"I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life"

Father God, thank you for the love of the truth you have given me. Please bless me with the wisdom, knowledge and discernment needed to always present the truth in an attitude of grace and love. Use this blog and Northwoods Ministries for your glory. Help us all to read and to study Your Word without preconceived notions, but rather, let scripture interpret scripture in the presence of the Holy Spirit. All praise to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Please note: All my writings and comments appear in bold italics in this colour

Friday, June 27, 2014

Sudanese Woman Meriam Ibrahim 'Safe and Well' in US Embassy

The husband of a Sudanese Christian woman facing threats after her apostasy death sentence was overturned has expressed relief that the family has been given refuge at the US embassy in Khartoum.

"Really, it's good," Daniel Wani, the American husband of Meriam Ibrahim, told Agence France-Presse by telephone on Friday, adding that embassy staff had been "very helpful and very nice".

He said his wife and two children, who could be heard in the background, were doing well at the heavily guarded facility.
Ibrahim holds her baby in a car
shortly after her release in Khartoum

Ibrahim, 27, went to the US embassy on Thursday after being detained at Khartoum airport as she tried to leave Sudan. Her arrest came days after her release from death row.

Wani confirmed they had sought the embassy's protection because of death threats against his wife.

A US state department spokeswoman, Marie Harf, said the family were in a safe location and Sudan's government had assured the US of their continued safety.

Ibrahim was detained with her husband and two young children at Khartoum airport on Tuesday over allegations she had forged travel documents. But she was discharged from a police station, on the condition she remained in Sudan, after the government came under pressure from foreign diplomats.

The diplomats apparently demanded and got bail conditions for Meriam. I would be surprised if a substantial amount of money beyond the actual bail wasn't paid.

Ibrahim, whose father was Muslim but who was raised by her Christian mother, was last month convicted of apostasy and sentenced to hang. She was also sentenced to 100 lashes for adultery after a court ruled her marriage to Wani, a Christian, was invalid.

Under Sudan's penal code Muslims are forbidden from changing faith, and Muslim women are not permitted to marry Christian men. Ibrahim insisted she had been brought up as a Christian.

The case prompted outrage, with more than a million people backing Amnesty International's campaign for her release.

On Monday the appeal court annulled her death sentence and freed her, after which she went into hiding because of death threats. Those death threats coming mainly from her half-brother who probably wants her dead so the family can take over Meriam's businesses.

Wani, a US citizen since 2005, said he hoped the family could start a new life in America. But 24 hours later security service agents apprehended the family, including a baby girl born while Ibrahim was shackled to the floor of her cell, claiming that her travel documents were forged. Ibrahim's lawyer, Elshareef Mohammed, said more than 40 security officers stopped them boarding a plane to Washington.

The US state department said its envoy then met Sudanese foreign ministry officials at their request and told them the family needed to be able "to depart as swiftly as possible from Sudan and that we are happy to help in any way we can".

Wani has claimed that those who triggered the case against his wife, whom he married in 2011, were attempting to muscle in on her business interests, including a hair salon, mini-mart and agricultural land.

Please pray that the charges will be all dropped against her quickly so they can finally evacuate that crazy country.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Christians Persecuted in 3/4 of the World's Countries and Growing

Yesterday, on one of my posts, I predicted that the anti-Christian movement would explode across the world with astounding speed. I guess I could claim to be right except that I learn today that it has already happened. 

This excellent opinion piece helps put Meriam's ordeal into perspective, but also documents the 'explosive growth' of anti-Christianity around the world.


Meriam Ibrahim and the Persecution of Christians
Sentenced to death because of her faith—it's a modern story with ancient echoes.

June 26, 2014 6:48 p.m. ET

A 27-year-old Sudanese woman named Meriam Ibrahim seemed likely to become a 21st-century Christian martyr in May when she was sentenced to death by hanging because of her faith. Then this week Ms. Ibrahim was saved when a court overturned her conviction for apostasy from Islam—her father was a Muslim, and under Islamic law she is automatically a Muslim too. (She had also been sentenced to public flogging for adultery because her husband, Daniel Wani, is also a Christian, and Islamic law doesn't recognize marriages between Muslim women and non-Muslim men.) But the day after her release on Monday, Ms. Ibrahim was arrested again. While the Associated Press reported Thursday that she had again been released Thursday, her future remained uncertain.

Her story is harrowing. Ms. Ibrahim was eight months pregnant with her second child when she was convicted in a Khartoum court on April 30 under the Islamic Shariah law that has governed Sudan since 1989. On May 27, while in prison awaiting execution, Ms. Ibrahim gave birth to her daughter, Maya. Mr. Wani reported that his wife was shackled to the floor during labor. Their year-and-a-half-old son, Martin, had been jailed along with her.

Ms. Ibrahim was re-arrested on Tuesday by a government security force as she, Mr. Wani and their two young children tried to leave Sudan for the U.S. The Sudanese-born Mr. Wani has been an American citizen since 2005. The new charges against Ms. Ibrahim—which are reported to carry penalties of up to seven years in prison—consist of falsifying the family's travel documents, which were issued by the embassy of South Sudan, the largely Christian territory that seceded from overwhelmingly Muslim Sudan in 2011 after a decades-long civil war. Mr. Wani hails from what is now South Sudan.

Meriam Ibrahim and Husband Daniel Wani
Ms. Ibrahim's story bears uncanny parallels to another Christian story involving young African mothers who did become Christian martyrs, during the early third century: the story of Felicitas and Perpetua, executed for their faith in the Roman port city of Carthage in today's Tunisia. Vibia Perpetua was a well-educated young woman, not unlike Ms. Ibrahim, who is trained as a doctor. Felicitas was a slave in an advanced state of pregnancy when she was thrown into prison along with Perpetua and other Christians to await their deaths by wild animals in the Carthage arena. Perpetua, like Ms. Ibrahim, went to prison along with a baby son. Felicitas, like Ms. Ibrahim, bore a baby daughter before her execution date.

The most dramatic parallel is the simple affirmation that Ms. Ibrahim gave in court that led to her death sentence: "I am a Christian." Those also were Perpetua's words, as they were of many martyrs in Roman times. Like Perpetua, Ms. Ibrahim, who was brought up in the Ethiopian Orthodox faith of her mother, also refused to recant.

This isn't just a matter of ancient and modern coincidences. More significantly, the Roman world of the third century was strikingly like today's secularized West in its contempt for Christians and indifference to their persecution.

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has found that Christians are persecuted in more places today than any other religious group, suffering formal or informal harassment in three-quarters of the world's countries. The persecution of Christians, Paul Marshall of the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom wrote in the June 23 Weekly Standard, "is occurring on a massive scale, it is under-reported, and in many parts of the world it is rapidly growing."

Yet this persecution is mostly ignored. The Sudanese civil war included waves of genocidal mass killings of southern Sudanese Christians by the Khartoum government during the 1990s, but the media looked the other way until the Sudanese started slaughtering Muslim rebels in Darfur in 2003. The recent kidnapping of Nigerian schoolgirls by the Islamic-fanatic group Boko Haram has been portrayed as a war on women's education. You seldom hear that most of the girls are Christians and one of the aims of the abduction was their forced conversion to Islam.

Amnesty International has admirably agitated for Meriam Ibrahim's release, but partly on grounds of Amnesty's opposition to the death penalty. Even many Christian churches in the West seem to be too constrained by ethnic sensitivities to assert themselves on behalf of their persecuted brethren. They haven't paid much attention to the near-extermination of the ancient Christian communities in Iraq during the past decade of turmoil, or to the systematic destruction of Coptic churches in Egypt by Islamic radicals in 2013.

