Arizona, U.S. Discrimination Bill Vetoed

UC blog 3.4.14This February, the State of Arizona received considerable attention throughout North America. Attention was focused on a bill that would have allowed business owners to refuse service to customers on religious grounds. The bill was specifically intended to protect business owners from lawsuits resulting from a decision to deny service to lesbian or gay customers on grounds of strongly held religious belief. However, critics of the bill pointed out that it could have numerous unintended consequences. Republican Governor of Arizona Jan Brewer ultimately chose to veto bill, though not before many voices weighed in. In contrast to a number of other recent legislative actions that took place in the United States, this bill had nothing to do with gay marriage.

Is Discrimination a Religious Right?

Proponents of this controversial bill said that personal religious freedoms were being protected by allowing people to express their religious beliefs without fear of lawsuit. Though a few business owners have been named in lawsuits alleging discrimination, these lawsuits took place in locations where discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation was already illegal. Additionally, the services refused were specifically related to gay marriage ceremonies; bakers, florists, and other service providers who denied customers planning a gay marriage did so on the grounds that their religious convictions held that homosexuality was wrong.

The Arizona bill would have given business owners blanket permission to refuse services to customers, giving rise to questions about how the owners would ascertain whether or not a customer was actually gay. Even prominent Republic politicians argued that this bill would make it too easy to discriminate against people while using religion as a mask; Governor Rick Scott of Florida and former Presidential candidate Mitt Romney expressed hesitation over the bill on precisely these grounds. Gov. Brewer chose to veto bill, saying that it “does not address a specific or current concern related to religious liberty in Arizona.”

Other Impacts of the Proposed Bill

The financial impacts this proposed legislation were felt even before Gov. Brewer opted to veto bill.

  • The National Football League (NFL) began looking for alternative locations to hold next year’s Super Bowl, even though a location in Arizona had already been selected.
  • The Hispanic National Bar Association canceled its annual convention, already slated to take place in Arizona.
  • Businesses across the state worried that their income and reputations would be harmed if the Governor did not veto bill.
  • Major corporations, including Apple and American Airlines, threatened to withdraw their business from the state.

Though gay marriage is perhaps the civil rights concern most widely recognized as being important to gay and lesbian members of our human family, there are numerous other challenges that are even more pressing. Access to the public marketplace without fear of discrimination is important to everyone.

Twins born different years on New Years

ulc ca 1.13.14

Waiting for the arrival of a baby can be an exciting guessing game since due dates are not always accurate.  If you happen to be expecting two babies, the anticipation may be even greater. A very unique event occurred in Toronto and Washington D.C. this past New Years; 2 sets of twins were born in different years.

Gabriela and Sophia

Canadian mom Lindsay Salgueiro was not planning to spend the last day of 2013 in the hospital, but her infant daughters had other plans in mind. Salgueiro’s original due date was January 19th.  Baby Gabriela arrived just before midnight and weighed in at 7 pounds.  Sister Sophia arrived 8 minutes later weighing 5 pounds, 15 ounces.  The incremental time difference of the deliveries gave Sophia the opportunity to have her own special New Year’s birthday and to be one of the first babies of 2014. Both mother and twins are doing well and the city of Toronto is very pleased to have played host to such an auspicious event.

Lorraine and Brandon

Five hundred miles away from Toronto in Washington, D.C., Yaleni Santos Tohalino was making some New Year’s history of her own. She also delivered twins with one being born in 2013 and another in 2014. Her daughter, Lorraine, was born at 11:58 on December 31st and had a birth weight of 6 pounds, 5 ounces. Brother Brandon arrived at 12:01 AM weighing 5 pounds, 10 ounces. The brother and sister will have a very unique birth story to share with their own children and grandchildren Yaleni and proud dad Father Warren Begazo were very happy to welcome their December 31st and January 1st babies.  It is safe to say their New Year’s Eve will take on a whole new level of significance and special memories.

