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The St. Clair County Jail has installed new procedures for inmates who request religious diets.

Until now, inmates who wanted religious diets were required to pass a written exam that tested their knowledge of their faith.

A lawsuit filed last year by the Council on American-Islamic Relations claimed that policy was unconstitutional.

The case concerned Aaron Utley, a Muslim man and a former inmate at the jail, who was denied a Halal diet – in keeping with Islamic tradition – after failing a test on Islam.

Mark Halonen / Brighton High School

Maybe more than any other, high school can be a time when what you choose to wear has a huge impact on your sense of identity.

As students take their first steps into adulthood, they walk a fine line between fitting in with their peers and developing a unique sense of self.

Earlier this fall, a group of AP language students at Brighton High School were asked to read a memoir by Iranian author Azar Nafisi. The book detailed the experiences of women during that country's religious revolution, including dealing with new standards of modesty in the way they dressed.

To experience the material first-hand, several girls in the class in Brighton chose to spend a full school day wearing hijabs, the head-scarves worn by Muslim women in many parts of the world.

The exercise gave students a chance to learn about an unfamiliar culture and religion. But in a school community where no students and only one teacher outwardly practice Islam, wearing the scarves was a good way to draw curious looks, questions and a few unfriendly comments.

Teacher Diana Mason and three students at Brighton who took part recently told Stateside about the experience.

- John Klein Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Myra Klarman

There is no questioning the data: Buddhism is a force to be reckoned with. Estimates of the number of practicing Buddhists around the world ranges from 350-million all the way up to 1.6 billion.

 Buddhism is also recognized as one of the fastest-growing religions in the world. A University of Michigan professor has spent the past 12 years putting together what's being hailed as the most authoritative and comprehensive reference on Buddhism ever produced in English. It is "The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism," co-authored by Robert Buswell of UCLA, and Donald Lopez. He is the Chair of the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures and he is a Distinguished Professor of Buddhist and Tibetan Studies at the University of Michigan.

Christus Vincit / Flickr

It has been seven months since the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Mario Bergoglio was chosen as the new leader of the Roman Catholic Church.

He took the name Francis. And since then, the Argentinean pontiff has caught the world's attention, ruffling more than a few conservative feathers with his words on abortion and gay rights, attempts to reform the way the Vatican runs, and how the Catholic Church connects with the people.

We wondered how much impact Pope Francis is having on Catholics in Michigan, and how he’s seen by members of other religions.

We began the conversation with Dave Willey, the Rome correspondent for the BBC.

Then, we hear from Jesuit priest Father Karl Kiser, and Baptist minister Ural Hill.

You're not alone, billboard tells nonreligious

Oct 6, 2013
Center for Inquiry

A billboard alongside a highway in western Michigan is spreading the message that religion is something people can live without.

The billboard went up Monday and is to remain in place through Oct. 27 along U.S.-131 in the Grand Rapids suburb of Wyoming.

It's sponsored by the Center for Inquiry and carries the message "Millions of Americans are living happily without religion."

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It’s been written "you will know them by their fruits." And what some congregations of faith are harvesting these days is energy - saving energy, and producing energy from the sun and from the wind.

Julie Lyons Bricker is the executive director of Michigan Interfaith Power and Light, an organization that aims to get Michigan faith communities involved with promoting and implementing energy efficient practices. 

Bricker joined us in the studio today.

Listen to the full interview above.

Howard Books

One of the most frustrating aspects of living in American in 2013 is the way we seem to have lost a sense of being on the same team. 

Instead of thinking of ourselves as Americans or Michiganders, it's all too often Democrats or Republicans, Christian, or Muslim. 

This deep sense of division leads to gridlock in Congress and in Lansing. 

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing announced he will not run for re-election. What does this means for the city moving forward while currently under emergency management?

And we took a look at what's behind Michigan's high infant mortality rate.

And author, theologian, preacher, and social activist Jim Wallis joined us to talk about his book and The Common Good for America.

But first in the show, we got an update on the Palisades Nuclear Power Plant, where crews are trying to figure out what caused the release of slightly radioactive water.

