Largest Jewish group in America changes rules to embrace transgender people.

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The biggest Jewish movement in North America has endorsed a policy to embrace transgender people and to campaign against discrimination in a move hailed as a historic step.

The biennial conference of the Union for Reform Judaism, meeting in Orlando, Florida, overwhelmingly backed a motion on Thursday detailing specific steps to be taken by synagogues and congregations. They include the adoption of gender-neutral language and the provision of gender-neutral restrooms, as well as training and education.

The new policy was in keeping with the welcome Reform Judaism had offered to lesbian and gay congregants for decades, she added.

Catherine Bell of Keshet, a grassroots LGBT Jewish campaign group, said: “We applaud this historic resolution.” It was a far-reaching statement from the largest Jewish denomination in North America, she added.

Around 1.5 million Jews in North America are affiliated with the Union for Reform Judaism. Unusually, delegates to the conference gave a standing ovation to the approval of the motion.

The motion said: “North American culture and society have, in general, become increasingly accepting of people who are gay, lesbian and bisexual – yet too often transgender and gender non-conforming individuals are forced to live as second-class citizens.”

Transgender people face legal and cultural bigotry, hate crimes and harassment, and discrimination in employment, healthcare and housing, it said.

Reform Judaism congregations should advocate for the rights of transgender people, it said. But congregations should also create inclusive and welcoming communities by training staff, organising education programmes, delivering sermons on gender identity, reviewing use of language in prayers, forms and policies, and providing gender-neutral facilities.

The use of gendered titles and honorifics, such as “Mr”, “Mrs” and “Ms” should be avoided, and congregants should be asked in private for their preferred pronouns. Children should be grouped not according to gender, but by birth months or seasons. Synagogues should invite transgender speakers to address congregations.

The move was also welcomed by Jewish LGBT campaigners in the UK. “This is a step beyond what we’ve seen in UK Judaism, because it’s not only supportive but has concrete action points,” said Maxwell Zachs of Queer and Transgender Jews UK.

Reform Judaism in the UK was more conservative than its American counterpart and, although it was supportive of transgender people, “practical changes will be more difficult”, said Zachs.

In the US, Conservative Jewish movements were lagging behind Reform Judaism, said Bell. “Every denomination has its own pace and distinctive characteristics. My hope is that the conservative movement will follow on the heels of this, but it might not happen overnight. But they are moving on this trajectory.”

According to the US Human Rights Campaign, which advocates for LGBT rights, other faiths and denominations have adopted transgender anti-discrimination policies, but none as far-reaching as the Union of Reform Judaism. They include the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, the Unitarian Universalist Association and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association.

Source: http://bit.ly/1WEqwJR

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ISIS closes women’s clinics to prevent male gynecologists treating female patients.

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Isis is believed to have ordered the closure of all women’s clinics supervised by male doctors in its Syrian heartlands in its latest assault on the rights of women.

A culture of rape, forced marriages for child brides, the persecution of doctors and the exclusive use of medicines for militants have resulted in a crisis for women’s health under Isis’s brutal regime.

According to activists, Isis has drastically restricted the work of male gynaecologists in accordance with its leaders’ belief that men and women should be kept apart at all costs.

Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, the rights group which this year won the CPJ International Press Freedom Award, has reported threats and harassment towards doctors in the city on Wednesday night.

“A lot of doctors have [already] left, especially gynaecologists who were barred from practising their work and [threatened] with death,” said Abu Mohammed, the group’s founder.

Sources told another activist network, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, that all women’s clinics in Raqqa state overseen by men had been shut down. Gynaecologists working in the province’s larger hospitals had their involvement in operations “confined”.

The Observatory, a London-based network of activists, said it had previously reported on the closure of women’s clinics in smaller provinces held by Isis.

“People expressed their resentment over these steps taken by [Isis] regarding health and medical staff in the city, which already suffers from the lack of female medical staff engaged in these tasks,” it said in a statement.

Source: http://ind.pn/1MeaMvG

Buddhist monks in Burma are helping the government enact anti-Muslim laws.

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A powerful Buddhist ultranationalist group is helping Burma’s ruling party win votes in next Sunday’s election after the government pushed through laws seen as anti-Muslim, the co-founder of the group told Reuters.

