Tag Archives: church

Dylann Roof sentenced to death

A jury on Jan. 10 condemned white supremacist Dylann Roof to death for the hate-fueled killings of nine black parishioners at a Bible study meeting in a Charleston, South Carolina, church in 2015.

The same jury last month found Roof, 22, guilty of 33 federal charges, including hate crimes resulting in death, for the shootings at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Jurors deliberated for less than three hours.

Roof stared straight ahead as the judge read through the jury’s verdict findings before announcing his death sentence, local media reported on social media.

Roof, who represented himself for the penalty phase, was unrepentant during his closing argument earlier in the day. He told jurors he still felt the massacre was something he had to do and did not ask that his life be spared.

“Today’s sentencing decision means that this case will not be over for a very long time,” Roof’s lawyers, who represented him for the guilt phase, said in a statement after the verdict was announced.

Roof still faces a trial on murder charges in state court, where prosecutors also are seeking the death penalty.

Attorney general statement on the sentencing

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch released the following statement on the sentencing of Dylann Roof:

On June 17, 2015, Dylann Storm Roof sought out and opened fire on African-American parishioners engaged in worship and bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

He did so because of their race.  And he did so to interfere with their peaceful exercise of religion.

The victims in the case led lives as compassionate civic and religious leaders; devoted public servants and teachers; and beloved family members and friends.  They include a young man in the bloom of youth and an 87-year-old grandmother who still sang in the church choir.

We remember those who have suffered, and especially those that lost their lives: Cynthia Graham Hurd, 54;

Susie Jackson, 87;

Ethel Lance, 70;

Rev. DePayne Middleton Doctor, 49;

Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41;

Tywanza Sanders, 26;

Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., 74;

Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45;

and Myra Thompson, 59.

Today, a jury of his peers considered the actions Roof took on that fateful day, and they rendered a verdict that will hold him accountable for his choices.

No verdict can bring back the nine we lost that day at Mother Emanuel.

And no verdict can heal the wounds of the five church members who survived the attack or the souls of those who lost loved ones to Roof’s callous hand.  But we hope that the completion of the prosecution provides the people of Charleston — and the people of our nation — with a measure of closure.

We thank the jurors for their service, the people of Charleston for their strength and support, and the law enforcement community in South Carolina and throughout the country for their vital work on this case.

 

Cities with Nativity scenes ignore takedown demands

A historic Hispanic city in New Mexico has one in the center of town on public property. A small farming community in Colorado has another outside of a public park. A Pennsylvania city refused to take its Nativity display down despite a legal threat.

Across the county, annual disputes over Nativity displays on public land have pitted local residents against advocacy groups pushing separation of church and state.

But after years of complaints, communities continue to resist demands that they remove public display celebrating the birth of Jesus from public property.

The moves come after town residents have rallied around the displays or conservative groups have offered legal assistance to keep displays up amid legal threats.

“As far as I’m concerned, it’s a dead issue,” said Jerah Cordova, the mayor of Belen, New Mexico, where a Nativity scene artwork sits year-round and was not taken down following threats of legal action last year. “The Nativity scene not only represents the history of our town, it represents our culture.”

Belen — Spanish for Bethlehem — is a small city of 7,000 people and nearly 70 percent Latino. Last year, residents raised $50,000 for a festival in support of the Nativity display following a letter threatening legal action.

In Franklin, Pennsylvania, a city of 6,500, councilors last month voted to keep a decades-old Nativity scene in a city park after receiving an email from the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation.

The foundation has sent similar letters warning municipalities that public Nativity scenes violated the separation of church and state.

Franklin’s city councilors consulted lawyers and resolve the issue by agreeing to allow other secular Christmas decoration s in the park.

Officials in St. Bernard, Ohio, a suburban of Cincinnati, ignored a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation and opted to keep in place nativity scene displayed in front of City Hall.

In Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, tourists visit to see miniature replicas depict various settings of the Nativity story. That display is run by the nonprofit, Historic Bethlehem Museums & Sites and is not connected to the city government.

In previous years, some municipalities pulled Nativity scenes after receiving complaints from the foundation. For example, officials in Wadena, Minnesota removed its decades-old traditional Nativity scene off public property following a letter from the foundation.

Supporters and opponents of the Nativity scenes agree that municipalities are fighting harder to protect the displays.

“We are seeing more municipalities digging in after learning about their rights,” said Mat Staver, who heads the right-wing, anti-gay Liberty Counsel, which offers the municipalities advice to protect them and volunteered free legal help for Franklin, Pennsylvania.

Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, said more cities and towns simply ignore complaints that placing Christian art on public property violates the U.S. Constitution.

In recent years, conservative Christians have vocally complained about the secularization of Christmas, said Andrew Chesnut, the Bishop Walter F. Sullivan Chair in Catholic Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University.

“We also are seeing a rural and city divide where rural areas are facing less resistance (to Nativity scenes) while there is more conflict in cities, which are more diverse,” Chesnut said.