Meriam Ibrahim did manage to gain the attention and sympathy of the West by reason of her courage, her beauty, her status as a mother of two young children and the extreme circumstances of her case. If there are parallels between her experience and a story of ancient martyrdom, the lesson might be that the West's cultured classes' hostility to Christianity, like that of their of Roman forbears, results in a passivity that tolerates attacks on people whose only crime is their faith.

Ms. Allen is the author of "The Human Christ: The Search for the Historical Jesus" (Free Press, 1998).

Meriam, The Story Behind The Story

by Harriet Alexander

The brother of the Sudanese woman who had her death sentence for apostasy overturned by the courts has claimed that she was "kidnapped" as soon as she set foot out of prison.

Meriam Ibrahim walked free on Monday after six months in prison charged with apostasy – abandoning her Islamic faith. She maintains she was never a Muslim in the first place.

The 27-year-old was about to board a flight out of Sudan with her husband and two children on Tuesday, when she was detained once more. Her husband Daniel Wani is an American citizen, and he said they were planning to travel to Washington DC. Sudanese media claimed that the US vice consul was with the family at the airport.

"We are supposed to be there," said Mr Wani, insisting there is nothing wrong with the travel documents. He told AFP: "We are worried. That's why we want to get out of here as soon as possible."
Al Samani Al Hadi Mohamed Abdullah
Islamic Lunatic or Thief?
But now her brother, Al Samani Al Hadi Mohamed Abdullah, has claimed that Ms Ibrahim was "kidnapped" upon her release, and spirited away without her consent.

He told Sudan's Al Intibaha newspaper – founded by the uncle of President Omar Bashir – that she should have been shepherded to the family, and not her husband, when she left prison.

"They did not let us know that she was about to be freed," he said. "It was a surprise for us."

Mr Hadi said previously that she should be executed if she does not "return" to what he maintains is their family faith.

He told CNN earlier this month: "It's one of two; if she repents and returns to our Islamic faith and to the embrace of our family, then we are her family and she is ours.

"But if she refuses she should be executed."

His comments poured fuel on the flickering suspicion that the charges were a thinly-disguised family feud, and that Ms Ibrahim's relatives hoped to gain control over her successful businesses.

And he said in the interview, published on Wednesday, that the courts had failed his family by clearing her of all charges.

"Our family is not convinced by the decision of the court. The law has failed to maintain our rights, and now it is a matter of honour. Christians deface our honour, and we know how to take revenge for that." Now, you can't deface what doesn't exist, Mr Hadi, what you call honour is simply pride, a most unbecoming and dishonourable character trait.

The family's lawyer, Abdulrahem Malik, told another regime-supporting newspaper, Al Sudani, that she was "disappeared into a Western embassy" on her release. And he said they were surprised at her attempts to leave the country, because her appeal verdict was not final.

"She has no right to travel outside the country," the lawyer said. "There have been no threats of revenge against her from members of her family, and she has no right to travel by law. I guess he didn't read the above; 'She should be executed', 'it is a matter of honour', 'Christians deface our honour', 'we know how to take revenge for that'. If that's not a threat then I don't know what is.

"The appeals court decision is not final. Only if we do not appeal within 15 days is their ruling upheld."

The American authorities said on Tuesday night that they were confident the family were not in danger.

"The government has assured us of their safety," said Marie Harf, state department spokeswoman. "The embassy has and will remain highly involved in working with the family and the government."

Just make sure you keep them away from her family - who are actually her half-siblings.

Meriam Released from Custody in Sudan Again

A Sudanese Christian woman whose death sentence for apostasy was overturned has been freed again after being detained on accusations of forging travel documents.

Eman Abdul-Rahman, the lawyer for 27-year-old Meriam Ibrahim, said she had been released from a police station after foreign diplomats pressed the government to free her. Pressed their palms is more likely.

She was detained along with her husband and two small children, one born behind bars, at Khartoum's airport on Tuesday while trying to leave the country with her family.

There is no indication yet on whether she will be allowed to leave the country now. Please pray that she will.

Ibrahim, whose father was Muslim but who was raised by her Christian mother, was convicted of apostasy for marrying a Christian man from southern Sudan in a church ceremony in 2011. As in many Muslim nations, Muslim women in Sudan are prohibited from marrying non-Muslims, though Muslim men can marry outside their faith. By law, children must follow their father's religion.

Sudan's penal code forbids Muslims from converting to other religions, a crime punishable by death.

The sentence drew international condemnation, with Amnesty International calling it abhorrent. The US state department said it was "deeply disturbed" by the sentence and called on the Sudanese government to respect religious freedoms.

On Monday, Sudan's court of cessation threw out Ibrahim's death sentence and freed her after a presentation by her legal team.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Meriam Ibrahim Still Being Detained: Khartoum Summons South Sudanese and US Ambassadors

Diplomatic wrangling continues after freed woman is detained for trying to fly to US on papers issued by South Sudan.

Sudan has summoned the ambassadors of United States and South Sudan following the renewed detention of Meriam Ibrahim who was trying to fly to America with her family after being released from death row, the Sudanese security service has said.

Ibrahim was freed on Monday after an appeals court cancelled the death sentence imposed for apostasy after Khartoum came under what it called unprecedented international pressure.

She was detained again on Tuesday for trying to use documents issued by the embassy of South Sudan to fly out of Khartoum with her American-South Sudanese husband and their two children – deepening the diplomatic wrangle over her case.

Sudan does not recognise her as a South Sudanese citizen because, despite lifting her sentence, it does not recognise her marriage to a Christian, something not allowed under the Islamic laws applied in Sudan, where most people are Sunni Muslims.

South Sudan, with a majority Christian population, became independent from Sudan after a public vote in 2011 that ended years of civil war between the two states. Ibrahim insisted that she had been brought up as a Christian, despite her father being Muslim. She was also sentenced to be publicly flogged for adultery following a court's ruling that her marriage to a Christian man was invalid.

"The airport passport police arrested Abrar after she presented emergency travel documents issued by the South Sudanese embassy and carrying an American visa," Sudan's National Intelligence and Security Services said on its Facebook page, referring to Ibrahim by her Muslim name.

"The Sudanese authorities considered [the action)] a criminal violation, and the foreign ministry summoned the American and South Sudanese ambassadors."

Ibrahim's lawyer told Reuters she was charged with forging the travel papers. Under Sudan's penal code, forging a document is punishable by up to five years in prison.

On Wednesday, she was still being held at a Khartoum police station where she had spent the night with her family, who refused to go without her, the lawyer said.

Her case triggered an international outcry and was closely monitored by Washington and London, which last month summoned the Sudanese charge d'affaires to protest against Ibrahim's initial death sentence and urge Sudan to uphold its international obligations on freedom of religion or belief.

In Washington, the US state department said on Tuesday the American embassy in Khartoum was working with the family and the Sudanese government to resolve the matter.

"The government has assured us of their safety," a department spokeswoman told reporters. "We are engaging directly with Sudanese officials to secure their safe and swift departure from Sudan."
Translated: Someone needs to  receive a big wad of money before they let her go.

South Sudan's presidential spokesman said Ibrahim's American husband was a South Sudanese citizen and that was the reason that his family's travel documents were issued from the South Sudan embassy in Khartoum.

The US has imposed economic sanctions on Sudan since 1997 following allegations of human rights violations. It intensified sanctions in 2006 after Khartoum's actions in its conflict with rebels in the western region of Darfur.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Nanaimo City Council Leading the Western World in Anti-Christian Bigotry

In a post a couple weeks ago I revealed that the Law Society of British Columbia, Canada, was pressured into discriminating against Christians when it revoked its stand on recognizing Trinity Western University's Law Program. 

In that piece I wrote: "It has been obvious for decades that gay rights and freedom of religion were going to collide and this is the beginning of that collision." I was wrong! It, in fact, began a month earlier in the small (80,000) city of Nanaimo, British Columbia, when city council decided to tear up an agreement with the city newspaper to rent the convention centre to hold a leadership convention.