Known by its Burmese initials Ma Ba Tha, the Buddhist nationalist group is not running a single candidate in the Nov. 8 election—monks are barred by law from running for office. Yet it has been in the forefront of campaigning and could influence the shape of Burma’s first popularly elected government in more than half a century.

For the first time, a Ma Ba Tha co-founder, a monk named Parmaukkha, disclosed some of the details about closed-door discussions between the group and the government on securing the passage of the bills.

The laws require citizens to seek government approval to convert to a different religion, force some women to have children at least three years apart and set punishments for having more than one spouse. An overwhelming majority of Burmese citizens are Buddhist.

The new laws discriminate against Muslims and women and could stoke religious tensions, human rights groups say.

The ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) used its parliamentary majority to push through the laws in the belief that “Ma Ba Tha would help them get votes in the election,” said Parmaukkha, who helped found the group in 2013. “They know we are a strong organization.”

Tha Win, a USDP lawmaker and senior party official in Rangoon, denied any connections with Ma Ba Tha. “We’re just engaged in politics. Our party’s rules don’t allow us to carry out religious affairs.”

Parmaukkha’s description of Ma Ba Tha’s role was also challenged by the group’s spokesman, Thurain Soe, who said his organization was grateful for the USDP’s help in enacting the laws, but was not supporting any party.

“We needed our religious four bills. Who could we ask? We needed to ask this government. This is a very normal process,” Thurain Soe said through a translator. “We thank the president and the Parliament. But it’s just ‘thank you,’ not supporting [the USDP in the election].”

Reform Referendum

The general election is the first since a quasi-civilian government replaced military rule in 2011, and is widely regarded as a referendum on Burma’s reform process.

Ma Ba Tha’s influence in Buddhist-majority Burma might prove crucial in the election campaign, especially in rural areas where monastic authority is unquestioned, election analysts said.

Its influence might sway enough votes from Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) to deny the opposition party an all-important parliamentary majority, and save the USDP—created by the powerful military and chaired by President Thein Sein—from an embarrassing electoral debacle.

Fearful of potential Ma Ba Tha intimidation, the NLD decided not to field any Muslim candidates on Nov. 8, two senior NLD leaders told Reuters.

In recent years, religious violence in Burma has killed hundreds of people, mostly Muslims.

Formally known in English as the Committee for the Protection of Nationality and Religion, Ma Ba Tha grew out of the “969” movement, also led by monks, which called for a ban on interfaith marriages and a boycott of Muslim businesses.

Ma Ba Tha began cooperating closely with the government and the USDP in a series of meetings about the race and religion laws in 2014 and 2015, Parmaukkha said.

One meeting in the capital Naypyidaw in May 2014 was attended by officials from the ministries of religion, immigration and home affairs, as well as presidential advisors, he said.

Three other leading Ma Ba Tha monks confirmed to Reuters that they had attended the May meeting to discuss the bills with the government task force.

Members of the governmental team, including Soe Win, Burma’s minister of religious affairs, did not respond to requests for comment regarding the government’s contacts with Ma Ba Tha.

The closed-door meeting has not been publicly disclosed before.

Gloomy Party Assessment

At another meeting in March 2015, a USDP official, who was also a director general in a government ministry, assured Ma Ba Tha the government would approve the race and religion laws, Parmaukkha said. Parmaukkha declined to identify the official and Reuters was unable to independently verify this account.

This was just weeks after an internal USDP survey, which Reuters reviewed, had suggested the NLD would trounce the ruling party at the polls.

Two months later, Thein Sein signed the first of the four bills into law. The remaining three were enacted less than three weeks before the election campaign officially began.

Ma Ba Tha spokesman Thurain Soe denied leaders of his group had met government officials on the race and religion bills in 2014 and 2015.

Zaw Htay, a senior official from the President’s Office, said it was a monk-led petition drive that gave the initial impetus to the laws. The campaign gathered more than 2 million signatures calling for enacting laws protecting race and religion and the President’s Office drafted the laws in response to that petition, Zaw Htay said.

