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Three Muslim Students Shot Dead in North Carolina

Craig Stephen Hicks, a 46-year-old white male, has been charged with three counts of first degree murder, according to a Chapel Hill Police Release. After shooting the three students in the head early Tuesday evening, Hicks turned himself in at a local police department in Pittsboro. The victims included a married couple – Deah Barakat, 23, and Yusor Mohammad, 21 – and their sister, Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19.

Photo via Washington Post

All three were currently attending or planning to attend schools in Chapel Hill. Although reports of previous of a conflict between the shooter and the victims are not confirmed, many have speculated religious bias played a significant role in the crime. The Washington Post reports:

The Council on American Islamic Relations issued a statement on the killings later Wednesday morning, calling for the Chapel Hill Police Department to address the speculation about Hicks’ motive.

“Based on the brutal nature of this crime, the past anti-religion statements of the alleged perpetrator, the religious attire of two of the victims, and the rising anti-Muslim rhetoric in American society, we urge state and federal law enforcement authorities to quickly address speculation of a possible bias motive in this case,” said CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad …

Hicks, the alleged shooter, frequently shared links about atheism on what appears to be his Facebook page. One such post reads: “People say nothing can solve the Middle East problem, not mediation, not arms, not financial aid. I say there is something. Atheism.”

Many have taken to Twitter with the trending hashtag #MuslimLivesMatter to show their support for other Muslims and to fill in a perceived lack of media coverage.

Please join us in prayer with and for our Muslim neighbors.

Read more at The Washington Post.

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The NFL’s Chilling New Anti-Domestic Violence Ad Will Make You Stop and Listen

After the high-profile domestic violence cases of Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson, the NFL is speaking out with a new Super Bowl Ad. The commercial features a woman pretending to order a pizza in a call to a 911 operator as the camera rolls over shots of a disheveled home. The operator eventually comes to understand that the woman is trying to ask for help without alerting her abuser.

The NFL created the ad in partnership with No More, an umbrella organization that connects groups working to end domestic violence and sexual assault.

The Washington Post reports:

The spot stems from the league’s botched response to the Ray Rice elevator incident last fall and from the glacial pace at which it became concerned about the issue. The NFL initially suspended Rice, then a running back with the Baltimore Ravens, for two games, which caused an uproar. Only after video of him knocking out his then-fiancee in an elevator surfaced did the NFL reconsider. Rice was cut by the team and suspended indefinitely; although his suspension was overturned, he has not returned to the league.

No More aired spots all last fall that featured celebrities and sports stars struggling to talk about domestic violence and the league has committed 60 seconds, worth $4.5 million, to the Super Bowl XLIX ad.

This announcement also comes soon after Sports Illustrated agreed to run an edgy anti-domestic violence ad they initially rejected. Created by UltraViolet, this ad depicts a young woman being tackled by a uniformed football player and ends showing the hashgtag “#GOODELLMUSTGO.” Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the NFL, has come under serious criticism for his perceived negligence regarding issues of domestic violence.

Watch the No More ad below. Trigger Warning: Domestic Violence, Trauma

Read more at the Washington Post.

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Shooting in Paris: 12 Dead After Attack on Satirical Magazine ‘Charlie Hebdo’

Armed with AK-47s and a rocket-launcher, three masked attackers opened fire in the office of a French newspaper, killing two police officers and ten staff. After hijacking a car, the attackers are currently on the run. Parisian authorities are evacuating local schools and guarding other newspaper offices as they scour the city.

According to the Guardian, French President François Hollande has described the shooting as “a terrorist attack, without a doubt” and raised the terror alert in Paris to its highest level. This would not be the first time the magazine was subjected to terrorist attack. In an analysis of Charlie Hebdo’s commitment to satire, the Guardian reports:

In November 2011, the magazine’s offices were fire-bombed after it published a special edition, supposedly guest-edited by the prophet Muhammad and temporarily renamed “Charia Hebdo”. The cover was a cartoon of Muhammad threatening the readers with “a hundred lashes if you don’t die laughing”.

The petrol bomb attack completely destroyed the Paris offices, the magazine’s website was hacked and staff were subjected to death threats. But that did not deter the magazine, whose editor, Stéphane Charbonnier, has received death threats and lives under police protection.

Many have taken to twitter to show their support for the magazine, using the hashtag #JeSuisCharlieHebdo (“I am Charlie Hebdo”).

We ask for your prayers for the families of victims as well as for those who continue to search for the attackers.

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White House Says President Will Veto Next Keystone XL Bill

In November, when the Senate just barely failed to pass a bill approving TransCanada’s controversial Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) interrupted the debate that followed it to tell everyone that we hadn’t seen the last of Keystone XL. He vowed that a new bill authorizing the pipeline would be the first thing on President Obama’s desk in the next session of Congress.

