Egypt’s New Law on Churches Angers Christian Critics

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt’s lawmakers on Tuesday passed the country’s first law spelling out the rules for building a church, a step Christians have long hoped would free up construction that was often blocked by authorities. But angry critics in the community say the law will only enshrine the restrictions.

Church building has for decades been one of the most sensitive sectarian issues in Egypt, where 10 percent of the population of 90 million are Christians but where Muslim hardliners sharply oppose anything they see as undermining what they call the country’s “Islamic character.”

Local authorities often refuse to give building permits for new churches, fearing protests by Muslim ultraconservatives. Faced with refusals, Christians turned to building illegally or setting up churches in other buildings, which in many cases prompted riots and attacks by ultraconservatives. In contrast, building a mosque faces few restrictions.

Christians had hoped that the law would enshrine broad rights to build, encouraged by promises from President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. The Christian minority has been among el-Sissi’s staunchest supporters ever since, as army chief, he led the military’s ouster Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in 2013 and launched a heavy crackdown on Morsi’s supporters.

But the law left critics, including some Christian lawmakers, embittered, warning that it will maintain Christians’ second-class status. The Coptic Orthodox Church, to which most Egyptian Christians belong, had at first opposed the bill but later backed it — and critics say it bent to heavy government pressure.

Under the law passed Tuesday, Christians must apply to the local provincial governor when they want to build a church.

The law stipulates that the size of the church must be “appropriate” to the number of Christians in the area. According to an official supplement to the law, the governor should also take into account “the preservation of security and public order” when considering the application.

The law “empowers the majority to decide whether the minority has the right to hold their religious practices,” said Ishaq Ibrahim, a top researcher in the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.

The law passed with support of two-thirds of the 596 lawmakers in the House of Representatives, according to Egypt’s state agency. Though many of the body’s 36 Christian members had previously spoken out against it, in the end they largely voted in favor.

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New bill to protect Planned Parenthood is bad for whistleblowers

The LA Times Reports: After anti-abortion activists released hidden-camera videos last year that purported to show Planned Parenthood officials selling body parts from aborted fetuses, the organization’s opponents went into high gear, pushing state and federal officials to cut off public funds to the group and seek criminal charges. Never mind that the videos, some of which were deceptively edited, didn’t actually demonstrate that Planned Parenthood violated the federal law against fetal tissue sales. The agit-prop provided abortion opponents with enough political momentum to persuade lawmakers in at least six state capitals to bar the organization from receiving public funds for providing women’s health services.

Since then, Planned Parenthood and its allies have pushed back in the courts, in Congress and in some state capitals, where prosecutors launched investigations into whether the surreptitious filmmakers from the Center for Medical Progress violated contracts, illegally doctored government-issued IDs or ran afoul of privacy laws. But now, Planned Parenthood wants to go further. It’s supporting a bill in the California Legislature, AB 1671 by Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez (D-Los Angeles), that would make it a crime to distribute a recording or even a transcript of a private conversation with a healthcare provider.

State law already makes it a criminal violation of privacy, punishable by up to 3 years in prison, to use an electronic device to listen in on or record people without their permission. Gomez’s bill ups the ante by making it illegal for the eavesdropper to disclose or distribute “in any manner, in any forum,” what that person heard or recorded, if the victim is any type of healthcare provider. That prohibition would apply regardless of what the heathcare provider was discussing — not just sensitive details about patients, but also private conversations about fees and billing practices, drug marketers, or plans for the weekend.

Why a healthcare provider merits special protection even when discussing things that don’t involve patient privacy is mystifying. Worse, the original version of the bill pushed by Planned Parenthood would have allowed prosecutors to target not just those who made the recordings, but those who shared them online, reported on them or published the transcripts.

The proposal had civil libertarians, news organizations and filmmakers in an uproar, and rightly so. Even if you decry the Center for Medical Progress’ work, the version of AB 1671 that reached the Senate floor could have criminalized sharing or reporting on legitimate, valuable and even potentially life-saving undercover video work.

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