“It’s very hard to separate Buddhist monks from politics in this country,” he said, citing their role in Burma’s struggle for independence from British colonial rule, as well as pro-democracy protests in more recent years.

Scorn for Suu Kyi

Ma Ba Tha’s leadership has openly expressed support for the USDP and scorn for Suu Kyi.

Wirathu, 47, one of the most prominent of the Ma Ba Tha monks, endorsed Thein Sein in an interview, saying his administration “opened doors and worked step-by-step for peace and development.” He poured scorn on Suu Kyi and her party, saying: “NLD people are so full of themselves. They don’t have a high chance of winning in elections.”

Another monk who helped found Ma Ba Tha, Vimalabuddhi, said that since most of the USDP leaders are from the military they understood the situation in the country better than the NLD who were “politicians and civilians.”

“They don’t really understand our situation,” he said.

Asked about these criticisms from Ma Ba Tha, senior NLD leader Win Htein told Reuters: “According to the teachings of Buddha, monks shouldn’t get involved in political affairs. They should be neutral.”

He said Ma Ba Tha has targeted the NLD from the start for not being supportive of their race and religion laws and being more sympathetic to Muslims. “That’s why we decided not to field any Muslim candidates, for fear of antagonizing Ma Ba Tha, losing votes and failing to win a parliamentary majority.

“It has caused some very hard soul-searching,” he said.

Source: http://bit.ly/1WvZAfi

Doctor debunks AA’s “higher power” themed 12-step recovery with facts and science.

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Since its founding in the 1930s, Alcoholics Anonymous has become part of the fabric of American society. AA and the many 12-step groups it inspired have become the country’s go-to solution for addiction in all of its forms. These recovery programs are mandated by drug courts, prescribed by doctors and widely praised by reformed addicts.

Dr. Lance Dodes sees a big problem with that. The psychiatrist has spent more than 20 years studying and treating addiction. His latest book on the subject is The Sober Truth: Debunking the Bad Science Behind 12-Step Programs and the Rehab Industry.

Dodes tells NPR’s Arun Rath that 12-step recovery simply doesn’t work, despite anecdotes about success.

“We hear from the people who do well; we don’t hear from the people who don’t do well,” he says.

There is a large body of evidence now looking at AA success rate, and the success rate of AA is between 5 and 10 percent. Most people don’t seem to know that because it’s not widely publicized. … There are some studies that have claimed to show scientifically that AA is useful. These studies are riddled with scientific errors and they say no more than what we knew to begin with, which is that AA has probably the worst success rate in all of medicine.

It’s not only that AA has a 5 to 10 percent success rate; if it was successful and was neutral the rest of the time, we’d say OK. But it’s harmful to the 90 percent who don’t do well. And it’s harmful for several important reasons. One of them is that everyone believes that AA is the right treatment. AA is never wrong, according to AA. If you fail in AA, it’s you that’s failed.

On why 12-step programs can work

The reason that the 5 to 10 percent do well in AA actually doesn’t have to do with the 12 steps themselves; it has to do with the camaraderie. It’s a supportive organization with people who are on the whole kind to you, and it gives you a structure. Some people can make a lot of use of that. And to its credit, AA describes itself as a brotherhood rather than a treatment.

Lance Dodes is also the author of Breaking Addiction and The Heart of Addiction. i

Lance Dodes is also the author of Breaking Addiction and The Heart of Addiction.

Zachary Dodes/Courtesy of Beacon Press

So as you can imagine, a few people given that kind of setting are able to change their behavior at least temporarily, maybe permanently. But most people can’t deal with their addiction, which is deeply driven, by just being in a brotherhood.

On a psychological approach to addiction

When people are confronted with a feeling of being trapped, of being overwhelmingly helpless, they have to do something. It isn’t necessarily the “something” that actually deals with the problem. … Why addiction, though — why drink? Well, that’s the “something” that they do. In psychology we call it a displacement; you could call it a substitute …

When people can understand their addiction and what drives it, not only are they able to manage it but they can predict the next time the addictive urge will come up, because they know the kind of things that will make them feel overwhelmingly helpless. Given that forewarning, they can manage it much better.