Actually, it was a live simulcast of a leadership convention held in Atlanta and Cape Town and simulcast all over the world. Speakers included people like Condaleeza Rice, Laura Bush, and many business leaders from all over. What was so offensive to the Nanaimo Council? One of the sponsors was Chick Filet, and one of the speakers was Dr Henry Cloud who happens to believe that gays can be straightened out. Since, at least, 90% of gays are not born gay, I believe it too.

The owner of Chick Filet spoke out once, a few years ago, against gay marriage and the franchise has been vilified ever since by the LGBT lobby and those who support it. Freedom of speech is well protected unless you are talking about gays or lesbians in which case - God help you.

However, this is tantamount to blasphemy to the city that wants to lead the world in liberalism. Only one councilor had the nerve to question the decision (albeit somewhat meekly) and then voted against the motion which would otherwise have been unanimous.

That they cancelled the contract less than 4 days before the event and after many tickets had already been sold was egregious enough, but they didn't let the newspaper or any of the organizers know that the issue was going to be raised. Consequently, no-one was there to defend the conference or the rights of Nanaimo's Christians. It was sneaky, underhanded, vile (one councilor said that Christians were like criminals), dishonest and illegal.

What they did violates at least four of the basic rights and freedoms in Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and consequently, will most certainly be challenged in court. The court will rule against city council and that will be the end of that, for now.

Meanwhile, what is scary is that you can probably find a significant percentage of average Canadians who will agree with Nanaimo, most of them fooled into thinking that gays are born gay when they are not. At least the large majority are not. This has been well documented scientifically, and I hope to publish an article or series on that soon.

A 40 minute show on this report can be seen here. It features much footage of the council meeting and many commentaries by Ezra Levant. It's pretty interesting!

This is not just a Canadian thing - this anti-Christian movement will explode across the world with astounding speed. If you don't believe that we are in the 'end-times', just watch what happens with the anti-Christian movement. You soon will.

I would love to hear your comments.

Can You Believe That Meriam Ibrahim was Arrested Again

This is what I feared yesterday, that this story may not be over for a while yet. Meriam and family are still in need of your prayers until they are out of that looney-bin called Sudan.

A Sudanese woman freed from death row on Monday has been detained with her family at Khartoum airport, sources have told the BBC.

Meriam Ibrahim was sentenced in May to hang for renouncing Islam, sparking widespread outrage at home and abroad.

About 40 security agents detained Mrs Ibrahim - along with her husband, Daniel Wani and two children - at the airport, the sources said.

A top Sudanese official has told the BBC she would be freed "soon". God, let it be so.

Abdullahi Alzareg from the ministry of foreign affairs told the BBC's Newshour programme that Mrs Ibrahim had been arrested because she did not have the correct travel documents.

Although she is Sudanese, she was using emergency South Sudanese papers with a US visa, he said.

Her husband is a Christian from what is now South Sudan and has US nationality.

One of Mrs Ibrahim's lawyers, el-Shareef Ali, told the BBC that her legal team is being denied access to her.

She was released from prison on Monday after an appeal court annulled the death sentence imposed on her.
Meriam Ibrahim with her husband (L), children and
legal team after her release in Khartoum on 23 June 2014
She was arrested in February, and gave birth to a daughter in prison not long after being sentenced.

The family has been taken to the headquarters of one of Sudan's security agencies, sources said.

Before she was detained on Tuesday, Western countries had welcomed the decision to rescind the death penalty.

The National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) is an extremely powerful body, which frequently intervenes in Sudanese politics.

It is a key part of the informal coalition - also comprising the military, Islamists and pragmatists - which rules Sudan.

The different components are constantly jockeying for a better position.

In recent times, NISS has been flexing its muscles.

It is very possible that NISS did not like the decision to release Meriam Ibrahim, and re-arresting her and her family was a way of making this point to the rest of the Sudanese government.

However, security is not a homogenous entity either.

It is also conceivable that one part of NISS accepted Mrs Ibrahim's release, while another section was not happy with it.

Mrs Ibrahim's release and re-arrest simply underlines the fact that there are many decision-makers in Sudanese politics, and they do not always agree with each other.

Born to a Muslim father, Mrs Ibrahim, 27, married Mr Wani in 2011.

Sudan has a majority Muslim population, and Islamic law has been in force there since the 1980s.

Even though Mrs Ibrahim was brought up as an Orthodox Christian, the authorities considered her to be a Muslim because that is the religion of her father.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Meriam is Free!

A Sudanese woman sentenced to death for abandoning her Islamic faith has been freed from jail, her lawyer has told the BBC.

Meriam Ibrahim's death penalty was overturned by an appeal court, the official Suna news agency reported.

She is married to a Christian man and was sentenced under Sharia law to hang for apostasy in May after refusing to renounce Christianity.

Her husband, Daniel Wani, said he was looking forward to seeing her.

He wanted his family to leave Sudan as soon possible, Mr Wani told BBC Focus on Africa.

This, hopefully, is the end of this story; a story of courage, faith and answered prayer. Bless you Meriam for not renouncing Christ. You are a hero!

The death sentence for Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag, who gave birth to a daughter in prison not long after she was convicted, sparked international outrage.

"We are very very happy about this - and we're going to her now," Mrs Ibrahim's lawyer Elshareef Ali told BBC Focus on Africa.

"They have released her... she's on her way to home," he said.

Mr Ali said Mrs Ibrahim had shown "extraordinary courage" during her ordeal.

"It's a victory for freedom of religion in Sudan... By Mariam's strong position, we believe that in the future no-one will be subjected to such a trial," he said.

Analysis: James Copnall, former BBC Sudan correspondent

The outcry generated by Meriam Ibrahim's case was difficult for the authorities to ignore.

The government in Khartoum is already dealing with an economic crisis, and conflicts in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile. It simply does not need further ill-feeling - and it is worth pointing out that many of the most vocal opponents of the conviction were Sudanese, not foreigners.

In fact, Mrs Ibrahim's case looks like part of a recurring theme.

In 2009 Lubna Hussein, dubbed the "trouser woman", was arrested for wearing "indecent clothing" in public - in her case a pair of loose green trousers. She was at risk of a public flogging. Eventually she was given a small fine, which was then paid on her behalf to set her free. In 2012, Intisar Sharif Abdullah was sentenced to death by stoning for adultery, before she too was released without charge.

In every case, the authorities insist the justice system came to an independent decision, but many believe it bowed to public pressure.

Daniel Wani with his daughter (left) and son (right)
Born to a Muslim father, Mrs Ibrahim, 27, married Mr Wani, a Christian, in 2011.

She has been in jail since February, along with her young son.

Mr Ali said he had not yet seen the appeal court's judgement, and had learned about the verdict through the media.

Sudan has a majority Muslim population. Islamic law has been in force there since the 1980s.

Even though Mrs Ibrahim was brought up as an Orthodox Christian, the authorities consider her to be a Muslim.

Her husband, who was born in South Sudan before it became independent from Sudan, went to the US in 1998 at the height of the civil war.

He met Mrs Ibrahim in 2011 on a visit to Sudan and they were married at the main church in Khartoum.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Gay Marriage Endorsed by Presbyterian Church in U.S.

The top legislative body of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has voted by large margins to recognize same-sex marriage as Christian in the church constitution, adding language that marriage can be the union of "two people," not just "a man and a woman."

The amendment approved Thursday by the Presbyterian General Assembly requires approval from a majority of the 172 regional presbyteries, which will vote on the change over the next year.

But in a separate policy change that takes effect at the end of this week's meeting, delegates voted to allow ministers to preside at gay weddings in states where the unions are legal and local congregational leaders approve.

