TIME faith

Faith of Slain Journalists Remembered at Home

Freelance journalist Steven Sotloff during a work trip inside Al-Fateh Mosque in Manama, Bahrain on October 26, 2010.
Freelance journalist Steven Sotloff during a work trip inside Al-Fateh Mosque in Manama, Bahrain on October 26, 2010. Mazen Mahdi—EPA

Both James Foley and Steven Sotloff were men of prayer

Words often escape when grief strikes deep. In the last two weeks, the militant group the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) beheaded two American journalists and posted the gruesome videos of their deaths online. The first victim, James Foley, was Catholic. The second, Steven Joel Sotloff, was Jewish. Both were truth-tellers, and both were men of prayer. Their communities of faith now face new challenges as their families and their nation mourns: comforting the living and remembering the dead.

Sotloff’s Jewish identity and dual U.S.-Israeli citizenship were kept under wraps in efforts to protect him during his time in ISIS captivity. Since saving his life is no longer possible, details of his Judaism are beginning to come to light on the national scene.

“[Sotloff] was 31 years old, raised in Miami and a proud member of our Jewish community,” the Greater Miami Jewish Federation said in a statement offering prayers and condolences to the Sotloff family. “He was a son, a brother and a grandson who will be dearly missed.”

Sotloff’s grandparents survived the Holocaust, and his mother taught preschool at Temple Beth Am, a reform synagogue outside Miami. He moved to Israel in 2008 for undergraduate studies at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzilya near Tel Aviv. In Hebrew, his middle names means “Yahweh is God.” Sotloff reportedly prayed in the direction of Jerusalem and even fasted for Yom Kippur during his captivity by telling his captors that he was sick and couldn’t eat.

Prayer similarly helped to sustain Foley during his captivity. The first time Foley was captured — in Libya several years ago — he would pray the rosary on his knuckles. “It was what my mother and grandmother would have prayed,” he later wrote in an article for Marquette University, his Jesuit alma mater. “I said 10 Hail Marys between each Our Father. It took a long time, almost an hour to count 100 Hail Marys off on my knuckles. And it helped to keep my mind focused.”

When Foley was later captured in Syria, his captors confiscated his letters to his family, but he had fellow hostage Daniel Rye Ottosen memorize and dictate a final letter, which Ottosen delivered upon his own release last June. “I feel you all especially when I pray,” Foley told his family through Ottosen. “I pray for you to stay strong and to believe. I really feel I can touch you even in this darkness when I pray.”

Now the nation’s eyes are turning from Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Catholic church, where a special mass for Foley was held last week, to Temple Beth Am, where a memorial service for Sotloff is planned for Friday. The rabbis, like the bishops before them, have the difficult task of trying to help the Sotloff family and the community cope with their grief. In times of death, grieving together in silence is a common Jewish ritual. It is also customary, Rabbi Terry Bookman of Temple Beth Am says, for the community to say, “May God comfort and console you along with all who mourn the loss of a loved one, in Zion, and throughout the world,” to comfort the mourners. “Steven grew up here and I have known him most of his life,” Bookman says. “The world is diminished by his loss.”

The words of the Biblical psalmist also offer comfort, explains Rabbi Rachel Greengrass, Temple Beth Am’s Jewish Life Coordinator. Psalm 23 reminds mourners that even as they “walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” God is with them. “It moves us from a place of pain, vulnerability, and loneliness, to a place of comfort and hope,” she says.

Greengrass adds that mourners also say, “Baruch dayan ha-emet, Blessed is the true judge.” “In that moment of loss we accept that we are not in control, and we turn the pain of our loss into praise for God,” she explains. “In this way, the memory of our loved one becomes a benediction.”

TIME 2014 Election

The 6 Feistiest Ads From the Battle To Be Arizona’s Next Governor

Senate Judiciary Cmte Holds Hearing On Americans' Access To Voting Booths
Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee about voter rights at the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill December 19, 2012 in Washington, D.C. Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images

One Republican ad for governor in Arizona includes screaming sheep

The Arizona gubernatorial primary election is just four days away, and for months now, Arizonans have been hearing the six Republican candidates on the ballot fight over who can do one thing best: stop illegal immigration.

