PLEASE VISIT www.CenterforPluralism.com for all information


Friday, June 29, 2007

Jewish Journal on Pluralism

Jewish Journal on internal Pluralism

We need more Diana Tehrani's around, the article follows my notes.

I am pleased to share this report. We are blessed in Dallas as we have done events like UnityDay USA, Thanksgiving Celebration and other events, where in we bring people from all religions together and within each religion, as many denominations as possible to pray together at least once a year falling the internal barriers as well as the external. We have done programs for different religions as well. We have to rise to the highest ideals of the religion - service to mankind, as Diana Tehrani has done. May God bless her!

Honors pile up for UCLA graduate Diana Tehrani
by Derek Schlom, Contributing Writer

Diana Tehrani
Diana Tehrani has been busy at UCLA, and the 22-year-old biology graduate now has the awards to prove it.

As one of 18 recipients of the Alumni Association's Outstanding Senior Award this year, and one of three recipients of the Young Humanitarian Award in a graduating class of more than 9,000 students, Tehrani is only the third student in UCLA's history to receive both awards simultaneously.

One of the deciding factors in selecting Tehrani for the honors was her work over the last two years with the UCLA Mobile Clinic, which offers basic medical exams and screenings to homeless people in West Hollywood.

"I looked into the Mobile Clinic more and more and found that they did good work," Tehrani said. "I also appreciated that there was extensive training, so students could really be involved and were not just given a minor role."
After she started volunteering for the clinic, Tehrani said she noticed that the fragile mental health of the patients impaired her ability to identify their physical ailments.

"It is difficult to address someone's physical symptoms when a mental illness is running their life," she said.

Tehrani, who intends to study psychiatry in medical school, said homelessness is a symptom of deeper mental health issues.

"Without addressing the root of the problem, it is difficult to really help in any long-term way, and it was clear that there was a serious unmet need," she said.

Tehrani worked to add mental health care to the mobile clinic. She personally recruited local psychiatrists to volunteer their time and secured a $10,000 grant from the Donald A. Strauss Public Service Scholarship Foundation for her program, Hearts and Minds.

The UCLA Mobile Clinic will begin offering mental health services later this year, and Tehrani plans to take a year off to work with Hearts and Minds before applying to medical schools.

The La Jolla native was also an active member of the Jewish community at UCLA. As the education chair of UCLA's Hillel, Tehrani organized a weekly program called, "Pizza and Pluralism."

"I invited Jewish leaders, professors and rabbis from different Jewish backgrounds and denominations to speak on a variety of topics related to Judaism," she said. "The goal was to bring Jews from varying backgrounds together."

Tehrani said her Jewish identity has influenced her zeal for community service.
"Judaism provides a really strong basis for a socially conscious lifestyle," she said. "Many of the philosophies that are important to me and that inspire me are also important in Judaism, like tikkun olam, repairing the world."

"She doesn't just want a better world," said Meg Sullivan, a UCLA spokeswoman, "[she] is actively pursuing one."

In addition to her work with the Mobile Health Clinic and Hillel, Tehrani took on a full course load, worked as a tutor and as editor of UCLA's student-run Undergraduate Science Journal and volunteered for the Didi Hirsch Suicide Prevention Crisis Hotline. This was in addition to her work with the Casa Heiwa and Angelina Mentorship Project and the Undergraduate Genomics Research Initiative. She was also named a Mahatma Gandhi Scholar.

Tehrani's plate was full at UCLA, so she says the key to managing her time was to be passionate about her activities.

"It helps to devote my time to things I genuinely enjoy doing and not constantly doing things that I feel I should be doing for some other reason," she said.

"That way, if I have to sleep less, I won't mind so much, because my time will be spent doing something worthwhile. It's impossible to get bored."


Thursday, June 14, 2007

Indian oversight, let's fix it.

India: An oversight, let's fix it.

It is an oversight, Let's fix it.
It is not fanaticism, it is an oversight.

I will re-design the board to include Zoroastrianism, Judaism and Baha'i faiths...or any one can do that. The Bharati Magazine that comes out of India Association in Dallas, had this board as their cover page last month, it was nice, but it was simply an oversight.

The Joint secretary of India Association, Mr. Sury Thiagarajan was pleased and showed that to me, and he had a reason be pleased, a proud step to be inclusive. However, I instantly noticed the missing Zoroastrian symble and then the Jewish and Bahai symbols as well.

Three days from Sury's pointing out was the Workshop on Zoroastrianism in Dallas and I had mentioned to him that I will re-work it. He was happier, as he always has been an inclusive person.

We have worked to remove the Zoroastrian Farohar symbol from the movie poster of Alexander, and I have worked with the Dept of Justice to include the Jain symbol in their logo...