Nineteen states and the District of Columbia recognize same-sex marriage.
Young adult adviser Scott Overacker, of Roanoke, Va., adds his voice
to the debate on whether the church should recognize same-sex marriage.
The votes, during a national meeting in Detroit, were a sweeping victory for Presbyterian gay-rights advocates. The denomination in 2011 eliminated barriers to ordaining clergy with same-sex partners, but ministers were still barred from celebrating gay marriages and risked church penalties for doing so. Alex McNeill, executive director of More Light Presbyterians, a gay advocacy group, said the amendment was "an answer to many prayers."

The Rev. Krystin Granberg of the New York Presbytery — in a state that recognizes gay marriage — said she receives requests "all the time" from friends and parishioners to preside at their weddings.

"They want to be married in the church they love and they want me to do it," Granberg said during the debate. "I want pastoral relief."

But Bill Norton, of the Presbytery de Cristo, which covers parts of Arizona and New Mexico, urged the assembly to delay any changes. "We are laying hands on something that is holy, that God has given us, so we need to be sure any changes we make are in accord with God's will revealed in Scripture," Norton said.

Since the 2011 gay ordination vote, 428 of the denomination's more than 10,000 churches have left for other more conservative denominations or have dissolved, though some theological conservatives have remained within the denomination as they decide how to move forward. The church now has about 1.8 million members.

The conservative Presbyterian Lay Committee decried the votes in Detroit as an "abomination." The assembly voted 371-238 to allow ministers to celebrate same-sex marriages, and 429-175 in favor of amending the definition of marriage in the constitution.

"The General Assembly has committed an express repudiation of the Bible, the mutually agreed upon Confessions of the PCUSA, thousands of years of faithfulness to God's clear commands and the denominational ordination vows of each concurring commissioner," the Presbyterian Lay Committee said in a statement.

Of the mainline Protestant denominations, only the United Church of Christ supports gay marriage outright. The Episcopal Church has approved a prayer service for blessing same-sex unions. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has eliminated barriers for gay clergy but allows regional and local church officials to decide their own policies on ordination and blessings for same-sex couples.

The largest mainline group, the United Methodist Church, with about 7.8 million U.S. members, bars ordaining people in same-sex relationships. However, church members have been debating whether to split over their different views of the Bible and marriage. Gay marriage supporters have been recruiting clergy to openly officiate at same-sex ceremonies in protest of church policy.

Revelation 2:5  Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place--unless you repent.

Czech Government Advisor Proposes Euthanasia for Children Born with Birth Defects

A senior university lecturer and Czech government adviser has been forced to resign for proposing to legalize euthanasia for children born with birth defects.

In his recent article published in the Journal of Medical Law and Bioethics, Miroslav Mitloehner argued that "it makes no sense to prolong the life of a baby born as a monster."

Mitloehner called children with disabilities "freaks" and questioned whether they are human beings. He said doctors should be allowed to terminate their life without parents' consent.

Vaclav Krasa, the chairman of a major organization of the disabled, called the views unacceptable, comparing them to "Nazi thinking."

Officials said Friday Mitloehner was fired from the post of director of the Institute of Social Work at Hradec Kralove University and from the Labor Ministry's scientific council.

Well, I think we know who the 'monster' is, and it's not children born with disabilities. I praise the good and quick reaction by the university and the government, but I wonder why the Journal of Medical Law and Bioethics would publish such an article in the first place?

I wonder how many people actually agree with him? I wonder if the idea will rise again in a few years and find support? Then they will decide that old people are useless to society and euthanize them.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

I Renounced Islam, So My Family Think I Should Die - Sound Familiar?

Apostasy is not just something that scandalises people in far off lands. Here's the story of a British woman whose life was turned upside down when she left Islam - echoing the plight of Meriam Ibrahim, who awaits a death sentence in Sudan for the same "crime"

If Amal Farah were not living in Britain, she believes she might well be dead.

For the 33-year-old financial manager had carried out an act so heinous, her family felt she deserved to die.

Her crime? She had renounced her Islamic faith – “and within my community, that’s a capital offence,” she said. “They believe you deserve to die.”

Mrs Farah, who was born in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, but now lives in Britain, has never told her story before.
Amal Farah renounced Islam
She was too afraid; told that, even in the UK, it was safer for her to keep a low profile.

But when earlier this month the case of Meriam Ibrahim came to light – an eight-month pregnant Sudanese woman, sentenced to death for refusing to renounce her Christian faith – Mrs Farah felt she had to speak out.

“I had to do something,” she said. “I am so fortunate to be here, and I am in a position to be able to shout and scream and say this is wrong.”

Her voice quavering, fighting back tears, she said: “I read her story and thought: 'That could so easily have been me.’”

Ms Ibrahim currently awaits her fate in a cell in Khartoum, shackled by the ankles, (she has not been in shackles since her baby was born and has been moved to a more comfortable room - see post immediately below) having refused an offer from a judge to renounce her Christianity. She also faces 100 lashes for "adultery" - the court does not recognise her marriage to a Christian man, Daniel Wani, who has American citizenship.

She told the court that her Muslim father abandoned the family when she was young, so as a child she had been brought up a Christian.

For Mrs Farah, many of the parallels between her own life and Ms Ibrahim’s are striking.

Both women are pregnant with their second child. Both were born in the Greater Horn of Africa region. And both lost their fathers when they were young girls.

Ironically, Mrs Farah’s father was very secular. A high-ranking general in the Somali army, he served under Siad Barre, the military dictator, before going into exile in Ethiopia, where he campaigned for democracy.

When Mrs Farah was aged just three, he was killed by a landmine.

“After that, little by little, my mother became more religious,” she said. “We were all Muslims, of course, but the older I got the more I was told to pray, to wear conservative clothes and so on. It wasn’t that I disliked Islam per se. But I disliked being told what to do, like being forced to wear the hijab. I dreamt of having control over my own life.”

A turning point came, she said, when her mother prepared her for circumcision, a practice now widely viewed as barbaric, and better known as female genital mutilation.

“I was really scared, and she was talking about how it was religious purification – an essential rite. I asked if there was anything I could do to change her mind, and she said no. I think that’s when I realised that I hated this feeling of powerlessness.”

When Mrs Farah was 18, the family fled Somalia – her mother, who had remarried, her stepfather, and her four half-siblings.

And it was when she began her degree in molecular biology at a British red-brick university that a new world opened up for her.

“It was a revelation,” she said. “I met atheists, staunch Christians, Jews, Hindusthey challenged me about my views, and I about theirs. It was an incredible sensation to be able to ask questions, and discuss ideas without fear, without looking over my shoulder. I had been in a cocoon – unquestioning, with everyone told they had to think the same way.

“It happened very organically for me. Initially I started exploring my own faith, reading all I could on the Koran – different translations, historical perspectives, listening to cassettes of various Saudi or Egyptian imams.

“At first my Mum thought it was wonderful. And I really did see the goodness in it; the sense of generosity, of speaking the truth, and not back biting. I don’t think it is a terrible religion at all.”

But she felt in her heart that it was not for her – and that, to be true to herself, she could no longer call herself a Muslim.

Yet finally she dared to broach the subject gently with her family – saying she was “having doubts about Islam” – her mother was “heartbroken”.

“My mother’s first words were: ’But you’re going to hell!’ They see that life is a test, and that my decision was but a challenge to my faith, and one which should be overcome.”

At first they tried to persuade her. Cousins telephoned her constantly, and an uncle was dispatched from Saudi Arabia to spend three days “answering her questions”.

In the eyes of the deeply-conservative Somali community in Leicester, of which her family was part, renouncing Islam was an act potentially punishable by death.

“It became more threatening. My mother felt incredibly guilty – she was also very, very angry.

"She blamed herself for the exposure to corrupt Western ways, and said: 'I knew it was wrong to bring you here. It was like putting you in the sea and asking you not to taste salt.’”

