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Today an appeals court in Malaysia delivered a major setback to the religious freedom of Christians. A Catholic newspaper, the Herald, may not use the word "Allah" to refer to God.
Christians in the Western hemisphere might be confused by the headlines. The ruling is not about Christians' referring to the God worshipped by Muslims, but rather about what Christians may call the God they themselves worship. Catholics in Malaysia, as in many other countries, call God by the word "Allah."
Arabic-speaking Christians do so, as do Arabic-speaking Jews. The word sounds almost exactly like the way Aramaic-speaking Jesus would have pronounced it.
The unanimous decision by three Muslim judges in Malaysia's appeals court overturned a 2009 ruling by a lower court that allowed the Malay-language version of the newspaper, The Herald, to use the word Allah -- as many Christians in Malaysia say has been the case for centuries.
"The usage of the word Allah is not an integral part of the faith in Christianity," chief judge Mohamed Apandi Ali said in the ruling. "The usage of the word will cause confusion in the community." ...
Lawyers for the Catholic paper had argued that the word Allah predated Islam and had been used extensively by Malay-speaking Christians in Malaysia's part of Borneo island for centuries.
They say they will appeal against Monday's decision to Malaysia's highest court.
"The nation must protect and support the rights of the minority," said Father Lawrence Andrew, the founding editor of the Herald. "God is an integral part of every religion."
Christians in Indonesia and much of the Arab world continue to use the word without opposition from Islamic authorities. Churches in the Borneo states of Sabah and Sarawak have said they will continue to use the word regardless of the ruling.
The defendants fear that the decision will also apply to other Christian publications in Bahasa Malaysia. This could end up being the most important religious liberty story of the year, with wide-ranging implications for religious pluralism in southeast Asia. At issue are three of the minority rights at the very core of modern rights-based polities: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of the press.
"Who's affected by the government shutdown?" "What does it mean for you?"
Those are the stories media outlets have ready to go today. There will be lots of worthy accounts. Already I got a text message from my best friend -- an Iraq veteran and cancer researcher in both the Public Health Service and the National Institutes of Health. "Not bad traffic today. LOL." Sometimes one has to laugh in the face of idiocy.
The NIH already suffered under sequestration, as Francis Collins tried valiantly to continue the world's leading medical research facilities despite across-the-board cuts. Also affected today will be the Center for Disease Control, the Environmental Protection Agency, and several other "common good" entities, the kind of organizations disrespected by the roughly 30 Republicans who shutdown the government last night.
As GOP insider Byron York noted yesterday, the Republicans overall did not want this.
"Analysts say the Congressional GOP doesn't understand strategy," the Republican said. "I'm like, 'Congressional GOP' my ass! It's 30 idiots who can't get us to 217."
This morning I'm wondering whom those 30 Republicans have in mind, when they think about the effects of a shutdown.
Do they ponder the Republican business-owner in Arizona, the one who has been trying to expand her workforce and do right by her employees, trying not to hire undocumented immigrants but also not to racially profile potential hires? Do they think of her, when she finds out that "E-verify" is not going to work this week?
Here we are: Government Shutdown Week, a new biannual tradition. If you're just tuning in, the House Republicans are holding the global economy hostage unless President Obama repudiates the Affordable Care Act, his administration's signature domestic policy achievement.
That law was passed by Congress, signed by the president, and upheld by the Supreme Court. Its passage was not a surprise to anyone paying attention, having been preceded by very open debate going back decades. Its basic principles were developed by a conservative think tank, a similar plan was tried at the state level by a Republican governor of a large state, and its details were debated repeatedly in the Democratic primaries of 2008. It was debated so much during those debates that most viewers were bored. Everyone watching knew that a Democratic president would seek health care reform. Most people thought it would be more left-wing than the final product. Far from being "pushed through" or "rammed through" or whatever other tyrannical metaphor one might choose, the road to the Affordable Care Act was in reality a model of procedural governance in a modern democracy.
A small band of Republicans now will shutdown the government because they are mad that they lost. But they are pitching it as a prophetic action to call attention to the federal government's spending problem. The problem with that analysis of the spending problem is that deficits have been going down under Obama (handy charts here). A further problem is that not raising the debt ceiling will have no effect on any of the issues that they want to address. It won't change the prior commitments Congress has made, in terms of expenses or revenues.
Commentary marking six months of Pope Francis has been a love-fest from the most unexpected place: liberal talk show hosts.
A few months ago, there was some good discussion on the blog about the persistently large gap in income inequality. And though the Occupy movement no longer garners headlines, the problem of income inequality remains a core moral issue for many Americans.
Doing some preparation for a panel tonight on Pope Francis's pontificate so far, I made a "word cloud" of his Twitter feed. The most frequently used words certainly corroborate most people's sense that Pope Francis focuses on the fundamentals of Christian life: God, Jesus Christ, love, prayer, life, faith.
But a few of his distinctive emphases appear too -- young and peace, and that prayerful verb of openness: Let.
The past few days have seen a burst of commentary from Catholic writers about the proposed attack in Syria. This blog has featured a lot, and the current issue of the magazine has Gabriel Said Reynolds's essential short take. A few other items of note, and feel free to add more in the comments:
Maryann Cusimano Love on the "just war" question in the Huffington Post
WIth two bishops from Aleppo and Fr. Paolo Dall'Oglio still missing, the number of authoritative Christian leaders "on the ground" in Syria has dwindled. That makes it all the more important to consider the few remaining voices, as Christians ponder military action in Syria.
Today Vatican Insider reports that Gregory III Laham, the Greek Catholic Patiarch of Antioch and leader of the Melkite church, is leading a charge to stop a possible attack on Syria:
Perhaps of interest to Commonwealers in the New York area: Fordham University will be kicking off the new school year with a panel discussion of Pope Francis's pontificate. The panelists are three distinguished theologians (but they're letting me come too).
More importantly, we'll be welcoming Rachel Zoll, religion reporter for the AP, to keep us in line.
More information about "Six Months of Pope Francis" and RSVP online HERE.
Monday, September 9. 5:30 PM. Lincoln Center campus.