The Pluralism logo is the emblem of the Foundation for Pluralism situated at: http://www.foundationforpluralism.com/ and Indianpluralism@yahoogroups.com and foundationforpluralism@yahoogroups.com

Let's find where this board was planted... and come up with some $500 or less, and get a new board made to replace the old one at that post.... we will write to the President and PM of India to ask the nation to consciously put signs that are inclusive and reflective of a Pluralistic India. One nation under Tiranga with liberty, justice and inclusion of all.

May be the President of India Association in Dallas, Mr. Hari Patro can take the lead and get it done, our Association has done a lot of great things around and we can hoist one more flag for us, the Dallas Indians Group.


In a message dated 6/14/2007 9:15:52 A.M. Central Daylight Time, baxxx@gmail.com writes:They left our Zoroastrianishm I suppose because of the small numbers of us in India. America is also getting there. Eventualy the rest of the world will also learn to live together, after we all experience enough strife caused by religious fanatics in the name of God.The best Photograph for life time especially for Indians

Updated: at 5:00 PM

Thanks for the notes from my Muslim, Zoroastrian and Jewish friends, listed below.

The suggestion? It could be a number of them, one that resonates is as follows, write your own phrase or sentence that reflects the pluralistic heritage of India, example:

Indian Bhai Zara Aisay Jiyo, sub mil ke jiyo.

Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Islam, Christianity, Bahai, Zoroastrian, Atheists, Judaism...

You are invited to discuss on the Pluralistic nature of Indian Society. Our goal is to seek ideas and make attempts to move towards solutions to ensure continuance of India's Pluralistic Heritage. The world is one family.

On this forum we ask you to be open to ideas from the fanatics of the divide to the intellectuals. It is the only way we can learn all aspects of an issue. Any long term policy will have to be based on factoring in all expressions. The stability of a civil society depends on how the powerful treat their weak. Mighty empires have come and gone, whereas good governance will last and be remembered.

Multiple ways of worshipping the divine has been a way of life through out our history. Our people have believed that all rivers lead to the ocean. That open mindedness has allowed us all to embrace diverse ideas and expressions with ease. India is proud to have all expressions of divinity from Atheists, Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Jain, Jewish, Sikh to a Zoroastrian.

Hinduism, the land’s oldest practicing faith can sum up one of the purposes of life is to become Brahma. When one becomes Brahma, he belongs to all, and everything belongs to him. A man becomes free from all prejudices and the elements like ignorance, ill-will, malice, anger and desires. That is one’s struggle to get freedom from the bondages and one’s effort to be good to all mankind. That is also the single most important item of faith that Prophet Muhammad taught thru Islam and you will find that essence in every faith.

From: kashif-ul-huda <> Cc: Date: Thu Jun 14, 2007 2:36 pm Subject: Re: It is an oversight about India, let's fix it.
and what about Indians who do not follow any religion? those who are agnostic and atheist what will they do?

In a message dated 6/14/2007 1:02:40 P.M. Central Standard Time, xxxxgreenblatt@gmail.com writes:
Thank you Mike for the suggestion and for caring. How can fit Z, J and B with the word Indian? Perhaps we can add a sentence below the poster that says: "India includes followers of all of the above faiths as well as Zoroastrianism, Judaism and Baha'i". What do you think?
It has to be a phrase then... Indian Bhai Zara Aisay Jiyo

Jai Hind

Mike Ghouse

In a message dated 6/14/2007 9:15:52 A.M. Central Daylight Time, xxramji@gmail.com writes:

They left our Zoroastrianishm I suppose because of the small numbers of us in India. America is also getting there. Eventualy the rest of the world will also learn to live together, after we all experience enough strife caused by religious fanatics in the name of God.
The best Photograph for life time especially for Indians

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Evils of Holocaust Denial

The Evils of Holocaust Denial

June 12, 2007; Page A17


BALI, Indonesia -- Today, religious leaders from many faiths and nations will gather here for a landmark conference in a unique place -- an island of tolerance, not terrorism. In a world in which religion is manipulated to justify the most horrific acts, it is our moral obligation not only to refute the claims of terrorists and their ideological enablers but also to defend the rights of others to worship differently: in freedom, security and dignity.

While there are many things that can be said and done to advance this cause, one issue in particular stands out as something we religious leaders must unite in denouncing: Holocaust denial. This denial is not a new phenomenon. Yet it is becoming an increasingly pervasive one. Long a hobbyhorse of the neo-Nazis and other figures from the fringe, it is gaining currency among millions of people who are either ignorant of history or are being misled by their media, their governments or -- sad to say -- their own religious authorities.

A scene from the liberation of Auschwitz.