Gaylor said some cities and towns are getting around the conflict by setting up public spaces where volunteers can erect Nativity scenes along with secular Christmas displays.

“But we don’t think putting a couple of reindeer up near a Nativity scene solves the problem,” Gaylor said.

Pressure has forced some cities to scrap plans for Nativity scene displays.

In Gig Harbor, Washington — a maritime city near Tacoma — officials blocked residents from putting up a display after getting a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation. That prompted a small protest in the city of 7,000 people this week from residents who wanted a Nativity scene.

When cities and state allow the public spaces, Gaylor said the foundation tries to submit its own display. In some states, the foundation put up a Nativity scene with James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and the Statue of Liberty. Instead of baby Jesus in a manger, the group put in place a copy of the Bill of Rights.

In New Mexico, Cordova predicted Belen will never remove its Nativity scene.

“It’s here to stay,” he said.

 

Jury convicts Indiana gospel singer on child porn, exploitation charges

A jury has convicted a Muncie, Indiana, man of 19 counts of sexual exploitation of a minor and one count of distribution of child pornography.

Shawn Shannon, 44, a traveling gospel singer, was convicted in July after a three-day trial, said Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.

U.S. Attorney Jim Lewis of the Central District of Illinois said the government presented evidence that Shannon lured a 13-year-old boy to a hotel in Decatur, Illinois, and directed him to pose for a series of sexually explicit photos.

Shannon also engaged in sexual contact with another minor boy and took similar photos, according to trial evidence.

He was arrested on April 15, 2015, and was remanded to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service pending trial.

Sentencing has been scheduled for Jan. 9, 2017, before U.S. District Judge Colin S. Bruce of the Central District of Illinois.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations and the Decatur Police Department investigated the case.

Trial Attorneys Maureen C. Cain and Elly M. Peirson of the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section prosecuted the case.

This case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice.

Led by U.S. Attorneys’ Offices and CEOS, Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state and local resources to better locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the internet, as well as to identify and rescue victims.

On the Web

For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit www.justice.gov/psc.

Church ousts Boy Scouts over inclusive policy

Boy Scouts in Appleton will have to find a new location for weekly meetings and other events.Boy Scouts in Appleton will have to find a new location for weekly meetings and other events.

Faith Lutheran Church has been the local chartering organization for the BSA for about 60 years.

WBAY-TV says Faith Lutheran has notified the BSA that its beliefs no longer align with the church and that it will need a new location by June 1.

Faith belongs to the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, which has advised its thousands of churches to cut ties with the Boy Scouts following its decision to accept openly gay adult leaders.

The Appleton Boy Scouts council says the overwhelming majority of its members, families and chartered organizations remain committed to scouting.

Sex offenders sue, make use of Indiana’s ‘religious objections’ law

A lawsuit filed on behalf of two registered sex offenders cites Indiana’s new religious objections law in arguing they’ve been wrongly prohibited from worshipping at churches that have schools on the same property.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed the lawsuit on behalf of two unnamed sex offenders, one of whom belongs to a Fort Wayne church and another who has attended an Elkhart church.

The lawsuit claims that a new state law banning many sex offenders from going onto school property at any time presents an unjustified burden on the men’s religious liberties under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Ken Falk, the ACLU of Indiana’s legal director, called the additional sex offender restrictions absurd.

“The Legislature passes a law which says sex offenders cannot go into schools and it is being applied to people who are going to church or other religious observances during a time that there’s no school in session,” Falk said. “The law prohibits them from walking on that property — it’s a felony to do so.”

The religious objections law and the tougher sex offender restrictions both took effect on July 1. The lawsuit said both men have regularly attended Sunday services and other events at their churches, but now fear being arrested if they do so.

The ban on sex offenders going onto school property gained little attention as it sailed through the state Legislature this year – clearing both the House and Senate without any votes cast against it.

A national outcry erupted after Republican Gov. Mike Pence signed the religious objections law in late March, with critics saying it would provide a legal defense for discrimination against gays, lesbians and others. It prohibits any government actions that would “substantially burden” a person’s ability to follow his or her religious beliefs.

Douglas Laycock, a constitutional scholar at the University of Virginia Law School who helped win passage of the 1993 federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, said he believes the ACLU lawsuit has merit and that making it a crime to attend church services is a major burden on a person’s religious practices.

“If you have any hope of rehabilitation, religion works for some people. Telling them they can’t go to church doesn’t make much sense,” said Laycock, the lead writer of an analysis supporting the Indiana religious objections law. The analysis was frequently cited by the bill’s sponsors.

Laycock said he’s not aware of similar cases involving religious objections laws in the 19 other states with similar statutes.

Indiana Senate President Pro Tem David Long issued a statement blasting the ACLU of Indiana’s filing of the lawsuit after the group opposed the religious objections law as it was debated in the General Assembly.

“The ACLU used to be a staunch supporter of religious liberty,” said Long, a Republican. “Now they’ve reduced themselves to making a mockery of it. On top of this, they also support endangering our children while championing the rights of sex offenders. It’s a sad day for the ACLU.”

