Leader of Amish Beard-Cutting Gang, Free From Hate Crime Charge, Receives Reduced Sentence

Without a doubt, the best religion story of 2011/2012 happened when a gang of Amish vigilantes illegally entered the homes of various brethren whom they accused of doctrinal impurity and forcibly cut the victims’ beards. It didn’t hurt the news value (or the comedy quotient) that the gang leader was a man named Samuel Mullet.

Mullet eventually received an eye-popping, frankly ridiculous prison sentence of 15 years, mostly because the prosecutors presented his admittedly inexcusable behavior as a hate crime.

A curious wrinkle in the case unfolded when Mullet and his co-convicts (all the others received sentences from one to seven years) were sent to different prisons; their lawyers argued unsuccessfully that this constituted cruel and unusual punishment,

… placing an overly harsh burden on their relatives, who, because of their religion, cannot travel by plane and have to hire drivers for car travel. For instance, for Mullet’s wife to visit him and three sons convicted in the case, she’d have to travel to Oklahoma, Louisiana and two prisons 160 miles apart in Minnesota.

The other day, the ringleader was back in court:

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Three Kids Died In a Traffic Accident In Front of Their Mom, But No Worries: God Suffers and Empathizes

Picture this:

A mother and her three children were walking to the grocery store. They waited for the crosswalk sign to signal that it was safe to cross the street. But it wasn’t safe. A driver ran the red light, severely injuring the mother, and killing her three children.

That unfathomable tragedy happened in Adam Ericksen‘s community not long ago. Ericksen, a progressive Christian, blogs at Patheos’ catchily-named Teaching Nonviolent Atonement, and he wrote about the accident with lots of obvious compassion. In fact, that’s part of his point: the way to react to such a local disaster is by mourning with others, and by showing empathy to the bereaved. And I don’t disagree with him.

But there is a theological response that I find extremely pernicious. In the face of such tragedies, many people claim God’s sovereignty in a harmful manner. They say things like, “God is in control,” or “It’s part of God’s plan,” or “Everything happens for a reason.” But after experiencing tragedies like the one that struck my community, I can no longer believe in that notion of God’s sovereignty.

That’s… promising.

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Justice Department Recently Hired American Imam Fouad ElBayly, Who Wanted Ayaan Hirsi Ali Put to Death

Is anybody minding the store over there?

An Egyptian-born imam who in 2007 said that Somali-born activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali should receive the death penalty for her criticism of Islam is now a Department of Justice contractor hired to teach classes to Muslims who are in federal prison.

According to federal spending records, Fouad ElBayly, the imam at Islamic Center of Johnstown in Pennsylvania, was contracted by the DOJ’s Bureau of Prisons beginning last year to teach the classes to Muslim inmates at Cumberland Federal Correctional Institution in Cumberland, MD. The records show that ElBayly has two contracts worth $12,900 to teach the classes and to provide the inmates “leadership and guidance.”

ElBayly first received media attention almost eight years ago, when, as the imam at the Islamic Center of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, he raised hell about a scheduled appearance of Hirsi Ali at the University of Pittsburgh. He called her “poisonous” and wanted her banned from speaking. Then he defended killing apostates like her:

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Harold and Kumar and Chris(t): Thank God For Marijuana, Pot Priest Says

Judge less, love more. That’s the message that the Rev. Chris Schuller, 55, wants to spread in a video aimed at asking tolerance for marijuana users.

“[T]hanking God for weed might feel a little awkward at first,” says the Rev. Chris Schuller — a former rector at St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church in the Snell Isle neighborhood [in St. Petersburg] — in the short video that’s punctuated with the reggae rhythms of Bob Marley. “Thanking God is going to feel so much better than throwing stones at people who are already stoned,” he says.

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Unaware of Praying Pig’s Sudden Celebrity, Chinese Farmer Slaughters It

A Chinese pig that caused a viral sensation after it was seen “praying” close to a Buddhist temple in China apparently didn’t pray hard enough to avoid being killed.

A pig has become a viral star in China after escaping from its farm and bowing its head in front of a Buddhist temple in what appears to be a prayer pose.

The pig was photographed and videotaped Feb. 22 outside the temple in Wenzhou when the animal struck a bowed pose that witnesses said made it appear the pig was praying — although others hypothesized the animal may have been kneeling as a result of a Vitamin E deficiency.

Or a joint inflammation, or congenitally weak shoulder tendons, or an environmental toxin, or food poisoning.

Seriously, praying?

Witnesses said the pig was in the prayer position for a long period of time before a monk arrived and chanted sutras for it.

I would have been more impressed if it was the hog that did the chanting (even if it squealed only Pig Latin).

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