Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, president of the Conference of European Rabbis, at an ordination ceremony in Frankfurt, Germany, Sept. 26. Photo by Hannelore Foerster/Getty Images.

European rabbis: EU court’s ruling on religious garb means Jews, Muslims unwelcome


A European Union court ruled that companies can prohibit their employees from wearing religious clothing and symbols, sparking condemnation from a rabbinical group that the decision amounts to saying “faith communities are no longer welcome.”

The ruling Tuesday by the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg also said that customers cannot simply demand that workers remove headscarves if the company has no policy barring religious symbols.

“An internal rule of an undertaking which prohibits the visible wearing of any political, philosophical or religious sign does not constitute direct discrimination,” the court said in a statement.

The ruling, which came amid a rise in the popularity of anti-Muslim politicians in Europe over the proliferation of jihadist attacks on the continent and ethnic and religious tensions, was on two lawsuits filed by Muslim employees who were sanctioned for wearing religious symbols or prohibited from doing so.

“This decision sends signals to all religious groups in Europe,” Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, president of the Conference of European Rabbis, said in a statement Tuesday. “With the rise of racially motivated incidents and today’s decision, Europe is sending a clear message; its faith communities are no longer welcome. Political leaders need to act to ensure that Europe does not isolate religious minorities and remains a diverse and open continent.”

One of the lawsuits that led to the ruling was by an employee of the Belgian branch of G4S, the London-listed outsourcing and security company. After three years at the firm she decided she wanted to start wearing a headscarf at work for religious reasons. She was fired in June 2006 for refusing to take off her scarf. The company said she had broken unwritten rules prohibiting religious symbols.

In the second case, design engineer Asma Bougnaoui was fired from a consultancy firm, Micropole, following a complaint from a customer who claimed his staff had been “embarrassed” by her headscarf while she was on their premises giving advice. Before taking the job she had been told that wearing a headscarf might pose problems for the company’s customers.

Last summer, dozens of French municipalities banned the burkini, a full-body swimsuit favored by Muslim women, with the backing of the French government before a French court ruled the action was unconstitutional. Many Europeans believed the ban violated personal and religious freedoms, but others in support of the prohibition regarded the burkini and other clothing favored by Muslims as a political statement.

Marine Le Pen, the leading candidate in the presidential race in France, said she would ban Muslim headcovering if she were elected. Asked whether she would do the same for the kippah, the head of the far-right National Front party said she would do so to preserve equality.

Gunman kills three young Muslims; motive disputed


A gunman who had posted anti-religious messages on Facebook and quarreled with neighbors was charged with killing three young Muslims in what police said on Wednesday was a dispute over parking and possibly a hate crime.

Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, a full-time paralegal student from Chapel Hill, was charged with first-degree murder in Tuesday's shootings around 5 p.m. (2200 GMT) two miles (three km) from the University of North Carolina campus.

The victims were newlyweds Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, a University of North Carolina dental student, and his wife Yusor Mohammad, 21, and Yusor's sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19.

All were involved in humanitarian aid programs.

Students at UNC, where Yusor Mohammad was going to join her husband as a student later this year, were gathering on Wednesday for an evening vigil and prayer service.

The suspect, in handcuffs and orange jail garb, appeared briefly on Wednesday before a Durham County judge who ordered him held without bail pending a March 4 probable cause hearing.

Police said a preliminary investigation showed the motive to be a parking dispute. They said Hicks, who has no criminal history in Chapel Hill, turned himself in and was cooperating.

The killings drew international condemnation. The shooting sparked the hashtag #MuslimLivesMatter on social media with many posters assailing what they called a lack of news coverage.

“I guess that Muslims are only newsworthy when behind the gun, not in front,” tweeted a poster who goes by the handle @biebersrivals.

Muslim activists demanded authorities investigate a possible motive of religious hatred.

“We understand the concerns about the possibility that this was hate-motivated and we will exhaust every lead to determine if that is the case,” Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue said in a statement.

'EXECUTION-STYLE MURDERS'

The killings occurred in a condominium complex in a wooded area filled with two-story buildings. Neighbors said parking spaces were often a point of contention.

“I have seen and heard (Hicks) be very unfriendly to a lot of people in this community,” said Samantha Maness, 25, a community college student. But she said she had never seen him show animosity along religious lines.

On Facebook, Hicks' profile picture reads “Atheists for Equality” and he frequently posted quotes critical of religion. On Jan. 20 he posted a photo of a .38-caliber revolver that he said was loaded and belonged to him.

Hicks's wife Karen Hicks told reporters at a news conference that her husband had been locked in a longstanding dispute over parking and the killings had nothing to do with religion. She said Hicks was not hateful and believed “everyone is equal.”

Barakat's family urged the shooting be investigated as a hate crime and said the three were killed with shots to the head.

“Today, we are crying tears of unimaginable pain over the execution-style murders,” Barakat's older sister Suzanne told reporters. She said her brother was light-hearted and loved basketball.

The incident appeared to be isolated and not part of a targeted campaign against North Carolina Muslims, Ripley Rand, U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of North Carolina, told a news conference with local police officials.

Imam Abdullah Antepli, Chief Representative of Muslim Affairs at Duke University, told the news conference it may or may not have been a hate crime and called for an easing of tensions.

A TURNING POINT?

Groups including the Muslim Public Affairs Council, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the local Raleigh-based Muslims for Social Justice called for a federal investigation into possible hate crimes.

“I hope this terrible tragedy will be a turning point that brings the reality home that if we keep demonizing Muslims and equating their religion to terrorism, it will lead to more attacks,” said Manzoor Cheema, co-founder of Muslims for Social Justice.