The lawsuit, filed in Elkhart County Superior Court, names the prosecutors and sheriffs of Allen and Elkhart counties as defendants. Neither prosecutor’s office had immediate comment Thursday on the lawsuit.

Falk said the lawsuit is serious and that the group has long worked to protect the right to worship.

“Regardless of what we said about the law, it is the law now,” he said. “This is a very conservative use of the law.”

The night Mother Emanuel opened its door to evil

When Angela Brown saw the Facebook post about a shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, her mind immediately leapt to her aunt. Whenever the doors to Emanuel were open to its flock, Ethel Lance was there. 

“This was her home,” said her niece, standing in the shadow of its soaring spire, tears streaming down her face. 

So many people felt that way about “Mother” Emanuel. 

Founded in 1818 by a free black shoemaker, the church stood as a beacon in a port city through which many legions of Africans passed on their way to bondage across the growing nation. Torched by angry whites after one of its organizers led a failed slave revolt, Emanuel rose from the ashes to serve as a stop on the Underground Railroad, even as state leaders banned all black churches and forced the congregation itself underground. 

The current brick Gothic revival edifice, completed in 1891 to replace an earlier building heavily damaged in an earthquake, was a mandatory stop for the likes of Booker T. Washington and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Still, Emanuel was not just a church for the black community. 

And so, when a young white man wearing a stained gray sweat shirt and a fanny pack walked into the Bible study on July 17 and asked for the minister, no one thought twice. The Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Emanuel’s senior pastor, even invited the stranger to take the seat beside him. 

“He wanted him to feel at home, comfortable,” says Sylvia Johnson, the minister’s cousin. “Nothing to be fearful of. This is the house of the Lord, and you are welcome.”

But the visitor had not come to worship or to commune. Tempered by fire, its faith unshaken by temblors, Mother Emanuel was about to face perhaps its greatest test.

“Is something missing from your life?” the church website asks under the Bible Study listing in “Notices and Announcements.” “If you have a desire to learn more about God, then join us on Wednesdays at 6:00 p.m. in the lower level of the church. We look forward to seeing you!”

DePayne Middleton-Doctor was a deeply spiritual woman who led the weekly classes at Mother Emanuel. At 49, the mother of four was juggling a new job as a college enrollment counselor along with caring for four daughters. But no matter how busy the days got, Doctor always made time for her faith — and June 17 was an especially important moment in her journey with God.

Already licensed as a deacon at a Baptist church, Doctor had begun attending Emanuel in January — and on this night Bible study was postponed for a quarterly church business meeting that saw Doctor licensed to minister at the church. The presiding elder, the Rev. Norvel Goff, asked Doctor to stand before the 50 or so people gathered. She presented her Bible, hymnal and a church handbook, and Goff signed them with a stamp of approval. 

The meeting lasted about an hour and a half, and then parishioners mingled during a 10-minute break. Doctor texted her eldest daughter, 19-year-old Gracyn, to wish her well on her first day on the job at a local retail store.

Most of those gathered for the business meeting did not stay for Bible study. Willi Glee, a church member going back decades, was going to attend but decided to pass because he hadn’t eaten all day. Before he left, one of the part-time ministers at the church approached. 

“I need to give you a hug,” Sharonda Coleman-Singleton said, taking him into a big embrace. Glee would never know what prompted the gesture. 

At 7:30, he left. Not long after, the wooden door at the back of the church opened, and in walked Dylann Storm Roof.

Roof had spent much of the last few weeks guzzling vodka in a haze of cigarette smoke. Bouncing back and forth between his dad’s home in Columbia, South Carolina, and the place his mother and her boyfriend shared in nearby Lexington, his life seemed to be slowly unraveling. 

In February, he was arrested at a Columbia shopping mall on a misdemeanor drug charge. He was picked up again for trespassing at the mall, despite being banned.

About a month ago, Roof reached out to Joseph Meek Jr., a middle school chum. Meek said the formerly laid-back Roof had begun ranting about black people, and how “someone needed to do something about it for the white race.” He made vague references to a “plan” he was hatching. On his Facebook profile, Roof posted a photo of himself wearing a jacket adorned with the flags of the now defunct white-supremacist regimes in South Africa and Rhodesia. 

When Roof turned 21 in April, he used the money his parents had given him to buy himself a present — a .45-caliber Glock semiautomatic pistol with a laser sight. Disturbed by his friend’s behavior, Meek at one point took the gun and hid it, only to give it back. 

On the morning of June 17, Meek awoke to find Roof in front of his mobile home, asleep in his car. They talked about what they were going to do that day. Meek, his girlfriend and brother were going to the lake. Roof, who didn’t like the outdoors, said he’d drive them on his way to the movies. He had a $20 gift card, and he told them he planned on catching the summer blockbuster, “Jurassic World.” 

They said their goodbyes, and Meek figured he’d see Roof later that night. 

Instead, 120 miles away, a security camera at Emanuel captured the image of a slender man with a bowl haircut entering the fellowship hall.

