on a religious freedom bill he signed into law last week.
Pence made the announcement Tuesday, acknowledging his state has a “perception problem” over the law designed to protect religious liberty.
Since Pence signed the bill into law last week, critics have hit the streets and social media saying it discriminates against gays and lesbians. The objections to the law stretch from the White House to Hollywood.
The governor has since been meeting with lawmakers to address those concerns. Pence is still defending the bill.
“I don’t believe for a minute that it was the intent of the General Assembly to create a license to discriminate. It certainly wasn’t my intent,” he said.
“I can appreciate that that’s become the perception, not just here in Indiana but all across the country. We need to confront that,” Pence added.
The law has drawn the ire of companies like Apple, and others have called for a boycott of the state. University of Connecticut basketball coach Kevin Ollie has said he will not attend the Final Four this weekend in Indianapolis over the law, despite the fact that his team is the reigning champion going into the tournament.
It has been customary for the winning coach from the previous season to appear at the Final Four, as well as the annual convention of the National Association of Basketball Coaches that coincides with the crowning of a new champion. Ollie had been scheduled to attend the coaching summit, which organizers said is expected to draw 3,500 people to Indiana’s capital city.
Nineteen other states have enacted similar laws, which echo a bipartisan bill signed into law by President Bill Clinton in the 1990s. Pence and other Republicans are quick to state that the intent of the law is not to discriminate, but to protect people of faith.
In Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal, Pence penned an op-ed saying the law is not a license to discriminate. Republican lawmakers in Indiana echoed that sentiment.
“What we hoped for with the bill was the message of inclusion — inclusion of all religious beliefs. What has come out was the message of exclusion and that was not the intent and hopefully not the effect,” state House Speaker Brian Bosma said.
Bosma said lawmakers are looking to clarify through legislation that the law does not discriminate.
Advocates for religious freedom have expressed concern that people of faith are vulnerable to attacks from the government. A similar measure has passed in Arkansas, while an initiative in Georgia looks not to pass this year.
Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock / PromesaArtStudio
On March 30, the Supreme Court declined to review a case involving which groups can meet after hours in New York City’s public schools. The Bronx Household of Faith, a small congregation, sued the city over its policy.
The city permits groups to rent school facilities for extended periods of time for “social, civic and recreational meetings and entertainment, and other uses pertaining to the welfare of the community.” There are few limitations on extended use, but one prohibits using school buildings for “religious worship services” or as a “house of worship.”
Lawyers for the Alliance Defending Freedom argued that excluding worship services from “a broadly available public forum” discriminates against religion. The church, which has outgrown its own building, needs more space for special occasions and the nearby public school is the only place large enough that they can afford.
The appeals court, however, said the reason the space is affordable is because of taxpayer subsidies, and the school board is taking reasonable precaution against liability for appearing to unconstitutionally advance a particular religion.
“The Free Exercise Clause does not entitle Bronx Household to a grant from the board of a subsidized place to hold religious worship services,” the appellate court ruled. Further, the court found no evidence the rule was “motivated by hostility to religion.”
Naturally, opponents of the policy have expressed their disdain, and they are appealing to an unlikely ally to assist them in their fight.
Fernando Cabrera, a council member and pastor leading opposition to the policy said he was “profoundly disappointed” that the Supreme Court won’t be hearing the case.
“We cannot ignore the immense contribution to society that religious organizations and institutions have made throughout our nation’s history and continue to make across the U.S. today,” he said in a statement.
“Churches meeting in New York City public schools for worship services have fed the poor and needy, assisted in rehabilitating drug addicts and gang members, helped rebuild marriages and families and provided for the disabled.”
The Alliance Defending Freedom called on New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to use his power to revoke the policy. De Blasio said last year he opposes the policy and believes “that a faith organization playing by the same rules as any community nonprofit deserves access.”
What’s next for the Bronx Household of Faith and other churches? That of course remains to be seen, but if De Blasio intervenes, he may create an interesting alliance.
Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock / VICTOR TORRES
We know that ISIS will stop at nothing to take as much land as they can and claim it for Islam. Now the Tunisian town of Tataouine, where George Lucas filmed part of Star Wars (and for which he named the film’s planet Tatooine), has reportedly fallen under ISIS control.
This struggling town on the fringes of the Sahara still draws a few fans of the movie but now finds itself part of a real conflict, as a way-station for jihadists crossing the Libyan border 60 miles to the east.
Earlier this month, before the gun attack on the Bardo Museum in Tunis, three young men were arrested here as they allegedly made plans to cross into Libya to join a terrorist network. A local official told CNN they had since been taken to Tunis for questioning.
