TIME States

The Debate Over What Indiana’s Religious Freedom Act Is Really About

Demonstrators gathered at the Indiana State Capital to protest the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Indianapolis on March 28, 2015.
Nate Chute—Reuters Demonstrators gathered at the Indiana State Capital to protest the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Indianapolis on March 28, 2015.

More than a dozen other states have considered similar measures this year, which critics tar as "anti-gay"

Opponents of Indiana’s new Religious Freedom Restoration Act believe that while the law explicitly says one thing, it is designed to do another.

Supporters say the measure is meant to do just what it sounds like: make sure the government doesn’t impinge on the religious liberty of Hoosiers. But many gay rights advocates, politicians and civil liberty organizations believe the law will aid discrimination against lesbians and gays in the Midwestern state—giving businesses, landlords or employers legal grounds to treat them differently based on a religious opposition to homosexuality.

When Gov. Mike Pence signed the bill into law on Saturday, Indiana joined 19 other states that have similar “RFRAs,” while Indiana is one of 31 states that does not have a state-level non-discrimination law that covers sexual orientation and gender identity.

“The boogeyman that wants to attack religious adherents has just not arrived in Indiana,” says Jennifer Drobac, a law professor at Indiana University who signed a letter from academics expressing concern about the bill. “This is all coming on the heels of the same-sex marriage debate.”

The law prohibits the government from infringing on a person’s sincerely held religious beliefs unless the government has a “compelling interest” and that infringement is the “least restrictive” means of protecting that interest. The language of the bill defines a “person” as not just an individual, but essentially any business or organization.

Many religious freedom laws are modeled on a 1993 federal law signed by former President Bill Clinton. Pence has explicitly likened Indiana’s new law to that measure. Back then, Democrats lauded the bill as righting wrongs done to Americans who had been forced to follow the letter of laws that contradicted their beliefs—like a man whose religion forbids autopsies being forced to undergo that procedure, or an American Indian who loses his job for taking part in a ritual that involves peyote.

Notre Dame law professor Richard Garnett, who supports the law, says Indiana’s measure has the same aim of protecting such people. In an op-ed in the South Bend Tribune, he gives the example of a Muslim prisoner who should be able to wear a beard, as his religion dictates, despite prison regulations against facial hair. Garnett was among the signatories of another letter from academics expressing support for the bill and arguing that Indiana’s Constitution “protects religious liberty to a considerable — but uncertain — degree.”

MORE: What You Need to Know About Indiana’s Controversial Religious Objections Law

Opponents of the bill point out that more than 20 years from the time Clinton signed the federal law, the political context has changed.

Some social conservatives have championed religious freedom bills as way to exempt businesses like bakeries or florists from providing services to same-sex couples who are winning the right to marry in places where that practice isn’t politically popular. Lawmakers in Indiana worked but failed to pass a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in 2014, months before the state was forced through court rulings to start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Advocates who oppose the law say it appears like a “Plan B.” Eunice Rho, counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, says that amendments to the bill that would make it clear that it can’t be used to undermine civil rights laws were repeatedly offered. “The proponents of the legislation proclaimed, over and over again, that this can’t be used to discriminate, this is about religious freedom. So we said, ‘Great. We’re in agreement on that. Let’s put it in the bill,'” she says. “And all of those amendments were voted down.”

In addition to Indiana, lawmakers in more than a dozen other states have considered “religious freedom” bills in 2015. Sometimes such measures crop up alongside non-discrimination legislation that LGBT rights advocates continue to push in legislatures across the states. While federal law prohibits discrimination based on attributes like sex and race, there is no federal anti-discrimination law that protects people on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The same is the case in 31 states, where there is no law prohibiting employers from firing someone or landlords from denying someone housing solely because they are gay or transgender.

In Michigan, the Christian Coalition’s Keith den Hollander recently testified against an LGBT non-discrimination bill and said it amounted to “religious persecution.” David Kallman, speaking on behalf of the socially conservative Michigan Family Forum, framed the stakes this way: “Why should that baker or photographer be forced against their religious beliefs and conscience to participate in [a same-sex wedding]? And if they refuse to because of their religious conscience, to be put out of business?”

