Christian guesthouse owners appeal ruling on gay policy

Christian guesthouse owners are appealing against a court’s ruling that their policy on double rooms discriminates against homosexuals.

Peter and Hazelmary Bull were sued by Steven Preddy and Martyn Hall after they refused to allow them to stay in a double room at their guesthouse in BB.

The Bulls turned the couple away in line with their policy of not letting out their double rooms to unmarried couples.

In January , Bristol County Court ruled in favour of Preddy and Hall and ordered the Bulls to pay them £3,600 in damages.

The judge determined that the Bulls’ policy was discriminatory on the grounds of sexual orientation, but also gave them the permission to appeal, stating at the time that his ruling “does affect the human rights of the defendants to manifest their religion and forces them to act in a manner contrary to their deeply and genuinely held beliefs”.

At the appeal hearing on Tuesday and Wednesday, lawyers for Mr and Mrs Bull will argue that the previous ruling was wrong in law.

The lawyers, funded by The Christian Institute, will also argue that it is legitimate for the Bulls to run their business in line with their religious beliefs.

The Christian Institute’s Mike Judge said it was wrong to say that the Bulls’ double room policy was direct sexual orientation discrimination because the policy applied to heterosexual as well as homosexual unmarried couples.

“If it is argued that the double-bed policy was indirect discrimination (a policy that is applied to everyone but disproportionately affects a particular group) then the law makes room for that, providing it can be justified,” he said.

“Trying to run a business according to the owners’ Christian values and ethics is a legitimate thing to do in a free and open society – especially when the business is also the owners’ own home. If this is not recognised in law then, in this instance, gay rights will have trumped religious rights.”

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Mir Yeshiva Mourns Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, 68

More than 100,000 people attended the funeral of Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, the head of the Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem.

Finkel died Tuesday of a heart attack at the age of 68 and was buried the same day. He also had Parkinson’s disease.

The Chicago native was descended from a line of rabbis who led the Slabodka Yeshiva in Lithuania.

Finkel became head of the yeshiva in 1990 following the death of his father-in-law, Rabbi Beinish Finkel. 

Mir is believed to be the largest yeshiva in Israel and perhaps the world. It is located in the Beit Yisrael neighborhood of Jerusalem, with two other Jerusalem branches and an affiliate in New York. 

Finkel will be succeeded by his second oldest son, Rabbi Yehudah Leib Finkel, one of  his 11 children.

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Not Enough Educated Consumers: Syms Files For Bankruptcy

Syms clothing company and its affiliate, Fileneâs Basement, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

“This has been a challenging time for Syms and Filene’s Basement,” Syms Corp. CEO Marcy Sims said Wednesday in announcing the bankruptcy. “We have been faced with increased competition from large department stores that now offer the same brands as our stores at similar discounts.”

Sy Syms, a well-known Jewish businessman and philanthropist, founded the company in 1958, gearing his store’s merchandise and service to “educated consumers,” saying in commercials they are his best customers. He also established the Sy Syms School of Business at Yeshiva University in New York in 1987.

For Filene’s Basement, which was founded in 1909 by Edward Filene, it will be the second time the fashion retailer has filed for bankruptcy. The first time was in 2009, when Filene’s Basement was sold to the Syms Corp. in a resuscitation effort.

Nationwide, Syms has 25 outlets and Filene’s Basement has 21. Both chains plan to go out of business and close all stores by the end of January.

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Why INEB is THE Buddhist conference to attend

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by Kooi F. Lim, The Buddhist Channel, Nov 6, 2011

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia — Gaya is a contradiction. At one end, fine yellow dusts fill the air and choke the lungs, while piercing horns and shouts from a thousand bodies choke its narrow streets. You can see children who wear torn rags on the streets, who probably have no idea what school is like – ever. Then you see polio stricken kids crawling on muddy sidewalks extending their hands for alms, and you get hit bythe effects of deep poverty and the consequences of what an unattended fever can do to a young child.

