June 15, 2012

Obama Administration Halts Prosecution of Some Young Immigrants

Homeland Security will now exercise prosecutorial discretion against those brought to the nation as children.

President Barack Obama will announce today a new policy that will affect around 800,000 young people who are in the U.S. illegally. The announcement comes on the heels of a call by a broad coalition of evangelical leaders to reform the nation's immigration system.

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The new policy applies to only some of the millions of immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally. Homeland security will not prosecute immigrants who came to the country before their 16th birthday, are currently under the age of 30, and have lived in the U.S. for at least the past five years.

Immigrants who qualify must also be in school, finished high school, or be honorably discharged from the military. The policy will not apply to any immigrants convicted of a felony or who pose a threat to national security.

Secretary Homeland Security Janet Napolitano wrote a memo explaining the new policy, where the Department of Homeland Security will exercise its prosecutorial discretion by no longer pursuing cases against many of the young immigrants who were brought to the U.S. without documentation.

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June 13, 2012

North Dakota Rejects Religious Liberty Measure

Measure 3, rejected by two-thirds of voters, would have prohibited the state government from "burdening" religious liberty.

North Dakota voters rejected a controversial measure yesterday that would have added an amendment to the state constitution prohibiting the government from putting a “burden [on] a person’s or religious organization’s religious liberty.” The amendment was defeated by approximately two-thirds, 64 percent to 36 percent.

Known as the Religious Liberty Restoration amendment, supporters of Measure 3 argued it would prevent attacks on religious freedom. The North Dakota Family Alliance, headed by Tom Freier, led the push to put the measure on the ballot.

“This measure would really put in place the protection for North Dakota that would make sure the people are protected, and religious organizations are protected, when and if they do need that protection,” Freier told NPR last week.

But critics argued the amendment could cause unintended problems, included providing a curtain of protection for parents who abuse their children or employers who discriminate based on differences in morals and religious beliefs. Tom Fiebiger, a labor lawyer in Fargo and a former Democratic state senator, told the Christian Science Monitor the measure was too vague.

“On first blush, it looks great, but you pull back the curtain, and you see all the problems,” Fiebiger told the Monitor. “It’s a solution in search of a problem.”

But Christopher Dodson, head of the North Dakota Catholic Conference, countered those arguments. “The measure itself says that it doesn’t affect those acts which the state has a compelling interest in preventing,” he told NPR. “And it’s somewhat irresponsible to even imply that the state doesn’t have an interest in protecting children, women and vulnerable persons.”

The fight over the amendment attracted a lot of outside attention—and outside funds. According to CitizenLink, the group North Dakotans Against Measure 3 raised more than $1 million to fight the measure, with the vast majority of funds coming from out-of-state groups. (CitizenLink said its numbers came from the North Dakota Secretary of State’s site, which only lists gifts greater than $200.) In contrast, Freier told CitizenLink that most of the $150,000 raised in support of the measure came from state residents.

In its report, the Christian Science Monitor noted that while many states have created some sort of religious exemption in health care since the new federal laws were enacted, only Alabama has adopted a constitutional amendment like Measure 3. However, a similar bill is currently sitting in committee in the Kentucky state senate, and a religious freedom amendment was withdrawn from the Colorado ballot last month.

June 5, 2012

California Moves To Pass First State Ban of Gay Conversion Therapy

Many Christian therapists have already abandoned the practice.

The California senate has voted to ban reparative therapy for gay and lesbian teens. The bill, which interestingly enough has been opposed by both the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality and the California Psychological Association (though for very different reasons), now goes on to the state assembly.

CT has reported how many Christian therapists have abandoned reparative therapy amid broad changes in the ex-gay movement, as well as how Willow Creek Community Church and other groups have ended partnerships with Exodus International.

Practitioners of reparative therapy in the United Kingdom have recently lost their licenses over the disputed practice.

May 31, 2012

DOMA Decision: Unconstitutional And Bound For SCOTUS

Court rules federal law unconstitutionally burdens both states and same-sex couples.

A federal appeals court ruled today that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional.

The First Circuit Court of Appeals, whose jurisdiction includes Massachusetts, said that DOMA imposes a burden on both states and couples without a legitimate federal purpose. The decision is expected to be reviewed by the United States Supreme Court.