In recent years, we have seen that notorious 19th century Russian forgery, "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," being widely disseminated in bookshops from London to Cairo. We have seen Hitler's "Mein Kampf" become a bestseller in Turkey. We have seen schools in Britain stop teaching the Holocaust for fear of offending their students. We have seen notorious academic frauds invited by the president of Iran to raise "questions" about the Holocaust -- as if this is just another controversy in which all opinions are equally valid. We have seen the Holocaust deniers use the fashions of moral relativism and historical revisionism to deny not just truth but fact, all the while casting themselves as martyrs against censorship.

Worst of all, we have seen Holocaust denial being turned to an insidious political purpose: By lying about the events of the past, the deniers are paving the way toward the crimes of the future. They are rendering that well-worn yet necessary phrase "Never Again" meaningless by seeking to erase from the pages of history the very event that all people of good faith seek never to repeat.

Let us be clear: The real purpose of Holocaust denial is to degrade and dehumanize the Jewish people. By denying or trivializing the murder of six million Jews by the Nazis and their allies, the deniers are seeking to advance their notion that the victims of the 20th century's greatest crime are, in fact, that century's greatest victimizers. By denying or trivializing the Holocaust, the deniers are seeking to rob Jews of their history and their memory -- and what is a people without history and memory?

Indeed, by denying or trivializing the Holocaust, the deniers are perpetrating what is, in effect, a second genocide. Extinguished as they were from the ranks of the living, Hitler's Jewish victims are now, in effect, to be extinguished from the ranks of the dead. That is the essence of Holocaust denial.

Yet even as we recognize the threat that Holocaust denial poses to Jews everywhere, we must also be cognizant of the peril it represents to people of all faith traditions. Nations or governments that historically have given free rein to Jew-hatred -- whether in Medieval Europe or Inquisition-era Spain or 1930s Germany -- have invariably done lasting damage to themselves as well.

Today, the countries in which Holocaust denial is most rampant also tend to be the ones that are most economically backward and politically repressive. This should not be surprising: Dishonest when it comes to the truth of the past, these countries are hardly in a position to reckon honestly with the problems of the present. Yes, the short-term purposes of unscrupulous rulers can always be served by whipping up mass hysteria and duping their people with lurid conspiracy theories. In the long term, however, truth is the essential ingredient in all competent policy making. Those who tell big lies about the Holocaust are bound to tell smaller lies about nearly everything else.

Holocaust denial is thus the most visible symptom of an underlying disease -- partly political, partly psychological, but mainly spiritual -- which is the inability (or unwillingness) to recognize the humanity of others. In fighting this disease, religious leaders have an essential role to play. Armed with the knowledge that God created religion to serve as rahmatan lil 'alamin, or a blessing for all creation, we must guard against efforts to demonize or belittle followers of other faiths.

Last year, Muslims from Nigeria to Lebanon to Pakistan rioted against what they saw as the demonizing of their prophet by Danish cartoonists. In a better world, those same Muslims would be the first to recognize how insulting it is to Jews to have the apocalypse that befell their fathers' generation belittled and denied.

Sadly, we do not live in such a world. Yet if radical clerics can move their assemblies to hatred and violence -- as was the case during the Danish cartoons episode -- then surely moderate and peace-loving clerics can also move theirs to rise above their prejudices and facilitate good relations between peoples of different faiths. In the words of the Holy Quran, which echo the story of creation from the book of Genesis: "Oh mankind! We created you from a single pair, male and female, and made you into nations and tribes, so that you might come to know one another, and not to despise each other."

Today in Bali, we look forward to hearing different ideas from diverse voices on how to advance this divine goal. Facing up frankly to the evil of Holocaust denial will be evidence that the conferees are "living in truth" and determined to act against hatred.

Mr. Wahid is the former president of Indonesia and co-founder of the LibForAll Foundation. Mr. Lau, a survivor of the Buchenwald concentration camp, is the former Chief Rabbi of Israel. Today's conference in Bali, "Tolerance Between Religions: A Blessing for All Creation," is cosponsored by LibForAll Foundation, the Wahid Institute and the Museum of Tolerance.

Hate Sermons from the Pulpit

Hate Sermons from the Pulpit.
Mike Ghouse, May 2, 2007

It is our duty to keep law and order and faithfully guard the safety of every citizen. Hate is one of the many sources of disrupting the peace in a society and it is our duty to track down the source of such hate and work on mitigating it. We have an obligation to maintain a balance in the society

We lose that balance and that elusive equilibrium if we let hate mongers, hate sermons and hate lectures creep in our societies.

The Muslims have been diligently cleaning up the hate sermons from happening in their communities in the United States and Canada. I can recall one incident last year in Canada where one such alleged hate monger Yaseen Sheikh was not allowed to land in Canada and was sent right back to his home; The United Kingdom. The Muslims are making serious efforts to prevent radical preachers from making any speeches in their communities and their Mosques. I am sure some one slips by here and there, but the vigil is there and the guard is on. Islam is about bringing a balance to the society, and American Muslims are vigorously fighting to prevent the Mosque pulpit to ever go into the hands of hate generators.