Two arms caches have also been found in the region this month, one of which included rocket-propelled grenade launchers and more than 20,000 rounds of ammunition, thought to have been removed from a Libyan armory in the aftermath of Moammar Gadhafi’s ouster in 2011.
Tunisians worry about the frail state of neighbor Libya and the presence of ISIS all over North Africa. The country recently celebrated the anniversary of its independence from France, but now the mood among residents is less than celebratory.
The mood among many Tunisians seems much harder and more pragmatic than it was four years ago. A shopkeeper in a small village between Tataouine and Remada said there needs to be a security crackdown. He said people in the area led simple lives — but they knew each other and noticed strangers.
Bassim, a taxi driver on the island of Djerba, some 60 miles to the north of Tataouine, was of a similar view.
“The people need to be the third eye of the security forces” he said. “And we need to think of the safety of visitors like we think of the safety of our families.”
Tunisians say their country is at a crossroads as it tries to fend off the jihadist contagion seeping across North Africa. Their democracy is young and vulnerable.
“We want to be the hope of the Arab world,” said Bassim, “like we were four years ago.”
“We still have hope, but now we have fear too.”
Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock / Adisa
Dozens of “medical refugees” from Georgia could make their way back home soon as the state Senate passed a bill allowing cannabis oil for certain medical conditions on Tuesday. The only hurdle between the bill and the desk of Governor Nathan Deal is a vote in the House, which may come this week.
Senate supporters have handed over legislation likely to make that happen — especially since it is already supported by the bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon.
The compromise was made last week, after Senate Health and Human Services Chairwoman Renee Unterman, R-Buford, rewrote HB 1 as a way to merge a restrictive medical marijuana measure already approved in the Senate and a much broader effort already approved by the House.
The new version would allow cannabis oil to be used to treat eight of the nine disorders sought by the House in that chamber’s own medical marijuana proposal: cancer, Crohn’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), mitochondrial disease, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, seizure disorders and sickle cell disease.
And it would set a higher bar for what type of oil would be allowed: The oil could contain no more than 5 percent THC — the high-inducing chemical associated with recreational marijuana use — and must include at least a matching amount of cannabidiol to ensure better purity and quality of the drug.
The initial Senate version of the bill restricted usage to children under 18, which the bill’s supporters found unacceptable. Deal also faced considerable pressure from proponents of the measure before finally agreeing to sign a bill when it passed. This news obviously comes as welcome relief for the families who sought hope for their children but had to leave home to do so.
Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock / urbans
The idea of American exceptionalism has become a topic of debate in the Obama years. Both sides in this often heated debate dig their heels in and stand firm in their convictions. But regardless of one’s political convictions, it’s hard to argue against the idea that the United States is unique among nations. In the 19th century, French historian and political scientist Alexis de Tocqueville recognized this and was among the first to recognize that America was an exceptional nation.
A recent Pew Research survey demonstrates that, nearly two centuries after de Tocqueville, the United States stands out from other nations in some surprising ways.
One area where Americans rank well above citizens of other countries is in the notion of individualism.
When Pew Research Center surveyed people in 44 countries last spring, 57% of Americans disagreed with the statement “Success in life is pretty much determined by forces outside our control,” a higher percentage than most other nations and far above the global median of 38%.
The American work ethic stands far above that of other nations as well.
True to the stereotype, surveys showed that Americans are more likely to believe that hard work pays off. When asked, on a scale of 0 to 10, about how important working hard is to getting ahead in life, 73% of Americans said it is was a “10” or “very important,” compared with a global median of 50% among the 44 nations.
Americans are exceptional among wealthy developed nations as a people of faith who place their moral convictions within the context of religious belief.
In general, people in richer nations are less likely than those in poorer nations to say religion plays a very important role in their lives. But Americans are more likely than their counterparts in economically advanced nations to deem religion very important. More than half (54%) of Americans said religion was very important in their lives, much higher than the share of people in Canada (24%), Australia (21%) and Germany (21%), the next three wealthiest economies we surveyed from 2011 through 2013.
People in richer nations tend to place less emphasis on the need to believe in God in order to be moral and have good values than people in poorer countries do. While the share of Americans holding that view is far lower than in poorer nations like Indonesia and Ghana (each 99%), the U.S. stands out when compared with people in other economically advanced nations. In the U.S., 53% say belief in God is a prerequisite for being moral and having good values, much higher than the 23% in Australia and 15% in France, according to our study of 39 nations between 2011 and 2013.
Finally, Americans tend to be far more optimistic than their counterparts in wealthier nations — a fact researchers discovered almost by accident.