Arizona has long been at the center of the national immigration policy debate, especially this year as record numbers of unaccompanied minors crossed the Mexico-United States border. Current Republican governor Jan Brewer—who championed the state’s controversial SB1070, or “show-me-your-papers,” law—is term-limited, and the race to take up her mantle has been feisty. Candidates’ soundbites at a gubernatorial debate in late July included Ken Bennett, Arizona’s current secretary of state, saying, “a good neighbor doesn’t hop your fence, break into your garage, and live out of your freezer;” former California Congressman Frank Riggs adding that he would have credibility with Congress because he knows where the men’s room is at the Capitol; and Scott Smith, former mayor of Mesa, Arizona, comparing his competitors’ promises to carnival games.

The Republican nominee will face Democratic challenger Fred DuVal, former president of the Arizona Board of Regents, who has been endorsed by Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly. Republican campaign advertisements, predictably, have centered on who would best protect the border. Here’s a roundup of the topline:

Scott Smith, former mayor of Mesa, Arizona, has Brewer’s endorsement. His spot features screaming sheep:

Ken Bennett, the Arizona secretary of state who asked Hawaii officials to verify President Barack Obama’s birthplace in 2012 before putting him on the state’s presidential ballot, says he’s a nice guy, and a tough one:

Doug Ducey, Arizona state treasurer and former Cold Stone Creamery CEO, snagged endorsements from Senator Ted Cruz and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio:

Christine Jones, attorney and former GoDaddy executive, got a boost this week from GoDaddy founder Bob Parsons, who contributed $1 million to a PAC backing her campaign:

Frank Riggs, former U.S. Representative, does pullups while discussing border security:

Andrew Thomas, former Maricopa county attorney, adds that he has “stood up to the gay lobby:”

TIME Religion

Preachers Focus on Faith in the Shadow of Ferguson

Lesley McSpadden the mother of slain teenager Michael Brown joins a capacity crowd of guests at Greater St. Marks Family Church to discuss the killing of her son and the civil unrest resulting from his death on August 12, 2014 in St Louis, Missouri.
Lesley McSpadden the mother of slain teenager Michael Brown joins a capacity crowd of guests at Greater St. Marks Family Church to discuss the killing of her son and the civil unrest resulting from his death on August 12, 2014 in St Louis, Missouri. Scott Olson—Getty Images

From the St. Louis suburb at the epicenter of the protests to mega-churches in cities nationwide, religious leaders aim to figure out how faith can help communities come to terms with the crisis in Missouri

To say it has been a tough week in Ferguson hardly begins to address the scope of all that has gone down in the country’s heartland these past seven days. The week has brought a teenager’s death, protests, looting, clashes with police, the national spotlight and a nationwide uprising, not to mention deep questions about race and justice in America.

On the first Sunday since the unrest exploded and the morning after Governor Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency and imposed a curfew, many in the Missouri town will attend worship services at one of the dozens of churches that line its streets, giving religious leaders the challenging task of somehow trying to help their communities make sense of their new reality.

Karen Knodt, the pastor of Immanuel United Church of Christ in central Ferguson, plans to preach about the week’s events when her community gathers this Sunday. She is one of the many pastors worldwide who base their weekly sermons off the lectionary, a schedule for reading Scripture aloud in church. One of the main texts scheduled for this weekend comes from the prophet Isaiah, and is timely given the week’s context: “This is what the Lord says: ‘Maintain justice and do what is right,
for my salvation is close at hand, 
and my righteousness will soon be revealed.’”

Many congregants in her 700-person-strong church have been lifelong residents of Ferguson, Knodt explains, and have watched the town’s demographics change from a predominantly German to African-American community. This week she has been checking on members to gauge their safety and stress, and meeting with other clergy to work together to plan their response. Some church members have been working to help clean up looted businesses, she says, and others have launched a special food drive to address empty food pantries in town.

This Sunday, one of her main challenges is to encourage members not to give in to fear. “The reactions in the congregation range from lock the doors to let’s be on the front lines and offer what we can,” she says. “Spiritual needs are mostly how not to live in fear, but to be present to the tragedy and the frustrations, to have compassion for all our neighbors and courage to face our divisions and find ways to live and unify the community across racial, geographic, and class lines.”