Such opponents of non-discrimination laws sometimes seek “religious freedom” bills as a counter attack, giving that hypothetical business owner grounds to challenge non-discrimination laws and protections against being sued.

MORE: 5 Things to Know About Indiana Gov. Mike Pence

While Indiana has no state-level LGBT non-discrimination measure, several cities including Indianapolis do. Those are the places where such laws could go head to head in court when the act takes effect on July 1. Legal experts say it’s unclear how the courts in Indiana would rule. “It does not say that members of religious minorities will be successful if they seek exemptions,” Garnett, the Notre Dame law professor, wrote, “only that they are entitled to a day in court.”

Jennifer Pizer, senior counsel at Lambda Legal, which advocates for LGBT rights, also expresses uncertainty about what precedents might be set in court. But, she says, regardless of what happens in the legal sphere, there is also a “social effect” that could lead to more discrimination.

“People’s conduct is shaped by their understanding of what is acceptable and what is not acceptable in terms of human interactions, what the social standards are,” she adds. “That bill now embodies a state policy that religion is a legitimate reason for turning away customers because of who they are.”

As Indiana has dealt with backlash from passing the new law—ranging from grassroots protests to announcements that companies would be taking their business elsewhere—North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory said he wouldn’t be signing a similar bill. In Georgia, a committee meeting to consider a religious freedom act on Monday was canceled, for the time stalling a measure that already passed the state senate.

In Florida, a state that has passed a Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the legislature is considering a LGBT non-discrimination bill. A group working to pass the measure released a study in late March suggesting that having an environment that is potentially “hostile” to LGBT people was costing the state around $362 million per year. Several organizations and businesses have expressed dismay at Indiana’s new law, which may end up being costly for the Hoosier State. Conventions are relocating, businesses are putting expansions in the state on hold and even the NCAA has expressed skepticism about the political climate.

Some Indiana politicians are calling for the state’s civil rights law to be updated so that people are explicitly protected on the basis of sexual orientation. Pence has meanwhile said he’s open to legislation that will further clarify what the new religious freedom law can do. Rho, of the ACLU, says there are few limitations about which acts the law could be used to defend based on religious conviction—whether it’s firing a woman for using the pill or kicking a couple out of an apartment for cohabiting before marriage.

“I’m definitely worried about gays and lesbians, but I’m also worried about women who want to access birth control,” says Indiana University’s Drobac. “This is a stupid law … We need to repeal this law immediately.”

Read next: Uproar Over Religious Freedom Law Trips Up Indiana’s Governor

TIME Religion

What Indiana Could Learn From Utah About Gay Tolerance

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence holds a news conference at the Statehouse in Indianapolis, Thursday, March 26, 2015.
Michael Conroy—AP Indiana Gov. Mike Pence holds a news conference at the Statehouse in Indianapolis, Thursday, March 26, 2015.

Jonathan Rauch is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Conservatives are writing a suicide-note to Millennials—they don't have to

You gotta feel bad for Mike Pence. The Republican governor of Indiana signs a religious-freedom bill. It’s only a bit more capacious than a long-established federal law, the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act. It’s only a bit more sweeping than similar laws in 19 other states. And yet half the world comes screaming down on Indiana’s head. Who could have imagined?

Only anyone who reads the news. Perhaps Pence missed the news that Arizona’s legislature passed a similar law (ultimately vetoed by the governor) in 2014 and got exactly the same national firestorm by way of reaction.

The problem with Indiana’s new religious-freedom law, and for that matter with Arizona’s proposed law and with similar legislation advancing in other states, isn’t what’s written in the statute; it’s the intent with which the statute was written. The laws are now seen, not inaccurately, as targeting gay and lesbian Americans. As a result, religious freedom, once a cause that commanded broadly bipartisan support, is becoming tainted with the stain of discrimination. And that’s too bad — especially for friends of religious freedom.

When the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act was enacted more than 20 years ago, it was about protecting, say, an Indian church that wanted to use peyote in a ceremony. No one’s ox was gored. Or what if someone wants to wear a yarmulke to work? Accommodating such requests, where possible, seemed only reasonable.

Then came LGBT rights and gay marriage, followed by religious conservatives’ realization that on both fronts they were losing the public argument. They decided that if they could not ban gay marriage in civil law, they could at least refrain from participating in it — which, in practice, might mean a commercial business would refuse service to a gay couple buying flowers for a same-sex wedding, or to a student group wanting a rainbow cake baked for Pride Day.

