Open Letter to pastor Keith Cressman of St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Bethany, Oklahoma

30 06 2013
Sacred Rain Arrow statue in Tulsa, Oklahoma

Sacred Rain Arrow statue in Tulsa, Oklahoma

Dear Pastor Cressman,

I sincerely hope the God whom you preach will open your eyes and enable you to see absurdity of your claim. I am appalled by your lack of accord for cultural heritage of indigenous American population and I sincerely believe suing the state of Oklahoma for an innocent Native American symbol on its license plate is below pathetic.

I don’t know if you are aware that the very name of the state in which you live and preach is derived from the Choctaw words okla and humma, meaning “red people”. Do you plan to request changing the name of Oklahoma because it violates your own religious beliefs by reminding you of “pagan” religion?

I find it necessary to remind you of the fact that the land you live on was taken away from those okla humma people and that having Native Indian symbol on your state’s license plate is a symbolic way to show them due respect. After taking their land away from them and forcing them to live in reservations don’t you see that having their symbol on license plate is symbolic way of saying “sorry”? Why do you see it as a problem?

Did it ever occur to you that instead of pretending to be a victim due to your hurt feelings you might show some compassion for people who were taken to the brink of extinction by your ancestors?

I sincerely hope your God will forgive you your ignorance and lack of compassion.

Sincerely yours,

Jura Nanuk,
Founder & President of
Central-European Religious Freedom Institute

Related post: Methodist pastor suing the state of Oklahoma for Native American symbol on the license plates

USA: Methodist pastor suing the state of Oklahoma for Native American symbol on the license plates

30 06 2013


RELIGIOUS NEWS NETWORK – A Methodist pastor of a suburban Oklahama City church is suing the state, claiming its license plate image of a Native American shooting an arrow into the sky violates his religious liberty.

Last week, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver ruled his suit can proceed.

The pastor, Keith Cressman of St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Bethany, Okla., contends the image of the Native American compels him to be a “mobile billboard” for a pagan religion.

A trial judge threw out the suit. But on June 11, the appeals court ruled that Judge Joe Heaton should have recognized that Cressman’s suit contained a “plausible compelled speech claim.”

Cressman, a former lawyer, claims he can’t be compelled to use religious speech that violates his own religious beliefs.

Cressman’s lawyer, Nathan Kellum of the Center for Religious Expression in Memphis, Tenn., said the First Amendment not only guarantees freedom of expression and religion, it also guarantees that people cannot be forced to say things with which they do not agree.

“My client does not believe he should be compelled to display an image that communicates a pagan practice, that of shooting an arrow into the sky to draw rain from a ‘rain god,’” Kellum said.

The image is a reproduction of a sculpture by master sculptor Allan Houser, a version of which is owned by the Smithsonian Institution. Titled “Sacred Rain Arrow,” the piece is based on an ancient Chiricahua Apache legend about a warrior who had his bow and arrow blessed by a medicine man for the purpose of ending a drought.

A committee chose the image because it is very well known in Oklahoma and sits in front of Tulsa’s Thomas Gilcrease Museum.

The appeals court ruled that Cressman had presented enough evidence to establish that the message on the license plate is a “particularized claim” that others would recognize.

Diane Clay, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office, said the 10th Circuit is well known for its tendency to err on the side of freedom of speech.

The state could allow the trial to return to Heaton’s court, file a petition for rehearing before the entire appellate court or petition to be heard before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Sacred Rain Arrow statue in Tulsa, Oklahoma

Sacred Rain Arrow statue in Tulsa, Oklahoma



Stonehenge Summer Solstice 2013: More than 20,000 celebrate at World Heritage Site

22 06 2013

Summer Solstice at Stonehenge

STONEHENGE, England — Police say more than 20,000 celebrants have gathered at the famed Stonehenge monument to mark the summer solstice.

The cloud cover Friday morning prevented bright sunshine at dawn of the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere but a joyous spirit prevailed.

Worldwide, interpretation of the event has varied among cultures, but most recognize the event in some way with holidays, festivals, and rituals around that time with themes of religion or fertility.[5]

Solstice is derived from the Latin words sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still).

The solstice has typically drawn a wide and varied crowd to the mysterious set of standing stones whose purpose remains unclear.

The ancient stone circle on the Salisbury Plain about 80 miles (130 kilometers) southwest of London, was built in three phases between 3000 B.C. and 1600 B.C.

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Number of Hungarians belonging to top three Christian denominations drops 20 percent

15 06 2013



Hungary has become more secularized over the past ten years with the number of faithful at the top three Christian churches shrinking from 73 percent to 53 percent of the population, combined.

According to data published on the website of Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Hungary, citing results of the latest 2011 census, the proportion of Christians fell most in Budapest, where only 40 percent of the population belongs to one of the three big churches [Catholic, Reformed and Lutheran].