Down the street is St. Stephen’s Episcopal, where Reverend Steve Lawler has been reaching out this week to members of both the white and black communities. No one he has talked with so far knew Michael Brown, the 18-year-old killed last Saturday, but some have known the police officer involved in his death. “The Ferguson people I have talked to are hopeful, saddened, outraged, defensive, engaged, scared, prayerful and deeply committed to getting through this difficult time together,” he wrote in an update letter to friends and family in the Episcopal community.

The Ferguson Ministerial Alliance, the St. Louis Clergy Coalition, and the NAACP have been working to bring people together, Lawler says. He is also noticing ways his community is taking pains to support the town—from a group of women making its way through town eating at local restaurants to thank them for staying open, to a young mom and her kids dropping off sandwiches and water to protestors gathered at the QuikTrip on West Florissant, to a man whose son was murdered two years ago dropping food to the food pantry and talking about the sorrow of the family, police, and community.

“I have been living with this quote, ‘Do your little bit of good where you are,’” Lawler says, citing the words of Desmund Tutu. “‘It’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.’”

The preachers of Ferguson are not alone in their challenge of guiding congregants through what has happened and what lies ahead. Ferguson has sparked a national moment, and pastors across the country face the challenge of speaking to congregations who have watched the crisis unfold all week.

The Rev. Otis Moss III, a black liberation theologian who preaches at Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ, said he would quote from Psalm 142 — “a psalm of lament and cry for help when the writer felt like an outcast [or] criminal, and not a citizen in his own nation” — and also from the song “Makes me Wanna Holla” by Marvin Gaye. “There is a line in the song that states it makes me wanna holler and throw up both of my hands,” he says.

Reverend Leslie D. Callahan, who leads the historically black St. Paul’s Baptist Church in Philadelphia, has been preaching a series called “Freedom Summer,” to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Summer in Mississippi. “From the beginning I have noted that discussions of “freedom” and “citizenship” in our nation are too often narrowly constructed, leaving out the poor, black folks, immigrants,” she says. “Events in Ferguson over the last week express this fact more poignantly than I can bear.”

She believes that the lectionary message from Isaiah is particularly instructive. “I believe that clergy of all colors need to speak a word condemning the bloodshed on the ground and the suppression of truth-telling,” she says.

Even still, she is fully aware of just how difficult preaching in the face of such communal upheaval can be. “What’s happening flies in the face of everything I believe about human beings and justice,” she says. “I don’t even know where to start.”

TIME Religion

Pope Francis Goes to Korea: The Spiritual Meaning of Travel During Turmoil

The trip poses a new test for the Holy Father’s global spiritual leadership

Pope Francis is headed to South Korea on Wednesday, in the midst of what continues to be a particularly difficult month for the world.

Violence in Gaza and Israel continues to escalate. Religious minorities in Iraq are fleeing ISIS brutality. The Ebola virus is spreading through West Africa. Children are flooding the United States border to escape Central American violence. A civilian airliner was downed in Ukraine amid Russian separatist fighting.

It is safe to say that global spirits are down, and it is a heavy overall context surrounding Pope Francis’ third international trip, a five-day visit to the southern half of a divided Korean peninsula. In Seoul, he will join Asian Youth Day, where thousands of Catholic youth from some 30 countries are gathered. He will also beatify dozens of 18th-and 19th-century Korean martyrs, meet with families of the recent Sewol ferry wreck, and give 11 speeches as he travels through four cities: Seoul, Daejeon, Kkottongnae, and Haemi.

On its face, the trip is important for some obvious political and religious reasons. It has been almost 20 years since a pontiff visited the continent. Pope John Paul II visited South Korea twice, in 1984 and in 1989, then the Philippines in 1995, but Pope Benedict XVI never made the trip. Pope Francis is expected to stress reconciliation and the problems of division, as he will be honoring Christians who died during periods of persecution. He also symbolically comes to minister to the Christians to the North as well, as the archbishop of Seoul, Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-jung, is also the apostolic vicar for Pyongyang, meaning that he is appointed to guide the North Korean church as well, even if they are inaccessible.

Political relations with North Korea are off to an expectedly rocky start, as the country already turned down the invitation to send a delegation to Seoul for the Pope’s visit. Holy See spokesman Frederico Lombardi has made it clear that Pope Francis is not planning a visit to the Demilitarized Zone, and it does not seem likely that Pope Francis will announce that he is inviting North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean president Park Geun-hye to pray together at the Vatican—an approach he tried during a visit to Bethlehem to promote Middle East peace.