The time stamp read 8:16 p.m.

In addition to Doctor and Pinckney, 10 others had gathered around a white-clothed table to study the New Testament book of Mark. 

There was the Rev. Coleman-Singleton, 45, a former college track star turned girls track coach at a high school where she also worked as a speech pathologist. Coleman-Singleton was fond of urging just about anyone who didn’t go to church to start. 

“God sees everything you do,” she often told her daughter’s friend, Maurice Coakley. 

There was Cynthia Hurd, a 31-year employee of the city’s library system. Due to turn 55 in days, the avid gardener had recently told her brother she needed to start making plans for retirement.

Ethel Lance, 70, had been an Emanuel member most of her life. After retiring about five years ago from her housekeeping job at a performing arts center, Lance — mother of five, grandmother to seven and great-grandmother to four — signed on as church sexton, spending nearly every day helping to keep the historic building clean.

Another old faithful was Susie Jackson, 87, who’d sung soprano in the church choir for six decades and who belted out her favorite hymn, “Take My Hand, Precious Lord,” in the kitchen while preparing her famous “crazy bean soup.” She loved to play the slot machines and was looking forward to a church-sponsored bus trip to Chicago.

Also there were Jackson’s niece, Felecia Sanders; Sanders’ 26-year-old son, Tywanza, a barber who had graduated college last year after studying business; and Sanders’ 5-year-old granddaughter.

For about an hour, they went about their work. The week’s lesson was to center on Mark’s chapter four, a series of parables meant to further spread the teachings of Jesus and help his flock understand the power of God. The chapter ends with Jesus and his disciples on a boat, facing a suddenly stormy and menacing sea. As his disciples worry about the dangers ahead, Jesus calms the winds and stills the waters. 

“And he said unto them, why are ye so fearful? How is it that ye have no faith?”

It is a verse rooted in the power of clinging to one’s convictions in the face of adversity. 

Around 8:50 p.m., as Maurice Coakley would later recall, Coleman-Singleton texted her daughter, Leslie. She told her she loved her.

At some point, Roof stood and pulled out his pistol.

Tywanza Sanders, the one in the room closest to Roof’s age, attempted to stop him. 

“You don’t have to do this,” he said. “You don’t have to do this.” 

“You rape our women. And you’re taking over the country. I have to do this,” the gunman replied. 

Felecia Sanders, one of three survivors, recounted the events later that night to Sylvia Johnson, Pinckney’s cousin. Her son, she told Johnson, was shot attempting to shield his great-aunt, Jackson. Sanders herself pushed her granddaughter to the floor, lay on top of her and told her to play dead.

As gunshots echoed off the linoleum floor, parishioner Polly Sheppard prayed to God for salvation. And then, suddenly, the shooting stopped. 

Roof told Sheppard that he was “letting her live so she could tell what happened,” the 70-year-old would later share with her niece, Latrice Daniels. With that, Roof walked out.

On the floor around Sheppard’s feet, eight lay dead: Tywanza Sanders, Doctor, Coleman-Singleton, Hurd, Jackson, Lance, parishioner Myra Thompson, 59, and Pinckney, who in addition to serving his church was a state legislator for 19 years. Daniel Simmons Sr., 74, a retired minister who’d became a regular attendee at Emanuel, died at the hospital.

Coakley was supposed to meet Coleman-Singleton’s daughter, Leslie, that night but couldn’t reach her. Sometime after 9, he got a call.

“My mama!” she screamed into the phone. “My mama!” 

Family members began gathering at a hotel around the corner from the church. Around midnight, Sylvia Johnson saw Felecia Sanders. She couldn’t tell at first because of the dark color, but she realized that the front of Sanders’ black dress was caked with blood.

“That’s my son’s blood,” her friend said numbly. 

After a moment, a stunned Sanders spoke again. 

“He was a good boy.” 

As investigators combed the scene for clues, bouquets and cards began piling up outside the whitewashed church. Groups gathered to cry and pray and try to fathom how this could have happened in their city, to this beloved institution. 

“Mother Emanuel,” Alonza Washington, a Vietnam veteran and pastor of nearby Wallingford Presbyterian, said as he stared at the growing mound of flowers. “Great legacy, history. About justice and righteousness.”

The church had suffered through many tragedies. But this, he said, seemed somehow different.

“It has shaken the fabric of human nature and this nation and world, and certainly the foundation of the church,” he said. “But it’s going to stand. A great evil act has been done here, but I pray _ and we pray and hope _ that the lives will be a sacrifice for some good.”

Roof was in custody within 13 hours of the shootings. On June 19, he appeared before a county magistrate in a North Charleston courtroom to have bond set. About four dozen people — relatives of the dead among them — turned out to see the man who, in the words of Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, had committed this act of “pure, pure concentrated evil.”

The courtroom took on the air of a church service, with the grieving passing tissue boxes like collection plates. 

The assembled could see Roof _ clad in a baggy, striped jumpsuit, his hands cuffed behind his back _ over a closed-circuit television. He could not see the anguished crowd but could hear them.

