Time Magazine Photo Essay Talismans For Protection

The R.F.R.A.s proposed in Indiana and Arkansas were more expansive: They would have allowed people and corporations to bring religious-liberty claims against one another, as well as the government. But that change didn’t really explain why Indiana and Arkansas found themselves on the wrong side of the culture wars; the context did. The new religious-liberty bills appeared to be shielding businesses that didn’t want to serve gay couples, who had recently won the right to marry in Indiana. ‘‘If a gay couple came in and wanted us to provide pizzas for their wedding, we would have to say no,’’ Crystal O’Connor, an owner of Memories Pizza in Walkerton, Ind., told a local news station. This time, the boycott materialized, and Memories Pizza temporarily shut its doors (supporters also raised more than $800,000 on the owners’ behalf). When major companies threatened to pull up stakes in Indiana and Arkansas, the states retreated, altering their religious-freedom bills.

Following the Supreme Court’s marriage ruling, religious objections to serving gay couples are mounting in more states. Invoking religious liberty in this way presents ‘‘special concerns’’ by prolonging social conflict, according to a recent article by two law professors, Reva B. Siegel of Yale and Douglas NeJaime now of U.C.L.A. School of Law. They point to the aftermath of Roe v. Wade: After the Supreme Court ruling legalized abortion throughout the country, Congress and state legislatures ensured that a doctor, nurse or other health care professional could refuse to participate in providing an abortion as a matter of conscience. Over the decades, these ‘‘conscience clauses’’ expanded in some states to include counseling, referral and pharmaceutical services, allowing people who fill prescriptions, for example, to exert a form of social control in the name of their own religious freedom.

The muscle of the conservative Christian movement, Siegel and NeJaime argue, enhances its ‘‘power to demean.’’ Women who have been refused abortion services report feeling judged and mortified. Gay couples turned away by wedding vendors say the same. ‘‘The phrase ‘religious liberty’ has become an overused talisman,’’ the Indiana University law professor Steve Sanders told me. ‘‘Most of the invocations lately have nothing to do with actual infringements of free exercise. They’re about political and cultural dissent from gay rights.’’

All of this is making longtime proponents of religious liberty nervous. Douglas Laycock, a law professor at the University of Virginia, has helped write state religious freedom bills and supported the ones that foundered in Indiana and Arkansas. But in an article last year, he issued a warning to evangelical leaders. ‘‘It is a risky step to interfere with the most intimate details of other people’s lives while loudly claiming liberty for yourself,’’ Laycock wrote. ‘‘If you stand in the way of a revolution and lose, there will be consequences.’’

Refusing to serve customers has an ugly history. A half-century ago, the civil rights movement held lunch-counter sit-ins to protest Jim Crow. No one succeeded then in claiming a God-given right to refuse to serve black customers. Throughout the South, businesses open to the public became open to all. Today, in the name of religious liberty, there is robust Southern opposition to same-sex marriage. But supporters say the analogy to the exclusions of Jim Crow is inapt, because racial segregation was never central to Christian teaching the way traditional marriage has been. They also correctly point out that strong national laws protect against discrimination on the basis of race, but not against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. In many states, in the South and elsewhere, a business or a landlord doesn’t need a special faith-based reason for turning away a gay client or tenant. They’re simply free to do so.

Given the speed with which public support for same-sex marriage is growing, gay people may win other rights against discrimination. But what about private religious schools and social-service organizations? ‘‘Hard questions’’ will arise, Chief Justice John Roberts predicted in his dissent from the same-sex marriage ruling, when, ‘‘for example, a religious college provides married student housing only to opposite-sex married couples, or a religious adoption agency declines to place children with same-sex couples.’’

In the Senate and the House of Representatives, dozens of Republicans quickly signed on to a bill that would protect the tax-exempt status of a religious organization in such a situation and prevent any government action against a business that refused to serve a gay couple. On both sides of this fight, tolerance no longer seems to be the word of the day. ‘‘The religious resisters say, ‘It doesn’t matter if you can have the wedding you want, because you shouldn’t be getting married anyway,’ ’’ Laycock said over the phone last week. ‘‘The gay rights people answer, ‘It doesn’t matter if you violate your conscience, because you’re just talking to your imaginary friend.’ ’’ When basic values and rights collide, usually somebody wins and somebody loses. It becomes difficult to find mutual compassion, even if that would be the godly thing to do.

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Correction: July 26, 2015

An article on July 12 about religion and American law misidentified the academic affiliation of Douglas NeJaime, who was an author of a paper on religion and law. He is a professor at the School of Law at the University of California, Los Angeles, not the University of California, Irvine, where he taught at the time the paper was written.

MAPUTO, Mozambique — One day in October 2015, Electerio João’s brother-in-law called him up and asked him to come “work and earn money.” Mr. João, who was 22 at the time, welcomed the opportunity. He was living with his mother in a small mud-brick house in the village of Namina in northern Mozambique. He needed the cash.

But he quickly realized that he was going to be the source of cash, not labor. His brother-in-law, working with three of his friends, tied up Mr. João with a rope and took him to the side of a main road, where they planned to sell him for his body parts.

Mr. João has albinism. Superstition in Mozambique and nearby countries like Malawi and Tanzania holds that if you have a piece of albinism on you — in the form of a bone or piece of skin — you’ll have luck and money. In Mozambique a person with albinism can be worth $4,000 to $75,000.

Since the end of 2014, dozens of albinos in Mozambique have been kidnapped or murdered, often by family members. In Malawi, 20 albinos have been killed in the same period and hundreds more attacked. In both countries, albinos’ graves have been desecrated, with corpses dug up for talismans. Those who aren’t abducted or killed face discrimination and live in fear.