The plant was shut down a little over a week ago because of the leak, and crews say they have discovered a new crack in a water tank that has been leaking on and off for at least two years. Michigan Radio reporter Lindsey Smith discussed the issue with us.

Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist / Facebook

Sure, the three sisters from Ann Arbor's Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist are probably going to beat you in a game of trivia about the Bible.

But you wouldn't expect them to take you on the physical challenges as well.

It turns out Sister Evangeline, Sister Peter Joseph and Sister Maria Suso are pretty darn good at flipping forks into glasses:

Good Friday

Mar 29, 2013
Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Christians across Michigan are observing Good Friday.

Observances are taking place in many different places.

Beginning outside the state capitol building, a few hundred members of Lansing’s Christo Rey church followed a group of actors through the streets of the state capitol as they recreated the biblical story of Jesus’ crucifixion.  

Holy week observances conclude on Easter Sunday.

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - A Democratic Michigan lawmaker wants to ensure that students are not penalized for missing school to observe a religious holiday.

Democratic Rep. Kate Segal of Battle Creek recently introduced a bill that would prohibit public school officials from counting days students take off to observe religious holidays against them when handing out perfect attendance or other awards.

Segal said in a statement that if children make up their missed work they should not have to choose "between observing their faith and boosting their academic resume."

2012 was a pretty terrible year for Michigan farmers.

On today's show, we'll take a look at what 2013 has in store, and what it means for the state's economy.

And, a few days before Saint Patrick's Day, we meet a Michigan musician who is immersed in both Irish music and Techno music.

But first, ever since last month when the world was stunned by Pope Benedict the 16's resignation, and today's announcement of a new Pope, religion has been on the minds of many, and that includes  Jack Lessenberry, Michigan Radio's Political Analyst.

We spoke with Jack about the religious views of Michigan's legislators.

DETROIT (AP) - A Michigan judge has approved a delay in closing a $700,000 settlement between McDonald's and Muslims who were mistakenly told that food at a restaurant conformed to Islamic dietary rules.

Wayne County Circuit Judge Kathleen Macdonald on Monday granted a 28-day extension of a notice period in the case and lifted an injunction against a lawyer not originally connected with the case from making public statements. A final settlement hearing is scheduled April 17.

The Jaafar and Mahdi Law Group filed the suit and agreed to the judge's actions.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

A state Senate committee took testimony Thursday on a bill that would allow doctors, nurses and other health care providers to opt out of providing medical care if they feel it violates their personal or religious beliefs.

The legislation could affect patients seeking a variety of treatments, including approval for medical marijuana or a prescription for the ‘morning after’ pill.

Tim Schultz is the legislative policy director of the group, American Religious Freedom. He says the legislation respects an individual’s ‘conscience’.

Bill Ballenger, who has been watching politicians in Lansing for close to half a century, had an interesting survey last week in his biweekly newsletter, Inside Michigan Politics.

He decided to find out how many members of the legislature are members of each religious denomination, something he does every few years.

What struck me as most interesting is that some people didn’t want to be pinned down as to what religion they were.

That was, he said, because some politicians prefer “to give the impression that the legislator could be affiliated with any number of faiths with whose parishioners she or he might actually worship from time to time.”

Zaineb Al-Kalby / Eastern Michigan University's Muslim Student Association

Forty Eastern Michigan University students spent a day this week dressed as Muslim women as part of "Hijab Day."

The hijab is a scarf that covers the head and neck and is worn by some women who practice Islam.

"Hijab Day" was started three years ago by EMU’s Muslim Student Association who hoped to spread awareness about Islam.

Group president Zaineb Al-Kalby helped participants put on the scarf she wears every day.

When the non-Muslim students looked in the mirror, she said they were surprised at their reflections.

"I really feel like they had that second of 'I'm actually in her shoes,'" she said.

EMU senior Emily Keyes, who was raised Catholic, participated in the event. She says she got mixed responses while wearing the hijab; some strangers looked away from her, while Muslim classmates told her they appreciated the gesture.