Francis’ trip will also be the first time that a pope’s plane flies through Chinese airspace. The Vatican does not have formal relations with Beijing, and the Chinese government did not permit Pope John Paul II to fly over the country in 1989, several months after the Tiananmen Square protests. It is customary for the Pope to send a message to the leaders of the countries he flies over, and so any message to China carries historic weight.

Religiously, Francis’ trip signals his continued focus on new regions of Catholic Church growth. Christianity in South Korea has grown exponentially in recent decades. In 1910, only 1% of the region identified as Catholic, Protestant, or with another denomination of Christianity. By 2010, that share had risen 29%, according to the Pew Research Center. Protestant Christianity, especially its evangelical and Pentecostal strains, is the more common variety: for every five Catholics in the country, there are about eight Protestants. But Francis is no stranger to evangelical strains of Catholicism, or to ecumenical moves bringing the two genres of Christianity together. It is a trend familiar to Latin and South America for decades, and so the first trip of the first Latin American Pope—one who personally knows the ins and outs of these two communities—has special meaning for a region that is experiencing similar change.

But there is another reason that this trip is important right now, and it is harder to quantify: the trip poses a new test for the Holy Father’s global spiritual leadership. It is easy for a religious figure to symbolize a new era of hope and peace when everything is peachy. It is another hallmark of spiritual influence altogether to inspire hope when violence abounds. What can a peace-making trip mean in the midst of such all-encompassing violence? Can he point to a hope that goes beyond mere words, to a hope that is somehow real?

How Pope Francis represents the answers those questions matters, not just for pilgrims in the Korean peninsula, but also for seekers across the world.

TIME Religion

Behind British Minister of Faith Sayeeda Warsi’s Resignation Over Gaza

Sayeeda Hussain Warsi, British Senior Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Minister for Faith and Communities in Islamabad, Pakistan on October 10, 2013.
Sayeeda Hussain Warsi, British Senior Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Minister for Faith and Communities in Islamabad, Pakistan on October 10, 2013. T. Mughal—EPA

Her choice is bold and dramatic, and it sends a strong statement that political will requires moral courage.

Politicians don’t often quit out of principle. They especially do not quit out of moral principle. But, on the rare occasion that they do, it is dramatic.

That’s what happened Tuesday morning, when Sayeeda Warsi, the United Kingdom’s first Minister of Faith and the first Muslim to serve as a Cabinet minister, resigned in protest of her government’s approach to the crisis in Gaza. “For some weeks, in meetings and discussions, I have been open and honest about my views on the conflict in Gaza and our response to it,” she wrote in her resignation letter to Prime Minister David Cameron, which she posted on Twitter. “My view has been that our policy in relation to the Middle East Peace Process generally but more recently our approach and language during the current crisis in Gaza is morally indefensible, is not in Britain’s national interest and will have a long term detrimental impact on our reputation internationally and domestically.”

Cameron replied in a statement, thanking her for her work and regretting her decision. “Our policy has always been consistently clear–the situation in Gaza is intolerable and we’ve urged both sides to agree to an immediate and unconditional ceasefire,” he said.

At first glance, one might assume that this story is simply “Muslim minister resigns over U.K. support for Israel.” Warsi is, after all, the first Muslim to serve in so high a position, and soon after her resignation, she called for an immediate arms embargo against Israel in an interview with the Huffington Post UK.

But that’s almost certainly too simplistic an understanding of what happened. Warsi has built her professional career on a foundational principle that religious and historic divides do not necessitate irreconcilable divisions or violence. She made it her mission to help create a government that, as she often said, would “do God” and advocate for faith’s place in society. That meant working for people of all faiths. She spoke out against Islamophobia and worked to make sure British government was inclusive for Muslims. In 2012 she let the U.K.’s largest ministerial delegation to the Vatican. Last year she came to Washington, DC, to speak out against the global persecution of Christians. One of her main goals was to encourage the international community to develop a cross-faith, cross-continent commitment to protect Christian minorities. Religious persecution, she told me at the time, is the biggest challenge of the 21st century. “It is about working up the political will,” she said. “It is about getting some consensus, it is about politicians being prepared to take on these difficult challenges.”