At the other end, there exist vast tracts of verdant green fields. These are hidden behind monasteries, temples and village slums which dot the periphery of the local highway leading from its airport to the focal point of Gaya’s existence, the Mahabodhi Temple, spot of the Buddha’s Enlightenment.

In this vortex of noise, pollution, poverty and calm, serene greenery, augmented with a historic Enlightenment, the International Network of Engaged Buddhists held its biannual conference here.

More renowned for its acronym, INEB brings together Buddhist based organizations and individuals from around the world to share stories, resources and to support each other’s work.

This year, the organizers – Jambudvipa Trust, Youth Buddhist Society of India (YBS), the Deer Park Institute and INEB designed the conference as a platform for examining the future of Buddhism to re-awaken and to re-vitalize Buddhist commitment towards helping all sentient beings. More significantly, this year’s INEB takes place to commemorate the 2,600 years since the Buddha gained Enlightenment right here, in Bodhgaya.

Unlike any other Buddhist conferences, people who attend INEB do not just to sit through a series of talk shops. A significant difference between this and other Buddhist gatherings is the participation of “resource persons. These are not just practicing Buddhists, but also dedicated professionals who are respected in their field of expertise.

The guy who gives detailed narratives of guided tours around the Mahabodhi temple was also a founder of a public listed pharmaceutical company, which produces are made based on traditional medical knowledge. His name is Richard Dixie.

Then there is the Japanese priest Rev. Hideshito Okoshi who established a miro-credit “Future Bank”, developed buildings that could last for 100 years and is now dedicating himself to work for a nuclear free Japan.

In Thailand, Phra Sangkom Thanapanyo works with remote villages to address issues of water scarcity while helping to maintain local agricultural practices and to protect forest ecosystems. He calls his work “Application of sufficiency economy”.

At â€The Bridge Fund”, Monica Garry from the United States manages a foundation which works exclusively with disadvantaged people living on the Tibetan Plateau in Western China, down to the most remote nomad. The fund supports developing local entrepreneurship (right livelihood), expanding rural healthcare, tackling waste management and strengthening communities, while grounded in respect for Tibetan culture and values.

Like any previous editions of INEB, social action is synonymous with engaging underserved, under privileged and sometimes persecuted groups. This year, the delegates heard stories of samsara at work on whole communities: the Chakmas (India), the Dalits (untouchables of India) and the Chittagong Hills Tribe (Bangladesh). For some of these communities, like the Dalits, embracing Buddhism is a way out to escape the clutches of discrimination.

And so we get to see real people doing courageous work at ground level to help these disadvantaged communities, people like Mangesh Dahiwale from the Jambudvipa Trust and Santoshita Chakma from the Chittagong Jumma Refugees Welfare Association.

All through the presentations, we hear how these individuals and organizations fortify themselves with non-violent communication strategies, compassion and street smart wisdom as they face the realities of engaging with people who are denied basic human rights just because some parts of society deemed them as below “cows”.

We see at first hand how the Buddha-Dharma operates in diverse conditions of human and environmental suffering – from working with rejected population, empowering marginalized groups, gender identity, awakening the youth, climate change and green marketing. All these are laid out in work groups, led by one or more resource persons.

These work group structures facilitate connections that could be made, so that people with a variety of knowhow, experience and skill can get together and brainstorm on issues. Even innocuous activities such as discussions on how to use a website effectively, film making, photography and art have a role to play in that creative process.

Like Gayaâ€s vortex of dichotomies - of dust with verdant fields, noise with serene gardens, poverty with its majestic monasteries, INEB’s key success lies in its ability to blend tools with experience, strategies with street smart realities, faith with focus and compassion with wisdom.

