20 Years Ago Today, the Aum Shinrikyo Cult Attacked the Tokyo Subway System With Nerve Gas, Killing 12

A group that’s based on Buddhism and yoga sounds like it would be about as dangerous as the sixth-grade chess team at Pleasant Valley Elementary. And yet:

On this day, March 20, in 1995, 12 people were killed and thousands were sickened in Tokyo when members of [Shoko] Asahara’s cult, Aum Shinrikyo, released sarin during the Monday-morning rush hour in one of the world’s most crowded subway systems. Members of the cult used the tips of their umbrellas to puncture plastic bags filled with liquid sarin on five crowded cars before hurrying off at subway stops and leaving their fellow riders trapped with the toxic gas.

It was an unusual move for a religious movement based on Buddhist and Hindu principles and centered on the practice of yoga, but Asahara was an unusual spiritual leader. TIME described him, in a 1995 story about the gas attack, as a long-haired, bushy-bearded bully, “usually pictured wearing satiny pajamas,” who claimed he could levitate and promised to give his followers superhuman powers.



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Sharia Spreads: It’s Now the Law in Part of Malaysia

Islamic countries that have embraced sharia include Sudan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Nigeria. Last year, Brunei became the first Southeast Asian country to join that wretched club, and now neighboring Malaysia has done the same. More precisely, the state of Kelantan has, despite the fact that sharia is incompatible with the country’s constitution.

Among the punishments: limb amputations for theft; crucifixion for deadly robberies; 40 to 80 lashes for consuming any quantity of alcohol; and, of course, good old-fashioned stoning for adultery. The law also prescribes death for apostasy (remember that when Muslims quote Al-Baqara 256 from the Qur’an and try to tell you that “there is no compunction” in their religion).



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VIDEO: Afghani Mob Kicks and Stomps Woman To Death For Allegedly Burning a Copy of the Qur’an

By my reckoning, there are more than a billion printed copies of the Qur’an on this Earth. Saudi Arabia alone gives away 30 million new Qur’ans every year. Islam’s founding text is also online in thousands of places. The Qur’an, the most common book after the Bible, is more indestructible than ever.

But soil or burn one copy of it and you could pay with your life, as one woman in Kabul, the Afghan capital, found out yesterday.

Accusers who alleged that Farkhunda, 27, burned the Islamic holy book, proceeded to kick, beat, and stomp her to death, all caught in a video that even in the age of Daesh is remarkable for its savagery.

I can’t usually watch real-life violent footage, but in this case the victim has been entirely pixelated so that her battered face and her broken, bloodied body are never seen. That allows us to focus more on the horrid brutality of the attackers: their physical strength, their visceral hatred, their body language expressing excitement, their eagerness to submit to violent impulses with seeming impunity — and, inevitably, their gleeful shouts of Allahu Akbar.

An angry mob in the center of the Afghan capital, Kabul, has killed a woman and set her body alight for allegedly burning a copy of the Koran. Police and witnesses say the killing took place near the Shah-e Doh Shamshira shrine on March 19.



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Congressman Introduces Legislation to Prevent “So Help Me God” from Becoming Optional Part of Military Oaths

Until late 2013, if you were a freshman at the U.S. Air Force Academy, you would have concluded your Basic Cadet Training by reciting this Honor Oath:

“We will not lie, steal or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does. Furthermore, I resolve to do my duty and to live honorably, so help me God.”

It’s that last clause that Mikey Weinstein and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation fought to remove for so long and they eventually got their wish:



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Arizona Bill Exempting Churches from Paying Property Taxes on Buildings They Rent Awaits the Governor’s Signature

Earlier this year, Arizona legislators introduced a bill that would allow churches to claim a property tax exemption on buildings they rent rather than just own. A similar bill was vetoed by Gov. Jan Brewer last year, but there’s no telling if the same thing will happen under new Governor Doug Ducey.

House Bill 2128, which was passed by the House in February and passed by the Senate this week, already exempts property “owned by an educational, religious or charitable organization… from taxation.”

However, if a church rents space from, say, a public school, they can now claim an exemption on it, too. That rule would not apply to secular non-profit groups that rent the same space.



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