True, what’s written on the statute page in Indiana is not a blanket “license to discriminate.” The law provides a legal defense against discrimination claims, not immunity from legal action. And true, the law’s proponents generally say they want to discriminate against gay weddings, not gay people (though some have said they intend to do both).

But those caveats, while important, miss the point. Today, for the first time, Religious Freedom Restoration Act laws are being passed with the specific intent to discriminate against the specific needs of a specific group. That makes all the difference.

Even worse, Indiana, like most states, does not protect LGBT people from discrimination. One side has state protection for its lifestyle and values, the other side has zilch. As Robin Fretwell Wilson of the University of Illinois College of Law told Politifact.com: “If there’s a license to discriminate in Indiana, it’s the fact there’s an absence of a statewide law that makes a promise to the LGBT community.” It’s no wonder that to gay Americans and their allies, the outcome looks hostile, sinister, and outrageously one-sided.

Gay people, of course, see themselves as the losers when one-sided laws like Indiana’s pass. It is not they, however, who will pay the steepest price. No, that dubious honor belongs to the religious conservatives who have chosen this one-sided state strategy. By lobbying for businesses’ right to boycott gay customers, they are writing a suicide note to Americans under 30, whose first commandment is: Thou Shalt Not Discriminate. And by identifying religious-liberty protections with the intent to discriminate, they are demolishing the social consensus for the very accommodations they seek.

There’s a better path. We saw it taken in Utah just a few weeks ago. The state passed new religious-conscience accommodations, but they were tied to new gay-rights protections. Both sides walked away feeling more free to live according to the lights of their consciences. Both got a win and supported the outcome.

That win-win, negotiated model, not Indiana’s heads-I-win, tails-you-lose model, is the path to a social consensus that safeguards religious freedom. And in America, lest we forget, real civil-rights protections, the kind that last, come not from laws or courts but from consensus.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME world affairs

Tibetan Leader: Chinese Government Can’t Choose Next Dalai Lama

His Holiness the Dalai Lama on the teaching throne during the Jangchup Lamrim teachings in Mundgod in December 2014.
Rio Helmi–LightRocket/Getty Images His Holiness the Dalai Lama on the teaching throne during the Jangchup Lamrim teachings in Mundgod in December 2014.

Dr. Lobsang Sangay is the Sikyong (prime minister) of the Tibetan government in exile.

Imagine Fidel Castro picking the Pope!

Correction appended, March 30, 2015.

Since 1959, when the current Dalai Lama escaped from Tibet, his tireless efforts for freedom for Tibetans and peace in the world have irked and outraged the Chinese Communist Party. Its leaders have called the 14th Dalai Lama a “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” “a devil with a human face,” and a “devil with horns.” They ban the Dalai Lama’s portrait and severely punish anyone in Tibet found carrying or displaying his image.

How incredible, then, that China now claims the right to locate the next reincarnation of the spiritual leader whom they call “the devil.” How incredible, too, that the Communist leaders whose ideology regards religion as the opium of the people, and whose founding figure, Mao Zedong, famously told His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Beijing that “religion is poison,” now orders the Dalai Lama to reincarnate on the Chinese government’s terms.

If the Chinese leadership believes in rebirth and religion so much, instead of worrying about the reincarnation of a “devil,” they should — as His Holiness himself has remarked — start with finding the reincarnation of revolutionary leaders such as Chairman Mao and Deng Xiaoping.

In July of this year, the Dalai Lama turns 80. For decades, he has addressed the question of his reincarnation. He said that the next Dalai Lama could come in the form of reincarnation, selection or emanation. He also said that if the present situation regarding Tibet remains the same, he will be born outside Tibet, away from the control of the Chinese authorities. He warned that any candidate chosen for political ends by anyone, including China, should not be recognized or accepted.

The Chinese government’s claim to sole authority over the choice and location of the next Dalai Lama is a mockery of human intelligence. Yet Zhu Weiquin, head of the ethnic and religious affairs committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, asserted that the “decision-making power over the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, and over the end or survival of this lineage, resides in the central government of China.” Imagine Fidel Castro picking the Pope!