Yet, like the focal point of the Buddha’s Enlightenment in the Mahabodhi temple, participants from such diverse backgrounds would not have been so evidently committed if not for the drive and inspiration of INEB’s founder, Ajarn Sulak Sivarasa. In his opening address, he said:

“We need to be culturally sensitive, politically concerned and socially committed to have the courage to tackle questions of the common good and to point out abusive situations. To be able to see clearly, to be truly aware of the state of the world, we must begin by deprogramming ourselves and be free of prejudice toward those we criticize. By working with others of goodwill, we can identify and confront abuses of power. It is critical for people of all faiths and ideologies, as well as atheists and agnostics, to listen to each other as we promote justice and have balance through non-violent means. Equality must be upheld in all situations, in order to have empathy for, as well as to stay in touch with the poor and the oppressed.”

This was aptly summarized and supported with a simple advice from the Bhutanese monk Dzongsar Kyentse Jamyang Rinpoche (a strong advocate of non-sectarian Buddhism), when he observed,

“When you drink tea, there is the tea and there is the cup. We can’t say whether the tea or the cup is more important. Without the cup, you cannot hold hot tea in your hands. Yet, we should not be attached to the cup, and say ‘only this cup can hold the tea’.

Without a doubt, INEB have successfully brought together groups of diverse Buddhists from all corners of the world, each personally and socially committed to reach out and to help the underserved and under privileged. More admirably, their work are accomplished using Dharma inspired strategies such as mindfulness, compassion motivated actionsÂand non-violence.

They have shown the way that Buddhists are not just self-centred practitioners, motivated only by personal salvation. This INEB gathering has demonstrated anything but that.

Utilitarian Buddhist values need not be undermined by dogmas and cultural strait-jackets, and yet it need not succumb to rootless modernism and new age secularism. With a balanced understanding of the new and the ancient, of east and west, the Buddhas Teachings is timeless and equally effective, then and now.

All that is asked of us is to have the capacity to see clearly without prejudice, to have the ability to listen to one another and to act without selfish motives and personal agendas.

And when we can do this, no amount of samsaric dust, pollution or mental poverty can stop us from reaching out and fulfilling the dreams of our common humanity, that is to end suffering for ourselves as well as for others.

The International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB) was established in 1989. It held its biannual conference from October 26-29, 2011 at Wat Pa Bodhgaya, Gaya, India. The next INEB conference will be held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 2013. For more information, please visit:

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Tibetan nun dies after setting self on fire in latest protest death

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By Tom Lasseter, McClatchy Newspapers, Nov. 4, 2011

BEIJING, China — A Buddhist nun in China’s western Sichuan Province burned herself to death on Thursday, bringing to 11 the number of Tibetan clergy and former clergy who™ve set themselves on fire since March.

Palden Choetso

The series of self-immolations, unprecedented in Tibetan Buddhism’s modern history, has continued despite an increasingly large Chinese security presence in the predominantly ethnic Tibetan area.

The protests against Chinese government policies — including claims of oppression of Tibetan culture, language and religion — have resulted in official condemnation of what Beijing sees as a conspiracy by exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.

The nun, Palden Choetso, shouted “Long live the Dalai Lama” and “Let the Dalai Lama return to Tibet, according to a report relayed to the London-based rights group Free Tibet.

She was the second nun in as many months to set herself on fire in a northern region of Sichuan, which sits on the edge of the Tibetan plateau, and at least the sixth person to die doing so.

China’s state-owned Xinhua news agency reacted by reporting that, “initial police investigation showed that the case was masterminded and instigated by the Dalai Lama clique, which had plotted a chain of self-immolations in the past months.”

About 35-years-old, according to Xinhua, Palden Choetso was from a nunnery in north Sichuan and reportedly carried out the self-immolation at a road crossing just before 1 p.m. Xinhua listed her identity as Qiu Xiang a Mandarin Chinese name.

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With burnings, Buddhist monks sacrifice themselves for freedom

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BY TOM LASSETER, Detroit Free Press, Nov. 6, 2011

HONGYUAN, China — The young man’s hands began to shake, and he tugged at his fingers to keep them still. The 20-year-old ethnic Tibetan was terrified of the police finding out that he’d spoken about the Buddhist monks who’ve been burning themselves alive.