Mrs Farah has not spoken to her relatives since 2005.

She is adamant that it is not a problem with Islam, but rather one of intolerant societies.

“If you look at the Old Testament, there are some shocking things there,” she said. “But Jewish society realises that it’s no longer acceptable to stone someone to death, or to cut out their eyes, or enslave them. And the vast majority of Muslims realise that too. Unfortunately, with 1.6 billion adherents, a small minority can measure in the millions or tens of millions.

It’s just the extremists in Pakistan or Saudi or Sudan who fail to see the message of humanity behind the words.” and Somalia, and Nigeria, and Iran, and Iraq, etc., etc.

The crime of apostasy – for which Ms Ibrahim has been sentenced to death – is defined as the renouncing of your religion.

Some divisions of Christianity – among them Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Baptists – believe apostasy is a sin. But it is mainly seen as an Islamic crime, based on a Hadith – saying - from Prophet Muhammad who said, “Whoever changes his religion kill him.” But many scholars point out that numerous verses in the Koran guarantee freedom of belief. You can believe whatever you want when you're dead!

Nina Shea, director of the Centre for Religious Freedom at New York’s Hudson Institute, said that apostasy from Islam is criminalised in many, though not all, Muslim-majority states. Turkey does not criminalise it, but Iran and Saudi Arabia do imprison converts. Actual executions by governments for conversion are virtually unheard of today.

“In the case of Meriam Ibrahim, the government of Sudan is adopting the practice of Islamic extremist groups like Boko Haram, al-Shabab, and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria,” she said. “All of those groups do put Christian converts to death.”

Mrs Farah tries not to think about her estranged family.

Her mother moved the family back to Somalia shortly after they last spoke – fearful that more of her children would abandon the faith. For her own safety, the Telegraph is not revealing particulars about where she now lives in Britain.

“I try to focus on the positive things,” Mrs Farah said. “I craved my freedom, and it took me a long time to be brave enough. I try not to think of my family, as it upsets me too much. I just wish, idealistically I suppose, that it didn’t have to be like this.

Shackles Removed, More Comfortable Quarters for Meriam Since Giving Birth

The woman who gave birth in a Sudanese jail after she was sentenced to death for converting to Christianity has had her shackles removed, her lawyer has said.

Meriam Ibrahim's chains were removed on doctor's orders after she gave birth to a daughter in jail in Khartoum's twin city of Omdurman.

She was also moved from the prison cell she shared with other inmates to a prison clinic with a bed and air conditioning, her lawyer told AFP.

The case of the 27-year-old mother of two sparked an international outcry when a judge sentenced her to hang last month after she was found guilty of apostasy and adultery for marrying a Christian.

Born to a Muslim father, she was convicted under Islamic sharia law that has been in force in Sudan since 1983 and outlaws conversions on pain of death.

She gave birth just 12 days after the verdict. It had been thought she was still shackled throughout the delivery and beyond, according to the rules which stipulate the treatment of death row inmates in Sudan.

But Mohanad Mustafa, one of Ms Ibrahim's lawyers, told AFP yesterday that jailers removed the chains after she gave birth to her daughter.

'This is on order by the doctor,' he said, adding that he didn't think the shackles would be put back on again.

'After she gave birth the conditions got better,' said Mr Mustafa. 'She has air conditioning. She has a good bed,' he said after he and Ms Ibrahim's Catholic husband, Daniel Wani, visited her.

'She's fine. Usually her husband brings the food, and he gives her money' to buy any other items she needs.

The couple's 20-month-old son is also in prison with Ms Ibrahim and her daughter. Mr Mustafa said that despite the relative improvement in the conditions they are being kept in, 'a prison is a prison.'

Western governments and human rights groups have pressured the Sudanese to release Ms Ibrahim.

Last week, European Union leaders called for revocation of the 'inhumane verdict,' while U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urged Khartoum to repeal its laws banning Muslims from converting.

Prime Minister David Cameron said the way she has been treated 'is barbaric and has no place in today's world.'

Mr Mustafa and four other human rights lawyers handling her case for free have appealed the verdict.

'We're still waiting,' and there is no word on when the higher court's decision may come, Mr Mustafa said.

A church source was optimistic Ms Ibrahim would be freed because of international pressure on Sudan. 'I am hopeful that she will be released,' said the source, who asked for anonymity.

But Muslim extremist groups have been also lobbying the Islamist government over the case, prominent newspaper editor Khalid Tigani has said.

Ms Ibrahim, born in eastern Sudan's Gedaref state on November 3, 1987, is the daughter of a Sudanese Muslim father and an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian mother, according to a statement from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Khartoum.

The aid group Doctors Without Borders says an aerial bombing run over a Sudanese village hit one of its medical facilities, partially destroying a hospital.
The group said Tuesday the bombing run in the southern Sudanese region of South Kordofana occurred Monday. The group said five people from the village and one Doctors Without Borders staffer were wounded.
The group's head of mission, Brian Moller, said the group is shocked that its medical facility was hit, especially since it is clearly identified with a flag and a cross on the roof. He said Khartoum's government knows where the hospital is.
Residents in the region say the Khartoum government has increased bombing runs in recent weeks. Sudan's military is fighting soldiers more ideologically aligned with South Sudan.

Her father abandoned the family when she was five, and she was raised according to her mother's faith, it says.

'She has never been a Muslim in her life,' said the statement signed by Father Mussa Timothy Kacho, episcopal vicar for Khartoum. Miss Ibrahim joined the Catholic church shortly before she married the Mr Wani in December 2011, the vicar said.

Mr Wani was born in Khartoum but is now a U.S. citizen, the U.S. embassy confirmed to AFP on Tuesday.

The case against Ishag dates from 2013 when 'a group of men who claim to be Meriam's relatives' filed an initial legal action, the vicar's statement said.

In fact, she had never seen those men before, the statement added, in comments confirmed by Mr Mustafa.

Ms Ibrahim, who is a trained doctor, and her husband own a barber shop, a mini-mart and an agricultural project in Gedaref, the vicar said.

Mr Mustafa did not know if there is a link between the businesses and the case against Ms Ibrahim, but he told AFP: 'Surely there is something behind this'.

The case is the latest problem facing Sudan, an impoverished nation battling rebellions in its west and south, while more than six million people need humanitarian aid. 

This may not be an effective strategy for inspiring humanitarian aid.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Harvard Scientists Studied the Brains of Pot Smokers, and the Results Don't Look Good

Every day, the push toward national legalization of marijuana seems more and more inevitable.

As more and more politicians and noted individuals come out in favor of legalizing or at least decriminalizing different amounts of pot, the mainstream acceptance of the recreational use of the drug seems like a bygone conclusion. 

But before we can talk about legalization, have we fully understood the health effects of marijuana?

According to a new study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, researchers from Harvard and Northwestern studied the brains of 18- to 25-year-olds, half of whom smoked pot recreationally and half of whom didn't. What they found was rather shocking: Even those who only smoked few times a week had significant brain abnormalities in the areas that control emotion and motivation.

"There is this general perspective out there that using marijuana recreationally is not a problem — that it is a safe drug," said Anne Blood, a co-author of the study. "We are seeing that this is not the case."

The science: Similar studies have found a correlation between heavy pot use and brain abnormalities, but this is the first study that has found the same link with recreational users. The 20 people in the "marijuana group" of the study smoked four times a week on average; seven only smoked once a week. Those in the control group did not smoke at all.

"We looked specifically at people who have no adverse impacts from marijuana — no problems with work, school, the law, relationships, no addiction issues," said Hans Breiter, another co-author of the study.

Using three different neuroimaging techniques, researchers then looked at the nucleus accumbens and the amygdala of the participants. These areas are responsible for gauging the benefit or loss of doing certain things, and providing feelings of reward for pleasurable activities such as food, sex and social interactions.