Historically, the Chinese Communist Party’s closest engagement with the religion of Tibetan Buddhism started in the 1950s when the national army destroyed 98% of the then existent Tibetan monasteries and disrobed 98% of its monks and nuns — tragic events carefully documented in the 70,000 Character Petition to Chairman Mao written by the late Panchen Lama in 1962. Beginning with the monumental carnage of the so-called Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution, extending into “patriotic re-education” in the monasteries and strike-hard campaigns that denounced the Dalai Lama and all expressions of religious freedom, and continuing to today’s restrictive policies in Tibet, Beijing’s incessantly flawed policies and ruthless campaigns to repress Tibet’s Buddhist culture and civilization have been the hallmark of the party’s rule.

In Tibetan Buddhism, reincarnation is a deeply revered and sacred spiritual practice spanning nine centuries. Behind the idea of reincarnation is the faithful belief in rebirth and its purpose to continue the mission and wisdom of the previous incarnation in the present body. It is the extraordinary bond between the spiritual teacher and the faithful that has historically sustained the Dalai Lamas as the long-serving sovereigns of Tibet, functioning as both temporal and spiritual leaders for 369 years. Only as recently as 2011 did the current Dalai Lama, adapting to the concept of democracy, voluntarily transfer his political powers to an elected leader of the Tibetan people.

Despite more than 50 years of state-sponsored rampages and destruction, the Tibetan people have not lost hope. The source of that hope is the Dalai Lama and the power of spirituality. As long as the Tibetan people continue to suffer in their homeland, the Dalai Lama will not become a political stooge of the state by reincarnating in an occupied Tibet.

Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly described the process by which the next Dalai Lama could come. The next Dalai Lama could come by reincarnation, selection or emanation. The original version of this story misstated the percentage of monasteries destroyed and monks and nuns who were disrobed by the Chinese government. It was 98%.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Religion

The Pope’s Silversmith is Creating an All-American Chalice

Pope Francis stands next to Argentinian craftsman Adrian Pallarols as he poses for the family photo with international football players at the Vatican on Sept. 2014 prior to an inter-religious "match for peace" soccer game that played at Rome's Olympic Stadium.
Vincenzo Pinto—AFP/Getty Images Argentinian silversmith Adrián Pallaros and Pope Francis pose with international soccer players at the Vatican on Sept. 2014 prior to an inter-religious "match for peace" soccer game that was played at Rome's Olympic Stadium.

It would be made from silver donated by Americans from around the country

An Argentinian silversmith is in New York City this week drumming up support for an unusual project: a silver communion chalice for the pope’s upcoming trip to the United States.

A seventh-generation silversmith who has known Pope Francis for more than a decade, Adrián Pallarols intends to make the chalice by melting down silver jewelry—”an earring, a little ring you don’t use,” anything with silver in it—donated by Americans from across the country.

Pallarols, 43, says Pope Francis would use the chalice during a mass when he visits New York City in September. Neither the Vatican nor the Archdiocese of New York has yet confirmed where that might be held. With a design featuring a map of the United States in the center of the handle plus the donated metals, the symbolism would be rich, Pallaros argues.

“Everybody, the whole country, will be in the prayers of Pope Francis here in New York when he lifts the chalice in the consecration,” Pallarols says. “Everybody can be in his hands for the prayers.”

Pallarols presented the idea for the chalice to Pope Francis in a private audience last month. He says any extra silver will be sold and the proceeds donated to Pope Francis’ efforts with the poor in the United States.

Courtesy of Adrian Pallaros

His family began handcrafting and designing silver in the 1750s in Barcelona, and they continued when they moved to Argentina in 1804. In recent years, the family’s clients have included Bill Clinton, Nelson Mandela, and Frank Sinatra, according to Vatican News.

When Pope Francis was still Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires, he married Pallarols and his wife, and later he baptized their daughter. The Cardinal would stop by Pallaros’ workshop, Pallarols recalls, and chat about art and music. The Pallarols family crafted the chalice that Cardinal Bergoglio presented to Pope Benedict XVI in 2005, and after Bergoglio was named Pope, they crafted the personal chalice that Pope Francis uses for masses at his Vatican residence at Santa Marta, as well as various other projects.