Americans are also more upbeat than people in other wealthy nations when asked how their day is going. While we ask this question to help respondents get more comfortable with the interviewer, it provides a glimpse into people’s moods and reveals a slightly negative correlation between those saying the day is a good one and per capita gross domestic product. About four-in-ten Americans (41%) described their day as a “particularly good day,” a much higher share than those in Germany (21%), the UK (27%) and Japan (8%).
These findings ought to lead some politicians to rethink their conceptions of American exceptionalism. The statistics prove that the United States is truly unique among its peers.
Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock / Rawpixel
For years when I’ve heard of ridiculous political correctness run amok in American academia, I’ve breathed a sigh of relief that it hasn’t happened at my alma mater, the University of Georgia. Until now.
Sororities and fraternities at UGA have banned the use of hoop skirts at events over concerns of the appearance of racism.
Victor Wilson, UGA’s vice president for student affairs, explained that the ban was due to concerns over what kind of “message” the skirt might send, and compared it to a previous ban on Confederate uniforms, according to an article in the Athens Banner-Herald.
In other words: The fact that people wore hoop skirts during the era of slavery in the U.S. makes them symbols of racism. “The student leadership, staff and advisors agree that Antebellum hoop skirts are not appropriate in the context of some events,” read an e-mail sent out Tuesday by Ashley Merkel, president of UGA’s Panhellenic Council, and Alex Bosse, president of the Interfraternity Council.
Students had previously worn them to events such as the “Magnolia Ball.”
The Banner-Herald elaborated on the ban, which comes on the heels of racial controversy involving fraternities at other schools.
The hoop skirt ban came after UGA Student Affairs administrators met Monday with some UGA fraternity and sorority leaders, including representatives of the UGA chapters of Sigma Alpha Epsilon and Kappa Alpha fraternities, both of which have deep roots in the South.
The ban comes a week after the University of Oklahoma expelled two SAE fraternity members and shut down the university’s SAE chapter because of a racist video made by members. In the video, SAE members chant about lynching, and using a racial slur, vow that there will never be a black member of the fraternity. The video went viral on the Internet and soon found its way to University of Oklahoma administrators. Talk during Monday’s UGA meeting at UGA was about presenting the university and Greek organizations in a good light, and not inviting negative attention, said Victor Wilson, UGA’s vice president for student affairs.
Part of the talk was about dress at such events as KA’s “Old South Week” and SAE’s “Magnolia Ball.” The discussion included hoop skirts, and the messages conveyed by such dresses or other articles of clothing, Wilson said.
“The discussion was about more than dress, but about how you present yourself, and dress was part of that,” he explained.
The university does not make the call on bans like this one — rather, the decision comes from the Greek organizations themselves. Earlier bans at UGA include prohibitions on Confederate uniforms and other symbols and insignia.
Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock / Sean Pavone
This time of year, thousands of people make their brackets for the NCAA college basketball tournament, but not many of them go to jail for it. In the suburb of Alpharetta, Georgia, just north of Atlanta, police from four jurisdictions detained over five dozen people at a private party at a bar and grill who were gambling on March Madness games.
Law enforcement from Alpharetta, Milton, Johns Creek, and Roswell all took part in the raid at Pepperoni’s Tavern on Old Milton Parkway. Police say 65 people were inside the restaurant, including employees and the owner. A large amount of cash and a few handguns were confiscated.
A total of 23 were arrested and hauled off to jail. They’ll likely face illegal gambling and possible weapons charges. We’re told more arrests could be made later.
Investigators originally said the operation centered around the upcoming NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, with bets being made on games. Alpharetta Police maintain the so-called “private party” was less about basketball and actually more about organized gambling.
Alpharetta Police Detective George Gordon gave more details to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“Alpharetta authorities had previously gathered intelligence regarding the planned operation of a large gambling event,” Gordon said in an email.
“Tonight, authorities moved against the gambling operation and detained approximately 65 people,” Gordon said, adding that police found “a large gambling operation in progress based upon the NCAA basketball tournament.”
Gordon said 23 of those detained were charged with illegal gambling, and the others were interviewed and released, but could face future charges.
He said police confiscated several handguns and an undisclosed amount of cash.
Pepperoni’s Tavern advertises March Madness contests on their website offering free food and drinks to winners. Many of the defendants claimed that they weren’t doing anything worse than the countless people who bet on March Madness games in office pools and other contests.
In an update from the Alpharetta Police Department, nine were charged with gambling, six were charged with commercial gambling and keeping a gambling place, and one was charged with disorderly conduct. Authorities interviewed several others, and they may face charges later on.
Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock / SAJE
The northeast has been grateful to Al Gore for warning us all of the dangers of global warming for so many years. The city of Boston in particular has witnessed the horror of
global warming winter first hand, having set a record for the most snowfall in a winter in the historic city.