Hate peddling is unfortunately human, and doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with religion, any religion.

As all the religions teach to overcome hate, here are some quotes about doing unto others;

Bahai: Lay not on any soul a load which ye would not wish to be laid upon you, and desire not for any one the things ye would not desire for yourselves. Writings of Baha'u'llah

Buddhism: Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful. Udana-Varga 5, 1

Christianity: All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you do ye so to them; for this is the law and the prophets. Matthew 7:1

Confucianism: Do not do to others what you would not like yourself. Then there will be no resentment against you, either in the family or in the state. Analects 12:2

Hinduism: This is the sum of duty; do naught onto others what you would not have them do unto you. Mahabharata 5,1517

Islam: No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself. Sunnah

Jain: "Living beings (souls) render services to one another" or in short "Live and let live."

Judaism: What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellowman. This is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary. Talmud, Shabbat 3id

Sikh: All humans are same and so we should treat them all the same – Guru Gobind Singh

Taoism: Regard your neighbor's gain as your gain, and your neighbor's loss as your own loss. Tai Shang Kan Yin P'ien

Wicca: Harm None

Zoroastrianism: That nature alone is good which refrains from doing another whatsoever is not good for itself. Dadisten-I-dinik, 94, 5

As we pledge one nation under God with liberty and justice for all, we have to look into each other and look at ourselves, and lift ourselves up from the hate pit and come together on a level playing field of goodwill and generosity.

The business side of faith has thrived on ridiculing others faiths and manufacturing a devil out of thin air. There is a misplaced spirituality in operation; our faith is the best, because others aren’t. Wow, what logic! Arrogance and Spirituality are inversely proportional; one cannot be religious when there is an element of arrogance in it. Other faiths don’t have to be bad for mine to be good. My little daughter says if there is no negative selling how would the business of Church survive? How would you grow congregations and the monies that come with it? Shamefully hate and fear binds the people, even though much of it is manufactured. Who has the time to question? A majority of us do not really hate anyone, nor do we care for those sermons, we go there as a social event and often honoring the courtesy of invitation. However, the extremists among us cash on it, they know what binds us.

It is the human weakness that allows the propagation of hate, and we shamelessly abuse our holy texts to justify human killing and destruction of the world be it Armageddon, Jihad, Promised land or some such notion to satisfy one’s disruptive mindset. Whether it happens in Church, Mosque, Temple, Synagogue or any place of worship, the silent majority puts up with it and does not speak out. We go to the place of worship to rid ourselves of our sins – the elements of ill-will, malice, hate, anger and other entrapments. The pulpit has become a loading dock for malice and incitement to look down upon others who hold a different view.

Anya Cardell writes (http://www.anyacordell.com). “This follows on the lecture last week by Steven Emerson at Congregation Beth Shalom in Northbrook, attended and warmly received by about 500, entitled ‘The Terrorists Living among us’. Both Pipes and Emerson have long histories of virulent anti-Muslim efforts. Pipes invented what he calls ‘Sudden Jihad Syndrome’, which he defines as the sudden change of any normal appearing, apparently peaceful Muslim, who may turn on a dime into a radical terrorist. …so I'm not going to cite right now a bunch of similarly appalling assertions from Pipes, Emerson, and their cronies--but they are truly terrifying, adding to the 'open season' mentality currently profiling, stereotyping, smearing, and generalizing all Muslims. I have met the families of innocent men who were murdered in the hate-backlash of 9/11, and know that there are all-too-real consequences of such hate and fear-mongering. “Additionally, a requisite for war is demonizing and dehumanizing the Other, so that we can shrug, rationalize or justify what we call 'collateral damage', and how innocents are caught in the crosshairs or ensnared in big nets, (roundups, detentions, etc.), all in the name of 'security'.”

Should our places of Worship offer space for hate sermons or for bridge building lectures? I hope the sanctity of the synagogue is not violated by the Emerson, Pipes and his likes and no one ought to be allowed to preach hate towards other people.

It is in our interest and the interest of public safety that the sermons delivered at places of worship fill our hearts with love, generosity and goodwill and build bridges for a safe and peaceful nation.

What if we make our speeches in the place of worship a public record? To keep peace, law and order in our country, we need to consider hate speech as a crime. The speech that would permanently place wedges between our communities injects distrust and destroys the concept of one nation under God.