"I think it opened my mind to the way people perceive people that wear hijabs," she said.

After spending one day wearing the headscarves, the women met up to discuss their experiences and learn more about Islam's history.

-Elaine Ezekiel, Michigan Radio Newsroom

The Islamic Center of America will hold a "Rally against Hate" even this afternoon at 3 p.m.
Islamic Center of America

One of the largest mosques in the United States plans a rally at 3 p.m. this afternoon against hateful speech and violent acts.

The "Rally Against Hate" is in response to the violence in the Middle East stemming from the low-budget, privately made anti-Islam video, Innocence of Muslims, the film mocks the prophet Muhammad. The AP reports the video "resulted in at least 30 deaths in seven countries, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya."

The Islamic Center of America is inviting people of all faiths. Organizers say they hope to call attention to those who provoke violence in their speech.

More from WDIV:

"The level of freedom to express one's views in any country is judged by how all expression is protected, including abhorrent speech that is considered hateful. However, those who produce and promote expression that is hateful and which has no redeeming value, other than to promote division and encourage bigotry, should be put on notice that good people of faith will not stand idly by and allow hate to triumph over truth, love and respect," organizers said.

The Reformed Church in America has been ordaining women for more than 30 years. But there have always been ways for people who conscientiously object to female ministers to remove themselves from the process. On Monday night, the church’s governing body voted 143 to 69 to strike those policies.

A survey of female ministers shows about one in four experiences setbacks because of inappropriate use of those rules.

Reverend Stacey Midge heads the RCA’s Commission for Women. She believes the changes could cause some upheaval in the short term.

"In the long run however, I believe that we have more integrity as a denomination if we just say ‘we ordain women.' And if you can’t live within a system that ordains women, then there are a lot of denominations, and perhaps this isn’t the one for you," Midge said. 

The Reformed Church in America has been ordaining women for more than thirty years. On Monday the church’s governing body will consider dropping rules that outline ways people can conscientiously object during the process of ordaining women ministers.

The compromise, once struck to maintain unity within the church, may be causing more division now.

The Reformed Church in America has a large membership base in Michigan. The RCA has some administrative offices in Grand Rapids. Hope College in Holland is affiliated with the RCA, as is the Western Theological Seminary.

Flickr user/jemasmith

The Roman Catholic church says a newly formed prayer caucus in the Michigan Legislature that specifically endorses Judeo-Christian tradition should open itself to officials of "any faith." About 30 lawmakers and Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Calley sang "God Bless America" and prayed at Wednesday's launch.

The caucus says in its founding statement that it's "a bipartisan body of believers of Scriptural Truth, adhering to established Judeo-Christian principles."

The statement has drawn criticism from the Council on American-Islamic Relations based on what the group's state director Dawud Walid says is its "exclusionary language."

 The Michigan Catholic Conference has weighed in as well, saying it hopes that "elected officials of any faith are made to feel welcome." Caucus co-founder Rep. Ken Kurtz says anyone may join.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

A new group is trying to organize clergy members statewide to address the problem of youth violence in Michigan.

The group Prophetic Voices gathered a Christian, Muslim and other religious leaders to a meeting in Lansing this past week. 

Reverend Ira Edwards is the spokesman for Prophetic Voices.   He says youth violence is hurting more than just young people in Michigan.

Premshree Pillai / Flickr

DETROIT (AP) - A Muslim rights advocacy group says it's filing suit against the FBI and U.S. Customs and Border Protection for what it says is the mistreatment of Muslims at the U.S.-Canada border.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations announced plans for the lawsuit Thursday, saying it will release details at a news conference Friday in Detroit.

The council says the suit is based on "the repeated detention and questioning of Muslims" on religious matters at and near the border.

In a statement, the group says the suit is by four U.S. citizens who say that Customs and FBI agents "detained and handcuffed them without evidence of wrongdoing and questioned them about their
religious beliefs and worship habits."

The Associated Press has asked the U.S. Justice Department for comment.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Grand Rapids has released plans to merge and close some of its churches. The diocese includes 99 churches in 11 West Michigan counties.

