Why this generation of teens is more likely to care about gun violence

Jean Twenge, San Diego State University

When 17 people were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, it was just the latest in a tragic list of mass shootings, many of them at schools.

Then something different happened: Teens began to speak out. The Stoneman Douglas students held a press conference appealing for gun control. Teens in Washington, D.C., organized a protest in front of the White House, with 17 lying on the ground to symbolize the lives lost. More protests organized by teens are planned for the coming months.

Teens weren’t marching in the streets calling for gun control after the Columbine High School massacre in 1999. So why are today’s teens and young adults – whom I’ve dubbed “iGen” in my recent book on this generation – speaking out and taking action?

With mass shootings piling up one after another, this is a unique historical moment. But research shows that iGen is also a unique generation – one that may be especially sensitive to gun violence.

Keep me safe

People usually don’t think of teenagers as risk-averse. But for iGen, it’s been a central tenant of their upbringing and outlook.

During their childhoods, they experienced the rise of the helicopter parent, anti-bullying campaigns and, in some cases, being forced to ride in car seats until age 12.

Their behavior has followed suit. For my book, I conducted analyses of large, multi-decade surveys. I found that today’s teens are less likely to get into physical fights and less likely to get into car accidents than teens just 10 years ago. They’re less likely to say they like doing dangerous things and aren’t as interested in taking risks. Meanwhile, since 2000, rates of teen binge drinking have fallen by half.

With the culture so focused on keeping children safe, many teens seem incredulous that extreme forms of violence against kids can still happen – and yet so many adults are unwilling to address the issue.

“We call on our national and state legislatures to finally act responsibly and reduce the number of these tragic incidents,” said Eleanor Nuechterlein and Whitney Bowen, the teen organizers of the D.C. lie-in. “It’s essential that we all feel safe in our classrooms.”

Treated with kid gloves

In a recent analysis of survey data from 8 million teens since the 1970s, I also found that today’s teens tend to delay a number of “adult” milestones. They’re less likely than their predecessors to have a driver’s license, go out without their parents, date, have sex, and drink alcohol by age 18.

This could mean that, compared to previous generations, they’re more likely to think of themselves as children well into their teen years.

As 17-year-old Stoneman Douglas High School student David Hogg put it, “We’re children. You guys are the adults. You need to take some action.”

Furthermore, as this generation has matured, they’ve witnessed stricter age regulations for young people on everything from buying cigarettes (with the age minimum raised to 21 in several states) to driving (with graduated driving laws).

Politicians and parents have been eager to regulate what young people can and can’t do. And that’s one reason some of the survivors find it difficult to understand why gun purchases aren’t as regulated.

“If people can’t purchase marijuana or alcohol at the age of 18, why should they be given access to guns?” asked Stoneman Douglas High School junior Lyliah Skinner.

She has a point: The shooter, Nikolas Cruz, is 19. Under Florida’s laws, he could legally possess a firearm at age 18. But – because he’s under 21 – he couldn’t buy alcohol.

Libertarianism – with limits

At the same time, iGen teens – like their millennial predecessors – are highly individualistic. They believe the rights of the individual should trump traditional social rules. For example, I found that they’re more supportive of same-sex marriage and legalized marijuana than previous generations were at the same age.

Their political beliefs tend to lean toward libertarianism, a philosophy that favors individual rights over government regulations, including gun regulation. Sure enough, support for protecting gun rights increased among millennials and iGen between 2007 and 2016.

But even a libertarian ideologue would never argue that individual freedom extends to killing others. So perhaps today’s teens are realizing that one person’s loosely regulated gun rights can lead to another person’s death – or the death of 17 of their teachers and classmates.

The teens’ demands could be seen as walking this line: They’re not asking for wholesale prohibitions on all guns. Instead, they’re hoping for reforms supported by most Americans such as restricting the sale of assault weapons and more stringent background checks.

In the wake of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, the teens’ approach to activism – peaceful protest, a focus on safety and calls for incremental gun regulation – are fitting for this generation.

The ConversationPerhaps iGen will lead the way to change.