The latest storm in an epic winter edged the total just over the 9-foot mark. Sunday’s storm dropped 2.9 inches at Logan International Airport, pushing the seasonal accumulation to 108.6 inches and surpassing the previous record of 107.6 set in 1995-96.
Forecasters said Monday that the city could get more snow later in the week – a bleak outlook for Bostonians who have had more than enough.
Reaction around Beantown has ranged from snarky and cynical…
“Is this the part where we all get to say, `I’m going to Disney World?’” said Justin O’Brien, a Boston attorney, capturing the sense of cynicism and sheer snow fatigue.
“I wished I would have blocked the numbers from friends back in Southern California texting me screenshots of the 80-plus degree weather there,” said Matt Guerrieri, a wine distributor who moved to Boston a few weeks before the first snow fell.
…to handling the season with good humor:
Mayor Marty Walsh tweeted that the Boston yeti – a local who’s been dressing up as the abominable snowman and walking around the city drawing laughs – would be taking over as interim mayor.
Bruce Mendelsohn, a Cambridge public relations executive, quipped, “Boston has a rich tradition of leading the nation in the pursuit of liberty, freedom, sports titles and snowplows.”
The news for Bostonians doesn’t get much better, even with spring around the corner. Forecasts show the potential for more snow later on in the week.
Computer models indicate a coastal storm could develop Friday, but they differ on its track. The storm could bring little to no precipitation to southern New England, or it could bring “a decent slug” of rain and snow to the region, the weather service said.
One thing is for sure — many Boston residents will be glad to see the onset of spring.
Paula MacPhee, struggling to walk her dog through Monday’s fresh drifts, said she’s just relieved that winter’s nearly over.
“I’m glad the spring is coming, that’s for sure. I think we’ll enjoy it a little bit more this year,” she said.
Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock /Svitlana Grygorenko
Hollywood loves to portray pastors and church leaders as men with dark secrets lurking behind their work for God, and sometimes a story comes along that fits that narrative. This week, a Boston pastor and school administrator shot a 17-year-old in the back of the head in an apparent dispute over the pastor’s drug dealing operation.
To the kids at Boston’s English High School, where the Rev. Shaun O. Harrison Sr. was considered the dean of students, the pastor and prominent antigang activist was known by the nickname that adorned his office door: “Rev.”
And that, police say, is how a 17-year-old student found bleeding from a bullet fired into the back of his head identified the man who shot him Tuesday.
“Rev,” police and prosecutors say, was leading a double life.
Arraigned in Roxbury District Court on Thursday, Harrison, 55, is accused of attempting to execute a student he had been mentoring at English, but was also allegedly selling marijuana as part of the pastor’s drug operation.
Through an attorney, Harrison denied the charges.
In court, Suffolk Assistant District Attorney David Bradley described the alleged attack as an “execution-style shooting” of a teen who survived despite being shot behind the ear.
The Boston Globe describes a scenario that reads like a movie plot featuring henchmen with matching tattoos doing the bidding of their dealer, a man who led anti-gang efforts within his community.
Naturally, news of Harrison’s arrest brought out a chorus of incredulity from people who served alongside the pastor.
“I was stunned beyond description,” Rev. Dr. Gregory Groover, pastor of the Charles Street AME Church where Harrison attended services, told Fox2Now. “He seemed to consistently care with a deep heart for saving young people who were in the streets or gang related, prison-involved. That was the population that his life seemed to center around.”
“It doesn’t sound like our Shaun,” Rev. Opal Adams, an associate pastor at the Roxbury church, told the Boston Globe. “It’s not the character of the man we knew.”
The school system released Harrison from his position at the school.
Image courtesy of the Boston Globe.
The unspeakable barbarism of ISIS reared its ugly head again when the group kidnapped 220 Catholics in northeastern Syria on March 1. The terrorists have threatened to murder all of them if they do not convert to Islam. The hostages are members of the International Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
Sister Monique states, “Late Sunday afternoon on 1 March 2015, I received a message from M. Francoise, a delegate of the International Society of St. Vincent de Paul [in Rome], and I managed to reach her by telephone.
“She was leaving for Paris, and collapsed at the news she had just received: members of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul in Syria were kidnapped, along with their wives and children.
“The children were isolated and put into cages. Adults who do not deny their faith will be decapitated, and their children burned alive in the cages.
“M. Francoise had been in regular contact with several of them before all this occurred. She asked me to transmit the news and make a fervent appeal for prayers for these people, and all who are held hostage.