According to the court decision, DOMA affects more than 1,000 references to marriage in federal laws. As a result, same-sex couples who are married in U.S. states are denied substantial benefits from the federal government. Same-sex couples cannot file joint federal tax returns. Spouses cannot collect Social Security survivor benefits. Federal employees cannot share their health insurance with their spouses.

The First Circuit ruled that the burden placed on the more than 100,000 same-sex couples could not be justified. It rejected the argument that the underlying purpose of DOMA was “hostility toward homosexuality.” Support for traditional marriage, said the Court, did not mean moral disapproval of same-sex couples.

“Traditions are the glue that holds society together, and many of our own traditions rest largely on belief and familiarity--not on benefits firmly provable in court. The desire to retain them is strong and can be honestly held,” the court said.

Morality, too, was not a legitimate reason to define federal marriage as the union between one man and one woman. When passing DOMA, Congress said, “Civil laws that permit only heterosexual marriage reflect and honor a collective moral judgment about human sexuality. This judgment entails both moral disapproval of homosexuality, and a moral conviction that heterosexuality better comports with traditional (especially Judeo-Christian) morality.”

The First Circuit cited the Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas, which ruled that sodomy laws were unconstitutional. The Lawrence opinion said that morality was an insufficient justification for regulating homosexuality.

The First Circuit said that if the goal of DOMA was to strengthen and protect heterosexual marriage, then DOMA was a “poor remedy” to the problem. It ruled that Congress failed to show “any demonstrated connection between DOMA's treatment of same-sex couples and its asserted goal of strengthening the bonds and benefits to society of heterosexual marriage.”

The decision is limited to the constitutionality of DOMA and avoids broader claims that same-sex couples have a right to marry in any state. Rather, the court said that DOMA violates federalism by interfering in the choices of both same-sex couples and the states that grant them marriages.

The judges acknowledges that the principles in case, including federalism, civil rights, and congressional authority, are difficult to untangle and that “only the Supreme Court can finally decide this unique case.”

“Invalidating a federal statute is an unwelcome responsibility for federal judges; the elected Congress speaks for the entire nation, its judgment and good faith being entitled to utmost respect” the First Circuit wrote. “But a lower federal court such as ours must follow its best understanding of governing precedent, knowing that in large matters the Supreme Court will correct mis-readings (and even if it approves the result will formulate its own explanation).”

DOMA will remain in effect until the Supreme Court decides whether to review the decision.

The opinion was issued by a three-judge panel from the First Circuit. Michael Boudin, nominated by President George H. W. Bush, wrote the unanimous decision; the other two judges were chief judge Sandra L. Lynch (Clinton nominee) and Juan R. Torruella (Reagan nominee).

May 25, 2012

Black Americans on Gay Marriage: Is Obama Changing Opinion?

New poll shows opinion jump from African Americans in favor of same-sex marriage

President Obama's announcement supporting same-sex marriage could have an impact on opinion among black Americans. A new poll finds that 59 percent of black Americans support same-sex marriage, a jump from just 41 percent before Obama's announcement.

In previous surveys, support among black Americans for same-sex marriage has been consistently lower than among whites. A majority of black Americans polled over the past two years have opposed same-sex marriage (38 percent support vs. 52 percent opposition), according the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.

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Black Americans who attend church are more likely to oppose same-sex marriage than are others.  According recent Pew polls, 70 percent of black Americans who attend church regularly oppose gay marriage, compared to 47 percent among those that do not.

With the relatively small number of black Americans in the Washington Post-ABC poll, it would be difficult to tell if the change in opinion occurred among more religious black Americans.

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May 23, 2012

Are the World's Wealthiest Nations Doing Enough to Fight Hunger?

Groups appear less enthusiastic after the G8 summit’s position on food security and nutrition programs.

G8 leaders gathered at Camp David over the weekend where President Obama announced the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, striving to move 50 million people out of poverty by 2022. Organizations who work to reduce hunger and poverty commended U.S. leadership on food security, but some criticized other G8 nations for falling behind on their commitments to help the world's poor.

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Three years ago the leaders from France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the U.K., the U.S., Canada, and Russia gathered in L’Aquila, Italy. In a global recession, the world's wealthiest nations promised to assist the world's poorest countries, pledging $22 billion by 2012 to improve agriculture and food security. The U.S. is on track to meet its L'Aquila commitments by the deadline, but the G8 nations as a whole have given only 38 percent of their contributions, according to World Vision.