But unlike AA, I would never claim that what I’ve suggested is right for everybody. But … let’s say I had nothing better to offer: It wouldn’t matter — we still need to change the system as it is because we are harming 90 percent of the people.

Source: http://n.pr/ZL2WnL

Another atheist blogger/publisher killed by islamists in Bangladesh

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A Bangladeshi publisher of secular books has been hacked to death in the capital Dhaka in the second attack of its kind on Saturday, police say.

Faisal Arefin Dipon, 43, was killed at his office in the city centre, hours after another publisher and two secular writers were injured in an attack.

A local affiliate of al-Qaeda said it carried out the attacks.

There has been a series of attacks on secularists since blogger Avijit Roy was hacked to death in February.

Both publishers targeted on Saturday published Roy’s work.

Mr Dipon was found dead at the Jagriti Prokashoni publishing house, in his third-floor office.

“I saw him lying upside down and in a massive pool of blood. They slaughtered his neck. He is dead,” his father, the writer Abul Kashem Fazlul Haq, said, quoted by AFP.

Earlier on Saturday, armed men burst into the offices of publisher Ahmedur Rashid Tutul.

They stabbed Mr Tutul and two writers who were with him, locked them in an office and fled the scene, police said.

The three men were rushed to hospital, and at least one of them is in a critical condition.

The two writers were named by police as Ranadeep Basu and Tareque Rahim.

Ansar al-Islam, al-Qaeda’s Bangladeshi affiliate, posted messages online saying it had carried out Saturday’s attacks.

Roy, a US citizen of Bangladeshi origin and critic of radical Islamism, was murdered in February by suspected Islamists. His wife and fellow blogger Bonya Ahmed was badly injured in the attack.

Three other bloggers have since been killed.

Source: http://bbc.in/1XHACfc

International Court Deals Blow To Scientology Tax-Free Status

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The Dutch branch of the Church of Scientology has lost its tax status as “public welfare institution”, and the tax benefits that go along with it, in a ruling made by the court in The Hague on Wednesday. The court decided that the sales of the Church’s expensive courses and therapy sessions are clearly aimed at making a profit, and thus it does not belong on the tax authorities’ charity list.

Scientologists believe that there are two major divisions of the mind – the reactive mind and the analytical mind, according to Wikipedia. The reactive mind stores painful and debilitating images, “engrams”, that move people further away from their true identity. The Church promises believers that they can get rid of these engrams with special techniques and eventually achieve a “clear” state – a sort of super human with a clear mind. The Church offers courses and therapy sessions to work towards this “clear” state, and these quickly cost thousands of euros.

The court ruled that these courses cost significantly more than commercial educational institutions’ average school fees. “If providers on the secular education market had similar prices, prospective students would experience it as prices for top education by top teachers in prime locations.” The court finds the prices to be very commercial. According to the court, Scientology consciously seeks profits to fill its purse and was able to build “substantial wealth” like this.

The Church can still appeal against this ruling, but it is not yet clear if they will. A spokesperson called the judge’s ruling “discrimination based on religious beliefs”.

This ruling puts a provisional end to a long ongoing process that started in the Amsterdam Court two years ago, according to newspaper Trouw.  Back then the court ruled that the Church of Scientology does not have a commercial character because it gave courses and therapy sessions to poor Scientologists as gifts. The Supreme Court questioned this ruling late last year, also being concerned about the prices Scientology charges.

Source: http://bit.ly/1M4cbor

China Ends One-Child Policy for All Couples

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All couples will now be allowed to have two children, the state-run news agency said, citing a statement from the Communist Party.

The controversial policy was introduced nationally in 1979, to reduce the country’s birth rate and slow the population growth rate.

However, concerns at China’s ageing population led to pressure for change.

The one-child policy is estimated to have prevented about 400m births since it began.

Couples who violated the policy faced a variety of punishments, from fines and the loss of employment to forced abortions.

Over time, the policy was relaxed in some provinces, as demographers and sociologists raised concerns about rising social costs and falling worker numbers.

The Communist Party began formally relaxing national rules two years ago, allowing couples in which at least one of the pair is an only child to have a second child.

Source: http://bbc.in/1KHq2LU