Pallarols says the idea for the chalice came when he was approached for a paid assignment to create a cup for the pope’s New York visit. He recalled how then-Cardinal Bergoglio would often bring him gifts of silver he had received to sell and use the proceeds to buy food, clothes and blankets for the poor.

That’s a philosophy Pallarols wanted to bring to bear on this effort. Not only can thousands of Americans contribute a meaningful memento from their own life stories to the chalice, but the poor would also benefit from the overflowing of contributions.

“When you have a lot of money, you have chances to get a special place, because you can give a lot of money,” says Pallarols. “But in this way, having a little part of each person who will send a bit of silver, they can feel they can participate and they can see this piece of silver will get to the hands of Pope Francis.”

The project is still in the early stages, and Pallarols still has a lot of work ahead for it all to work. He aims to finalize the details during his trip to New York this week, and he is working to arrange the banking and donation details to meet Internal Revenue Service requirements and recruit corporate sponsors to help receive and mail the silver from around the country to one central location.

He plans to melt the silver pieces in New York into an ingot to transport to Buenos Aires to craft it into the chalice at his workshop. Pallaros says he can craft the chalice in one to two months, but he needs to have all the metal by June in order to finish the project by September.

“My biggest concern is not the constructing, it is the raising of the metal and participation of the people,” he says.

 

TIME Religion

Lena Dunham’s Not an Anti-Semite, She’s Just Clueless

Lena Dunham
JB Lacroix—WireImage/Getty Images Lena Dunham at the Dolby Theatre on March 8, 2015 in Hollywood.

Mark Oppenheimer writes the biweekly “Beliefs” column for The New York Times and is editor-at-large for Tablet. He also reports for The Atlantic, The Nation, This American Life, and elsewhere.

Lena Dunham's portrayals of Jews, in her show and in her New Yorker piece, trade in the stalest of stereotypes

Lena Dunham suddenly finds herself an enemy of her people. This week, the creator and star of HBO’s Girls, who is Jewish, wrote a humor piece in The New Yorker called “Dog or Jewish Boyfriend? A Quiz.” It begins: “Do the following statements refer to (a) my dog or (b) my Jewish boyfriend?” and offers, to test one’s dog-or-Jew acumen, statements like, “doesn’t tip,” “has hair all over his body, like most males who share his background,” and “comes from a culture in which mothers focus every ounce of their attention on their offspring.”

Cheap? Hairy? Over-mothered? Is it a dog, or is it a Jew?

The Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish anti-bigotry watchdog group, said in a statement Friday that the “piece is particularly troubling because it evokes memories of the ‘No Jews or Dogs Allowed’ signs from our own early history in this country, and also because, in a much more sinister way, many in the Muslim world today hatefully refer to Jews as ‘dogs.’”

Now, I am not as sensitive as the Anti-Defamation League, to put it mildly. Not only do I not usually complain about Jews making Jews look bad, I’m often the one being so accused. Just last year, I wrote a magazine piece about Jews who travel all the way from Jerusalem to the Jersey shore just to knock on doors begging for money. A few months earlier, I’d narrated a This American Life story about a rabbi accused of kidnapping husbands who refuse to give their wives divorces. If you have dirty Jewish laundry, I’ll air it.

So I am inclined to stand in solidarity with any fellow MOT (member of the tribe) who comes under fire for being bad for the Jews. But I confess that, in this case, I find myself aligned with the censors, the stuffed shirts, the killjoys. I think that Dunham’s piece fails, for a number of reasons.

To begin, it’s just not very funny. Of course, no harm in that. What makes the unfunniness of “Dog or Jewish Boyfriend? A Quiz” seem extra tasteless is how dated its humor is. It relies on stereotypes — the cheap Jew, the smothering Jewish mother — that were current almost half a century ago, back when Jews faced much more anti-Semitism. Dunham may be a hip auteur in her 20s, but in this humor piece she’s working with material from the era when some country clubs were still restricted.