Jean Twenge, Professor of Psychology, San Diego State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Arming teachers will only make US school shootings worse

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US President Donald Trump talks to high school students about safety on campus following the shooting deaths of 17 people at a Florida school.
Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

Rick Sarre, University of South Australia

On February 14, in Parkland, Florida, 17 teachers and students were shot dead at their school by an estranged student armed with a high-powered, military-style rifle. Mass shootings at places of learning in the US are, sadly, not uncommon.

On this occasion, however, the backlash against the political establishment has been more fearsome than usual. Significantly, the target is the gun culture of the country itself.

Notwithstanding, US President Donald Trump has come up with a plan to tackle the crisis. He wants to arm and train thousands of teachers to carry firearms in schools.

Let’s examine the evidence for the efficacy of such an idea.

Read more:
U.S. gun violence is a symptom of a long historical problem

The Trump plan is not a new one. Many US state legislatures have modified their gun control laws or softened regulations, now allowing holders of “concealed carry” permits to take their firearms into a wide range of public places including bars, churches, and government buildings.

Some state laws allow schools to permit teaching staff to carry weapons on campus. In June 2015, Texan lawmakers passed a bill giving not only faculty members but even students at public and private universities in that state a right to apply for a permit to carry concealed handguns into classrooms, dormitories and other buildings.

It should be mentioned also that Donald Trump is a strong supporter of the National Rifle Association, the powerful US-based lobby group committed to the idea that a citizen has a right to bear arms. The thinking of this group is that the “good guy” with the gun will deter, kill or maim the “bad guy” (the would-be shooter) before he can unleash his lethal mayhem.

Is there any evidence that the Trump approach is workable? No, not a skerrick.

The evidence continues to mount against guns as a form of urban crime prevention strategy, and for the proposition that a greater proliferation of guns actually increases the likelihood of urban violence.

Researchers in 2010 found that gun availability positively influenced the rates of several violent crimes in a sample of cities across 39 countries. Further research reviewed data for 27 developed countries and concluded that the number of guns per capita per country was a strong and independent predictor of firearm-related deaths.

Significantly, van Kesteren concludes:

In high-gun countries, the risks of escalation to more serious and lethal violence are higher. On balance, considerably more serious crimes of violence are committed in such countries. For this reason, the strict gun-reduction policies of many governments seem to be a sensible means to advance the common good.

I do not know of one serious crime prevention advocate in the developed world who would suggest that children are safer in a school because of firearms in their teachers’ hands.

Leaving aside the possibility of theft of a gun, its misuse or an accident, it would be fanciful to suggest that teachers could be trained to make split-second determinations of who is a “bad guy” and who is a “good guy”. Even the most highly specialised armed forces units get that wrong sometimes.

And let’s not forget the cost of the plan. Trump needs to multiply the price of the weapons plus the costs of training by the number of teachers who volunteer to take on this task in the 100,000 educational institutions in the US today.

The evidence that countries with higher levels of gun ownership have higher gun homicide, gun suicide and gun injury rates is convincing. The US gun ownership rate (guns per 100 people) is more than five times the Australian rate. Its gun homicide rate is more than ten times the Australian rate.

Of all US homicides, 60% are committed by firearms. The equivalent figure in Australia (2010–12) is 14%.

The only ways to stop or reduce the likelihood of a school shooting is, first, to take seriously the role of the state in enacting laws to make firearm ownership an earned privilege and not a right, and second, to remove from public hands altogether, as Australia has done, automatic, semi-automatic and pump-action shotguns. They are simply not needed in any 21st-century urban setting.

Are either of these things about to happen in the US? Not in my lifetime, nor in my children’s lifetimes.

Read more:
Why is there so little research on guns in the US? 6 questions answered

Estimates in 2009 were that there were more than 300 million guns in private hands in the US. This figure would be significantly higher today, although one of the problems is that it is not known exactly how many people own how many guns.

They are not going to disappear in the foreseeable future. And if the deaths of 20 children between six and seven years old, as well as six staff members, at Sandy Hook elementary school in December 2012 cannot re-direct the political wind, then nothing will – not even the cries of pain outside of the White House from families from Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Will more mass shootings occur in US schools and on college campuses in the years to come? Most certainly, with or without the implementation of Trump’s latest suggestion. Indeed, the situation is likely to get worse.