“Every Parish is in one way or the other affected," said Bishop Walter Hurley. He approved the restructuring plan that's been three years in the making. It’s supposed to help the diocese face future challenges, like changing populations, a growing Hispanic community, and fewer clergy.

“Right now we’re not at a crisis point but what we do need to know as we look to the future, now what happens if we don’t have a pastor assigned to this Parrish or this Parrish," Hurley said. 

Hurley says a few churches in more rural areas up north have already closed. Another handful will close as priests retire. Others will merge together. Hurley says the plan is a living document and subject to change. The Diocese of Grand Rapids isn’t the only one grappling with fewer priests.

There's no set timeline for when many changes will take place, but they're expected over several years.

You can find the full approved "Our Faith, Our Future" plan here. 

If you like gospel music you might want to check out the 20th Annual Gospelfest in Ann Arbor.

The idea behind the event is to celebrate the diversity of music among different communities and faiths in southeast Michigan. Participants seek to bridge cultural, racial, and religious gaps between different churches, and develop friendships.

Jean Wilson is the co-founder of Gospelfest, and choir director at St. Paul United Church of Christ in Saline. She sat down with Michigan Radio’s Jennifer White to talk about the event’s 20-year history.

Wilson says the event offers a variety of music, from traditional black gospel to contemporary Christian, pop-rock, and more. And she says the event is about diversity and unity.

“Although we are so diverse in our different ways of worship, we are all headed in the same direction; we are all children of the same creator. Although we have so many differences, we do have that thing at the core of our very being that really says that we are all related and are one, and we get to celebrate it.”

On Saturday March 10, choirs from Ann Arbor and Detroit will come together for the 20th Annual Gospelfest at Bethlehem United Church of Christ in Ann Arbor.

The gospel choir of New Prospect Baptist Missionary Church in Detroit will also participate in this year's event. Here's a video of the choir during a Saturday morning practice.

*This story was informed by the Public Insight Network. Share your story here.

I was a teenager back when Mitt Romney’s father, George, was governor of Michigan, and made his own run for the Republican Presidential nomination. I was already fascinated by politics, and followed that race closely. And here’s something you may find interesting. Back in nineteen-sixty-eight, nobody seemed to care that George Romney was a Mormon. Now, his formal campaign didn’t last very long. He dropped out of the race at the end of February.

DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) - The city of Dearborn has paid $100,000 in legal fees to attorneys for a Christian evangelist whose free-speech rights were violated at a popular Arab-American street festival.

Dearborn has a large Muslim population and one of the nation's biggest concentrations of people with roots in the Arab world. (Photo above of the Islamic Center of America, the largest mosque in the U.S. by Flickr user ruffin_ready.)

City police in 2010 barred George Saieg and his allies from freely walking sidewalks with literature to convert Muslims to Christianity. Chief Ron Haddad says he was just controlling foot traffic, but a federal appeals court says the city violated the First Amendment.

The court says allowing the evangelists on the festival's perimeter wasn't good enough.

As the prevailing party, Saieg was entitled to legal fees and other costs from Dearborn. His lawyers say the money was paid last week.

Bishop Thomas Gumbleton probably won’t vote in the primary today, though he spends his life doing work that’s greatly affected by the political world. Nor does he seem impressed that Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum are fellow Roman Catholics.

Actually, he seems pretty appalled by them.

user mconnors / morgueFile

The head of the American Family Association of Michigan is appealing a court ruling that upheld a federal hate crime law.

The law, called the Matthew Shepard & James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, was expanded in 2009 to protect people victimized because of their race, religion, ethnicity, gender, disability or sexual orientation.

Gary Glenn claims the law is unconstitutional because of the threat it poses to free speech:

Warren's Office of the Mayor

A national nonprofit group for atheists and agnostics wants to display a sandwich board with an anti-religion message inside Warren City Hall.  A nativity scene erected by the Warren Rotary Club is on display in Warren City Hall, something the "Freedom From Religion Coalition" takes issue with.