Roof’s blue eyes stared blankly ahead as one disembodied voice after another shared with him the lessons they’d learned at Emanuel, and from their lost loved ones. They had been taught to forgive those who trespass against them; to hate the sin, but love the sinner.

Roof lowered his head slightly when Nadine Collier, Lance’s daughter, tearfully offered her forgiveness.

“You took something very precious away from me,” she said, choking back her tears. “I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you and have mercy on your soul.”

Anthony Thompson, Myra’s widower, pleaded with Roof to “take this opportunity to repent.”

“Confess,” he said. “Give your life to the one who matters the most, Christ, so that he … can change your ways, no matter what happened to you. And you’ll be OK.”

Then it was Felecia Sanders’ turn to once again face the man who had brought her world crashing down. Clutching a tissue in her hand, she reminded Roof how she and the others had “welcomed you Wednesday night in our Bible study with open arms,” and how he had repaid that kindness.

“You have killed some of the most beautifulest people that I know,” she said as he stood, eyes downcast. “Every fiber in my body hurts … and I’ll never be the same.” 

Tywanza was not just her son, she told Roof. He was “my hero.”

Unlike the others, Sanders did not offer him her explicit forgiveness. But she reminded him how “we enjoyed you” for that brief time in their Mother Emanuel, their refuge, their home. “May God have mercy on you.”

Breed, an AP national writer, reported from Charleston; Lush reported from St. Petersburg, Fla. Other contributors include Jeffrey Collins and Phillip Lucas in Charleston, and Mitch Weiss in Columbia, South Carolina.


World shocked at nation’s enduring racism, gun violence

China wasted little time returning such charges following the shooting at a historic black church in South Carolina that left nine people dead. Elsewhere, the attack renewed perceptions that Americans have too many guns and have yet to overcome racial tensions.

Some said the attack reinforced their reservations about personal security in the U.S. — particularly as a non-white foreigner — while others said they’d still feel safe if they were to visit.

Especially in Australia and northeast Asia, where firearms are strictly controlled and gun violence almost unheard of, many were baffled by the determination among many Americans to own guns despite repeated mass shootings, such as the 2012 tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, where a gunman killed 20 children and six adults.

“We don’t understand America’s need for guns,” said Philip Alpers, director of the University of Sydney’s GunPolicy.org project that compares gun laws across the world. “It is very puzzling for non-Americans.”

A frontier nation like the U.S., Australia had a similar attitude toward firearms prior to a 1996 mass shooting that killed 35. Soon after, tight restrictions on gun ownership were imposed and no such incidents have been reported since.

Ahmad Syafi’i Maarif, a prominent Indonesian intellectual and former leader of Muhammadiyah, one of the country’s largest Muslim organizations, said the tragedy shocked many.

“People all over the world believed that racism had gone from the U.S. when Barack Obama was elected to lead the superpower, twice,” he said. “But the Charleston shooting has reminded us that in fact, the seeds of racism still remain and were embedded in the hearts of small communities there, and can explode at any time, like a terrorist act by an individual.”

A 21-year-old white man, Dylann Storm Roof, is accused of fatally shooting nine people at a Bible study at the historically black Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. An acquaintance said Roof had complained that “blacks were taking over the world.”

Racially charged shootings in the U.S. have received widespread global attention.

Prominent Malaysian social commentator Marina Mahathir said many in her country find it puzzling why the U.S. government won’t restrict gun ownership laws. The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects the right to keep and bear arms.

“We are mystified by the freedom of guns there. It’s a bizarre idea that everyone should have their right to arms,” said Marina, the daughter of former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

In Britain, the attack reinforced the view that America has too many guns and too many racists. The front-page headline of The Independent newspaper said simply, “America’s shame.”

The newspaper said in an editorial that America seems to have moved backward in racial relations since Obama’s election, and that the “obscene proliferation of guns only magnifies tragedies” like the church shooting.

The leftist Mexico City newspaper La Jornada said the U.S. has become a “structurally violent state” where force is frequently used domestically and internationally to resolve differences.

“In this context, the unchecked and even paranoid citizen armament is no coincidence: Such a phenomenon reflects the feeling of extensive sectors about the supposed legitimacy of violent methods,” it said.

In China, the official Xinhua News Agency said the violence in South Carolina “mirrors the U.S. government’s inaction on rampant gun violence as well as the growing racial hatred in the country.”

“Unless U.S. President Barack Obama’s government really reflects on his country’s deep-rooted issues like racial discrimination and social inequality and takes concrete actions on gun control, such tragedy will hardly be prevented from happening again,” Xinhua said in an editorial.

On China’s Twitter-like Weibo microblogging service, some users compared the United States to lawless Somalia and said racial discrimination was fueling violence and high crime rates. Many reflected the official view that gun ownership and violent crime are byproducts of Western-style democratic freedoms that are not only unsuited to China but potentially disastrous.