The ConversationUnless something radically changes some time soon, Americans just have to live with the inevitable.

Rick Sarre, Adjunct Professor of Law and Criminal Justice, University of South Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Why the Commonwealth should resist meddling in schools

Julie Sonnemann, Grattan Institute and Peter Goss, Grattan Institute

Australia’s education debate is shifting at last, from how much money governments should spend on schools to how best to spend the money for the benefit of students.

After winning parliamentary approval for the Gonski 2.0 schools funding deal (the “how much”), the Turnbull Government has commissioned the “Gonski 2.0 Review” to advise on how to spend the money wisely (the “how best”).

But the extra Commonwealth money going to schools (A$23 billion over the next 10 years compared to previous Coalition policy) is only 3% of all government spending on schools over the decade. It should not be used as an excuse for the Commonwealth to intervene more heavily in school education policy.

The Grattan Institute’s new report, The Commonwealth’s role in improving schools, examines what the Commonwealth should do if it really wants to boost student outcomes.

And the answer is: not very much.

Read more:
The passage of Gonski 2.0 is a victory for children over politics

States are better placed to drive reforms

The states run schools, as well as providing most of the funding. Heavy-handed Commonwealth intervention is likely to be counterproductive, costly and confusing.

Most of the big reforms needed are within the responsibilities of state governments. For example, all the evidence shows effective teaching has the largest impact on student achievement. The biggest advances will be made when teachers know what works in the classroom, and how they can adapt their methods to better target their teaching to the particular needs of their students.

For this to happen, teachers need better support from the “system”: for example, better teacher development and greater standardisation of classroom materials so individual teachers don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

In school education, the states and territories are the “system” managers. Driving reforms such as these from Canberra would be difficult.

Federal funding conditions aren’t the way to go

Australia must learn from its history. Our report shows imposing prescriptive funding conditions on states and territories has been tried before, with little benefit.

Commonwealth interference can destroy policy coherence and simply increase red tape. The Commonwealth has few ways to independently verify if change is actually happening in the classroom, so adding an extra layer of government policies that chop and change only disrupts schools and teachers.

For example, the 2008-2013 National Partnership agreements for school education included a number of prescriptive and input-based conditions. These increased the administrative and compliance burden of states, and created instability in schools when the funding and initiatives stopped abruptly five years later.

Before looking to new reforms, the Commonwealth government should first deliver its existing responsibilities more effectively. These include initial teacher training, the national curriculum and national student testing. All require constant attention, and some require urgent reform.

Read more:
Changes to school funding – your questions answered

Prioritise a few national reforms only

If determined to act, we suggest the Commonwealth focus strategically on a small number of national reforms only. It is far better to focus on a few actions with a high chance of success.

We suggest the Commonwealth only pursue reforms that meet all of three criteria: the evidence shows it’s a good idea, the government can make it happen, and Commonwealth intervention will help. While many Commonwealth ideas are good in theory, many fall down on whether they can be readily implemented by state governments and actually lead to change in practice.

For example, in 2016 the Commonwealth signalled an intention to require all schools to use explicit teaching. While backed by evidence, this type of Commonwealth policy requirement is unlikely to lead to change without a raft of complementary state government policies. These include the right training and school support for teachers to switch to explicit teaching. It would be difficult for the Commonwealth to independently verify, and it also creates confusion by coming in over the top of state policies on effective teaching methods.

Commonwealth intervention must satisfy three criteria

Author provided/Grattan Institute

Four suggestions for new national reforms

We have four suggestions for new national reform areas where there are benefits of scale and coordination. These only to be pursued if state government’s have strong “buy in” and there is close collaboration in design and delivery:

1. Create a new national school education research organisation to investigate what works to drive school improvement and to spread the word across schools, states and sectors. The new body should be charged with lifting the standard of education research in Australia, establishing a long-term research agenda for school education, and promoting key findings across the country. It could link up all research on education for people from birth through to age 18, so policy makers and the community better understand the continuum of learning, from early childhood to school and vocational education.