On one side, the group's sign reads:

  • "At this season of the Winter Solstice, let reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds."


On the other, it reads:

  • "Keep State & Church Separate."


The Macomb Daily News reports the group has tried to put the sign up in past years:

From the Macomb Daily:

For the second consecutive year, the Freedom From Religion Coalition has taken exception to the crèche located in the atrium of the municipal building, saying other viewpoints on religion should be permitted. According to a Fox 2 Detroit (WJBK-TV) report, the group has threatened legal action against the city...

According to the Freedom From Religion Coalition's website, their "demand letter to Mayor James R. Fouts, of Warren, Michigan, gave him until 10 a.m. today to agree to place their “equal time Winter Solstice sign" in the atrium of Warren City Hall.

Mayor James Fouts sent a letter to the group saying he would not allow their sign to be displayed because the sign is "antagonistic toward all religions and would serve no purpose during this holiday season except to provoke controversy and hostility among visitors and employees at city hall."

Fouts says he's allowed displays in city hall celebrating Ramadan, a month-long Muslim holiday, but could not support the Coalition's sign because "your non-religion is not a recognized religion."

From Fouts' letter:

If you requested permission to put up a sandwich board saying that there is no Santa Claus, you would be met with the same response. Santa Claus lives in the minds and hearts of many millions of children. The belief of God and religion lives in the hearts and minds of hundreds of millions of people and is as much a part of the fabric of America, as the belief in democracy and freedom.

Attorney Danielle Hessell of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan is representing the Freedom From Religion Coalition in the dispute. Hessell says the group is planning to sue.

From a FFRC press release:

“To date, the mayor has engaged in flagrant viewpoint censorship. As the city’s top government official, he has created a public forum for religion and only for religion. We hope reason will prevail, but if he does not permit our member to place the Winter Solstice display in the atrium tomorrow, we are planning to sue Mr. Fouts in federal court.”

user brother o'mara

Saab files for bankruptcy

Saab Automobile filed for bankruptcy in Sweden this morning. The announcement came after officials from General Motors rejected support for a proposal designed to save the company.

From a Saab press release:

After having received the recent position of GM on the contemplated transaction with Saab Automobile, Youngman informed Saab Automobile that the funding to continue and complete the reorganization of Saab Automobile could not be concluded. The Board of Saab Automobile subsequently decided that the company without further funding will be insolvent and that filing bankruptcy is in the best interests of its creditors.

Benton Harbor schools working to avoid an emergency manager

The Benton Harbor Area Schools are one of several entities in line for a possible state takeover by an emergency manager. State officials are expected to release findings of a preliminary review of the school system's finances this week.

Michigan Radio's Lindsey Smith reported on the cuts Benton Harbor Area Schools Superintendent Leonard Seawood, and members of the school board are proposing in hopes of avoiding a state-takeover:

He and the school board have agreed to close 2 schools and lay off 20 employees. Teachers have agreed to work for less money as the district and the union renegotiates a contract with concessions. Seawood is looking to get a 10-percent pay cut for teachers and increase their health care contributions to 20-percent.

The board agreed to demolish some old buildings and list others for sale. BHAS had already privatized bus drivers, custodians, grounds and maintenance and food service.

Protests at Lowe's in wake of "All-American Muslim" controversy

After Lowe's pulled its ad from TLC's reality show "All-American Muslim," protesters picketed outside a Lowe's store near Detroit this past Saturday.

From the Associated Press:

About 100 people gathered outside the store in Allen Park, a Detroit suburb adjacent to the city where "All-American Muslim" is filmed. Lowe's said this week that the TLC show had become a "lightning rod" for complaints, following an email campaign by a conservative Christian group.

Protesters including Christian clergy and lawmakers called for unity and held signs that read "Boycott Bigotry" and chanted "God Bless America, shame on Lowe's" during the rally, which was organized by a coalition of Christian, Muslim and civil rights groups.

Lowe's pulled the ads after it received pressure from the Florida Family Association. In a letter to advertisers, the group said the show was "attempting to manipulate Americans into ignoring the threat of jihad."

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