I came to this corner of southern Africa in 2015 to chronicle the albino community and its difficulties. I took hundreds of photographs and met dozens of albinos and their families. What I found was fear. Albinos try to avoid leaving their houses. Children avoid school and walking alone. Everyone is a threat. Many of the people I interviewed and photographed didn’t believe I was a journalist at first — they thought I wanted to kidnap and sell them.

Word of Mr. João’s sale made its way to some buyers. After he and his captors spent several hours waiting by the side of the road, the would-be purchasers arrived. Luckily, they were from the police. Mr. João was released; his brother-in-law and his co-conspirators were arrested. It was the first time that Mozambique’s police had caught albino smugglers in the act. Mr. João is still afraid, though, as were all of the albinos and their families I spoke with and photographed in Mozambique and Malawi.

“We are followed as if we are animals,” said Ricardo Carlitos, 23, a primary-school teacher in Mozambique’s Nampula region. His sister Elidia, who also had albinism, was kidnapped and murdered in September 2015. One of the abductors was caught with part of a bone three days later. Mr. Carlitos believes his brother-in-law was responsible for the murder.Daniel Rodrigues for The New York Times

“Where I live, where I walk, where I play, I am always afraid because of what happened to my sister,” said Ricardo Carlitos’s brother, Mauricio, 18.Daniel Rodrigues for The New York Times

Flávia Pinto, 31, holds a portrait of her father, José Manuel Pinto. He died from diabetes in 2015 in Tete, Mozambique. In 2016, his grave was ransacked and his arms and legs were taken. She fortified her father’s grave so that the rest of his body would be left alone.

Madalena Francisco Jorge, 17, sits in her classroom in Tete, Mozambique. She said she feels increasingly discriminated against by other students, who often call her “money” because of the value of her body parts.Daniel Rodrigues for The New York Times

Lazaro Rosario, 18, is a student in Tete, Mozambique. He blames the government for not doing more to protect people like him. “They have not taken the albinos issue seriously,” he said. “We are losing our brothers and sisters.”Daniel Rodrigues for The New York Times

Chimwemwe Austin, 4, lives with her parents in Lilongwe, Malawi’s capital. Her parents haven’t sent her to school since a neighbor suggested selling her. “She is worth millions!” the neighbor said.Daniel Rodrigues for The New York Times

After a friend of hers, who also had albinism, was abducted and murdered a few years ago, Levita Omar, 20, has been afraid to leave the home she shares with her aunt in Mozambique’s Nampula region. Every night, her aunt sleeps at the door to keep watch for kidnappers.Daniel Rodrigues for The New York Times

Marco Robert, 11, lives in Tete, Mozambique, with his 4-year-old sister, Eva, who is also an albino. His parents send the children to school in another town, which they believe is safer. They hope that the government will do more to help.Daniel Rodrigues for The New York Times

Licila and Teresa Mansagano, sisters aged 13 and 15, on the outskirts of Lilongwe, Malawi, used to travel freely and without fear. That changed in June 2015, when Teresa was followed by a man who called her “money.” She responded: “I’m not money. I’m a human like you.”Daniel Rodrigues for The New York Times

One night in February 2015, when Harrison Molcoshomi, 9, was asleep beside his twin brother in their home in the Machinga region of Malawi, a group of kidnappers burst in. They held a knife to the neck of the boys’ mother, Edna. “I tried to save both but I couldn’t,” she said. Harrison’s brother was taken.Daniel Rodrigues for The New York Times

Four years ago, Peter Chirwa, 26, developed a painful tumor. He tried to go to a hospital in the Nkhotakota region of Malawi, where he lives, but he was turned away because of the stigmatization of people with albinism. Then he was turned away from several more. His condition is worsening. “At this moment, I’m without hope,” Peter said.Daniel Rodrigues for The New York Times

Salmo Rosario, 21, works with a group in Tete, Mozambique, called Love of Life that fights for albino rights. He said he wants to work and have a normal life, because he is a normal person. “I want to be a lawyer and help other albinos,” he said.Daniel Rodrigues for The New York Times

In December 2014, Mina Godfrey’s uncle and two of his friends kidnapped her in the middle of the night. She escaped and ran to a nearby village. Her uncle was arrested and sentenced to two years in prison. He wanted to sell Mina for about $4,200. Now she lives with an adoptive family dedicated to protecting albinos.Daniel Rodrigues for The New York TimesTimes

Biligir Mariano, 26, lives in Tete, Mozambique, with his wife and 9-month-old son. On Christmas Day in 2015, he learned that one of his friends planned to kidnap and sell him. He still loves to go outside despite the danger. “It is the fault of the healers who pass on information that our organs are worth money,” he said of the dangers albinos face.Daniel Rodrigues for The New York Times

Mina Godfrey’s shadow on the wall of her home. “We must always protect her,” her adoptive mother said. “She cannot be alone.”Daniel Rodrigues for The New York Times

Harrison Molcoshomi near his home. After his twin brother was kidnapped, his family moved to a new house. “The government should give us better houses, protect us,” his mother said.Daniel Rodrigues for The New York TimesTimes

Eva Robert, 4, lives in Tete, Mozambique with her parents and brother Marco, 11, who also has albinism. The siblings are sent away to school for their safety.

The governments in Malawi and Mozambique know about this problem. They’ve started public information campaigns to quash the superstition that albino body parts bring good luck and to remind citizens that albinos are people, just like everyone else. The police, too, have become more attentive to the issue. There are some small civil-society groups that aim to protect albinos and discourage trafficking. But much more needs to be done.

Daniel Rodrigues is a photojournalist currently based in Portugal.

Designed by Umi Syam. Photo Editor: Jeffrey Henson Scales.

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