Sen. McConnell is making good on that promise – with another upcoming vote, he says he has the 60 votes he’ll need to pass the pipeline, which the GOP has branded as a “jobs creation” bill with dubious claims about job numbers.

But White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest announced today that “If this bill passes this Congress the president, wouldn't sign it.” This promise of a veto may have less to do with the environmental implications of the pipeline, the violation of a treaty with American Indians, or the years of steady protest from vocal opponents, and more to do with giving the State Department time to finish their review process. Regardless, it’s another stalled start for the would-be Keystone XL pipeline.

The White House needs to hear from Christians who oppose the Keystone XL pipeline. Click here to send a tweet to President Obama!

Read more.

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Report: Vatican Investigation Ends with Praise of U.S. Nuns

The much anticipated final report of a Vatican-ordered investigation of U.S. nuns was released today without controversy. The report ends a process launched six years ago under Pope Benedict XVI through the leadership of Cardinal Franc Rodé, the former head of the Vatican office of religious life, who raised concerns of “secular mentality" and a "feminist spirit" among U.S. women religious communities. 

The report marks a more conciliatory approach under Pope Francis who celebrated Mass today with some of the women and men religious involved in the probe. The report affirms women religious in the U.S. for adhering to "Pope Francis’ insistence that ‘none of us can think we are exempt from concern for the poor and for social justice.’”

The report also expresses praise and "the profound gratitude of the Apostolic See and the Church in the United States for the dedicated and selfless service of women religious in all the essential areas of the life of the Church and society."

However, the new report has no effect on the ongoing doctrinal assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), a membership organization with about 1400 leaders of women’s orders in the U.S., which remains under scrutiny for its Catholic teaching on abortion, homosexuality, and women’s ordination.

Read the full report here.  

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REPORT: Bob Jones University Failed to Support Sexual Abuse Victims for 40 Years

Rolling Stone is not the only one throwing sexual abuse victims under the bus these days. An alarming report released today reveals that Bob Jones University, a historically fundamentalist Christian college, failed to support nearly 40 victims of sexual abuse over four decades.

In January 2013, Bob Jones University hired GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) to conduct an independent investigation of the college’s response to sexual abuse allegations.

The report states that BJU officials were not adequately prepared or trained to counsel victims appropriately, often treating victims as blameworthy for their abuse or sexual assault experienced during childhood or adulthood.

In a video statement recorded yesterday, BJU President Steve Pettit issued an apology to students and faculty:

On behalf of Bob Jones University, I would like to sincerely and humbly apologize to those who felt they did not receive from us genuine love, compassion, understanding, and support after suffering sexual abuse or assault. We did not live up to their expectations. We failed to uphold and honor our own core values. We are deeply saddened to hear that we added to their pain and suffering.

The GRACE report outlines a series of recommendations, including recovery assistance, tuition support, and a public apology to victims of sexual abuse. The university has also taken steps in recent years to revise its policies and procedures:

  • To make every member of the faculty and staff a mandatory reporter which requires each to promptly notify law enforcement officials of child sexual abuse.
     
  • To encourage adult victims of sexual assault to report their experience to the appropriate law enforcement officials.
     
  • To make clear that the biblical lesson of forgiveness does not imply that the victim is in any way responsible for the sexual assault or abuse they experienced.
     
  • To provide more extensive training and access to professional counselors with expertise in sexual abuse for University personnel who interact with victims coming to them for care and compassion.

For a complete look at GRACE’s investigation and recommendations, read the full report here.

Elaina Ramsey is women and girls campaign associate at Sojourners.

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Leaders Across all Faiths Gather for Joint Declaration Against Modern Slavery

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28

Thirty-five million people are trapped in a form of modern slavery.

35 million. Let that sink in.

Last week, the campaign to end human trafficking took a large step forward. Religious leaders from the Christian Catholic, Anglican, and Orthodox traditions joined with Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, and Muslim leaders to jointly declare their intention to end modern-day slavery. The Joint Declaration of Religious Leaders Against Modern Slavery reads:

We pledge ourselves here today to do all in our power, within our faith communities and beyond, to work together for the freedom of all those who are enslaved and trafficked so that their future may be restored. Today we have the opportunity, awareness, wisdom, innovation and technology to achieve this human and moral imperative.

The moral imperative to end human slavery transcends every religious doctrine.