“Let us remain fervently united in prayer, and have as our intention the welfare of all brothers and sisters in our Christian faith who are being held hostage.”
The terrorists released 19 of the hostages a few days later, and the Associated Press reports that all those who were released were 50 years of age and older.
It was not immediately clear why the Islamic State group freed these captives.
Saedi said all those released were around 50 years of age or older, which suggests age might have been a factor. The Assyrian Human Rights Network, meanwhile, said the captives had been ordered released by a Shariah court after paying an unspecified amount of money levied as a tax on non-Muslims.
Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock / ChameleonsEye
A group of pro-life activists plan to stage a sit-in at the office of House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) over the GOP leadership’s handling of a recent bill banning abortions after a fetus has been in the womb for 20 weeks.
Activist Jill Stanek and a group called the Christian Defense Coalition has planned the protest for March 25.
At issue is the GOP leadership’s handling of the “Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” which bans abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy but includes exceptions for victims of rape and incest.
The bill was supposed to be voted on Jan. 22 in conjunction with the anniversary of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision to legalize abortion and while Washington was filled with pro-life activists for the annual March for Life. Stanek said the concept is very simple.
“It is a ban on abortion past 20 weeks,” she explained.
“It is known that by 20 weeks, and probably before, children feel pain. When they are aborted at 20 weeks, they are literally drawn and quartered. They’re just ripped apart, limb by limb. So this ban would make it a federal offense [and] ban abortions past 20 weeks.”
But the bill, which sailed through the House with a smaller Republican majority in the previous Congress, never received a vote.
Stanek says the resistance to the bill lies in a provision that allows for abortions for victims of rape and incest, provided the mother can provide a police report of the crime. She blames the GOP’s skittishness on the public relations disasters the party has suffered over candidates’ controversial statements on rape in the past few years.
Stanek also claims that Republicans have “taken advantage” of the pro-life movement by dithering over the bill.
“They don’t take us seriously. They don’t respect us or fear us.”
Pro-life dissatisfaction swelled after the bill was pulled. In response, the House passed legislation to ban taxpayer funding of abortions that same day. Many members also promised that the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act would be revived shortly.
Stanek said there has been neither noticeable progress toward fulfilling that promise nor any explanations for why it hasn’t happened.
“There have been no excuses made,” she said.
“They did promise to bring the bill up right away, and they haven’t. That is precisely the reason that after two months of waiting, we are going to Washington, D.C., and we are going to force them to address this.”
Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock / Katherine Welles
He has only been on the throne in Saudi Arabia for a few weeks, but King Salman is boldly reaching out to other Sunni Muslim leaders to unite in the fight against Iran and ISIS.
“The Saudis think maybe, if the Sunnis are on good terms, we can confront this. Salman is trying to consolidate the Sunni world and put differences over the Muslim Brotherhood on the back burner,” said an Arab diplomat in the Gulf.
Riyadh’s bigger concern is Shi’ite Iran. Its fears about the rising influence of its main regional enemy have grown recently as Tehran’s Houthi allies seized swathes of Yemen and its commanders have aided Shi’ite militias fighting in Iraq.
Prospects are also growing of a deal between world powers and Iran on Tehran’s disputed nuclear program, which might lift pressure on the Islamic republic. Saudi Arabia has watched nervously as its key ally, the United States, has reached out to pursue an agreement with Tehran.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry reassured the Saudis on Thursday that he was seeking no “grand bargain” with Iran, but Riyadh’s worries over Washington’s long-term commitment to the region underpin its desire for more Arab unity.
The second overarching concern for Riyadh is Islamic State. IS has called on Saudis to stage attacks inside the kingdom and some of its sympathizers assaulted a Shi’ite village in November, killing eight.
Riyadh fears the group’s strong media messaging and appeal to strict Muslim ideology could appeal to disaffected young Saudis and challenge the ruling family’s own legitimacy, which partly rests on its religious credentials.
But in seeking broader unity across the Arab world on the issue of political Islam, Saudi Arabia must address a deep regional rift. It runs between Sunni states who accept a Muslim Brotherhood presence, such as Qatar and Turkey, and those such as Egypt and the United Arab Emirates who, like Riyadh, describe it as a terrorist organization.
Those differences have come in the way of building a coherent response to regional crises, as attempts to address one problem after another have been diverted into arguments over Islamism.
Salman has sought to renew relations between Saudi Arabia and nations such as Turkey, while assuring allies like Egypt that new alliances would not come at the expense of older ones. The monarch has even expressed a willingness to recognize the Muslim Brotherhood in arenas outside of politics, as long as the organization agrees to speak out against Shiite groups like ISIS and the leadership in Iran.