Tibetans in exile in Siliguri, India, protest China’s policies in Tibet. Rights groups say at least 11 Tibetan Buddhist clergy have set themselves on fire in China’s Sichuan province to call for cultural and religious freedom. / DIPTENDU DUTTA/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

“They’re doing it because they want freedom,” said the livestock trader, who asked that his name not be used.

He paused before adding, “Because we want freedom.”

Since March, according to rights groups, 11 Tibetan Buddhist clergy have set themselves on fire in China’s western Sichuan province. Almost all have been in or around the town of Aba, 50 miles as the crow flies to the west of Hongyuan, amid mountain ranges at the edge of the Tibetan plateau where yaks graze and prayer flags inscribed with mantras and blessings flap in the wind.

It’s said that at least five have died in the fiery exclamations of Tibetan complaint about restrictions on their culture and religion and the continued exile of their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

The chain of self-immolations — which includes six monks, three former monks and a nun — is unprecedented in modern Tibetan history. The most recent was Thursday.

A Buddhist nun, Palden Choetso, shouted, “Long live the Dalai Lama!” and “Let the Dalai Lama return to Tibet!” according to a report relayed to the London-based rights group Free Tibet.

Crackdown gets stiffer

The response by the Chinese Communist Party has been to knuckle down even more. Towns surrounding Aba are stacked with police. Internet access is shut off in many spots. Those suspected of sympathizing closely with activist monks are said to have disappeared.

A reporter was detained for two hours Oct. 29 after he was pulled over at a police checkpoint 15 miles from Hongyuan on the winding road toward Aba. He was released only after photos from his camera were deleted, and he agreed not to stop again in Hongyuan, a condition emphasized by threats to his driver and the multiple vehicles that followed him.

The crackdown didn’t stop monks from spreading their complaints via pamphlets in the area, nor did it put an end to people soaking themselves with gasoline and lighting matches; six self-immolations took place in October alone.

Many Tibetans say that the country’s Han Chinese majority, with the muscle of the Communist Party behind it, essentially is occupying their lands and moving to monopolize business interests while marginalizing the Tibetan language and way of life.
‘We are all afraid’

The Chinese government maintains that it liberated Tibetans from a feudal existence and now works to improve their lives with billions of dollars in infrastructure projects. Any outbursts of Tibetan rage, the government maintains, are the result of outside influences personified by the Dalai Lama.

In Hongyuan, police now swarm the streets. Many of those patrolling the predominantly ethnic Tibetan town appear to be Han Chinese.

“A lot of people have been taken away by the government,” said the livestock trader, who wore a puffy neon-blue jacket and jeans.

“A lot of Tibetans feel that we aren’t free. We aren’t allowed to put up pictures of the Dalai Lama. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

He was joined by a group of friends, a couple of whom wore small likenesses of the Dalai Lama at the ends of thin leather necklaces that they tucked beneath their shirts.

One of them, another Tibetan trader in his early 20s, spoke up, “We are all afraid of the government.”

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Call for action after deadly attacks on Nigerian Christians

Authorities in Nigeria have been accused of failing to protect the people following deadly violence at the weekend.

At least 100 people are reported to have been killed in attacks by militant Islamist group Boko Haram on the towns of Damaturu, Maiduguri and Patiskum in the north of the country. At least nine churches were attacked in Damaturu.

Bishop Oliver Dashe Doeme of Maiduguri told Aid to the Church in Need that the government in north-east Nigeria had “let the people down” by failing to prevent the attacks and protect people.

He said priests had been forced to run for their lives as militants attacked St Mary’s Catholic Church.

“The church was completely burnt to ashes,” he said. “It was one of the biggest churches in the diocese.”

Bishop Doeme said politicians in the area were using Islamist groups for their own interests.

“Religion is a very sensitive issue and the politicians can whip up hatred and suspicion very easily,” he said.

He appealed to the Nigerian government to shore up security, saying that it would require a “concerted effort” to restore law and order.