Mike Ghouse is a Speaker, Thinker, Writer and a Moderator. He is president of the Foundation for Pluralism and is a frequent guest on talk radio, discussing interfaith, political and civic issues. He founded the World Muslim Congress with a simple theme: "good for Muslims and good for the world." His personal Website is www.MikeGhouse.net and his articles can be found on the Websites mentioned above and in his Blogs: http://MikeGhouseforAmerica.Blogspot.com and http://MikeGhouse.Sulekha.com . He can be reached at MikeGhouse@gmail.com. Mike lives in Carrollton with his family and has been a Dallasite since 1980.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Being Hindu is much different

Being Hindu is much different in the US
Mike Ghouse, June 9, 2007

Religion in India is a subconscious activity, while it is a conscious, planned effort here in the US . "To be Hindu in America is much more an intentional choice than it is in India ." Diana Eck of the Pluralism center in Harvard states.

I am trained to think if the same responses were applicable to others. They seem to hold true for Indian Muslims, Indian Christians or Indian Sikhs as they hold true for Indian Hindus. Indeed, the parents in every heritage feel the same that they are going to loose their children. It is indeed an intentional choice.

Dr. Uma Mysorekar adds,” We just observed and followed and never questioned,” Most certainly it was the practice for immigrants in their home country. Welcome to America , the land of the free and the brave. The kids want to know why they cannot do certain things, and the teens want to know why they cannot go out on a date? The girls want to know why they cannot have their friends and their brothers sleep over in their homes?

We are learning and working on differentiating between culture and religion. The more people we interact with, from the same religion but from different cultures, we start seeing two different values. Religion is internal and invisible devotion you have between you and the creator, whereas the culture is exhibitive in nature. It is equally true for people of all faiths that they show off their religiosity more than they would back home. Perhaps not being with the dear ones, particularly for the first generation immigrants, there is a spiritual vacuum compensated by showing up at the place of worship, not necessarily for worship but to seek homeness.

Is it our insecurity? Are we driven to raise our kids as our copies? Are we afraid to raise our kids to be independent and free? Is our joy dependent on our kids obeying and doing things we want? Do we feel a sense of fulfillment if they emulate us? Or should we let them be themselves?

There is a major paradigm shift in the making.

I believe the next generation will learn to accept that their fulfillment comes from their kids being independent, happy and creating a life style of their own. Our bonding would be based on our relationship with them as independent individuals rather on significant cultural alignment. The family culture would cling on, but the society culture would tend to be more like the main stream. We need to be ready and seek our joy in their freedom and independence.

Mike Ghouse is a Speaker, Thinker, Writer and a Moderator. He is president of the Foundation for Pluralism and is a frequent guest on talk radio, discussing interfaith, political and civic issues. He founded the World Muslim Congress with a simple theme: "good for Muslims and good for the world." His personal Website is www.MikeGhouse.net and his articles can be found on the Websites mentioned above and in his blogs: http://MikeGhouseforAmerica.Blogspot.com and http://MikeGhouse.Sulekha.com . He can be reached at MikeGhouse@gmail.com . Mike is a Dallasite for nearly three decades and Carrollton is his home town.

Being Hindu is much different in the US
Hindustan Times - New Delhi , Delhi , India

"There was a lot of foundation we had to lay even to exist as Hindus among non-Hindus," she said. "Now it is for us to do the job within our own community. ...

It took coming to America for 13-year-old Samyuktha Shivraj to understand what it really meant to her to be Hindu.

Since she and her family came here five years ago, they have been more observant about practicing their faith then they were in India . They go to their temple in Queens more often, she is a member of the youth club there, and there are more conversations about what the prayers she's reciting really are saying. "When I say those prayers now, I actually know what it means," Shivraj said. "It's not just a mundane ritual routine that I'm doing."

It is a common refrain for Indians around the United States . The cultures in India and the US are so vastly different that practising Hinduism in America sometimes doesn't resemble practising Hinduism back home. Temples act as a community hub and religious education centres here. They offer language classes and tutoring. Young Hindus like Shivraj are attending Indian heritage camps.

Back in India , Hindus are so immersed in the religion and surrounded by fellow Hindus that there is no need for such services. Hindus pick things up and learn simply by taking part in all the rituals and traditions. "To be Hindu in America is much more an intentional choice than it is in India ," said Diana Eck, professor of comparative religion and Indian studies and director of The Pluralism Project at Harvard University . "Even if you're first generation, you have to decide if you perpetuate it or if you just kind of let it go.

That reality has created a challenge for Hindus here - and for their temples and cultural organisations - as they try to pass the faith on to a younger generation.

At the Ganesh Temple in Queens , founded in 1977 and one of the oldest temples in the country, there's a community centre that people can use for weddings, performances and other events; education activities from religious instruction to language lessons and academic tutoring; and the youth club that Shivraj is part of.

Those are not elements commonly found at temples in India , said Dr Uma Mysorekar, one of the temple trustees. But in India , she pointed out, they don't need to be - because Hindus are surrounded by their religion.