Other Notable Births of 2013

While it is difficult to top the New Year’s twins from Toronto and Washington D.C., there were some other notable births in 2013. Prince George Alexander Louis arrived on July 22nd. He is the son of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, otherwise known as Prince William and Kate Middleton. Prince George is third in line to the British throne after his grandfather and father. He would have been the first grandchild of Princess Diana. North West, the daughter of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, was born on June 15th. Kardashian heads her own fashion and reality show empire. West is a Grammy winning recording artist and fashion mogul.  Uniting Gabriela, Sophia, Lorraine, Brandon, Prince George and North West someday would make for an incredibly interesting birthday celebration.

Radical Islam: A detriment to the world.

Radical IslamRadical Islam has been controversial for many decades, but has gotten more media attention during the last ten years due in part to their attacks on the Western world. Islam is a complex and multifaceted religion that encompasses many groups, which means that Radical Islam is as far removed from mainstream Islam as the Crusades were to modern Christianity. Radical Islam is, therefore, not only a threat to the modern world, but it’s also a threat to modern Islam and its members.

This fervent behavior conflicts with the beliefs of the Universal Life Church because of the harm that it does directly to its members and to the rest of the world as well. The ULC believes in doing what is right, and not only does Radical Islam conflict with this message, it also conflicts with many of the messages of traditional Islam as well.

Radical Islam has led to many terrorist sects that are seeking to destroy Western ways. Western society is seen as financially and sexually decadent, and members of Radical Islam believe that jihad is necessary for the rest of the world to see the light. However, most mainstream Muslims would explain that though “jihad” does mean war, it’s usually used in a figurative sense, and not a literal sense. Radical Muslims, however, have taken this war literally and intend to fight it.

Much like Radical Christianity and Radical Judaism, Radical Islam strips many rights away from women. All of these religions originated in extremely sexist times, which means that when radicals attempt to return to the roots of their origins, they bring back outdated belief systems. Within Radical Islamic countries, female genital mutilation still exists and is still practiced. Female genital mutilation is not comparable to circumcision, and the sufferers of these mutilations will never have normal lives. The only purpose to female genital mutilation is to make sure that women will never have pleasure during sex, thereby lessening the chances they may cheat on their men or become sexually active on their own.

In Radical Islamic countries, women are still not allowed to show their skin, and they are not allowed to have men that are not their family in their home or to travel without men with them. In these radical countries, elderly women have been flogged to death simply for having young men in their home delivering groceries. Girls are forbidden from pursuing higher education, and many of them enter arranged marriages at a young age without any recourse.

It’s important to recognize, as the Universal Life Church does, that most Muslims are not Radical Muslims, and that the beliefs of Radical Islam in no way reflect the beliefs of the majority of Islam. Radical Islam is mostly seen in the Middle East nations, whereas most Muslims today are actually located in Southeast Asian countries such as Malaysia. While ULC believes that Radical Islamic believes are inappropriate because they promote the harm of individuals both within their group and outside of their group, this does not necessarily imply anything about ULC’s beliefs about mainstream Islam.

2012 ULC Ordinations Up, General Religious Affiliation Down
Interior of Notre Dame Basilica, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Canadian Religious Beliefs dip in some provinces, rise in others.

If you are interested in getting ordained by an online church and you live in Canada, chances are that you are not alone as many Canadians have also done the same thing. A recent Internet survey conducted by the Association for Canadian Studies indicates that the number of Canadian citizens who consider religion to be a part of their lives has experienced a slight dip during the past few years. Despite the dip, some provinces of Canada have actually reported being more religious through religious actions conducted by the church. Nontraditional spirituality has also begun to rise throughout Canada and the rest of North America, in part because of the presence of online churches that allow people to follow their own paths. The Universal Life Church (ULC) is one of those churches and seeks to serve Canadians so that they can choose their own path in religious studies.

The results of the survey showed that Canadians who felt religion as a significant presence in their lives fell from 39 percent to 36 percent during last year. However the number of people in Canada who chose to get ULC Ordinations rose steadily throughout 2012. Those who catch a casual glimpse of the survey may come to the conclusion that spirituality and religion are declining in popularity among the citizens of Canada but a closer look tells a different story. There is a rise in those choosing to get involved with organizations that promote acceptance of other belief systems and that shows that rather than experiencing an overall decline, perspectives on religion are shifting in a positive way. This fact is to the benefit of ministers who decide to get ordained with the ULC.