“If security had come earlier, this wouldn’t have happened. The police have let the people down.”

According to Human Rights Watch, last weekend’s attacks saw the highest number of deaths in a single day since Boko Haram began its campaign of violence in Nigeria in July 2009.

Andy Dipper, Chief Executive of Release International, fears Christians will continue to be “prime targets” of Boko Haram as it seeks to impose strict Islamic law in Nigeria.

“Boko Haram seems to be bent on destabilising the nation to pave the way for an Islamist state – and at the forefront of their attacks are churches,” he said.

Although police stations and government buildings were attacked, Dipper said churches accounted for more of the targets.

He said militants were trying to drive out non-Muslims from the area and would not stop until the “harshest” form of Islamic law had been established in Nigeria.

“The government must take effective action to prevent religious cleansing and to safeguard the Christian community,” he said.

Barnabas Fund has launched an appeal to provide practical support to Christians displaced by the violence and congregations that have lost their churches.

The International Director of Barnabas Fund, Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, urged Christians to pray for the situation.

“Islamists have once again wreaked havoc in Nigeria, leaving a trail of devastation and destroyed lives,” he said.

“Amid this ongoing carnage, our brothers and sisters continue to suffer.

“We must pray earnestly for peace in that troubled land and be ready to help meet the practical needs of Christians who have been affected by the violence.”

Human Rights Watch has condemned the violence as an “indefensible attack on human life”. It is calling upon the authorities to act swiftly in bringing the perpetrators to justice.

To donate to the Barnabas Fund appeal, go to:

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Most Christians opposed to plans to legalise samesex marriage

A new poll has found strong opposition among Christians to the legalisation of same-sex marriage.

The survey of more than 500 churchgoing Christians found that 83% are opposed to the Conservative Party’s plans, with 75% “strongly opposed”.

Ninety-three per cent said they were concerned that clergy would have to conduct homosexual marriages against their conscience.

There was also widespread fear about the impact of a change to the law on the status of marriage, with 85% saying that the value of marriage would be undermined.

Eighty-eight per cent believe schools will be required to teach the equal validity of same-sex and heterosexual relationships.

Seventy-eight per cent agreed that it would be harder to argue against “other novel types of relationship” such as polygamy.

More than half of the respondents – 57% – said the plans would make them “less likely to vote” for the Conservative Party at the next election. By contrast, no respondent agreed that the move would make them more likely to vote for the party.

The drop in party support among Christians will likely concern the Conservative Party at a time when it is looking to the church to help get the Big Society initiative off the ground and fill up the gap in social services left by cuts to spending.

Andrea Minichiello Williams, Chief Executive of Christian Concern, attacked David Cameron’s commitment to legalising gay marriage.

“David Cameron has suggested that marriage is basically about commitment and it makes no difference whether this is between a heterosexual couple or a homosexual couple,” she said.

“What possible authority does he have for making this claim and for trying to so radically re-define marriage?

“He is playing a dangerous game. He is about to find out that the large majority of quiet citizens are starting to say enough is enough and that the cherished institution of marriage cannot be dismantled in this way.”

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Christians challenge widening gap between rich and poor

A new resource pack has been published by Christian poverty action groups to help churches address poverty in the UK.

The Breaking Barriers pack has been produced for use during Poverty Homelessness Action Week, from January 28 to February 5, which also incorporates Homelessness Sunday and Poverty Action Sunday.

The pack contains ideas and tips for addressing poverty and raising funds for local and national projects. There are also materials to support reflection in worship and work with children and youth.

A prayer calendar features different barriers on each day of Poverty Homelessness Action Week to encourage participants to reflect and to act for change.

CAP is hoping churches, schools and community groups will use the ideas in the pack to show solidarity with people who are pushed to the edge of society, and challenge the barriers of misunderstanding, stigma and injustice associated with poverty.

Alastair Cameron of Scottish Churches Housing Action said: “Our society is full of barriers, and poverty creates many of them – barriers to getting on the housing ladder, or into a job, or even feeling safe in a particular part of town.