Her personal faith story is also one that bridges divides often thought to be unbridgeable. She is the daughter of Pakistani immigrants and grew up in a Muslim family with a blended theological background that included both Shias and Sunnis. “We were taught to respect and love other faiths as much as we loved our own, and I suppose, you know, quite strong teachings that you can only truly be a Muslim if you also are Christian and Jewish before that, that actually Islam is just an extension of the other faiths and it has been a process where various books have been revealed at various times,” she told me. “I don’t see there is a collision course between people of faith, I actually do think it is instinctively based up on the same values.”

Her whole story is rooted in commitment to a higher calling. It makes her decision to resign is all the more dramatic, and it sends a strong statement that political will requires moral courage. “I always said that long after life in politics I must be able to live with myself for the decision I took or the decisions I supported,” she said in her resignation letter. “By staying in Government at this time I do not feel I can be sure of that.”

She may have resigned, but that does not mean her voice has been silenced: it may be louder as a result.

TIME Immigration

This Baptist Charity Is Being Paid Hundreds of Millions to Shelter Child Migrants

Contractors have taken on the huge task of sheltering thousands of unaccompanied child migrants

In the late afternoon of July 9, Air Force One touched down at Love Field in Dallas. President Barack Obama ducked into a private room at the airport for a discussion about the crisis of undocumented children crossing the southwest border. Assembled around a wooden table were top Texas officials, including Governor Rick Perry and Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, as well as the leaders of several faith-based charities. One of them was a man so anonymous, the White House pool report misspelled his name.

Kevin Dinnin is the CEO of a faith-based, nonprofit organization called BCFS, formerly known as Baptist Child and Family Services. This obscure charity has emerged as one of the biggest players in the federal government’s response to the influx of more than 57,000 unaccompanied children who have trudged across the southern border so far this year. It runs two of the largest facilities for temporarily housing immigrant children, as well as six permanent shelters in California and Texas. Since December, BCFS has received more than $280 million in federal grants to operate these shelters, according to government records. On July 7, two days before Dinnin met Obama in Dallas, the Department of Health and Human Services awarded BCFS $190,707,505 in a single grant.

BCFS is just one part of a sprawling system of shelters for unaccompanied children across the country. As the numbers of children entering the country balloon, so do the dollars required to care for them. To shield vulnerable kids from angry opponents of immigration and the media spotlight, the government declines to disclose the locations and activities of many of the facilities operated by BCFS and similar organizations. That protectiveness comes at a political cost. Governors in states across the U.S. have assailed the federal government for sending kids to their states without notifying local officials, and congressional critics say that massive amounts of taxpayer money are being spent without proper oversight.

A dormitory at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio where unaccompanied migrant girls are being housed. Health and Human Services Administrations—The New York Times/Redux

Senator Charles Grassley, the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote a letter to HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell on July 17, requesting information about BCFS contracts to ensure that taxpayer money wasn’t being misused. “Despite being almost completely dependent on the public, BCFS has faced heavy criticism for attempting to avoid public scrutiny,” the Iowa Republican wrote. “This aversion to basic transparency is extremely disturbing.”

BCFS began in 1944 as a home for orphaned children. In recent years, a sleepy San Antonio–based charity grew into a global nonprofit with regional offices around the U.S., as well as in Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe and Africa. On contract for the federal government, it has provided temporary shelter and emergency services in the wake of natural disasters ranging from Texas hurricanes to Haitian earthquakes. When the state needed to relocate the members of a Texas polygamous sect in 2008, it turned to BCFS, which provided emergency housing. The current crisis is the largest and longest response BCFS has ever faced. It has deployed some 1,400 personnel to manage the temporary shelters this year.

For BCFS executives, the work can be lucrative. According to federal tax records, Dinnin received nearly $450,000 in compensation in 2012. At least four other top officials earned more than $200,000. The median salary for the CEOs of nonprofit organizations like BCFS was about $285,000 in 2011, according to a 2013 survey by Charity Navigator.