Salman has already proven to be more conciliatory than his predecessor, King Abdullah, but it remains to be seen whether this new approach will help stem the tide of the most pernicious evil emanating from the Middle East.
Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock / Jiri Flogel
Temple activists were euphoric Monday after a precedent-setting ruling by Magistrates’ Court Judge Malka Aviv in the case of Yehuda Glick vs. the Israeli Police, a day earlier. The judge ruled that the police “must make sure that Jews are able to pray on the Temple Mount” – in a ruling replete with harsh criticism of the police’s policies on the Temple Mount.
Activists were quoted on a Temple activists blog as saying: “This day will be remembered for generations in the annals of the struggle for the return of Jews to the Temple Mount.”
The police are legally bound “to ensure that Jews are able to pray on the Temple Mount, and not to act sweepingly to prevent Jews from praying on the Temple Mount,” the judge determined.
Attorneys for Rabbi Glick pointed out the historic nature of the ruling.
Attorney Aviad Visoly, who represented Glick said Tuesday that the verdict “has made prayer on the Temple Mount ‘kosher’. In essence, the court took the Supreme Court’s rulings about the Jews’ right to pray on the Temple Mount, and implemented them.”
“This is almost the first ruling – and certainly the most sweeping – in which the court implements the right of Jews to pray on the Temple Mount. From today, every Jew is allowed to pray on the Temple Mount. The prayer itself is not an offense.”
Prior police policies had barred Jewish prayer at the site for fears that such actions would spark Palestinian violence. Judge Aviv ruled the policy “arbitrary” and “without appropriate consideration” and awarded Glick roughly the equivalent of $125,000 in damages and $37,700 in legal fees.
Temple Mount is considered to be one of the most important religious sites in the Old City of Jerusalem. Jews, Christians and Muslims all consider it sacred, making it one of the most contested sites in the world. Among Christians and Jews, there is some dispute as to whether it is the biblical Mount Moriah or Mount Zion.
According to Jewish tradition, it is the place where God’s presence is most manifested, and followers of rabbinic Judaism believe it to be the site where God gathered dust to create Adam.
Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock / Mikhail Markovskiy
At the end of a circus of a trial in the case of alleged cheating within the Atlanta Public School System, a key figure in that case, former Superintendent Dr. Beverly Hall, has passed away, according to WSB-TV in Atlanta. She lost her battle with breast cancer at the age of 68.
Hall has been battling breast cancer as dozens of educators stand trial for a cheating scandal that happened during her tenure as head of the school district.
Hall faced racketeering and conspiracy charges but has not been well enough to stand trial.
The former administrator, who received an award as National Superintendent of the Year in 2009, resigned her post in 2010 following a report from the State of Georgia which stated that Hall ignored widespread cheating on standardized tests throughout the system. Hall denied involvement and placed the blame for the cheating on others on her staff.
Hall first received a diagnosis of breast cancer in 2004. Last summer, her attorneys argued that she was unfit to stand trial because the stage 4 cancer had spread throughout her body.
Her legal team issued a statement that read, “Dr. Hall fought this disease with great courage and dignity. For the last year and a half, Dr. Hall’s directions to her doctor have been simple: get me well enough to stand trial; and to her lawyers: see to it that I get a fair trial. She was never concerned about the outcome of such a trial, only that the process be fair. She never doubted that in a fair trial, with the jury hearing the state’s contentions and her rebuttal, to include her own testimony, she would be acquitted. In the end, she was not strong enough to go to trial although that had been her earnest hope.”
“I’m just saddened by her passing and my condolences to her family,” defense attorney Gerald Griggs told Channel 2′s Richard Elliot.
Griggs said he thinks Hall’s death will have some impact on the jury, but “I think we have to look past that at this point,” he said.
In all, 20 educators stood trial in the case. Testimony in the trial wrapped up last week, and closing arguments will begin on March 16.
Featured image courtesy of YouTube.
As ISIS suffered a couple of setbacks in their conquest in the Middle East and as leaders in the region gear up to fight them, the terrorist group captured at least 90 Assyrian Christians, and many people in that part of the world are wondering the same thing many Americans are: where is a response from the West?
Juliana Taimoorazy, with the Assyrian Philos Project, described the situation.
“These women were sobbing, saying, ‘What is our fault? Why is the West silent? Why is the Church not talking about our persecution?’” Taimoorazy said.
“And they’re asking, they’re questioning the foreign policy of America and also other world powers and Europe, saying, ‘Why is it that there’s nothing; there’s no agenda.’ There’s really nothing being done to help the persecuted in the Middle East,” she continued.
Arab Americans are getting involved in the act, questioning their leaders as to why their response has been so tepid.