The churches lost the most of their members in Budapest’s fifth district: their numbers fell from 65 percent of local residents in 2001 to 36 percent in 2011, according to the study published on

The number of non-affiliated people or those declining to answer a question on religion in the census has increased, the latter group to about 2.7 million combined [of Hungary’s total population of just under 10 million]. However, it is difficult to say how many of these people are actually non-religious, Gabor Harrach, the study’s author, said.

Harrach added that he had not found that people in richer parts of the country were more religious, while there appeared to be more right-wing voters among Christians who claimed their faith in the census. He said however that based on voter data by geographical regions, members of the far right were not necessarily more religious and that left-wing voters and liberals were more likely to decline to answer the question on religion.


Political Scholar Says Religious Freedom Unites Society

13 06 2013
William Galston

William Galston

‘Religious liberty belongs to no party, no ideology, no creed: It is our common property and our shared inheritance.’


By Adelaide Mena/CNA/EWTN NEWS

WASHINGTON — Through respect and healthy debate, society can find a balance in respecting the rule of law while accommodating the religious beliefs of different groups, said political scientist William Galston.

“Religious liberty belongs to no party, no ideology, no creed: It is our common property and our shared inheritance,” he explained in a May 30 address.

Galston gave the speech upon being honored at the National Religious Freedom Award Dinner in Washington. The May 30 event was sponsored by the Ethics and Public Policy Center’s American Religious Freedom Program.

Currently a scholar at the Brookings Institution in Washington, Galston has participated in six presidential campaigns. He also teaches at the University of Maryland and previously served as the director of the Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy, as well as an advisor to a number of organizations focused on public policy and the good of society.

He received the 2013 National Religious Freedom Award at the event for his leadership in helping to pass the Religious Freedom Restoration Act during his time as an advisor for President Bill Clinton.

The act, signed into law by Clinton 20 years ago, prohibits the government from substantially burdening a person’s free exercise of religion unless doing so is necessary to further a compelling government interest and is the least restrictive way to do so.

Galston reflected upon his memories surrounding the passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, saying, “President Clinton knew what he was doing when he pushed for and then signed” the act.

He noted that the law passed nearly unanimously in the House of Representatives and the Senate following a “misguided Supreme Court decision” that threatened religious liberty. In the former president’s words, the goal of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act was to encourage “everybody to do what they believe is the right thing to do,” relayed Galston.

“Religious liberty must not be another weapon in or victim of the cultural battles that define and oftentimes disfigure our politics,” he warned. “It must become an isle of unity in a sea of perdition.”

However, because “faiths diverge not only on points of theology and ritual, but also in their consequences for public policy,” he observed, there will always be challenges in striving towards a society where all can practice their faith freely.

These differing conceptions of the good must not be minimized, he explained, and society must realize that religious freedom is not absolute, but that there are some boundaries surrounding the acts which a society finds impermissible.

However, Galston emphasized, society must offer basic accommodations or else “we ensure nothing but endless conflict.”

“We are arguing, then, about the kinds of considerations” needed for religious practice, a subject upon which people of good will can reasonably disagree, he said, adding that discussions concerning religious freedom must therefore incorporate an element of compromise from all parties.

“There are ways of conducting this necessary and unavoidable argument that strengthen society and others that weaken it,” he said, cautioning against aggressive political battles.

Instead, Galston suggested that, “by regarding and treating those with whom we disagree as fellow seekers after justice and truth, we make it more likely that they will seek justice and truth rather than dominion.”

“In the heat of the moment, let us allow the cooler voice of reason and the quieter voice of conscience to be heard,” he said of the compromises and accommodations needed to protect religious liberty.

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RUSSIA: Lawmakers Back Jail Terms for Insulting Religion

13 06 2013

Russian Orthodox Church

MOSCOW, June 11 (RIA Novosti) – Russia’s lower house of parliament on Tuesday approved a bill that would make insulting religious believers’ feelings a criminal offense, punishable by up to three years behind bars.

The controversial bill, submitted to the State Duma in late September, was backed by 308 lawmakers and opposed by just two, garnering the minimum 226 votes necessary for approval.

PutinThe legislation will come into effect next month if passed by the upper house of parliament – the Federation Council – and signed by President Vladimir Putin.

The bill was prepared in the wake of the all-female punk band Pussy Riot’s “punk prayer” protest at a prominent Moscow cathedral, in which they called for the Virgin Mary to banish Putin.

Two Pussy Riot members are currently serving two-year prison terms for that protest, on charges of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.

Under the bill tentatively approved on Tuesday in its second and third readings, publicly insulting the feelings of religious believers, including by vandalism or the desecration of holy sites, would be punishable by a fine of up to 500,000 rubles ($15,000), compulsory labor and/or up to three years in prison.

Obstructing the activities of a religious organization or the holding of a religious ceremony would also be a criminal offense, punishable by a 300,000 ruble ($9,000) fine and/or up to three months behind bars.

If a state official commits that offense, he or she would be sent to prison for up to a year and be barred from government posts for up to two years. Any Russian who publicly desecrates or destroys a religious object on purpose would face a fine up to 200,000 rubles ($6,000).