"This is a part of the brain that you absolutely never ever want to touch," said Breiter. "I don't want to say that these are magical parts of the brain — they are all important. But these are fundamental in terms of what people find pleasurable in the world and assessing that against the bad things."

Shockingly, every single person in the marijuana group, including those who only smoked once a week, had noticeable abnormalities, with the nucleus accumbens and the amygdala showing changes in density, volume and shape. Those who smoked more had more significant variations.

What will happen next? The study's co-authors admit that their sample size was small. Their plan now is to conduct a bigger study that not only looks at the brain abnormalities, but also relates them to functional outcomes. That would be a major and important step in this science because, as of now, the research indicates that marijuana use may cause alterations to the brain, but it's unclear what that might actually mean for users and their brains. 

"People think a little marijuana shouldn't cause a problem if someone is doing OK with work or school," said Breiter. "Our data directly says this is not so."

I'm looking forward to the next study to see what the consequences of these aberrations in the brain actually mean. Aside from the significant increase in the likelihood of developing permanant schizophrenia, I expect that they will find that people stop maturing. Their tastes in music, clothing, hair styles, expression, etc., remain the same as when they started regular use of pot. It is normal for people to become more conservative as they age, but this, I think, doesn't happen with pot smokers.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Kurds and ISIS Continue to Slice Iraq into 3 Pieces or Perhaps 2

The capture of another northern Iraqi city by Sunni militants with the al-Qaeda splinter group ISIS on Monday is sending thousands of refugees fleeing southeast to Erbil, CBC News reports from Iraq, amid heightening tensions about possible U.S. intervention to halt the sweep of Iraq by insurgents.

Please see the map at the bottom of this post for updated movements in Iraq by ISIS and Kurds.

CBC News reporters Margaret Evans, Sasa Petricic, Nahlah Ayed and Tracey Seeley are on the ground in the northeast city of Erbil, where only 90 kilometres west in Mosul, militants with the ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) have taken control.

Erbil is considered safe by some Iraqis because it is controlled by the Kurds, who have managed to keep the militants away from this area of the country.

"Those militants have become famous for attacking and taking over the cities of Mosul and Tikrit," Petricic said. "They've been posting horrific pictures of people who have been killed and assassinated."

As the Iraqi military has run away during most of these situations, Petricic said, many of the people in Iraq are very afraid of these developments.

The Iraqi government has asked for help from the American government.

"There is some sign that maybe help is coming. The United States has moved a couple of major ships into the Persian Gulf — into this region. Perhaps positioning them for some kind of airstrike," Petricic said.

The refugees in Erbil have made it clear they want help. They just don't know where it will come from.

The U.S. is weighing talks with its arch-enemy Iran to support the Iraqi government in its battle with Sunni Islamist insurgents who routed Baghdad's army and seized the north of the country in the past week. Remember, Iran is Shia Muslim as is the government of Iraq, although Shias are a minority in Iraq. If you try to figure out who the good-guys are, Sunni or Shia, you eventually come to the conclusion that neither qualify.

UN human rights chief Navi Pillay said Monday ISIS militants have "almost certainly committed war crimes" with "cold-blooded executions" of hundreds of civilians, Petricic reported.

The radical Sunni group itself has boasted about killing hundreds of people, with the group releasing videos of militants tormenting Shia Muslim prisoners, including one man in an Iraqi army uniform, and asking them about religion. There are fears that such scenes will cause an explosion of sectarian bloodshed all over the region.

Ottawa's charg├ęs d'affairs left Baghdad yesterday. Canadians had already been warned to avoid all travel to Iraq because of the volatile situation there.

While critics have argued the Obama administration is being too slow to react to the crisis in Iraq, Larry Diamond, a Middle East analyst with Stanford University in California, says the U.S. president is being careful not to play into the hands of ISIS.

"He's handled this carefully and wisely. I think it would be a huge mistake to commit American ground troops. This is what these ruthless Islamist terrorist thugs want, is to enmesh the United States in another ground war in Iraq," Diamond said.
This image posted on a militant website appears to show militants from the
al-Qaeda-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) leading away
captured Iraqi soldiers in Tikrit, Iraq. (The Associated Press)
He added that unifying Iraqis across sectarian lines to repel the militants starts with government.

"I think the only way it can truly be stopped is by constructing a broadly inclusive government in Baghdad that Iraqis of all types want to fight for," he said. And you think there is time for that?

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday that American drone strikes are an option in a bid to halt the dramatic sweep by insurgents over a swath of Iraq.

He also said the Obama administration is willing to talk with Iran on ways to co-operate on helping to solve the crisis.

State department spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters on Monday that military co-operation with Iran is not in the cards, but that the two nations could seek "a responsible diplomatic approach."

"Not military co-ordination or co-operation, but there's a shared concern about the threat of [ISIS] and that's why we would be open to that discussion," Psaki said.

CBC's Meagan Fitzpatrick, reporting from Washington, said the idea would be for the U.S. to encourage Iran to try to persuade Iraq to build a more inclusive government, one that isn't built so much along sectarian lines.

Already, the commander of Iran's elite Quds Force, Gen. Ghasem Soleimani, is in Iraq, consulting with officials on how to roll back the al-Qaeda breakaway group leading the insurgent charge, known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Iraqi security officials said.

With Kirkuk and Jalawala, the Kurds have extended their territory. How far do they intend to go?

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Kurds and ISIS Carving up Iraq as US Trained and Supplied Army in Full-Speed Retreat

Iraqi Kurdish forces take Kirkuk as Isis sets its sights on Baghdad

Major oil city is controlled by peshmerga fighters after central government's army abandons posts in a rapid collapse.
Kirkuk province's Kurdish governor Najim al-Din Omar Karim,
in a flak jacket, with a peshmerga commander in northern Iraq.
Photograph: Marwan Ibrahim/AFP/Getty
The crisis in Iraq escalated rapidly on Thursday as Iraqi Kurdish forces took control of key military installations in the major oil city of Kirkuk and the Sunni jihadi group Isis revealed its intention to move on Baghdad and cities in the southern Shia heartland.

Kurdish peshmerga fighters entered Kirkuk after the central government's army abandoned its posts in a rapid collapse during which it lost control of much of the country's north.

Iraq has been fragile since the 2003 US-led invasion and the latest developments have raised fears that it is in danger of splintering along ethnic and sectarian lines. Would that be such a bad thing to carve up the troubled country along ethnic and sectarian lines? I think it would be the best way to a lasting peace.

Iraq has a Shia majority, with a substantial Sunni minority concentrated in Baghdad and the provinces north and west, who have long complained of being disenfranchised. Iraqi Kurds enjoy a large degree of autonomy and self-government in the north-east but have long coveted Kirkuk, a city with huge oil reserves which they regard as their historical capital.

In Kirkuk, truckloads of peshmerga fighters patrolled the streets, but sporadic clashes continued between Kurdish forces and Isis gunmen on the outskirts of the city. A Kurdish minister responsible for regional security forces survived a bomb blast as he drove to the city after visiting peshmerga units in the surrounding region, AFP reported. 

Since Tuesday, black-clad Isis fighters have seized Iraq's second biggest city, Mosul, and Tikrit, hometown of the former dictator Saddam Hussein, as well as other towns and cities north of Baghdad. They continued their lightning advance on Thursday, moving into towns just an hour's drive from the capital.

About 500,000 people have fled Mosul, home to 2 million, and the surrounding province, many seeking safety in autonomous Kurdistan.

Isis's spokesman, Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, said on Thursday that the group's fighters intended to take the southern cities of Kerbala and Najaf, which hold two of the holiest shrines for Shia Muslims. (ISIS is Sunni).