"We just observed and followed and never questioned," she said.

When Indian immigrants started coming to the United States in larger numbers, in the years after the 1965 revamping of immigration laws, they carried their religious traditions on as best they could, meeting for prayers and worship at one another's homes, or renting public spaces, said Anantanand Rambachan, professor of religion at St Olaf College in Minnesota.

That realisation came from seeing how religion is done in the United States . Here, Christian tradition relies heavily on doctrine, on what people believe, Rambachan said, rather than what they do. In India , the emphasis goes the opposite way, since Hinduism covers a wide spectrum of gods and beliefs, and ritual is very important.

In America , Hindus "are increasingly being challenged to articulate the Hindu tradition in a manner that places more emphasis on doctrine," Rambachan said. "People will ask, 'What do you believe?'" Rambachan said.

Faced with that, temples and cultural organisations that had been working to make outsiders understand more about the faith realised they needed to help young Indian Americans know what they believed, if the religion was going to be passed on.

"If we don't do our part, we will lose these youngsters,' Mysorekar said.

"There was a lot of foundation we had to lay even to exist as Hindus among non-Hindus," she said. "Now it is for us to do the job within our own community."

In addition, some organisations around the country have decided to use the method of that most American of summer pastimes - camp.

Shivraj spent a couple of weeks this summer helping her mother, a classical Indian singer, run a weeklong camp on Indian heritage, which included sessions on religion.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Religion and Public Policy

Memorandum from the Institute on Religion and Public Policy Regarding the Consultation on Draft Public Benefit Guidance


1.1 The Institute on Religion and Public Policy is a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to the research and encouragement of cooperation between religion, ethics and morality and government, politics, and policy. The Institute seeks to provide a trusted, balanced forum where peoples of all parties, liberals and conservatives, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Catholics, and peoples of all faiths and beliefs can meet and come to an understanding and plan of action on issues of common concern. The Institute provides an opportunity for individuals and organizations of diverse backgrounds, which may otherwise never have an opportunity for such cooperation, to sit at the same table in a respectful and open dialogue to collaborate on issues affecting religion and public policy around the world.

1.2 The Institute promotes cooperation and communication between policymakers and faith-based organisations and charities to achieve an optimal relationship on domestic and international public policy concerns. The Institute monitors legislation in national legislatures throughout the world that concerns religious freedom and religious organisation issues, including charities, and provides its opinion and guidance on such legislation to ensure that it complies with international human rights standards. The Institute works globally with government policymakers, religious leaders, business executives, academics, non-governmental organizations, and others in order to further and develop relationships among these parties. The Institute has sponsored the Inter-Parliamentary Conference on Human Rights and Religious Freedom for the last four years. The Conference, which will continue to be held annually, is composed of members of national and supranational parliaments from around the globe, with the participation of members of religious, academic, and policy-focused institutions. The Conference allows members to meet and address the issues of human rights and freedom of religion with common understanding and background.
1.3 The purpose of this submission is to address the Charity Commission’s interpretation of religion in the Charities Act 2006. In its Commentary on the Descriptions of Charitable Purposes in the Charities Act 2006, the Commission notes that “Belief in a Supreme Being is a necessary characteristic of religion in charity law which is why the criteria that we use include reference to a Supreme Being rather than a god”. However, the Commission also notes that “in the light of the clarification of the common law definition of religion contained in the Charities Act 2006, these criteria may benefit from further clarification. Following our Consultation on Draft Public Benefit Guidance we will undertake further consultations on the public benefit of particular types of charity, including religious charities. As part of that, we will consider what further guidance on the definition of a religious charity may be required”.
1.4 The Institute welcomes the Commission’s call for further clarification and agrees with the Commission’s statement that further guidance is required in light of the Charities Act 2006. The Commission’s current interpretation cannot be squared with the language in the Act broadening the definition of religion to accommodate “a religion which does not involve belief in a god”. The Charity Commission’s current position is also inconsistent with human rights standards. Such an interpretation contravenes the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) by allowing for discrimination against minority religious organizations in the application of charity law and must be remedied.

1.5 This submission also provides recommendations regarding the Commission’s application of public benefit requirements to religion.

Definition of Religion

2.1 The need to broaden the current interpretation of religion in charity is consistent with human rights principles at the heart of the HRA. There is no doubt that the HRA has a profound effect on how inclusive the definition of religion must be to comply with international norms that are now directly incorporated into domestic law. For the first time, affirmative rights have been introduced to protect minority religions.