It was also, of course, the material of the great Jewish writer Philip Roth, who gave us the castrating Jewish mother and eager-to-please son in 1969’s Portnoy’s Complaint, for which many feminists still haven’t forgiven him. But Roth is a genius, and genius buys you a lot of leeway with stereotypes. And Dunham’s less inspired humor recycles not only Roth’s caricature of women but also his equally damning portrayal of Jewish men. Other items on Dunham’s quiz include “he has asthma,” he “expects to be waited on hand and foot by the women in his life,” and he “has a sensitive stomach and has to take two Dramamine before entering any moving vehicle.” In other words, he’s weak and effete, with a poor constitution. That’s part Portnoy and part his constipated father, who was forever sitting on the toilet trying to squeeze something out.

What’s interesting, and a bit sad, is that Dunham seems not to know that these aren’t really live stereotypes anymore. I suppose there are still some people who think of Jews as cheap, but pampered and neurotic? How many in the Girls demographic, Jew or Gentile, really live with those cultural tropes? Jews have largely dropped those particular items of baggage: Who’s shocked to see a Jew shooting hoops on the playgrounds of Brooklyn? The one element of that old Jewish portraiture that still seems relevant is the smothering parenting, but now it’s all parents who do that.

Dunham seems to expect some latitude with this humor piece because she is, after all, a Jewish writer. David Remnick, The New Yorker’s editor, said as much in a statement defending Dunham: “The Jewish-comic tradition is rich with the mockery of, and playing with, stereotypes,” he wrote. “Has Mr. Foxman” — head of the Anti-Defamation League — “never heard Lenny Bruce or Larry David or Sarah Silverman or read Portnoy’s Complaint? Lena Dunham is a comic voice working in that vein.”

Except that Dunham is not working in that vein. Those are all comics who identified as obvious Jews and had built much of their humor around their Judaism. Dunham’s mother is Jewish, which makes her as Jewish as Moses, according to Jewish law. But she has never worked well with Judaism in her humor. The character she plays on Girls is a WASP from the Midwest. In fact, the only regular Jewish character on the show Dunham created is Shoshanna, a shallow, coddled materialist who fits snugly into a Jewish American Princess stereotype that I thought had been blessedly retired. The great actor Zosia Mamet imbues Shoshanna with as much humanity as she can, but it’s hard not to wonder why the only reasonably ethnic character on Girls — in contemporary Brooklyn, no less — is the Jewish girl from a 1970s-era JAP joke.

As it happens, the Girls season finale, last Sunday, featured two other Jewish men: an Orthodox man with a newborn baby, who walks through one of the last shots of the episode — a distant, Orientalized other — and Laird, father to the baby about to be born to Hannah’s ex’s sister. As Laird’s laboring girlfriend, committed to a home birth, looks as if she might need to go to the hospital, Laird panics and melts down. Hannah’s friend Jessa, improvising the role of doula, tells Laird sternly, “I need you, and she needs you, to be a man right now.” Laird starts to cry and wails, “But I’m not a man! I’m a Jewish recovering junkie and I weigh 135 pounds!”

That’s Jewish humor in Lena Dunham’s world.

Contrast that with Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David, who in their shows presented a wide range of Jewish types — religious and not, lovable or loathsome. Or with Sarah Silverman, who like Dunham also jokes about hirsuteness, in interviews and in one concert movie, but turns the joke on her own Jewish body, not on an outdated stock character of a boyfriend who also happens to be cheap and asthmatic.

Is Dunham an anti-Semite? Of course not. She is just a young artist with shaky judgment and no real feel for the tradition of Jewish humor in which her editor, presiding over America’s most storied magazine, suggests she is working. And this whole episode has the salutary effect, I like to think, of folding Dunham more closely into the tradition of Jewish writers: sooner or later, if we’re doing our job, we all get called bad for the Jews.

Read next: Jewish Group Objects to Lena Dunham’s ‘Dog or Jewish Boyfriend’ Story

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME faith

Here’s Why Christians Celebrate Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday in a catholic chapel
Getty Images Palm Sunday in a catholic chapel

It's the day Jesus entered Jerusalem before the Crucifixion

On Sunday, Christians all over the world will be carrying palms and other branches. That’s because it’s Palm Sunday, a celebration of the day Jesus entered Jerusalem before he was crucified and then resurrected, according to the Christian faith.

Christians carry palms on Palm Sunday because according to the Gospels, Jesus’ followers covered his path in palm fronds on the day he entered Jerusalem, after the custom of placing palms in the path of a high-ranking person. The palm branch also signified victory in Greco-Roman times, so the waving palms would have resembled a triumphal procession.