US officials have said they are considering ways to help the Iraqi government even as it emerged that the Obama administration had rebuffed a secret request from the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, to bomb Isis positions.

Reports from Iraq have painted a confused picture of a rapidly developing situation with fighting reported in a number of key locations on Wednesday night and on Thursday, including on the outskirts of the city of Samarra, where government officials said Isis fighters had been driven back.

According to Army Staff Lieutenant General Sabah al-Fatlawi, quoted by Agence France-Presse, "elite forces" backed by air strikes pushed back a "fierce attack by Isis fighters who then bypassed the city heading towards Baghdad". (Hmmm. Maybe that wasn't such a good idea.)

Complicating the picture of the past few days were emerging suggestions that other Sunni insurgent groups, including Ba'ath nationalists, supporters of the executed Saddam, had played a role in the series of stunning setbacks for the Iraqi military.

The sudden collapse of the Iraqi army has raised international concerns about a rapidly widening regional crisis that has implications for Iraq's powerful neighbours, Iran and Turkey.

Iran's president, Hassan Rouhani, warned in a televised address on Thursday that Iran would combat the "violence and terrorism" of Sunni extremists in Iraq. (Iran is Shia). The foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, offered Iran's support for Iraq's "fight against terrorism" during a phone call with his Iraqi counterpart, Iranian state TV reported.

In Baghdad residents described panic buying and rising fear.

A meeting of MPs called by Maliki to vote on introducing an emergency law was cancelled after insufficient MPs attended. Are they running too?

The Iraqi leader – a Shia whose authoritarian and sectarian policies have been blamed by many as the root cause of the country's crisis – is trying to hold on to power after indecisive elections in April. The mounting sense of anxiety in the capital followed a statement by a spokesman for Isis who said the group had scores to settle with Maliki's government. Yep. They're running.

Hundreds of young men crowded in front of the main army recruiting centre in Baghdad on Thursday after authorities urged Iraqis to help battle the insurgents.

The army of the Shia-led government in Baghdad has essentially fled in the face of the onslaught, abandoning buildings and weapons to the fighters who aim to create a strict Sunni caliphate on both sides of the Iraq-Syria border. For now, at least, but how long before they go for the rest of Syria with more weapons than ever? I don't think Iran or even Turkey are in any real immediate danger. Won't say the same for Jordan - then what? Israel? 

In Tikrit, militants have set up military councils to run the towns they captured, residents said. "They came in hundreds to my town and said they are not here for blood or revenge but they seek reforms and to impose justice," said a tribal figure from the town of Alam, north of Tikrit. 

"They picked a retired general to run the town. 'Our final destination will be Baghdad, the decisive battle will be there,' that's what their leader of the militants group kept repeating."

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Trinity Western Law School Loses B.C. Law Society Vote on Accreditation

Thousands of B.C. lawyers have voted for a non-binding resolution to reverse the B.C. Law Society's April decision to accredit Trinity Western University's new Christian law school, which has been criticized for its stance against same-sex relationships.
A special B.C. Law Society vote was called after critics objected to Trinity
Western University's covenant, which forbids all students and staff
from engaging in sexual relationships outside of marriage
between a man and woman. (Trinity Western University)
The resolution directs the board of governors, known as Benchers, to deny law society accreditation to TWU's law school.

What happened here is a disgraceful display of bigotry - the very thing the Law Society accuses TWU of. Think about it - I'm willing to bet that there are no gay students at TWU. I'm also willing to bet that there are no gay people who want to attend TWU. Consequently, the possibility of discrimination is approximately zero.

Look at it like this - if North Vancouver wrote a by-law forbidding people from jumping over Grouse Mountain, would you claim discrimination against high-jumpers? No, of course not, because no-one is going to try to jump over Grouse Mountain with any possibility of success.

 The by-law may discriminate in theory, but in reality, it affects no-one. TWU's sexual covenant cannot discriminate against a demographic (gays wanting to attend a Christian law school) that doesn't exist!

Therefore, this act by the Law Society of BC is not about discrimination against gays and lesbians, it is totally about discrimination against Christians. 

It has been obvious for decades that gay rights and freedom of religion were going to collide and this is the beginning of that collision. The Law Societies of BC, Ontario, and Nova Scotia have chosen which flag they will march under.

They have the right to do that, but it is not a 'moral' right, nor is it even truth. For the only people really being discriminated against are those who wish to attain a law degree in a Christian University. 

The truth is, this is an anti-Christian movement, and that's all it is.

Of the B.C. Law Society's 13,000 members, 3,210 voted in favour and 968 were opposed. However, the resolution is not binding, so does not automatically reverse the decision to accredit the law school.

"The decision regarding whether to admit graduates from the proposed law school at TWU is a Bencher decision," said president Jan Lindsay.

"However, the Benchers will give the result of today’s [Tuesday's] members' meeting serious and thoughtful consideration."

The special vote was called over the Christian university’s controversial covenant, which forbids students and staff from engaging in sexual relationships outside of marriage between a man and woman.

Victoria lawyer Michael Mulligan, who triggered the vote, believes that covenant is discriminatory.

“We are assessing an institution that wishes to discriminate based on sexual orientation," said Mulligan before the vote.

"In my judgment, that is wrong and offensive, and our law society ought not to countenance that or indeed approve the school as they are asking for."

After the vote Mulligan was pleased 77 per cent of his colleagues who voted agreed.

"In my judgment, this gets us on the right side of history of this issue, both from a legal and a moral perspective," said Mulligan.

But TWU president Bob Kuhn says the university's right to religious freedom must also be protected.

"Difficult decisions involving fundamental rights and freedoms should not be decided by popular opinion," said Kuhn in a press release after Tuesday's vote.

"In a free and democratic society, the faith of TWU graduates cannot preclude them from practising law," said Kuhn. "A just society protects the rights of religious minorities."

Kuhn says the new law school has met every legal standard put before it.

"We have to do a better job of identifying the need for religious freedom in our country, because it's clear people are not giving it the important place it deserves or needs to live in a free and democratic society."

Tuesday's vote was part of a special general meeting by teleconference at 16 locations across the province. It was expected to be the largest meeting ever for the society.

Other provinces have also weighed in on TWU:

The Law Society of Upper Canada in Ontario voted against approving the TWU law school earlier this spring.
The Nova Scotia bar society only granted conditional acceptance if the school changes the covenant for law students or allows them to opt out.

TWU has launched a court action challenging those decisions.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Sunni Militants Drive Iraqi Army Out of Mosul - Are They a Threat to Iraq Itself?

BAGHDAD — Sunni militants spilling over the border from Syria seized control Tuesday of the northern city of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest, in the most stunning success yet in a rapidly widening insurgency that threatens to drag the region into war.

Mosul is believed to descend from the Biblical city of Nineveh.

Having consolidated control over Sunni-dominated Nineveh Province, armed gunmen were heading on the main road to Baghdad, Iraqi officials said, and had already taken over parts of Salahuddin Province. Thousands of civilians fled south toward Baghdad and east toward the autonomous region of Kurdistan, where security is maintained by a fiercely loyal army, the peshmerga.

The Iraqi Army apparently crumbled in the face of the militant assault, as soldiers dropped their weapons, shed their uniforms for civilian clothes and blended in with the fleeing masses. The militants freed thousands of prisoners and took over military bases, police stations, banks and provincial headquarters, before raising the black flag of the jihadi group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria over public buildings. The bodies of soldiers, police officers and civilians lay scattered in the streets.

“They took control of everything, and they are everywhere,” said one soldier who fled the city, and gave only his first name, Haidar.

The swift capture of large areas of the city by militants aligned with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria - ISIS, represented a climactic moment on a long trajectory of Iraq’s unraveling since the withdrawal of American forces at the end of 2011.

