Media on Religion, January Edition

Dr Abel Ugba is member of the Centre for Religion and Public Life and Teaching Fellow in Sociology at the University of Leeds whose work focuses on media, religion, migration and international development. This is the fourth piece for his ongoing MoR column for the Religion in Public blog.

IN JANUARY 2019, we learnt that Winston Churchill almost became a Muslim, the United Kingdom admits its imperial past has hindered its efforts to defend the rights of Christians worldwide, BBC declared 2019 a Year of Beliefs, Iran defrocks a cleric because of social media activity, and a court in Miami ordered Hilton Hotels to pay over $21m for depriving a worker of her religious rights.

When Winston Churchill nearly became a Muslim– Winston Churchill was fascinated by the Islamic faith and some of his family believed he might have even converted to the religionafter his time in India with the British Army, an uncovered letter reveals. The former Prime Minister was a strong admirer of the Islamic faith – so much so his relatives believed he was on the verge of becoming a Muslim at the turn of the 20th century. The revelation is buried in a letter to Mr Churchill from his future sister-in-law, Lady Gwendoline Bertie, written in August 1907. In the letter, found by Warren Dockter of Cambridge University, Lady Gwendoline wrote: “Please don’t become converted to Islam. – Express, Jan 24.

Britain wants to help persecuted Christians, but imperial past is a hindrance: Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said that guilt about Britain’s imperial past has hindered it from addressing the increasing persecution of Christians in various parts of the world. At the launch of an independent review into how Britain supports persecuted Christians, he said the time had come to banish any “hesitation to look into this issue without fear or favour that may exist because of our imperial history.” Mr Hunt added: “We wanted to do this not just because freedom of worship is a fundamental human right, but because also freedom of worship is the invisible line between open societies and closed societies.” Britain’s intervention, he insisted, was not about asserting the rights of white wealthy Christians, but the religious freedom of some of the poorest people in the world.

Led by the bishop of Truro, Philip Mounstephen, the review will examine the scale, causes and geography of persecution. It will also study what measures Britain could adopt to raise the profile of the issue in its diplomatic network – The Guardian, Jan 30.

2019 is BBC’s Year of Beliefs: The BBC is launching a year of religious programming examining how faith is shaping and dividing modern Britain. It will delve into the current convictions of UK citizens, and their attitudes as well as the pressing moral dilemmas of our time. New programmes will explore how the personal and religious views of modern medicine, sexuality, parenthood and extremism are dividing society along new fault-lines. The fatwa issued against Salman Rushdie will be revisited 30 years on, with other planned documentaries covering male circumcision, surrogacy and the wealth gap. Programmes will include ‘Too Gay for God,’ which explores the LGBT community’s place in Christianity, particularly in the Church of England.

Charlotte Moore, director of BBC Content, said: “With the Year of Beliefs we want to capture the complex variety of faiths and beliefs in modern Britain…I hope it inspires all our audiences and brings them a fresh insight into the fast-changing world we live in.” –Belfast Telegraph, Jan 28.

Iran defrocks cleric because of social media activities– An Iranian cleric, who is known for his outspoken social media activity, has been banned from wearing the clergy’s clothing. The Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) quoted from Hojjat-ol Eslam Seyyed Hassan Aqamiri’s Instagram page that the Special Clergy Court decided to ban him from wearing the Shia clergy’s clothing. The court also sentenced him to a five-year suspended prison term. Aqamiri is followed by 1.3m users on Instagram and regularly posts about social problems, official corruption and abuse of power and religion. BBC Monitoring, Jan 12.

$21.5m damages for obstructing religious rights– A 60-year-old dishwasher has been awarded $21.5 million in damages by a federal jury because Hilton hotels continuously scheduled the religious woman to work on Sundays, before ultimately firing her. But Jean Marie Pierre, who worked at the Miami Conrad, will only receive about $500,000 because punitive damages are capped at $300,000 in federal court where her case went to trial. The court concluded that her rights under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 have been violated.

“I love God,” the Haiti-born, devout Christian missionary said. “No, I can’t do Sundays, because Sunday I honor God.” Her lawyer, Marc Brumer, commented: “They accommodated her for seven years, and they easily could’ve accommodated her, but instead of doing that, they set her up for absenteeism and threw her out…She’s a soldier of Christ. She was doing this for all the other people, all the other workers who are being discriminated against.” – Mail Online, Jan 17.

Image Credit: Geraint Rowland

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