The survey results showed the only part of Canada that didn’t experience a reduction in numbers with traditional religious organizations was in the province of Quebec. Jack Jedwab, a religious scholar who is also executive director for the Association for Canadian Studies, suggested that recent elevation of Kateri Tekakwitha (Lily of the Mohawks) to sainthood by the Catholic Church of an historical figure is at least partially responsible for this regional trend. Kateri Tekakwitha, or Lily of the Mohawks, recently became the first First Nations citizen to be honored with sainthood by the Catholic Church.

Although the original survey results reflect a trend toward exploration of nontraditional spirituality in favor of institutions steeped in tradition, they also indicate that many people who have always been involved with traditional religion are beginning to use ULC Ordinations to enhance their beliefs by incorporating a creed of freedom and tolerance into their existing ideology.

With the number people deciding to get ordained in the ULC growing throughout many parts of the United States, it makes sense that those in Canada will follow the trend.  With their storehouse located in the beautiful city of Seattle, WA, USA; the ULC is an excellent alternative for those who need a significant spiritual presence in their lives but may not feel comfortable in traditional religious venues.
Should the ULC Ministry Support Atheist Churches?

Universal Life Church, ULCThe Universal Life Church embraces all faiths (and non-faiths), including atheism, but is it possible, or even desirable, to start a church for atheists, or is this a contradiction in terms to be avoided? Britain already has its own atheist church, which meets at a former church building in London. Although many religious and non-religious individuals alike see a conflict in the idea, the ULC sees it as a creative way to build a sense of community.

Sunday Assembly is a first for Great Britain, which has a significantly higher atheist population than the very religious United States. According to data from a 2011 census, one if four people in England and Wales identify as non-religious, whereas 5 percent of Americans identified as atheist. However, the number of atheists is growing around the world, including Canada as well as Britain. In order to serve this growing segment of the population and create a space where secularists could commune, stand-up comedians Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans co-founded the church, called The Sunday Assembly, and decided there was no better place to locate it than in a church-turned-entertainment venue in Islington called The Nave. But could atheists who get ordained online in the Universal Life Church do the same thing?

Jones and Evans seem to have made the concept work. Two hundred “worshipers” attended the first service, held on 6 January, where the congregation discussed the theme of “Beginnings” and achieving success be letting go of past failures and avoiding mental “booby traps”. With such a generic focus, who is to say more won’t show up at following services? To cement their status as a non-religious gathering, rather than hold a sermon by a traditionally ordained minister, the church invited a children’s author, Andy Stanton, to discuss the topic, and rather than lead a prayer church leaders encouraged the congregation to close their eyes and meditate on feelings of inadequacy and fear of failure, while Jones took the stage as MC. And, just as traditional churches sing hymns, the Sunday Assembly congregation sang a rendition of the Oasis song “Don’t Look Back In Anger”.

Despite Jones and Evans’s concept, not everybody is pleased with the idea of an atheist church. One of the more vocal critics in the religious community is the Revd Saviour Grech of Saint Peter and Saint Paul Roman Catholic Church in Clerkenwell: “How can you be an atheist and worship in a church? Surely it’s a contradiction of terms. Who will they be singing to?” the Islington Gazette reports him as saying. Meanwhile, secularists have argued that Jones and Evans risk of turning atheism into a religion, according to The Huffington Post UK. But Jones has countered that he and Evans are not trying to create a religion, but build a “useful community”, and that receiving complaints from both atheists and the religious means they are doing the right thing. For ministers ordained online, Jones has a good point: there need be no contradiction in the idea of an atheist “assembly”.

Like The Sunday Assembly, the Universal Life Church is an unconventional church which doesn’t fulfill everybody’s expectations of what a church should be, given its practice of online ordination. However, that does not necessarily mean the concept is contradictory or unworkable. As a ULC minister, what do you think about Jones and Evans’s atheist church? Do you think it is a contradiction, or do you think it is a way of building a viable community for the non-religious?

ULC Celebrates World Religion Day
Universal Life Church, ULC, World Religion Day

Many religions share goals of strengthening love, hope, and faith both within individuals and amongst a community

Since 1950, the third Sunday of January has been the official day of celebration of World Religion Day. This day of recognition of the commonalities between all world religions was originally started by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States. It has also been adopted as a day of celebration by the Universal Life Church since their inception in 1959.