2. Invest more in measuring new, non-cognitive skills such as teamwork and resilience, in the classroom. At present, Australia focuses much more on old, foundational skills such as literacy and numeracy, which are only one element of what we expect from 21st century schooling.

3. Develop better ways to measure student progress, for national bench-marking and for use in the classroom. NAPLAN seeks to measure students’ learning progress in core literacy and numeracy skills at the national level, but NAPLAN gain scores are not easy to interpret when comparing the progress of different student groups.

4. Invest in high-quality digital assessment tools for the classroom, so teachers know what their students know and how much progress their students have made.

Read more:
Gaps in education data: there are many questions for which we don’t have accurate answers

Resist over-reach

The extra Commonwealth money for schools under Gonski 2.0 is welcome. The shift in the education debate towards how best to use the extra money is still more welcome.

The ConversationBut for Australian students to get the most benefit, the Commonwealth must resist the temptation to over-reach by intervening heavily in school education policy.

Julie Sonnemann, Research Fellow, Grattan Institute and Peter Goss, School Education Program Director, Grattan Institute

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Former leader Bob Brown attacks Greens senator Rhiannon’s behaviour on schools

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All nine of Lee Rhiannon’s federal colleagues co-signed a letter of complaint that was sent to the Greens’ national council.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Former Greens leader Bob Brown accused Lee Rhiannon of “perfidious behaviour”, as the defiant Greens senator fought back against united condemnation from her parliamentary colleagues.

The other nine parliamentary Greens, including eight senators and lower house member Adam Bandt, have written to the party’s national council complaining about Rhiannon who, when the Greens were negotiating with the government on the schools bill, authorised a leaflet urging people to lobby senators to block the legislation.

Brown, a long-time critic of Rhiannon, repeated his previous description of her as “the Greens’ version of Tony Abbott”, and his call for the NSW Greens to replace her at the election with someone more popular and constructive.

He said that while he did not disagree with the Greens ultimately voting against the legislation – because Education Minister Simon Birmingham had done a special deal with the Catholics – the Greens in their negotiations had obtained $A5 billion in extra money.

Education was not Rhiannon’s portfolio – and for her to advocate against the Greens leader Richard Di Natale and its education spokesperson, Sarah Hanson-Young, was “untenable”, Brown said.

The Greens letter said: “We were astounded that senator Rhiannon was engaged with [the leaflet] production and distribution without informing party room at a time when we were under enormous pressure from all sides as we considered our position on the bill”.

It said the leaflet had the potential to damage the negotiations that Di Natale and Hanson-Young were having with the government about billions in extra funding for underfunded public schools.

The Greens’ parliamentary partyroom will consider Rhiannon’s action.

Despite prolonged negotiations with the Greens, the government finally concluded a deal with ten of the other crossbench senators to pass the bill. But the Greens had done much of the heavy lifting to obtain a series of amendments. This included the additional money, which takes the planned total extra federal government spending on Australian schools to $23.5 billion over a decade.

In a statement on Sunday Rhiannon said she rejected allegations she had derailed negotiations and breached “faith of the party and partyroom”.

“I am proud the Greens partyroom decided to vote against the Turnbull government’s school funding legislation. It’s clear that public schools would have been better off under the existing Commonweath-state agreements than they will be under the Turnbull package.”

She said that at all times her actions on education had been faithful to the party’s policy and process, and her work had not impacted on the negotiations.

She defended the leaflets she authorised, saying they were “a good initiative of Greens local groups.

“They highlighted the negative impact the Turnbull funding plan would have on their local public schools.

“Producing such materials are a regular feature of Greens campaigns. These leaflets urged people to lobby all senators to oppose the bill.

The Conversation“I was proud to stand with branches of the Australian Education Union, particularly as the Turnbull school funding plan favoured private schools,” she said.


Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


A Labor government would boost schools’ money but how much would it unpick Gonski 2.0?

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Labor has been steadfast in its opposition to the government’s school funding plan.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Malcolm Turnbull is on the brink of a major policy victory after the government mustered ten of the 12 non-Green crossbenchers behind its Gonski 2.0 policy.

The outcome of a week of intense negotiation by Education Minister Simon Birmingham means, barring mishap, the government is set to end this parliamentary sitting on a strong note, at least in policy terms. The Coalition remains in a bad place in the polls.