The salaries, BCFS spokeswoman Krista Piferrer says, are determined by factors in the group’s contract with HHS. When disaster situations strike, a crisis pay scale replaces a regular one to account for extended 12-hour shifts in two-to-three-week stints. In 2012, an influx of children at the border required an emergency response, according to Piferrer. “It is similar to making an appointment to see a primary-care physician vs. going to the emergency room,” she says. “The emergency room is more expensive.”

The federal grant money for sheltering unaccompanied children, provided by HHS’s Administration for Children and Families, has so far totaled $671 million during the 2014 fiscal year. BCFS has received 40% of those funds, making it the largest recipient of money disbursed to contractors to temporarily house unaccompanied children until they can be reunited with family members or placed in foster care. Dozens of other organizations are involved in the effort, including Southwest Key Programs, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

BCFS is responsible for running two of the three temporary facilities recently set up to house large numbers of undocumented children apprehended by federal agents. One is at the Department of Defense’s Joint Base Lackland, in BCFS’s home city of San Antonio. Lackland is currently housing more than 700 children and has processed more than 3,600 overall since opening in May, says Kenneth Wolfe, an HHS spokesman. Another is Oklahoma’s Fort Sill, which is currently holding about 400 children and has discharged nearly 1,500 to date. Children stay at these facilities for an average of less than 35 days while the government works to find a family member with whom to place them. Because they are temporary shelters, some journalists, faith leaders, members of Congress and foreign dignitaries have been allowed into the facilities at Lackland and Fort Sill. Both facilities are expected to close by the end of August.

These facilities make up just a fraction of the extensive network in place to house child migrants. The Office of Refugee Resettlement’s Unaccompanied Alien Children program (UAC) has been given custody of more than 53,000 children over the past several months. The majority have been cycled through this network of about 100 smaller, permanent facilities, scattered across 14 U.S. states.

Unlike the temporary shelters, the permanent facilities are largely inaccessible to media and the taxpayers that fund them. Their locations are not officially disclosed, and they are “generally unnamed or unmarked,” according to Wolfe. Contractors are prohibited from speaking with the media without permission, BCFS says. As a result, it’s hard to gauge the conditions under which thousands of children are being held, or to assess whether taxpayer money is being well spent.

Wolfe, the HHS spokesman, says the secrecy stems from federal policy designed to protect the children’s privacy and ensure their safety. “We don’t identify the permanent facilities for the security of the children and the staff and the program,” he says. “Like any grant, we have federal staff assigned to oversight.”

A spokesperson for Southwest Key Programs, a Texas nonprofit that has been awarded more than $122 million in federal grants since December to shelter unaccompanied children, making it the second largest recipient after BCFS, said the organization was required to refer press inquiries to HHS. On a recent July afternoon, after multiple emails went unanswered, a TIME reporter drove to a Southwest Key facility in Phoenix. It was a colorful building ringed by tall metal bars and “No Trespassing” signs, situated off a freeway in a part of town where most signs are in Spanish. There was no guard out front to greet visitors, and entry required punching in a code at the locked gate.

The level of secrecy surrounding the facilities is unusual, says Neil Gordon, an investigator for the Washington-based Project on Government Oversight. But observers say it may be warranted. From Arizona to Michigan, clusters of citizens have held armed protests to oppose the relocation of undocumented children to facilities in their communities. “This situation is pretty unique in that they don’t want the mobs to come out and cause problems,” Gordon says. “That might be the reason they’re being so tight-lipped.”

A temporary shelter for unaccompanied minors who have entered the country illegally is seen at Lackland Air Force Base, in San Antonio on June 23, 2014. Eric Gay—AP

A string of scams have also highlighted the importance of shielding the residents’ privacy. Grifters have been preying on the relatives of unaccompanied children, promising to help reunite them with their family members for fees ranging from $300 to $6,000, according to the Associated Press. The FBI is investigating the scams, which have targeted the families of children staying at BCFS facilities like Lackland, the AP reports.

Critics in Congress say the federal government is skirting transparency obligations. On July 1, Oklahoma Representative Jim Bridenstine, a Republican, was denied access to the BCFS facility at Fort Sill. “There is no excuse for denying a federal representative from Oklahoma access to a federal facility in Oklahoma where unaccompanied children are being held,” he said. “What are they trying to hide?” Soon after, the conservative media erupted over reports that BCFS planned to purchase a Texas hotel and turn it into a 600-bed facility for housing unaccompanied minors. (BCFS scuttled the idea, citing a backlash fed by inaccurate reporting.)