Recalling the recent killings of Chinese and other foreign students in the U.S., office worker Xie Yan said he was still eager to visit the U.S., but would be “extremely careful” there.

Xie said he had heard much about racism in the U.S., but was uncertain about the underlying dynamics.

“We tend to see the U.S. as a violent place, but I don’t think we understand a lot about racism there. Chinese are free to study, visit and live there so it doesn’t feel like we’re discriminated against,” Xu said while waiting for a train on Beijing’s busy subway line 1.

Like Australia, China has had its problems with racial and ethnic discrimination. China is overwhelmingly dominated by one ethnic group, the Han, and activists decry the lack of awareness about discrimination in jobs and housing faced by minorities such as Tibetans and Turkic Muslim Uighurs from the northwest.

Chinese police have been accused of heavy-handed tactics against those labeled separatists or terrorists, although such measures appear to be supported by most Chinese.

In Japan, discrimination tends to be based less on skin color than on national origin, resulting in biases against Chinese and Koreans, said Hiroko Takimoto, 41, a patent attorney in Tokyo.

Racially motivated killings are “simply something Japanese as a people cannot understand,” she said.

Yukari Kato, vice president of the company Ryugaku Journal that assists Japanese students on overseas programs, including about 2,000 in the U.S., said violence there was nothing new and most of the country remained perfectly safe.

“It’s no different from Japan. There are places where you can become a victim of crime. You just have to be prepared to defend yourself,” she said.

However, Yuka Christine Koshino, 21, a political science student at Tokyo’s Keio University, said she was devastated by the shootings, particularly after having participated in racism awareness campaigns while studying at the University of California, Berkeley. Those interactions had given her hope that the situation was improving. The shootings “shocked me,” said Koshino.

Chairman of the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates Max de Mesa shared the sentiment of civil rights activists in South Carolina who pointed out that the Confederate battle flag, the symbol of the pro-slavery South during the Civil War, continued to fly over the state even as it mourned for the nine people killed.

“Some of the (old) structures and some of the attitudes remain and they were even nurtured, at least that is being shown now,” de Mesa said.

“That would be no different from a suicide bomber,” he said. “For a jihadist, `I will be with Allah if I do that.’ The other says, `I am proving white supremacy here.'”

Indonesian intellectual Syafi’i Maarif said he hoped the incident would help Americans stop equating terrorism with Islam.

“Terrorism and radicalism can appear in every strata of society under various guises and in the name of ethnicity, religion and race,” he said.

Mormon church backs LGBT anti-discrimination bill in Utah

More than 20 years ago, Troy Williams was a young Mormon missionary who didn’t know how he would reconcile his sexual orientation with his faith when he came home to live in conservative Utah.

“I was just scared. As a gay Utahn, I couldn’t imagine for myself a positive future,” said Williams, now 45 and an outspoken advocate for gay rights.

As a young man, Williams said he never would have envisioned a scene like the one that unfolded at Utah’s state Capitol on March 4, where state lawmakers, Mormon church leaders and LGBT advocates joined together to back a landmark proposal that bars discrimination against gay and transgender individuals while protecting the rights of religious groups and individuals.

“This is a historic day,” said Williams, the executive director of Equality Utah. “People from diverse backgrounds have come together to craft what no one thought was possible.”

The measure has a rare stamp of approval from the Mormon church and stands a high chance of passing in Utah, where the church is based and many state lawmakers and the Republican governor are members of the faith. The bill gets its first hearing on March 5.

State Sen. Stuart Adams, a Republican who led negotiations on the proposal, said at the news conference on March 4 that they’ve found a way to respect the rights of some while not infringing on the rights of others.

“If Utah can do this, my opinion, it can be done anywhere else in the nation,” Adams said.

The proposal prohibits discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation when it comes to housing or employment. Religious groups and organizations would be exempt from the requirement, as would Boy Scouts of America, which has a ban on gay adult Scout leaders and has close ties to the LDS Church.

The church said it is fully behind the legislation, which follows the principles set out in the faith’s recent nationwide call for laws that balance both religious rights and LGBT protections.

“In this approach, we acknowledged that neither side or no party may get all they want,” D. Todd Christofferson, a member of the church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said. “It is better if both sides get most of what is desired than to have a winner-take-all where one side loses.”

LGBT activists have spent years pushing for a statewide non-discrimination law in Utah, but their efforts were fast-tracked this year after the Mormon church issued its call for this type of legislation.

Sen. Steve Urquhart, a St. George Republican who co-sponsored the bill, said the Boy Scouts were not involved in negotiations on the Utah proposal and did not request the exemption. He said the organization was included because of a 2000 U.S. Supreme Court decision recognizing the organization’s constitutional right to exclude gay members.

The Boy Scouts now allow openly gay youth.

Boy Scouts of America national spokesman Deron Smith said the organization didn’t have any comment on the legislation. Utah Boy Scouts leaders deferred comment to the national organization.

Scouts for Equality, an organization critical of the Scouts’ ban on gay leaders, criticized the exemption.