The ULC was founded with the basic doctrine to, “Do only that which is right.” Anyone may become ordained as an interfaith minister by the church free of charge.

This year, World Religion Day will be celebrated on Sunday, January 20th with activities all around the globe. The purpose of the celebration is opening doors of communication between people of all faiths, and even those without expressed faith, to identify common values and goal that promote world harmony.

Celebration of World Religion Day does not require being a member of Baha’is or the ULC. While interfaith ministers will preside over ceremonies in many places, all people are encouraged to participate by doing something that recognizes the fundamental affinity of all world religions. Such activities include:
• Attending the religious services of another faith.
• Initiating a conversation with someone of another faith about the commonalities between religions.
• Attending a celebration of World Religion Day sponsored by the Universal Life Church or Baha’is organizations.
• Personal contemplation of the common goals of all world religions in their aspiration to work as a motivating force for harmony in the world.

The goals of all religions include a desire for peace and an expression of universal love for all humankind. Some may want to become ordained as an interfaith minister in the ULC as a way of assisting others who seek religious recognition or want to perform a wedding, baptism or passing away, but who do not feel comfortable within the structures of more traditional churches and centers of faith.

All religions and faiths have a common core of belief that can become obscured by doctrinal differences and differing rituals and practices. World Religion Day is a moment to recall and celebrate what unites us all beyond and above our diverse ways of expressing our desire for universal love, harmony and peace.

How to Organize a Green Wedding Ceremony
couple kissing under tree on a farm for their wedding

Farms not only can provide fresh food and flowers for a wedding, but also a beautiful rustic backdrop

If you are a wedding officiant chances are greater than ever that the couple might ask you to perform a wedding that is environmentally friendly. The unique philosophy of the Universal Life Church (ULC) often places their officiants at the center of the wedding preparations, instead of simply being a participant. Many ULC couples embrace a green lifestyle and want leave as small a carbon footprint as possible.

So what does one do if you are presented with such a request? Here are a few pointers:
* It’s more than recycling – everything connected with the wedding is either made of recycled materials, or recycled afterwards, or both. But the important thing to do for the environment is to get the message of sustainability across. So the green wedding must not only demonstrate recycling, but also demonstrate its message in a fun and original way. Don’t tell – show!
* Go to the food! Perform a wedding ceremony out in nature – perhaps on a scenic organic farm or even a vineyard, if you’re in wine country. These days there are many organic community food co-operatives who have beautiful gardens. Having your wedding ceremony in such a setting will minimize the fossil fuels needed to bring in food, especially if it could be a vegetarian wedding, since many ULC members are vegetarian anyway.
* Show the lifestyle of the farm laborers: Since community food co-op members perform the farm work themselves, they are not ‘laborers’ in the strict sense, but farmer-owners of the enterprise. But even on an organic farm – why not invite some of the people who produce the food to participate in a small dedication ceremony? For instance, the wedding officiant could briefly ask for a blessing on the hands that helped grow the food. This will give extra meaning (and taste!) to the food.
* Don’t destroy in order to decorate: There are so many beautiful things in nature – so why truck in flowers (or even fly them in from Holland)? Find local wildflowers, if they’re in season. There’s sure to be somebody in the wedding party and their families who knows how to make something beautiful out of what’s available. After all, that’s the very heart of sustainability!
* Wear and use things that have not been produced specially for the occasion. Using a hand-made pottery dinner service is low-footprint and a beautiful example of how to use the earth without putting back intoxicants into it afterwards. Wearing grandma’s wedding dress doesn’t only cut out the prodigious waste involved in wedding dresses, but is also a symbol of the continuity of our families on this earth. Come to think of it; the very wastefulness of a modern wedding is what bothers many green-minded couples – and, to be honest, the officiants who perform their weddings.
Finally, let’s take the massive “I” out of our green wedding and go back to the time when the entire village rejoiced because a couple – and potentially new children! – was being added to the community. This is how we move closer to the earth: By celebrating our humanity joyously and peacefully in the arms of Mother Earth. And this is how you can have a wedding ceremony that still stands out in the couple’s minds – and those of their friends – long after many others have been forgotten.