The UAC grant applications provide a glimpse of the extensive requirements to which organizations like BCFS must adhere. In addition to meeting all state and federal statutes, shelters must provide two hours per weekday of outdoor activity, offer classroom instruction on subjects like reading and science, supply counseling and personalized medical care, and grant phone calls to family members and access to visitors. The documents dictate that providers “utilize a positive, strength-based behavior-management approach, and shall never subject [residents] to corporal punishment, humiliation, mental abuse or punitive interference with the daily functions of living, such as eating or sleeping.”

Immigrant advocates say unaccompanied children are particularly vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. In January, the National Immigrant Justice Center issued a policy brief based on interviews with hundreds of unaccompanied children in the Chicago area. The minors reported grim conditions in the custody of the Department of Homeland Security, before transfer to shelters run by contractors. According to the policy paper, 56% said they had been placed in three-point shackles, which restrain individuals at the wrists, waist and ankles. More than 70% reported being placed in unheated cells during the winter. Some said they were barely fed.

The lack of public or congressional oversight of the facilities sheltering unaccompanied children should not be construed as concealing anything untoward, say groups that have visited them and worked with BCFS. The care at BCFS sites is extensive, Piferrer says, with the chief of the respiratory-disease branch at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention embedded at the site to track every illness the children faced, from broken ankles to fevers to GI-tract infections. “You don’t find another organization like this,” Gary Ledbetter of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention says of BCFS. “It’s basically a turnkey operation.”

“There’s not one bit of care that those kids were receiving that wasn’t first class,” says Chris Liebrum of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, a Baptist network with which BCFS is affiliated. “The federal government has come to Kevin. When the government says, ‘We need thousands of kids taken care of, can you do it?’ He’s done it.”

TIME LGBT

Obama Urged to Address LGBT Rights in Africa

Advocates issue report on the dreadful state of LGBT rights in Africa, as world leaders and leading figures from the continent prepare for the US-Africa Leaders Summit

Updated at 4:38 p.m. ET Tuesday

The White House will host more than 40 African heads of state for a three-day U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit next week, the first event of its kind and the largest such event any U.S. president has held with African governments. Some 200 African and U.S. CEOs are invited, and numerous faith leaders will gather to discuss their role in advancing development. To mark the historic event, LGBT advocates have issued a report on the state of LGBT rights in Africa. Their conclusion? It ain’t good.

The Human Rights Campaign Foundation and Human Rights First report contains some stark numbers. A total of 37 African nations currently criminalize same-sex relationships. Four countries—Mauritania, Nigeria, Somalia and Sudan—allow for the death penalty against LGBT people in parts or in all of the country. Cameroon arrests more people based on their sexual orientation than any other country in the world. Ghana treats same-sex relationships as a misdemeanor punishable by up to three years in prison. In Kenya, the sentence is up to 14 years. Only one country, South Africa, grants full marriage equality to LGBT citizens.

The U.S.—Africa summit, these advocates argue, is the perfect time for the White House to stand up for LGBT rights on the continent. Voices for equality on the ground deserve U.S. support, they say, and the U.S. should help create the political environment to ensure human rights are respected.

“The United States should demonstrate its firm commitment to upholding the fundamental principle that LGBT rights are human rights,” Ty Cobb, director of global engagement at the Human Rights Campaign, says. “This includes making clear that the United States will be a champion of LGBT rights abroad, and that we will not tolerate efforts to enact state-sanctioned discrimination against LGBT people in any country.”

The authors of the report aren’t alone. Representatives from the Council for Global Equality, Advocates for Youth, Amnesty International, GLAAD, and a dozen other organizations wrote a letter to President Barack Obama on July 25 urging “particular attention” at the summit to the rights of the next generation of LGBT Africans.

“We are confident that with your support, and the robust contribution of civil society, the summit will provide a unique opportunity to emphasize that LGBT and other marginalized communities suffer disproportionately from governance deficits, and that too many governments scapegoat LGBT individuals to distract public attention away from those structural failures,” they wrote. “The economic themes of the conference also provide an opportunity to emphasize that homophobia, transphobia and related forms of intolerance have economic costs, including to the trade and investment environments in emerging markets.”