On Tuesday, a group of Egyptian-American Coptics gathered near the White House, demanding the Obama administration do more to protect Egyptian, Syrian, and Iraqi Christians.
“Obama, Obama, did you see? Christian blood in the sea,” they chanted.
Featured image is a modified image courtesy of Shutterstock / Steve Allen
On Tuesday, testimony concluded in the trial of 20 educators in the Atlanta Public School system who are accused of cheating on standardized tests. The defense called its final witness, and the Judge Jerry Baxter gave instructions to the jury and attorneys. Closing arguments will begin on March 16 after a longer-than-usual recess.
Prosecutors also say the teachers on trial prompted students as they struggled to answer test questions. Administrators for the district and at several schools allegedly threatened teachers if their students were failing and punished anyone who reported cheating.
Former Atlanta schools Superintendent Beverly Hall is also charged with racketeering, but she did not go on trial because she is being treated for Stage IV breast cancer. She will be tried once she is healthy enough.
If the jury finds the defendants guilty of racketeering, they could be sentenced to 20 years in prison. The defendants also face lesser charges that could bring prison sentences.
None of the 12 defendants testified, and eight of them called no witnesses.
In total, four defense attorneys called 31 witnesses in the past two weeks. In contrast, the prosecution called 133 witnesses, two in rebuttal.
The mood in the courtroom was jovial and giddy, as prosecutors posed for photos and Baxter dropped his usual hard-edged persona and addressed the courtroom in a more folksy manner.
“Y’all are fantastic,” Baxter told the jurors who first came to the Fulton County Courthouse for the trial more than six months ago. “I have never seen anything like this. The most striking thing is your diligence. We’re not over yet. The ultimate decisions will be in your lap and that’s coming soon.
“I want you to try to get back to what you were doing. Relax. You need to get in shape mentally and physically. Work out. Do the Rocky thing,” Baxter said.
Once the jury had left on Tuesday, Baxter, who has been testy throughout the trial, apologized to attorneys for his “gruff” behavior.
“If I have made anybody mad, I’m sorry. Sincerely,” Baxter said. “It’s been a long, long journey.
“I’m not perfect. Right, Evelyn?” he said to the court reporter.
“Right,” she answered.
“I have the highest respect for all of you. You battled for your clients and you’ve been professional,” Baxter said. “This trial turned out to be a lot better than I thought it might be. I had visions of nightmares. They have not come true. … I tried to give everybody a fair trial and I hope I have.”
Closing arguments will put the finishing touches on a truly bizarre trial, with accusations of teachers insulting and even threatening students and holding parties where they would change the answers on standardized tests. The trial took on the air of a soap opera many times, so we’ll see if the conclusion of the trial will bring the same kind of excitement.
Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock / Matthew Benoit
Iran’s Supreme Leader Seyyed Ali Khamenei recently told a group of religious minority leaders in the country that they are safe and have always been under Iran’s watch.
Iran’s Supreme Leader, stated that based on Islamic teachings, followers of other religions should be treated with justice and fairness.
He went even further and added, “Muslims in Europe and America face death threats. There is a great propaganda campaign against them, and their places of worship are under constant attack.”
He claimed, “Such treatment of non-Muslims is nonexistent in the history of our Islamic regime. Even our hotheaded conservative youth do not allow themselves to attack a non-Muslim.”
Naturally, Khamenei’s statements hold no water whatsoever when stood up against the facts.
Such claims of tolerance of non-Islamic faiths by the Iranian Supreme Leader are made while a large number of religious minorities have been imprisoned and executed since the establishment of the Islamic Revolution in 1979.
Even religious minorities that are recognized in Iran’s constitution have been harassed, persecuted and marginalized since the early days of the Islamic Revolution, which has led to a mass migration of many religious minorities, especially Jews and Christians.
In 1979, when the Islamic Revolution took place, the Armenian-Iranian population was around 180 thousand. Comparing this number to the new census of the community, 60 percent of Armenian-Iranians have left the country. There has been a significant drop in the Iranian Jewish population as well.
Several United Nations special reports and resolutions have condemned the violation of Human Rights, especially the violation of the rights of religious minorities.
Also, Ahmad Shaheed, the UN’s Special Rapporteur for Iran, wrote in his report, “At least 307 religious minorities are being held in Iran’s prisons for their faith, including 136 Bahai’s, 19 Dervishes, 50 Christians, 90 Sunni Muslims, and two Zoroastrians.
In addition, Open Doors’ 2014 World Watch List ranked Iran among the ten countries where Christians are persecuted the most. Its 2013 list put Iran in the 9th spot, but in 2014 Iran was moved to the 7th spot.