Christian Scripture affirms that “there is neither slave nor free, for you are all one in Christ.” The Qu’ran confirms the divine dignity of each human stating, “God has given dignity to the all children of Adam” (The Noble Qur’an, 17:70). The command to “protect the stranger in our midst” (Exodus 22:21) appears 36 times in the Torah — which according to the Talmud is more often than the laws of the Sabbath or of keeping kosher. Hindu leader, Her Holiness Mata Amritanandamayi called human enslavement, “an open wound on the body of modern society.”

Each major religious tradition acknowledges the inherent God-given dignity of each being. An excerpt from the declaration affirms that:

In the eyes of God, each human being is a free person, whether girl, boy, woman or man, and is destined to exist for the good of all in equality and fraternity. Modern slavery, in terms of human trafficking, forced labour and prostitution, organ trafficking, and any relationship that fails to respect the fundamental conviction that all people are equal and have the same freedom and dignity, is a crime against humanity.

An international faith declaration will not change the complex causes, intricate networks and international power structures that run deeply through the roots of modern slavery.

Yet, it is a start.

+Leave a Comment | Peace & Nonviolence

N.Y.P.D. Officer Cleared in the Choking of Eric Garner

Just over one week after a grand jury elected not to indict Darren Wilson for the killing of Michael Brown, a Staten Island grand jury has cleared an NYPD police officer of any criminal charge in the death of Eric Garner.

The officer, Daniel Pantaleo, a white male, choked Mr. Garner to death as other police officers jammed his head into the concrete. Mr. Garner, 43, suffered from asthma and was suspected of illegally selling cigarettes. Along with other evidence, the grand jury viewed a video recorded by bystanders, which fully captured the violent arrest.

The New York Times reports:  

The case exposed lapses in police tactics – chokeholds are banned by the Police Department’s own guidelines – and raised questions about the aggressive policing of minor offenses in a time of historically low crime. The officers, part of a plainclothes unit, suspected Mr. Garner of selling loose cigarettes on the street near the Staten Island Ferry Terminal, a complaint among local business owners.

Mr. Garner’s death hastened an effort to retrain all the department’s patrol officers and brought scrutiny on how officers who violate its rules are disciplined. Officer Pantaleo has been stripped of his gun and badge.

Stay tuned to Sojourners for continued updates and analysis.

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No Indictment in Ferguson Shooting

A grand jury has found that no probable cause exists to indict Darren Wilson, the Ferguson, Mo., police officer who shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown, on Aug. 9, said St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert P. McCulloch on Monday evening.

McCulloch said the grand jury was instructed on the law and presented on five possible indictments. He emphasized that the jurors "are the only people who have heard and examined every witness and every piece of evidence."

Protests throughout the St. Louis metro area — as well as nearly 100 cities across the country — are planned in response to the decision. Last week, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon declared a preemptive state of emergency and activated the National Guard to respond to “any period of unrest that might occur following the grand jury’s decision concerning the investigation into the death of Michael Brown.” Rev. Traci Blackmon, a clergy leader in the St. Louis area, recently told Sojourners that while the city and county police departments have amassed weapons and riot gear to react to the protests, local community leaders and faith groups have been stocking up on bandages and first-aid materials. 

Earlier in the day Brown’s family asked for 4.5 minutes of silence this evening before protests begin — a statement on the 4.5 hours Michael Brown’s body was left in a Ferguson street following the shooting.

The Justice Department is conducting its own federal investigation, however recent reports have indicated that it is not likely to result in civil rights charges against Wilson. 

Stay tuned to Sojourners for continued updates and analysis. 

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Report: Solutions to Hunger, Poverty Must Focus on Empowering Women

Globally, women and girls are disproportionally affected by hunger and poverty. In reference to completing the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Bread for the World reported, “We will not end hunger and poverty by 2030 without ending the discrimination that women and girls face day in and day out.”

This morning, Bread for the World, released the 2015 Hunger Report, When Women Flourish, We Can End Hunger. The comprehensive analysis focuses on the imperative role the empowerment of women and girls plays in ending hunger, extreme poverty, and malnutrition.

Asma Lateef, director of Bread for the World Institute, said:

“Eliminating barriers and empowering women around the world is key to ending hunger in our time. We must not tolerate discrimination against women and instead, [we must] demand a comprehensive approach to women’s empowerment that includes applying a gender lens to all programs and policies.”

If there is hope of eliminating poverty, as an international community, we must look holistically at the cultural, economic, social, and religious aspects of the systems that perpetuate poverty. The 2015 Hunger report effectively examines the role of gender in poverty alleviation and prescribes tangible recommendations for international and domestic reform for the common good.

Click here for the full report along with infographics, personal narratives, and a scriptural study guide.

+Leave a Comment | Economic Justice