“False expectations set up by rampant materialism, status and acquisitiveness build barriers, too.

“The resource materials provide alternatives, giving ideas for how to build bridges within our communities.”

Niall Cooper, National Coordinator of Church Action on Poverty said: “Poverty and Homelessness Action Week will provide a timely opportunity for churches to reflect on one of the pressing topical issues of the day, namely: how can we break down the barriers between rich and poor; how can we start to break the barriers between those with wealth, money and power in society and those without.”

The Breaking Barriers resource pack is now available online at

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Jewish Music, With Next-Gen Players

Two of the young musicians taking part in the Sidney Krum Young Artists Concerts.

It started with a teacher.

Sidney Krum, who came to New York from Poland as a child, had passed his bar exam, but he spent most of his professional life in New York City’s high schools. Much of the rest of his time he spent listening to, singing and collecting Yiddish music, eventually donating his collection to YIVO, where it became the core of what is now the Sidney Krum Jewish Music and Yiddish Theater Memorial Collection.

“YIVO has a wonderful collection of music,” says Yuval Waldman, an acclaimed violinist, conductor and instructor. “But music, if it’s not performed, is dead.”

This music, bit by bit, is being performed, thanks to its caretakers at YIVO. Appropriately enough, the concert series in which it is performed and which bears Krum’s name, has a strong educational component.

“In thinking how to properly honor him, it occurred to me that we could make these concerts an educational experience for the performers, not just the audience,” Jonathan Brent, executive director of YIVO, explains. We bring in gifted young musicians in their teens and 20s, from all over the city’s institutions for musical education €” Juilliard, Manhattan School, Mannes and others — and introduce them to this music, with Yuval [musical director of the program] teaching them the nuances and style. A lot of what makes this music distinctive and distinctively Jewish just isn’t written in the score.”

Today Brent readily admits that he didn’t know that this program was the first of its kind, but it is already showing green shoots, very close to home for the director himself.

“My daughter is a cellist who had learned a nigun [wordless melody] set by [Joachim] Stutschewsky for the program, and when she played it for her professor at Yale, he said it was one of the most beautiful pieces he had ever heard and insisted on her playing it for the department faculty,” Bent says, beaming. “This tiny thing — one piece of music, passed along to a music teacher who’s not even Jewish, and he wants her to play it for another group of teachers.”

Waldman, who programs the concerts as well, says that he is constantly thinking about what pieces deserve a showcase, which ones go well together and the many other considerations that go into building a musical program. After all, he has access to an immense collection, ranging from hazonos (cantorial music) to nigunim, from Yiddish theater songs to folk music.

It is the last that serves as the platform for this year’s program, he says.

œAll of the pieces we will be performing have their basis in Eastern European Jewish folk song,” Waldman explains. “We have a piece that was composed in Terezin that we obtained from the Israeli collection of music from the ghetto there that has never been performed in the United States.”

Brent has ambitious plans for the future, expanding on both the educational and performance aspects of the concert series.

“We hope to develop a YIVO Chamber Ensemble that could actually travel,” he says. “We’re still in the beginning, but there is a core group of very young performers in the New York area. I would love to see them go to synagogues and JCCs both in the area and outside of it. A comparable group could be assembled in Chicago using the students from their distinguished music programs, or Boston or Philadelphia.”

Given the profusion of world-class music education available in the U.S., one could conceivably expand this vision almost indefinitely.

There’s certainly enough music to explore, Waldman says.

“Most of the pieces in the archives are unknown,” he says. “There is wonderful Yiddish-based music that just isn’t being played. It is the expression of a vibrant, living culture. We are bringing the music to these young artists who are giving it their energy and enthusiasm.”

He laughs, and concludes, “We’re only hampered by money and time.”

The latest in the series of Sidney Krum Young Artists Concerts will take place on Thursday, Nov. 17 (7 p.m. at the Center for Jewish History [15 W. 16th St.]. For information, call (212) 868-4444,


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