Christians face persecution and death, while practitioners of the Baha’i faith lose all social rights and face execution. Sunni Muslims may not build their own mosques in Tehran.
There’s no word on what, if any, statistics and facts Khamenei attempted to use to back up his claims.
Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock / Bruce Stanfield
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has finally broken his silence on attacks by Hindu militants against Christians and other religious minorities. He made a promise to protect these minorities at an event honoring two new Catholic saints from India.
“I condemn all incidents of violence where religious minorities were targeted,” Modi told an event organized by the Christian community to celebrate the beatification of two Indians by Pope Francis late last year.
“No religious group can incite violence … my government will ensure there is complete freedom of faith.”
Modi, a self-proclaimed Hindu nationalist, rarely attends events organized by minority communities.
His decision to appear among Christians followed a drubbing for his party in elections to the Delhi local assembly last week, where it won just three of 70 seats, raising concerns that it could face setbacks in other state elections on the horizon.
The poll took place against the backdrop of a clash between police and priests, nuns and parishioners who were protesting over a series of vandalism and arson attacks on churches.
In a nation with a large Hindu majority – nearly 80% of Indians identify as practicing Hinduism – Modi’s remarks represent a shift toward protection of those who practice other faiths, and it’s a welcome change to critics of the Modi administration.
In January, Christian leaders criticized Modi for his previous silence on the attacks on churches in Delhi. The series of incidents in the region led Christian leaders to believe there was pattern in the attacks on Christian churches, motivated by religious radicals in the country.
“These are not isolated events. It is the fourth attack on a church in Delhi archdiocese since December 1,” Father [Savarimuthu] Shankar said in January, according to UCA News.
Christian leaders previously stated that Modi’s denouncement of the attacks will help strengthen the relationship and ease tensions between Christians and Hindus.
“The prime minister owes an answer to all. … In fact his silence is eloquent and disturbing,” opposition Congress Party spokesman Abhishek Singhvi said to UCA News.
Militants have targeted converts from Hinduism to other religions in particular, but Modi vows that his administration will not tolerate such violence.
Religious conversions have become a sensitive issue in recent months after hardliners with links to the BJP said Hinduism was under threat and started a campaign to convince Christians and Muslims to change their faith.
“My government will not allow any religious group, belonging to the majority or the minority, to incite hatred against others, overtly or covertly,” Modi said.
Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock /Nisarg Lakhmani
When Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed dismissed fire chief Kelvin Cochran over a book the latter wrote, he ignited a firestorm of controversy that led to a renewed call for a religious freedom law in Georgia. And now, six members of the state’s congressional delegation have gotten involved in the fight, siding with Cochran.
In a move that escalates the fight between Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and supporters of Kelvin Cochran, lawmakers led by Rep. Barry Loudermilk this week said the firing robbed the former chief of his religious freedom to speak and write his view.
“Your action against Chief Cochran appears to violate fundamental principles of free speech and religious freedom,” they wrote to Reed. “As fellow Georgians, we are extremely troubled that a capable and long-standing public servant in our state can be targeted for retaliation and dismissed solely because of his religious views,” they added.
While the city said Cochran’s religious beliefs had nothing to do with his November suspension and eventual firing last month, he and his supporters claim it was retaliation for a book he published over a year ago that, among other things, equates homosexuality with bestiality.
The letter from the six House members raises the political element in the controversy. In it they said Cochran’s belief in the Bible is at stake.
“Chief Cochran relied upon religious text from the Bible to express his opinions in his personal writings. The only way Chief Cochran cold avoid his views would be to disown his religion,” they wrote. “What could be more intolerant and exclusionary than ending a public servant’s 30 years of distinguished service for his religious beliefs?”
Cochran has filed suit against the city of Atlanta and Reed with assistance from the non-profit group Alliance Defending Freedom. The former chief’s firing has become a cause célèbre among certain circles in Georgia, with multiple petitions popping up on his behalf and supporters such as Ralph Reed and Erick Erickson. One local pundit on the other side of the issue referred to Cochran as “the face of ‘religious liberty’ bills.”
Reed, a Democrat, issued a statement of his own, stating, “It was a decision that was not made lightly because I appreciated Chief Cochran’s service to the City of Atlanta.”
In the meantime, a group of lawmakers have introduced SB129 into the Georgia legislature, a bill designed to “provide for the preservation of religious freedom” in the state. Erickson has already issued a call to action for his listeners to voice their support to their state senators.
Will Cochran’s firing and the firestorm surrounding it be the catalyst for Georgia to pass a religious freedom bill? That remains to be seen, but we’ll stay on top of it and report it here.
Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock / Sean Pavone