The new model for schools funding will be much closer to the original needs-based one recommended by the Gonski review, the implementation of which was compromised by a plethora of special deals.

In electoral terms, Turnbull hopes the schools policy will at least partly offset Labor’s usual strong advantage in education. But the fight over schools will still be on, because Labor will be promising a big extra boost to funding.

To get its legislation through, the government has shortened the time frame for delivering funding targets from ten to six years; boosted by $A4.9 billion to $23.5 billion the amount of additional money that will be spent over a decade (including $1.4 billion over the next four years); agreed to establish an independent body to oversee the funding; and endorsed a tight arrangement to prevent states lowering their share of school funding.

In a gesture to a deeply agitated Catholic sector, the government will provide transitional money for it next year, while a review is undertaken of the basis for calculating how much parents should be expected to contribute. Some money will also be available for schools that are part of systems in the independent sector.

This is being couched as transition money so that all systems will come under the new model from the 2018 start. The transition money will amount to $46 million, $38 million for the Catholics.

But the Catholics, who benefited from the previous special arrangements, remain angry. The future political implications of this are yet to be seen.

On Wednesday night National Catholic Education Commission executive director Christian Zahra said that commission representatives had just met with Birmingham who “set out the minor changes” he proposed in response to the Catholics’ “very serious concerns”. But the commission’s position hadn’t changed: the bill “still poses an unacceptable risk to the 1,737 Catholic schools across the country” and should be defeated.

The outcome has left the Greens caught badly short, exposed as under the thumb of the powerful teachers union, the Australian Education Union (AEU).

The government negotiated simultaneously with the Greens and the other crossbenchers. But the Greens were split, unable to finalise a deal even though they did most of the heavy lifting in extracting some major changes and additions to the government’s original $18.6 billion plan.

The result is they’re in the worst of positions. They are unable to claim victory in delivering the more needs-based system. But they have raised the ire of some of their supporters for attempting to reach agreement with the government.

As soon as it knew it had the numbers with the other crossbenchers, the government – unsurprisingly – brought on the second reading vote on the legislation in the Senate.

Greens leader Richard Di Natale said he was disappointed the government had stitched up the deal with the other crossbenchers. The Greens had still been negotiating when the second reading vote was called. “We thought those talks were progressing really well when out of the blue, the bells rang,” he told reporters.

He said the Greens were proud that what they did through their negotiations “was to raise the bar”. But they could not support the “special deal” for the Catholic sector, and had wanted more money for disabled children.

The government is relying on getting the votes of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, the Nick Xenophon Team, Jacqui Lambie, Derryn Hinch, and Lucy Gichuhi.

Labor has trenchantly opposed the government’s package, saying the $18.6 billion is $22 billion short of what schools would have received under the ALP’s policy.

The opposition’s schools spokeswoman, Tanya Plibersek, says a Labor government would keep the parts of the package that “are practical, like an independent schooling resource body”. It would also retain the cuts to elite private schools.

But Labor has not spelled out how a Shorten government would alter the new model it would inherit and fund more generously.

It says Gonski 2.0 is flawed because it entrenches a skew in federal funding towards non-government schools (traditionally funded by the federal government, which is only the minor funder, compared to the states, of government schools). But that doesn’t deal with the issue of how a Labor government would handle the Catholics.

Labor has taken advantage of the Catholic rebellion. The Catholic sector, having lost the old special deals, would be anxious to extract some new ones from an ALP government that had extra dollars to put around.

So, will Labor give the Catholics any undertakings that in power it would rectify the wrongs it alleges the government will do to the Catholic system? If it won’t, what will be the response of the Catholics?

The ConversationIf, after the dust settles from the Turnbull government making the tough changes, Labor broadly accepts the new model as a basis for its own planned funding, it will have a sound policy position but questions to answer about disingenuous claims we have heard from it in this debate.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Turnbull announces schools funding and a new Gonski review

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Turnbull government is seeking to seize the political initiative on schools, with a substantial funding injection and the appointment of David Gonski – who delivered the 2011 landmark schools report – to chair a “Gonski 2.0” review on how to improve the results of Australian students. The Conversation

A day after announcing university students will pay more for their education, Turnbull unveiled an extra A$18.6 billion in funding to Australian schools over the next decade, including more than $2.2 billion in this budget for the first four years.