The bill, along with federal legislation against the promotion of homosexuality, is strongly supported by numerous conservative activist groups, in line with the position of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Tibetans Mourn As Self-Immolations Near 100

7 06 2013
Exile Tibetans hold a candlelit vigil in solidarity with Tibetans who self-immolated

Exile Tibetans hold a candlelit vigil in solidarity with Tibetans who self-immolated

Religion News Service  |  By Calum McLeod

BORA MONASTERY, China (RNS) — Six Tibetan pilgrims prostrated themselves face down on the road, then rose, took three paces forward and repeated the dusty act of devotion around the 250-year-old monastery here.

It is a ritual that Tibetans have practiced for centuries. Despite wars and a communist takeover, the Tibetan people’s age-old attachment to their Buddhist faith remains.

But a deadly development on this eastern edge of the high Tibetan plateau has made this small community tense and fearful.

On January 29, Kunchok Kyab, 26, set fire to himself near the monastery in an apparent protest against Chinese rule. The Tibetan farmer, married with an infant son, died from his injuries, reported Tibetan exile media.

His self-immolation, the third in Bora, took the total to 99 since the first such protest in February 2009, according to the Tibetan government-in-exile in Dharamsala, India. More than 80 such desperate acts have happened in the past 12 months alone.

“We can understand those that self-immolate, as their feelings of frustration are shared by all Tibetans,” said a wheat farmer, 23, near Labrang Monastery. “We all want the Dalai Lama to return and religious freedom for Tibet, that’s why they do it.”

Tibetans who spoke with a reporter requested anonymity out of fear of retribution from Chinese police.

The rise in public protest suicides is a major concern for the government, which in 2008 faced violent riots in the Tibetan capital Lhasa and a wave of protests in Tibetan areas. Government authorities have responded to the protesters with more crackdowns.

In its latest move, the Chinese government now treats self-immolation as a crime and charges anyone inciting the act with “intentional murder.” Seven people in Tsoe were arrested this month for their alleged role in an October 2012 self-immolation, and two others went on trial Saturday in Sichuan Province on a similar charge, reported Xinhua, China’s official news agency. Authorities have increased security and restricted access to the most restive towns and monasteries.

Tashi Thuntsok, spokesman for the Tibetan government-in-exile, says Beijing is to blame for the deaths.

The self-immolations are caused by “political repression, cultural assimilation, religious suppression and environmental destruction. If China could see reality and alleviate the sufferings and grievances of Tibetans in Tibet, there would be no such drastic actions or demonstrations,” Tashi said.

China asserted authority over Tibet in 1951. Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, 77, fled to India after a failed uprising in 1959 and established a government in exile. Beijing tightly controls the Himalayan region and accuses the Dalai Lama and exile organizations of plotting the self-immolations. Some Tibetans say that communist rule is denying them basic freedoms and that authorities are wiping out their culture.

Eight self-immolations have occurred inside what China calls the Tibet Autonomous Region, with the rest scattered across the ethnic Tibetan areas of three neighboring provinces. In the Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of south Gansu province, in the region Tibetans call Amdo, local residents expressed sadness last week at the ongoing loss of life and appeared fearful of the security crackdown. Several strongly rejected Beijing’s argument that the fiery protests are organized by outsiders.

Bora has a history of defying Chinese authorities. In 2008, horsemen descended on Bora for a dramatic protest that included raising the illegal flag of Tibetan independence. Last March, more than 60 monks from the monastery held a protest march.

“We must preserve our language and our religion; they are fundamental to Tibetan culture,” said one student of Tibetan literature, rotating some of Bora Monastery’s many Buddhist prayer wheels to gain spiritual merit. In nearby Tsoe, where she studies, new street slogans reveal the Chinese government’s latest propaganda campaign.

“Respect life, love living” reads one red banner outside a college campus, joining the perennial calls for “national unity” and “harmonious society.” In colleges throughout ethnic Tibetan areas, officials give lectures to warn students against self-immolation and to blame the Dalai Lama for causing trouble.

The Chinese government says it protects Tibetan culture, citing projects such as the $48 million renovation of Labrang, one of the key monasteries in Tibetan Buddhism, two hours’ drive from Bora. The surrounding town, Sangchu, is fast expanding, but the growth appears mostly in its Han Chinese half, not the traditional, one-story Tibetan quarters.

“Religion is a paradox in China, as the regime both suppresses it severely and sponsors it,” said Michael Davis, an American expert on Tibet at the University of Hong Kong.

Chinese officials struggle to understand Tibetan frustration, Davis said.

Rising self-awareness among Tibetans combines with Chinese repression to spark resentment and resistance, Davis said. Self-immolations will continue as long as Tibetans feel they lack other avenues to express grievances, such as anger at language policies aimed at assimilating Tibetans, he added.

“They think, ‘you ungrateful people, you’re biting the hands that feed you,’ but the money that has poured into Tibetan regions is often viewed as benefiting the Chinese, not the Tibetans,” he said.

(Calum MacLeod writes for USA Today.)


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