Activists also note that the moment has particular importance as some African countries are taking more steps toward equality. “There are reports that Malawi will stop arresting LGBT people and review its laws,” Shawn Gaylord, advocacy counsel for Human Rights First, explains. “A move to pass new anti-gay legislation (and hold a massive anti-gay rally) was stalled in Ethiopia this year. Two young men were just acquitted in Cameroon. It’s too early to say if this is part of a larger trend or just a few independent rays of hope but it’s a trend we should watch and support.”

The Obama administration has already reacted to anti-LGBT legislation in Africa. Last month, the White House increased sanctions against Uganda for its anti-gay law signed in February, which made certain homosexual acts punishable by life imprisonment. The summit will give the president an opportunity to make the case in person, if he chooses. Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni is slated to attend, as is Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan, who also signed an anti-homosexuality law this year.

“This summit is a unique opportunity to tell the story of how our nation and every nation grows stronger and more prosperous when all citizens—including LGBT people—are accepted by society and provided equal treatment under the law,” Cobb says. “Every citizen must be empowered to reach their maximum potential, and we should urge these nations to reject laws, policies, and practices that discriminate against LGBT people.”

National Security Council spokesperson Ned Price tells TIME that LGBT equality in Africa will be on the table at the summit. “The Obama Administration has long spoken out—including with our African partners—in support of universal human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals,” he says. “We expect the Summit will provide an opportunity to continue these conversations.”

– Zeke J. Miller contributed to this report

TIME Religion

Obama Nominates Rabbi to Religious Freedom Post

US Secretary of State John Kerry stands with Rabbi David Saperstein, the nominee for ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, the first non-Christian to hold the job, while delivering remarks regarding the 2013 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom on July 28, 2014 in Washington, DC.
US Secretary of State John Kerry stands with Rabbi David Saperstein, the nominee for ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, the first non-Christian to hold the job, while delivering remarks regarding the 2013 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom on July 28, 2014 in Washington, DC. Paul J. Richards—AFP/Getty Images

As State Department issues troubling edition of annual report on religious freedom across the world

The Obama administration said Monday it would nominate Rabbi David Saperstein as the next Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, as the state department issued its annual analysis of the state of religious freedom across the globe.

President Obama said he would nominate Saperstein to a position that has been vacant since October, when Rev. Suzan Johnson Cook resigned. The current director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism would, if confirmed, be the first non-Christian to hold the job.

One of Saperstein’s projects as head of the State Department’s Office for International Religious Freedom would be to help compile the International Religious Freedom Report — the 2013 edition of which was also published on Monday.

The diagnosis from this year’s report, which analyzes religious freedom across the globe, is weighty: “In 2013, the world witnessed the largest displacement of religious communities in recent memory.”

The report goes country by country to examine how governments are repressing religious groups and ways that religious minorities face discrimination. In much of the Middle East, Christian presence is becoming “a shadow of its former self,” the report states. In Syria, some 160,000 Christians lived in Homs before the conflict began. Now only some 1,000 Christians do. In Burma’s western Rakhine state, violence against Muslims has displaced some 140,000 people since 2012. Shia Muslims face discrimination in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Egypt. In Sri Lanka, violent Buddhist groups destroyed mosques and churches. In some European countries, anti-Semitism led as much as 48% of the Jewish population to consider emigrating.

The findings offer a global perspective on the contemporary fight for religious freedom, which in the U.S. has become almost synonymous with the fight against the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate, often led by conservative evangelical and Catholic groups. The religious oppression that faces millions of believers across the globe, however, represents an altogether more serious challenge to the free practice of faith.

So Saperstein, if confirmed, would have his work cut out for him. The Obama administration has faced criticism for leaving the ambassador-at-large post vacant for 10 months, particularly amid the increasing global threats to religious freedom outlined in the report. Secretary of State John Kerry underscored on Monday that religious freedom is an integral part of the U.S.’s global diplomatic engagement.

“One thing is for sure: Rabbi Saperstein is joining an important effort at a very important time,” Kerry said. “I want to emphasize this effort is not about naming countries to lists in order to make us feel somehow that we have spoken the truth. I want our [countries of particular concern] designations to be grounded in plans, action, that help to change the reality on the ground and actually help people.”

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