The rising insurgency in Iraq seemed likely to add to the foreign policy woes of the Obama administration, which has faced sharp criticism for its swap of five Taliban officers for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl and now must answer questions about the death of five Americans by friendly fire in Afghanistan on Monday night.

Critics have long warned that America’s withdrawal of troops from Iraq, without leaving even a token force, invited an insurgent revival. You didn't need to be a rocket scientist to see that, but then, politicians and military leaders are not rocket scientists either.

The apparent role of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in Tuesday’s attack helps vindicate those, among them the former ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, who have called for arming more moderate groups in the Syrian conflict.

Heavy fighting between Iraqi security forces and Sunni militants erupted Saturday in Mosul.
By Tuesday, extremists had taken over the city,  freeing thousands of prisoners and seizing
military bases, police stations, banks, the airport and the provincial governor’s headquarters.
The United Nations estimates that 500,000 Iraqis have fled Mosul.
Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki ordered a state of emergency for the entire country and called on friendly governments for help, without mentioning the United States specifically.

In Washington, the State Department spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, said in a statement that the United States was “deeply concerned about the events that have transpired in Mosul,” and that the Obama administration supported a “strong, coordinated response to push back this aggression.” The statement said the administration would provide “all appropriate assistance to the government of Iraq” and called the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria “not only a threat to the stability of Iraq, but a threat to the entire region.”
Armed extremists have held Anbar Province, including the city of Falluja 
and parts of neighboring Ramadi, for the past six months. Anbar Province is in the
darker gray along with Nineveh Province (where the arrow is pointing).
The red dot is Mosul. The 3 black dots from left to right are
Ramadi, Falluja, and Baghdad
(That's how close they are to taking over the country).
Mosul was the last major urban area to be pacified by American troops, and when they left, the United States contended that Iraq was on the path to peace and democracy.

Even as insurgents consolidated control of Mosul and surrounding Nineveh Province on Tuesday, they looked to other targets. They cut off a portion of the main highway that links the city with Baghdad, the capital, and secured villages near Kirkuk, a major city that is in dispute between Arabs and Kurds, according to security officials.

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, is an expanded version of Al Qaeda in Iraq that controls a number of cities in northeastern Syria and western Iraq. Its brutal tactics alienated it from the Syrian rebel movement, as did the fact it has emphasized the establishment of an Islamic state over the fight against Mr. Assad. It was officially disowned by Al Qaeda in February.

The Sunni insurgent group has emerged as the leading force for the foreign fighters streaming into Syria, exploiting the chaos of the civil war as it tries to lay the groundwork for an Islamic state.

For more than six months, the militants have maintained control of Falluja, in Iraq’s Sunni-Arab Anbar province, a city where hundreds of Americans died trying to crush an insurgency. While Falluja carries symbolic importance to the United States, the seizure of Mosul, a city of 1.4 million with a mix of ethnicities, sects and religions, is more ominous for the stability of Iraq.

“It’s a shock,” said James Jeffrey, a former United States ambassador to Iraq. “It’s extremely serious. It’s far more serious than Falluja.”

Mosul is a transportation hub for goods coming from Turkey and elsewhere. An important oil pipeline is nearby, carrying nearly 15 percent of the country’s oil flow to a port on the Turkish coast.

The chaos in Mosul also illustrated how the violence in Iraq has increasingly merged with the civil war in Syria, as extremists now operate on both sides of the porous border. On Tuesday, local officials claimed that many of the fighters were jihadists who had come from the lawless frontier that divides Iraq and Syria, a region where they have increasingly operated with impunity even as President Bashar al-Assad has reclaimed ground lost to the insurgents elsewhere in Syria.

A Kurdish security officer stood guard as families fleeing the violence in the Iraqi city
of Mosul waited at a checkpoint near Erbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan. Credit Reuters
Osama al-Nujaifi, the Iraqi Parliament speaker, a Sunni from Mosul, called the fighting a “foreign invasion of Iraq, carried out by terrorist groups from different countries.”

The rout in Mosul was a humiliating defeat for Iraq’s security forces, led by Prime Minister Maliki and his Shiite-dominated government, and equipped and trained by the United States at a cost of billions of dollars. As the insurgency has gained strength over the last year, Mr. Maliki has been criticized for pursuing security policies that alienated ordinary Sunnis, such as sweeps that rounded up hundreds of men, innocent and guilty alike, and the arrest of the wives of suspected militants.

Referring to the security forces in Mosul, Mr. Jeffrey, now a visiting fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said, “they had lost the support of the people because they had a sectarian policy, and I saw it with my own eyes.”

Highlighting the gravity of the situation, some of Iraq’s Shiite religious authorities in the holy city of Najaf issued statements Tuesday in support of the army, which is dominated by Shiites. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the top Shiite spiritual leader in the world, emphasized his “support to the sons within the security forces.” A representative in Najaf for Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, went further, urging Shiites to join the security forces.

As audacious as the assault on Mosul was, it was not entirely surprising. Fighting had raged for days there, and in recent years, analysts say, militants had raised millions of dollars a month there through extortion and kidnapping. “ISIS has been targeting Mosul for two years,” said Jessica D. Lewis, research director at the Institute for the Study of War, referring to the militant group.

Now, Mosul, which nearly became part of French-controlled Syria after World War I, when the allies redrew the map of the Middle East, could become an even more important base for the group as it pursues its stated goals of erasing the border with Syria and establishing an Islamic state that transcends both.

Ayham Kamel, director of the Middle East and North Africa for the Eurasia Group, a political risk consulting firm in Washington, said in an assessment emailed to clients that the militant group would “use cash reserves from Mosul’s banks, military equipment from seized military and police bases and the release of 2,500 fighters from local jails to bolster its military and financial capability.”

For Mr. Maliki, the violence in Mosul represents a significant political challenge as he tries to secure a third term as prime minister. His coalition won the most seats in Parliament in national elections in April, but not a majority, and he has been negotiating with other factions to form a new government.

“This will raise serious questions about Maliki’s leadership,” said Mr. Jeffrey, adding, “The country has to figure out if it wants Maliki to continue as prime minister.”

The Mosul assault came in a week when Mr. Maliki’s government has been trying to beat back a surging militant offensive concentrated in central and northern Iraq. In the cities of Samarra and Ramadi, the militants have stormed police stations, government offices and even a university. On Saturday, car bombs killed scores of people across Baghdad in one of the deadliest coordinated attacks in weeks.

After militants captured Falluja at the end of last year, the United States rushed guns, ammunition and Hellfire missiles to Iraq, but those seemed to make little difference. In some cases, the weapons were captured by insurgents in Anbar, and on Tuesday, it appeared that more American equipment had fallen into the hands of the militants, including American-made Humvees.

The army responded to the rout on Tuesday by bombing at least one military base that had been captured by the militants, but there was no immediate sign of a broader offensive to reclaim the city. Early Tuesday morning, militants stormed the offices of the provincial governor and later in the day, dozens of army and police vehicles were burning in the streets, witnesses said.

Residents said militants started moving into the city the night before, taking positions that had been abandoned by the army. Around 1 a.m., one resident, who gave his name as Abu Mustafa, left his home and found militants in sport utility vehicles, some dressed in jeans, others in Afghan-style clothing. Some, he said, spoke Arabic in accents other than Iraqi.

“They greeted us, and when they saw that we were scared they said, ‘We are not here to fight you. Just stay away and do not interfere,’ ” he recalled. “ ‘We are here to fight Maliki’s army, not you.’ ”

By nightfall on Tuesday, the city was calm, residents said, but there was no electricity, water supplies were running low and there was little fuel to run generators. The bodies of militants had been taken away for burial, but the corpses of security forces still lay in the streets.

Suadad Al-Salhy reported from Baghdad, and Tim Arango from Istanbul. Kareem Fahim contributed reporting from Amman, Jordan, and Rick Gladstone from New York.