“The fundamental principle of non-discrimination means that there aren’t special exemptions,” Scouts for Equality executive director Zach Wahls said in a statement. “Non-discrimination means `non-discrimination,’ not `non-discrimination except for the Boy Scouts.'”

The compromise also attracted criticism from some conservatives.

“It’s heavy on protection for special classes of people that I don’t believe should be a special class, but it’s very light on religious protections,” Gayle Ruzicka, president of the conservative family-values group Utah Eagle Forum.

Ruzicka said the proposal needed more protections for religious individuals to act in accordance with their beliefs.

Beyond banning discrimination based on identity and sexual orientation, the proposal stipulates that employers can adopt “reasonable dress and grooming standards” and “reasonable rules and polices” for sex-specific restrooms and other facilities, as long as those standards also include accommodations for gender identity.

It protects the right of an individual employee to express their religious or moral beliefs in “a reasonable, non-disruptive or non-harassing way,” as long as it doesn’t interfere with the company’s business. It likewise bars employers from punishing someone who expresses those beliefs, as long as they don’t hurt business.

The Mormon campaign pushing for these types of laws is the latest example of a shift in tone by the LDS Church. While it has moved away from harsh rhetoric and is preaching compassion and acceptance, the church insists it is making no changes in doctrine and still believes that sex is against the law of God unless it’s within a marriage between a man and a woman.

Associated Press writers Brady McCombs and Kelly Catalfamo contributed to this story.

Pope: Catholics need not breed ‘like rabbits’

Pope Francis is firmly upholding church teaching banning contraception, but said on Jan. 19 that Catholics don’t have to breed “like rabbits” and should instead practice “responsible parenting.”

Speaking to reporters en route home from the Philippines, Francis said there are plenty of church-approved ways to regulate births. But he said most importantly, no outside institution should impose its views on regulating family size, blasting what he called the “ideological colonization” of the developing world.

African bishops, in particular, have long complained about how progressive, Western ideas about birth control and gay rights are increasingly being imposed on the developing world by groups, institutions or individual nations, often as a condition for development aid.

“Every people deserves to conserve its identity without being ideologically colonized,” Francis said.

The pope’s comments, taken together with his defense of the Catholic Church’s ban on artificial contraception during the trip, signal that he is increasingly showing his more conservative bent, which has largely been ignored by public opinion or obscured by a media narrative that has tended to highlight his populist persona.

On the trip, Francis gave his strongest defense yet of the 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, which enshrined the church’s opposition to artificial birth control. He warned against “insidious attacks” against the family – a reference to marriage equality – echoing language often used by overwhelmingly conservative U.S. bishops. And he insisted that “openness to life is a condition of the sacrament of matrimony.”

At the same time, however, he said it’s not true that to be a good Catholic “you have to be like rabbits.” On the contrary, he said “responsible parenthood” requires that couples regulate the births of their children, as church teaching allows. He cited the case of a woman he met who was pregnant with her eighth child after seven Cesarean sections.

“That is an irresponsibility!” he said. The woman might argue that she should trust in God. “But God gives you methods to be responsible,” he said.

He said there are many “licit” ways of regulating births that are approved by the church, an apparent reference to the Natural Family Planning method of monitoring a woman’s cycle to avoid intercourse when she is ovulating.

During the Vatican’s recent meeting on the family, African bishops denounced how aid groups and lending institutions often condition their assistance on a country’s compliance with their ideals: allowing health care workers to distribute condoms, or withdrawing assistance if legislation discriminating against gays is passed.

“When imposed conditions come from imperial colonizers, they search to make people lose their own identity and make a sameness,” he said. “This is ideological colonization.”

Has Marquette University grown weary of John McAdams’ right-wing shenanigans?

A conservative professor at Marquette University remains “off duty” and “under review” more than two months after writing a blog post criticizing a graduate student for not permitting critique of same-sex marriage during her ethics class.

John McAdams, an associate professor of political science at the university and author of the right-wing blog Marquette Warrior, wrote that teaching assistant Cheryl Abbate stifled academic freedom by denying the student’s request, even though she said that same-sex marriage was off-topic for the class. After the blog post appeared, Abbate began receiving inflammatory emails from students accusing her of violating the First Amendment (see editorial, page 16) and trashing her with homophobic slurs.

Another blog site called Daily Nous presented the text of some particularly vicious emails sent to Abbate, along with a post from her Rate My Professor page that said, “If you don’t celebrate a sexual disorder called lesbianism … she will go after you.”

Daily Nous also reported that Abbate is leaving Marquette.

In the Nov. 9 post that apparently sparked the rancor, McAdams led his readers down a rhetorical path that’s quite familiar to them. The essence of his complaint against Abbate was the same one he levels at everyone at Marquette who refuses to genuflect to orthodox Roman Catholic doctrine, because Marquette is, as he repeatedly reminds everyone, a Roman Catholic institution.

“Abbate, of course, was just using a tactic typical among liberals now,” he wrote. “Opinions with which they disagree are not merely wrong, and are not to be argued against on their merits, but are deemed ‘offensive’ and need to be shut up.”