Turnbull said that, under the government’s plan, “every school will receive Commonwealth funding on a genuine needs basis”.

At a joint news conference with Turnbull and Education Minister Simon Birmingham, Gonski – who is a personal friend of Turnbull’s – said he was very pleased the government accepted the fundamental recommendations of the 2011 report, particularly the needs basis. The proposed injection of money was “substantial”, he said.

Turnbull and Birmingham said the plan would ensure all schools and states moved to an equal Commonwealth share of the Gonski-recommended Schooling Resource Standard in a decade. The federal government would meet a 20% share of the standard for government schools, up from 17% this year, and 80% for non-government schools (currently 77%).

Birmingham said 24 non-government schools stood to lose money (there would be some transition money for a couple of these schools with a large number of students with special needs). They are among some 353 presently over-funded schools which will be worse-off under the plan than they would otherwise have been. Australia has more than 9,000 schools in total across the government, Catholic and independent sectors.

Pete Goss, the school education program director at the Grattan Institute, said: “We still need to understand all the details but the overall shape of the package is very encouraging.

“The minister has set a clear 10-year goal of getting every school funded consistently by the Commonwealth. The additional funding will help ease that transition.

“Some schools that have been on a great wicket for a long time will lose out – and so they should. This is a gutsy call and it is the right call.”

Goss said he understood there had been “an internal debate” in the government to arrive at this plan.

The announcement is a substantial turnaround for the government, which had previously planned more modest funding, and refused to embrace the final two years of Gonski.

But Turnbull was in full Gonski mode on Tuesday: “This reform will finally deliver on David Gonski’s vision, six years ago, after his landmark review of Australian school education,” he said.

Turnbull is trying to take some of the shine off Labor’s political advantage on education which, with health, was at the heart of its 2016 election campaign. Next week’s budget will attempt to neutralise some of the Coalition’s problems on health, which saw Labor run its “Mediscare” at the election.

Birmingham said that over the next four years there would be growth in Commonwealth funding of some 4.2% per student across Australia – “importantly, most of it geared into the government sector where need is greater and the gap to close in terms of Commonwealth share is larger”.

He said the government would legislate the decade-long program, and impose conditions to ensure states did not lower their funding. “We will be expecting states to at least maintain their real funding,” he said. “This is about real extra money to help Australian schools and students.”

What Turnbull dubbed the “Gonski 2.0” review will recommend on “the most effective teaching and learning strategies to reverse declining results, and seek to raise the performance of schools and students”.

It will advise on how the extra Commonwealth funding “should be used by Australian schools to improve student achievement and school performance”, Turnbull and Birmingham said in a statement.

Another member of the original Gonski panel, Ken Boston, will also be on the review, which will report to Turnbull in December.

The government says its new arrangements will replace the patchwork of agreements left by Labor.

But Labor’s education spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek said this was “a smoke and mirrors, pea and thimble effort to hide the fact that instead of cutting $30 billion from schools over the decade, this government will cut $22 billion from schools over the decade”.

“The big picture here is that in the 2014 budget, Tony Abbott promised a $30 billion cut to our schools and in the 2017 budget, Malcolm Turnbull wants a big pat on the back for changing that cut to a $22 billion cut,” she said.

“A week out from the federal budget this is taking out the trash,” she said. “They want clear air on budget night.”


Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


United Kingdom: Extremism in Schools


Pakistan: Latest Persecution News

The link below is to an article that comments on government-sanctioned textbooks used in Pakistan’s schools.

For more visit:


Latest Persecution News – 22 January 2012

Sudan Threatens to Arrest Church Leaders

This article covers threats against Christian churches in Sudan by the government.


Tensions Rise in Kashmir, India after ‘Guilty Verdict,’ Fatwa

This article covers the situation in Indian Kashmir following the issue of a fatwa against Christian schools and sharia judgments against Christian leaders.


Police Beat, Arrest Evangelist in Sudan

This article covers the beating and arrest of a Christian evangelist in Sudan.