2.2 As a definitive report to the Home Office on the subject finds, the incorporation into domestic law of the international norms and standards in the European Convention on Human Rights “creates a major contextual shift for the consideration of policy responses to the issues of discrimination on the basis of religion”. From now on, all legislation, including provisions in the Charities Act 2006 to widen the interpretation of religion or the concept of public benefit through the advancement of religion, will have to conform to the international human rights standards incorporated by the HRA. These practical policy concerns for all legislative proposals are inherent in section 19 of the HRA, which requires Ministers to certify that government Bills laid before Parliament comply with the Convention. In light of this practical policy mandate, the Charity Commission’s interpretation of the term religion must be inclusive enough to conform to international norms protecting freedom of religion and prohibiting religious discrimination.

2.3 As evidenced by numerous publications and official statements, the Charity Commission currently defines a religion for purposes of charity law as requiring a belief in, and Judeo-Christian-style worship of, a Supreme Being. Such a test would be inappropriate in light of the clarification of the definition of religion in the Charities Act 2006 and would result in religious discrimination. More than 400 groups registered as religious organisations, including 144 Buddhist organizations, several groups of Jains, Hindu groups, Christian Scientists, Unitarian Churches and Quakers, do not meet the definition of religion test currently put forward by the Charity Commission in the Church of Scientology decision. This graphically illustrates why the current interpretation in the Charity Commission’s Commentary must be reformed in light of the Charities Act 2006.

2.4 The anomaly created by the Charity Commission’s current criteria on religion for religious groups such as Buddhists, Jains, Hindus, Christian Scientists, Unitarians, Odinshofs, and Quakers must be remedied. Otherwise, these groups are stigmatized as somehow inferior under charity law and their registration remains subject to question based on an antiquated definition that does not comport with principles of religious pluralism, tolerance and human rights.

2.5 There is no question that the Charity Commission’s current definition of religion criteria must be clarified in order to meet human rights standards. The University of Derby Religious Resource and Research Centre, in its January, 2000 Interim Report to the Home Office on Policy Proposals to Religious Discrimination, has published a definitive study finding that the rights which the Convention and the HRA convey must apply equally to all religions and that no distinction may be made between different kinds of belief. (Derby Report, section 1.4 at 7).

2.6 Likewise, other government ministries have noted the need for a broad definition of religion to comply with the principles of pluralism and religious freedom at the heart of Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights. For example, the Department of Trade and Industry, in its Explanatory Notes to the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003 observes:

"The reference to ‘religion’ is a broad one, and is in line with the freedom of religion guaranteed by article 9 ECHR. It includes those religions widely recognized in this country such as Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Rastafarianism, Bahai’s, Zoroastrians and Jains. Equally branches or sects within a religion can be considered as a religion or religious belief, such as Catholics or Protestants within the Christian church, for example. The European Court of Human Rights has recognized other collective religions including Druidism, the Church of Scientology, and the Divine Light Zentrum.”

2.7 This expansive approach is consistent with the Human Rights Court’s application of a fundamental human rights policy of the European Community to religious freedom issues – “the need to secure true religious pluralism, an inherent feature of the notion of a democratic society”. Similarly, the Court has emphasized the importance of “pluralism, tolerance and broadmindedness, without which there is no democratic society”. In furtherance of this policy of “true religious pluralism”, the Court has instructed governments “to remain neutral and impartial” and has been loathe to accept any restrictions on religion, viewing any contested measures with “strict scrutiny”. The European Court has also criticized and struck down measures that vest officials with “very wide discretion” on matters relating to religion. In criticizing broad discretion, the Court has held that “the right to freedom of religion as guaranteed under the Convention excludes any discretion on the part of the State to determine whether religious beliefs or the means used to express such beliefs are legitimate.”

2.8 The most important feature of a definition of religion is that it not be discriminatory and that it treat all religions equally. The Charity Commission has an obligation under the HRA to eradicate discrimination between religions. The language in the Charities Act 2006 regarding the definition of religion was designed to remove the anomalies created by the Charity Commission’s restrictive and exclusive interpretation of religion. Indeed, in its consultation report, Private Action, Public Benefit, the Strategy Unit proposed that the “current interpretation of religion be widened” through legislation under the new purpose of Advancement of Religion to “clarify that faiths that are multi-deity (such as Hinduism) or non-deity (such as some types of Buddhism) should also qualify”. (Section 4.34).

2.9 It is vital that the Charity Commission apply the Charities Act 2006 in order to ensure that its interpretation of the term religion under charity law does not offend the principles of non-discrimination and equality, which form the foundation of the European Convention on Human Rights. In light of the HRA and the definition of religion provision in the Charities Act 2006, the Charity Commission must ensure that its interpretation of the term religion under charity law is sufficiently broad to encompass all religions. This will not be accomplished if the Commission were to adhere to a test that requires worship of a Supreme Being.

Public Benefit

3.1 The Charities Act 2006 removed the legal presumption that charities
established for the advancement of religion have purposes that are for the
public benefit. Public benefit is not defined in the Charities Act 2006
and it has specifically been left to the Charity Commission to consult on
the matter.