Barakat, an American citizen of Syrian origin, wrote in his last Facebook post about providing free dental supplies and food to homeless people in downtown Durham. He was raising funds for a trip to Turkey with 10 other dentists to provide free fillings, root canals and oral hygiene instruction to Syrian refugee children.

His sister-in-law, Abu-Salha, a sophomore at nearby North Carolina State University, was involved in making multimedia art to spread positive messages about being Muslim American.

Students at UNC said the three friends came from two of the most prominent Muslim families in the Raleigh area.

“Deah was a very proud Muslim American. He was proud of all his identities,” said Sofia Dard, a 21-year-old senior psychology major. She said Muslims were used to occasional harassment in post 9/11 America, but the shooting “adds a whole level of seriousness.”

Jewish groups join coalition against anti-Muslim subway ads in D.C.


Some national Jewish organizations joined a coalition of religious groups calling on the Washington Metro system to donate profits from an anti-Islam ad to charity.

“The placing of offensive, anti-Muslim ads in the D.C. Metro system is an important opportunity to affirm our commitment both to free speech and to a society that deplores hate and hate speech,” said Rabbi Batya Steinlauf, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington’s director of social justice and interfaith initiatives, and president of the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington.

“We are all part of one community,” she said.

The ad, currently running in four train stations throughout the Washington area, reads, “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.” It was sponsored by the American Freedom Defense Initiative.

Monday’s news conference was organized by the 28-member Shoulder-to-Shoulder: Standing with American Muslims, Upholding American Values and United Methodist Women. The coalition of Christian, Jewish and Muslim groups released a letter signed by 168 religious clergy members.

The letter states that the “ads espouse inaccurate and inflammatory stereotypes about American Muslims. These ads equate generalized 'savages' with 'jihad,' dangerously painting all Muslims as savages and suggesting that these generalized 'savages' must be defeated.”

Major Jewish organizations participating include Rabbis for Human Rights-North America, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and the Union for Reform Judaism.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority had sought to delay posting the four ads, calling for a one-month cooling-off period following the worldwide violence that followed the showing of the film “Innocence of Muslims.”

However, a U.S. District Court Judge in Washington cited the First Amendment’s right to free speech in denying Metro’s request.

U.S. envoy to Libya killed over anti-Muslim movie


The U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other American diplomats were killed, and the U.S. embassy in Cairo was attacked over an anti-Muslim movie.

Amb. John Christopher Stevens and three unnamed diplomats were killed Tuesday night in a rocket attack on their car in Benghazi, the White House confirmed Wednesday morning.

On Tuesday evening, Egyptian protesters climbed over the wall of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, pulled down an American flag, and then tried to set it alight.

The attacks follow the release online of an Arabic translation of a movie directed by Sam Bacile, a 56-year-old California real-estate developer, titled “Innocence of Muslims.”

[UPDATE: More information on “Sam Bacile” here]

The two-hour movie, which according to the Associated Press cost $5 million to make and was financed by more than 100 Jewish donors, attacks the Islamic Prophet Muhammad, making him out to be a fraud.

The film was screened one time at a movie theater in Hollywood, Bacile told the AP.

Bacile went into hiding on Tuesday night, speaking to international media from an undisclosed location.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton condemned the attack. “The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind,” she said in a statement.

ADL: Anti-Muslim sentiment ‘significant’


Anti-Muslim bigotry in the United States is “significant,” according to the Anti-Defamation League.

“A significant level of anti-Muslim bigotry has surfaced in a variety of public forums over the past year,” said an ADL statement accompanying a letter and background information the ADL submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee, whose civil rights committee was considering anti-Muslim activity on Tuesday.

“Much of it has focused on various plans to build or expand mosques around the country,” the statement said. “Many of those debates have been characterized by unfair stereotyping and prejudice that have singled out the Muslim American community for special scrutiny and suspicion.”

The ADL set out gauges of anti-Muslim prejudice: “Reported hate crimes, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaints, efforts to prevent mosques from being built in communities, and unwarranted legislative efforts to target a phantom ‘threat’—the infiltration of Sharia law into America’s judicial system.”

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) called the hearing in part to counter a recent U.S. House of Representatives hearing on radicalism among U.S. Muslims.

D.C. interfaith summit denounces anti-Muslim bigotry


An interfaith summit of Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders denounced anti-Muslim bigotry.

In a statement released by the group, which represented the majority of the country’s Jews, Muslims and Christians, participants announced that they came together Tuesday in Washington, D.C., “to denounce categorically the derision, misinformation and outright bigotry being directed against America’s Muslim community.”

The emergency summit was called by the Islamic Society of North America and co-organized by the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. Representatives from the Reconstructionist movement, the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding founded by Rabbi Marc Schneier and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, an umbrella organization of more than 125 Jewish community relations councils and 14 national agencies, also were in attendance.

Summit participants included the national leadership of the mainstream Protestant, evangelical Christian, Baptist and Catholic churches, as well as Muslim and Jewish leaders.

Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center is among several in the group scheduled to meet with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on Tuesday to coordinate Muslim outreach efforts with the Obama administration.

The group called upon religious clergy to join efforts to denounce anti-Muslim bigotry and hate violence, saying “leaders of local congregations have a special responsibility to teach with accuracy, fairness and respect about other faith traditions.”

Also Tuesday, the Anti-Defamation League announced the formation of the Interfaith Coalition on Mosques to monitor and respond to anti-Muslim bigotry related to efforts to build mosques across the United States. The coalition is expected to begin functioning in about two weeks, according to ADL national director Abraham Foxman.