These links are to articles posted at Compass Direct News


Religious Conversion Worst Form of ‘Intolerance,’ Bhutan PM Says

Propagation of religion is allowable – but not seeking conversions, top politician says.

THIMPHU, Bhutan, April 13 (CDN) — In the Kingdom of Bhutan, where Christianity is still awaiting legal recognition, Christians have the right to proclaim their faith but must not use coercion or claim religious superiority to seek conversions, the country’s prime minister told Compass in an exclusive interview.

“I view conversions very negatively, because conversion is the worst form of intolerance,” Jigmi Yoser Thinley said in his office in the capital of the predominantly Buddhist nation.

Christian leaders in Bhutan have told Compass that they enjoy certain freedoms to practice their faith in private homes, but, because of a prohibition against church buildings and other restrictions, they were not sure if proclamation of their faith – included in international human rights codes – was allowed in Bhutan.

Prime Minister Thinley, who as head of the ruling party is the most influential political chief in the country, said propagation of one’s faith is allowed, but he made it clear that he views attempts to convert others with extreme suspicion.

“The first premise [of seeking conversion] is that you believe that your religion is the right religion, and the religion of the convertee is wrong – what he believes in is wrong, what he practices is wrong, that your religion is superior and that you have this responsibility to promote your way of life, your way of thinking, your way of worship,” Thinley said. “It’s the worst form of intolerance. And it divides families and societies.”

Bhutan’s constitution does not restrict the right to convert or proselytize, but some Non-Governmental Organizations have said the government effectively limits this right by restricting construction of non-Buddhist worship buildings and celebration of some non-Buddhist festivals, according to the U.S. Department of State’s 2010 International Religious Freedom Report.

It adds that Bhutan’s National Security Act (NSA) further limits proclamation of one’s faith by prohibiting “words either spoken or written, or by other means whatsoever, that promote or attempt to promote, on grounds of religion, race, language, caste, or community, or on any other ground whatsoever, feelings of enmity or hatred between different religious, racial, or language groups or castes and communities.” Violation of the NSA is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment, though whether
any cases have been prosecuted is unknown, according to the State Department report.

Bhutan’s first democratic prime minister after about a century of absolute monarchy, Thinley completed three years in office last Thursday (April 7). While he affirmed that it is allowable for Christians to proclaim their faith – a practice commanded by Christ, with followers agreeing that it is the Holy Spirit, not man, that “converts” people – Thinley made his suspicions about Christians’ motives manifest.

“Any kind of proselytization that involves economic and material incentives [is wrong],” he said. “Many people are being converted on hospital beds in their weakest and most vulnerable moments. And these people are whispering in their ears that ‘there is no hope for you. The only way that you can survive is if you accept this particular religion.’ That is wrong.”

Thinley’s suspicions include the belief that Christians offer material incentives to convert.

“Going to the poor and saying, ‘Look, your religion doesn’t provide for this life, our religion provides for this life as well as the future,’ is wrong. And that is the basis for proselytization.”

Christian pastors in Thimphu told Compass that the perception that Bhutan’s Christians use money to convert the poor was flawed.

The pastors, requesting anonymity, said they prayed for healing of the sick because they felt they were not allowed to preach tenets of Christianity directly. Many of those who experience healing – almost all who are prayed for, they claimed – do read the Bible and then believe in Jesus’ teachings.

Asked if a person can convert if she or he believed in Christianity, the prime minister replied, “[There is] freedom of choice, yes.”

In his interview with Compass, Thinley felt compelled to defend Buddhism against assertions that citizens worship idols.

“To say that, ‘Your religion is wrong, worshiping idols is wrong,’ who worships idols?” he said. “We don’t worship idols. Those are just representations and manifestations that help you to focus.”

Leader of the royalist Druk Phuensum Tshogpa party, Thinley is regarded as a sincere politician who is trusted by Bhutan’s small Christian minority. He became the prime minister in April 2008 following the first democratic election after Bhutan’s fourth king, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, abdicated power in 2006 to pave the way toward democracy.