3.2 Consistent with the principles developed by the Human Rights Court in cases concerning freedom of religion and freedom from religious discrimination, it is imperative that the Charity Commission not develop public benefit requirements which vest wide discretion in government officials, are onerous, or discriminate between religions.

3.3 It is vital that the spiritual aspect of the activities of religions and religious groups and that spiritual growth and development is recognized by the Charity Commission as providing an important public benefit, not only to adherents of a particular religion but to society as a whole.

3.4 Moreover, while the provision of social services and community outreach efforts by religious organizations should be taken into account as a separate basis to find public benefit, religious groups should not be required to provide social services in order to demonstrate public benefit under the religious head. The systematic nurturing and promotion of constructive spiritual, ethical and moral values should suffice.

3.5 The European Court has stressed that even seemingly innocuous administrative action restricting the rights of minority religions operates as a “lethal weapon against the right to freedom of religion.” As the Human Rights Court has determined that the government may neither assess the merits of religious practices and beliefs under Article 9, nor favor some religions over others under Article 14, then the government surely may not apply charity law to provide privileges to some religious organizations while imposing hindrances on others based on assessments of the public benefit of such religious practices and beliefs.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Bangladeshi Hindus Harassed

Bangladeshi Hindus Harassed
Muslims outraged at the treatment of Bangladeshi Hindu Citizens.
Dallas, Texas : June 5, 2007.

The World Muslim Congress expresses outrage at the Municipal Council of Chakuli, in Mirpur, Bangladesh for evicting families from their ancestral Homes.

These homes belong to Hindu families of Bangladesh, and we appeal to the Government and the Municipal authorities of this Muslim Majority nation to heed the call of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), who had set the model for treating people of other faiths and minorities with dignity and honor. In the treaty of Medina, prophet had assured every resident of the City full freedom to practice and live their life as they knew. A nations character is defined by the way it treats its people who believe and practice differently.

We appeal to the Government of Bangladesh and the United States Congress to take immediate action to halt the demolition of the homes, and urge people of conscience to call their Congressman, Senators and other representative to make the call to Embassy of Bangladesh.

To get information about your representatives, log onto: http://www.congress.org/congressorg/home

Bangladesh Embassy in Washington DC
3510, International Drive NW
Washington, DC 20008, USA
Telephone : (202) - 244 - 0183
Fax :(202) - 244 - 7830/2771
Email : bdootwash@bangladoot.org

Mike Ghouse, President
World Muslim Congress

10,000 fear eviction
The Daily Star, June 6, 2006

10,000 fear eviction
Special Correspondent

Over 10,000 Hindus in one of the largest Hindu enclaves in the city at
Chakuli, in Mirpur-12 are living in gnawing fear of losing their
ancestral homesteads and an age-old temple as the Cantonment Board
authorities put a claim on the land.

Officials with bulldozers yesterday reached the place to demolish the
village but called off the operation due to rain, locals said.
Residents there said they could produce all documents to prove that
they have inherited the land from their ancestors.

"We have lived here for generations, if there is a proper land
acquisition by the government we shall definitely respect that
decision, but what is happening here today [Tuesday] does not have any
legal basis whatsoever," said Narayan Sarkar, a carpenter by
profession, living on a small piece of land he said he inherited from
his forefathers.

The crowd of worried men and women grew to over 150 as this
correspondent talked to them. "When our parents learnt about the first
acquisition back in the sixties, they went to the court and won the
case against the government," said a visibly shaken Sudhir Chandra
Sarkar, president of the Durga temple committee and a community
leader, showing copies of relevant documents.

The entire process of acquiring the area for extending Dhaka
Cantonment was started again in 1973 under "confidentiality",
residents said. The community of Chakuli was kept completely in the
dark as the Ministry of Land allocated twenty acres of land to the
Ministry of Defence in 1992. The Deputy Commissioner's (DC) Office in
Dhaka, based on the 1992 allocation, prepared a handover note and
handed over the land to the cantonment board.

"There was no notice, no communication whatsoever from the DC office,
we only learnt about the handover years later in 2000 when cantonment
personnel put a claim on our homes," said Sarkar.

"At present, there is an injunction from the High Court and a status
quo order on our village, but the army does not want to look at
anything," said a local resident.

The Ministry of Land and the DC office's handling of the matter, as it
shows on paper, has been so amateurish that the local people termed it
"a story of gross corruption". None of the gazettes by the ministry
specifically points out any plot number or size of the acquisition of
the land, according to documents obtained by The Daily Star.

"Our suffering and feeling of uncertainty today [Tuesday] is the
result of gross corruption at the Ministry of Land and the DC office,
we want to know where the money for the land acquisition went," said
Narayan Sarkar.