In many churches, congregants twist palms into the shape of a cross to commemorate the day, or use other branches if palms are not easily accessible– in some parts of Europe, churchyards are strewn with branches and flowers. The holiday is often celebrated with a procession.

Jesus also arrived in Jerusalem on a donkey, which was considered highly symbolic. At the time, a king riding a donkey symbolized peace, while a king on a horse symbolized war — while Jesus was not technically a king, his followers considered him to be King of Israel. Palm Sunday is depicted in all four Gospels, which isn’t true of all stories about Jesus.

In some congregations, the palms are burned at the end of Palm Sunday and the ashes are saved to use on Ash Wednesday of the following year. But most of all, Palm Sunday signifies the beginning of the last week of Lent — and the beginning of Holy Week.

Read next: Pope Francis Takes Selfies With Crowd After Palm Sunday Homily

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TIME Religion

George Takei Asks Twitter Followers to #BoycottIndiana Over Religious Objections Law

Critics say the Religious Freedom Restoration Act legalizes discrimination

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed a bill into law Thursday that allows business owners to deny same-sex couples service on religious grounds, then quickly defended it. Within hours, Star Trek actor and LGBT activist George Takei took his outrage to Twitter using the hashtag #BoycottIndiana, which began trending.

Democratic lawmakers, LGBT rights activists and civil liberties groups have argued that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act legalizes discrimination. And other celebrities aside from Takei have questioned Pence’s decision to sign the bill. On Monday, Jason Collins—the first openly gay NBA player—tweeted at the Governor, asking him if he will be discriminated against when he attends the Final Four of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament in Indianapolis next week.

On Thursday, the Indianapolis-based NCAA, expressed its own doubts. “We are especially concerned about how this legislation could affect our student-athletes and employees,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said in a statement.

Several other businesses plan to protest the law by denying Indiana their business. The gamer convention Gen Con threatened in a letter to pull its event out of Indianapolis when its contract with the city ends, and Mark Benioff, CEO of the $43 billion tech company Salesforce, said company will no longer proceed with its plans to expand to the state.

Read next: Indiana Governor Defends Signing of Religious Objections Bill

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TIME Religion

Why Pope Francis Is Obsessed With Mary

Statue of Mary in a church
Rafael Belincanta/EyeEm—Getty Images Statue of Mary in a church

Christopher Hale is executive director at Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and the co-founder of Millennial.

If women can lead the church on the ground, why can’t they have a seat at the table?

Today, Christians around the world celebrate the ancient Marian Feast of the Annunciation. Falling nine months before Christmas, this holy day commemorates Jesus’s conception in Mary’s womb. Of particular focus is Mary’s courageous choice to say “yes” to God’s invitation to be the mother of Jesus.

Devotion to Mary is an integral part of being Catholic. It also plays a poignant role in the life of Pope Francis, who is known to pray the rosary three times a day.

A pope dedicated to Mary is about as guaranteed as a pope who is Catholic. But Francis’s Marian devotion stands apart from his predecessors for one reason: Francis’s conception of Mary is not just as the meek mother of God, but also as a strong and courageous leader of the faith.

While studying in Germany in the late 1980s, the future pope, then named Jorge Mario Bergoglio, developed an affinity for the baroque painting “Mary Untier of Knots.” The work depicts Mary untying a knotted rope while stomping her foot on a serpent. The message of the painting is clear: Mary solves problems, heals divisions, and defeats evil.

Moved by the painting, Pope Francis brought it back to Argentina and created a popular devotion to Mary Untier of Knots. One can say with confidence that the same Mary now stands as his patron as he navigates the church’s way forward during an exciting, uncertain time.

One issue that Francis must contend with is the leadership role of women within the church. While Francis has led the church’s ongoing evolution on its pastoral care of the LGBT community, not nearly as much progress has been made on church’s inclusion of women.

This is unfortunate. While men make up the hierarchy of the church, women play important roles. For example, women teach children, serve the poor in soup kitchens and social-service agencies and minister to the sick. Christians should look to these strong women for leadership. If women can lead the church on the ground, why can’t they have a seat at the table?

After all, that was the way it was in the beginning.