Until Bhutan became a constitutional monarchy in 2008, the practice of Christianity was believed to be banned in the country. The constitution now grants the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion to all citizens. It also states that the king is the protector of all religions.

Thus far, the Religious Organisations Act of 2007 has recognized only Buddhist and Hindu organizations. As a result, no church building or Christian bookstore has been allowed in the country, nor can Christians engage in social work. Christianity in Bhutan remains confined to the homes of local believers, where they meet for collective worship on Sundays.

Asked if a Christian federation should be registered by the government to allow Christians to function with legal recognition, Thinley said, “Yes, definitely.”

The country’s agency regulating religious organizations under the 2007 act, locally known as the Chhoedey Lhentshog, is expected to make a decision on whether it could register a Christian federation representing all Christians. The authority is looking into provisions in the law to see if there is a scope for a non-Buddhist and non-Hindu organization to be registered. (See http://www.compassdirect.com, “Official Recognition Eludes Christian Groups in Bhutan,” Feb. 1.)

On whether the Religious Organisations Act could be amended if it is determined that it does not allow legal recognition of a Christian federation, the prime minister said, “If the majority view and support prevails in the country, the law will change.”

Thinley added that he was partially raised as a Christian.

“I am part Christian, too,” he said. “I read the Bible, occasionally of course. I come from a traditional [Christian] school and attended church every day except for Saturdays for nine years.”

A tiny nation in the Himalayas between India and China, Bhutan has a population of 708,484 people, of which roughly 75 percent are Buddhist, according to Operation World. Christians are estimated to be between 6,000 to nearly 15,000 (the latter figure would put Christians at more than 2 percent of the population), mostly from the south. Hindus, mainly ethnic Nepalese, constitute around 22 percent of the population and have a majority in the south.


Religious ‘Competition’

Bhutan’s opposition leader, Lyonpo Tshering Togbay, was equally disapproving of religious conversion.

“I am for propagation of spiritual values or anything that allows people to be good human beings,” he told Compass. “[But] we cannot have competition among religions in Bhutan.”

He said, however, that Christians must be given rights equal to those of Hindus and Buddhists.

“Our constitution guarantees the right to freedom of practice – full stop, no conditions,” he said. “But now, as a small nation state, there are some realities. Christianity is a lot more evangelistic than Hinduism or Buddhism.”

Togbay said there are Christians who are tolerant and compassionate of other peoples, cultures and religions, but “there are Christians also who go through life on war footing to save every soul. That’s their calling, and it’s good for them, except that in Bhutan we do not have the numbers to accommodate such zeal.”

Being a small nation between India and China, Bhutan’s perceived geopolitical vulnerability leads authorities to seek to pre-empt any religious, social or political unrest. With no economic or military might, Bhutan seeks to assert and celebrate its sovereignty through its distinctive culture, which is based on Buddhism, authorities say.

Togbay voiced his concern on perceived threats to Bhutan’s Buddhist culture.

“I studied in a Christian school, and I have lived in the West, and I have been approached by the Jehovah’s Witness – in a subway, in an elevator, in a restaurant in the U.S. and Switzerland. I am not saying they are bad. But I would be a fool if I was not concerned about that in Bhutan,” he said. “There are other things I am personally concerned about. Religions in Bhutan must live in harmony. Too often I have come across people who seek a convert, pointing to statues of our deities and saying
that idol worship is evil worship. That is not good for the security of our country, the harmony of our country and the pursuit of happiness.”

The premise of the Chhoedey Lhentshog, the agency regulating religious organizations, he said, “is that all the different schools of Buddhism and all the different religions see eye to eye with mutual respect and mutual understanding. If that objective is not met, it does not make sense to be part of that.”

It remains unclear what the legal rights of Christians are, as there is no interaction between the Christians and the government. Christian sources in Bhutan said they were open to dialogue with the government in order to remove “misunderstandings” and “distrust.”

“Thankfully, our political leadership is sincere and trustworthy,” said one Christian leader.

Asserting that Christians enjoy the right to worship in Bhutan, Prime Minister Thinley said authorities have not interfered with any worship services.

“There are more Christian activities taking place on a daily basis than Hindu and Buddhist activities,” he added.

Report from Compass Direct News