Abbate countered that McAdams was, in effect, harassing her.

“It is astounding to me that the university has not created some sort of policy that would prohibit this behavior which undoubtedly leads to a toxic environment for both students and faculty,” she told Inside Higher Ed. “I would hope that Marquette would do everything in its power to cultivate a climate where Marquette employees, especially students, are not publicly demeaned by tenured faculty.”

In mid-December, after several faculty members called for an investigation of McAdams’ behavior, he received a letter from Dean Richard Holz stating that the university was conducting a review of his conduct and, in the interim, he was “relieved of all teaching duties and all other faculty activities, including, but not limited to, advising, committee work, faculty meetings and any activity that would involve your interaction with Marquette students, faculty and staff.”

McAdams was told that he’d continue to receive his salary and benefits during the review process but he was not to visit campus without first obtaining permission. 

Noting that “our graduate student teaching assistants are students first,” Marquette senior communication director Brian Dorrington said via email that “the safety of our students and campus community is our top priority.”

“The university has a policy in which it clearly states that it does not tolerate harassment and will not stand for faculty members subjecting students to any form of abuse, putting them in harm’s way,” Dorrington added. “We take any situation where a student’s safety is compromised extremely seriously.  … They are learning their craft and it is our expectation that they are mentored and supported by our faculty. 

“It is important to note that under faculty conduct rules, a professor would not be subject to a review of this nature simply for voicing an opinion. The university has expectations of conduct, specifically as they relate to the faculty-student relationship. When concerns are raised that a line has been crossed, it is our responsibility to take action and conduct a review.”

Reporting about the letter on his blog, McAdams appeared stunned.

A hero on the religious right for his anti-intellectual rabble rousing, McAdams has been milking the latest 15 minutes of fame he’s received over Abbate for all it’s worth. For years, he’s been a frequent guest on Charlie Sykes’ talk radio program on WTMJ-620, where listeners savor his sexist, racist and homophobic rants. (Marquette Warrior links directly to Sykes’ blog Right Wisconsin.) 

But in recent weeks, McAdams also has appeared on Fox News and been lauded for his courage by The Christian Post. Ben Shapiro’s online watchdog group TruthRevolt trumpeted “Marquette Suspends Conservative Professor for Exposing Totalitarian Leftist Faculty.” Under that canonizing headline appeared a picture of the professor looking smug and raising a clenched fist.

The last time McAdams received this much attention, it was over a defining moment in Marquette’s history, one that could have set the university on the course that has finally collided with McAdams’ Dark Ages social views. 

In spring 2010, the university rescinded an offer to out lesbian scholar Jodi O’Brien to become dean of Marquette’s College of Arts and Sciences. The university’s unprecedented cancellation of a signed contract prompted protests by students, condemnation from faculty members and a firestorm of controversy throughout higher education. The university’s action imperiled at least one state grant and nearly resulted in censure from numerous academic associations, even after Marquette President Fr. Robert A. Wild apologized to O’Brien and settled with her for an undisclosed amount of cash.

McAdams’ blog was ground zero for provoking the blowback over having a lesbian in leadership at the Roman Catholic university. But although McAdams won that battle, he lost his overriding anti-gay war.

In the wake of the O’Brien scandal, the university expanded its anti-discrimination policy to include LGBT students, staff and faculty. It also began offering domestic partner benefits to the partners of employees in same-sex relationships.

Gay-positive cultural events appeared on campus, including The Laramie Project, a play about the real-life killing of gay college student Matthew Shepard in Wyoming. Lesléa Newman, the author of Heather Has Two Mommies, presented the 2011 Starshak Lecture on campus.

Predictably, McAdams responded to all of these progressive developments with a vitriolic sneer, proudly positioning himself as the Vatican’s unofficial on-campus representative. His efforts always received kudos from the right, particularly from the angry white men who listen to local hate radio.

So it’s not surprising that McAdams was taken aback by the university’s reaction over his latest anti-gay attack. On his blog, he acknowledges that he expected to get in more trouble over his statement that “feminists grossly exaggerate the incidence of campus date rape” than over Abbate.

Perhaps Marquette has simply had enough of McAdams’ divisiveness, his endless needling of colleagues and minority groups, his lack of collegiality and tolerance for secular thinkers.

The university has changed considerably during his 30 years there. Most recently, it named Michael Lovell, the highly praised former chancellor of UWM, as its first layman president. Has Lovell, who backed equality during his tenure at UWM, decided to clean house?

Marquette, the state’s largest private university, got quite a scare over its rescission of O’Brien’s contract. The censure it faced over the incident would have jeopardized its hard-won stature as a major research university.

Maybe Marquette’s new leadership is more interested in focusing on academic leadership and providing a quality education than in standing in the way of social progress. Maybe the distraction that is John McAdams has finally become too big a thorn in the side of the university’s future.

Or maybe the university simply wants to receive attention for scholarship instead of backward political vitriol that makes it harder for academics there to be taken seriously.