After Jesus’ death, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb to remove his body. On the way there, she encountered a gardener. The gardener revealed himself to be the risen Christ. As Mary ran to tell the other disciples the good news, she held within her the very reason of the church: to share God’s saving love in Jesus. In that moment, some argue that she was the church.

If the Catholic Church is going to have a future, it must rediscover these radical roots. A church without women in leadership is a church without a future.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME viral

Did the ‘Face of Jesus’ Appear in a Colombian Rockslide?

A landslide in Colombia has reportedly yielded what some are calling a miracle — the face of Jesus, etched on a hillside.

So many worshippers came to the site in Putumayo that police have been brought in to manage the crowd, Colombian newspaper El Tiempo reports, and some locals have begun charging the pilgrims to see the face.

“If you believe in Jesus, you will see your image,” Ximena Rosero Arango, one of the people who came to the site, told the newspaper. The image has also been making the rounds on social media since Saturday, when the crowds first began arriving.

If the image is real it would be a departure for the Son of God; usually, the countenance divine is revealed in foodstuffs.

[El Tiempo]

TIME Religion

Lincoln and the Jews

David Wolpe is the Max Webb Senior Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles.

For Lincoln, the inclination to acceptance culminated in the emancipation proclamation

“One of my most valued friends.” In all of the writings of Abraham Lincoln, we find that phrase used only once. It refers to Abraham Jonas, who was a Jew.

In a world where hatred or suspicion of Jews was near universal, our greatest President proves singularly free of this ancient prejudice. A remarkable feature of the lavishly illustrated and beautifully written work, Lincoln and the Jews by Jonathan Sarna and Benjamin Shapell, is to learn anew how many Jews Lincoln befriended in his too brief life and the consistency with which he opposed the common anti-Semitism of his time. Growing up, Lincoln knew no Jews, other than those whom he met in the pages of his well-thumbed Bible. Yet his was not a grudging admission of Jewish legitimacy but a genuine liking and even admiration. He even justified the appointment of one assistant quartermaster because he was Jewish: “I believe we have not yet appointed a Hebrew.” In fact, he had, but this appointment, Moise Levy, was a well known and traditional Jew, and the son-in-law of a prominent Rabbi.

Most famously, Lincoln countermanded General Grant’s General order #11, which literally banished Jews “as a class” from his war zone, from the Mississippi river to the Tennessee river, and from Northern Mississippi to Cairo Illinois. Although meliorative explanations have been offered for Grant, his rhetoric and order were discriminatory at best. Lincoln’s other Generals like Butler and McClellan, expressed anti-Semitic sentiments even more openly.

A delegation of Jews went to the White House before Grant’s order could be carried out. The exchange that follows shows both Lincoln’s immersion in the Bible, his characteristically sprightly manner of dealing with even serious issues, and his sense of responsibility for the Jewish community. After recounting Grant’s action, the Jewish Spokesperson Cesar Kaskel gratefully heard the President’s response:

Lincoln: And so the children of Israel were driven from the happy land of Canaan?

Kaskel: Yes, and that is why we have come unto Father Abraham’s bosom, seeking protection.

Lincoln: And this protection they shall have at once.

Lincoln immediately countermanded Grant’s order.

Some 70 years before, George Washington sent a letter to the Hebrew congregation at Newport, in which he too used biblical imagery, that of Isaiah, assuring the Jews of that community and by extension, throughout the newly created nation that, “every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.”

Both men, the founder of the nation and its savior were distinguished by their acceptance of Jews. Narrowing the boundaries of acceptance would fracture the nation one strove to create and the other to unite.

For Lincoln, the inclination to acceptance culminated in the emancipation proclamation. Throughout his life he was capable of judging individuals; when Frederick Douglass visited Lincoln in the White House he declared that while he was not satisfied with the President’s views, he was “well satisfied with the man.”

Lincoln and the Jews is filled with rare photographs and letters that tell the story of a man who himself defied the limitations of his time, and whose strength of character altered the nation’s destiny.

Lincoln was shot on Friday night and declared dead on Saturday morning. As a result Jews all over the country heard the news in synagogue. In New York’s Temple Emanu-El, the NY Times reported, people spontaneously rose to recite the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer of mourning. It was fitting: Not only had the nation lost its President and presiding spirit, but the Jewish people knew they had lost a great man, and a great friend.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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