Adam Taylor, World Vision's vice president for advocacy, said the G8 nations need to fulfill their promises and distribute the remaining funds.

“While we applaud the real progress that has been made on food security and nutrition, if we had to give the G8 a grade right now, it would be ‘incomplete',” Taylor said in a statement.

Neil Watkins of ActionAid USA commended the U.S. for increasing its commitment to fight hunger, but he criticized other nations that have fallen behind on their commitments and have not promised to continue them into the future.

“Without a clear pledge to sustain L’Aquila public funding levels, this year’s G8 will be remembered as the summit that buried the L’Aquila pledge to fight hunger,” Watkins said.

Food security was not the top economic issues for the G8 nations that face their own recessions, a looming currency crisis, and austerity measures. With belt-tightening at home, G8 nations are less willing to provide aid to the world's poor.

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May 14, 2012

Obama Campaign Taps Young Adviser, Michael Wear, for Faith Outreach

A 23-year-old executive assistant in the White House faith-based office will head the campaign's faith outreach.

President Obama's re-election campaign has tapped a 23-year-old executive assistant in the White House faith-based office to head up its outreach to religious communities.

Michael R. Wear, who has worked in the White House for the past three and half years, will move to Chicago to become the campaign's Faith Vote director next week, White House officials confirmed on Monday.

"It has been an honor working with Michael Wear to create positive faith-based and nonprofit partnerships to serve people in need," said Joshua DuBois, executive director of the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Wear was DuBois' executive assistant. (CT profiled then 26-year-old DuBois in 2009)

A native of Buffalo, N.Y., Wear was an intern during Obama's 2008 campaign, specializing in outreach to religious groups. He helped arrange candidate Obama's appearance at a presidential forum at Rick Warren's Saddleback Church in California as well as a meeting between Obama and prominent Christian leaders in Chicago.

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May 10, 2012

After Meeting with Black Southern Baptists, Richard Land Apologizes Again over Trayvon Martin Comments

The Southern Baptist leader said he has sent a personal letter to President Obama seeking forgiveness.

Southern Baptist leader Richard Land has issued a lengthy public apology for his racially charged comments about the Trayvon Martin case, and said he has sent a personal letter to President Obama seeking forgiveness.

Land, who leads the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, issued the two-page apology Wednesday (May 9), a week after a five-hour meeting with African-American leaders and other Southern Baptist officials.

Because of that meeting, “I have come to understand in sharper relief how damaging my words were,” he wrote in the statement released through his denomination’s news service.

Land had previously apologized for his comments, which charged Democrats and civil rights leaders with exploiting the killing of the unarmed Florida teen. He also has apologized for failing to attribute the material he used when discussing the case on his radio show.

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May 9, 2012

Some Express Concern over Exclusivity in Politics and Prayer

Who was involved in National Day of Prayer events?

Last week’s National Day of Prayer drew attention to the role of prayer in public life, but for some, it also raised questions about whether the event is too exclusive. In Congress, the only openly atheist Congressman called for a National Day of Reason to replace the National Day of Prayer. And in Michigan, the Catholic Church in Michigan called on state lawmakers to welcome “elected officials of any faith” into the legislature’s new prayer caucus.

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In Michigan, there were concerns about the Day of Prayer from the Catholic Church. Church leaders were concerned about the Michigan Legislative Prayer Caucus, a new legislative group that held its first event on Wednesday. Lt. Gov. Brian Calley and around 30 lawmakers met at the state capitol for prayer and a singing of “God Bless America.” The caucus held a similar event on Thursday as part of the National Day of Prayer and the Michigan Day of Prayer.

The caucus describes itself as "a bipartisan body of believers of Scriptural Truth, adhering to established Judeo-Christian principles and Religious Liberties that were widely practiced by the Founders of these United States of America and the state of Michigan."

Dawud Walid, head of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Michigan (CAIR-MI) said that while elected officials may be guided by their religious beliefs, the new caucus sent a mixed signal.

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May 4, 2012

Why Mitt Romney’s Upcoming Liberty Commencement Address Fits the University’s Past Speakers

Romney will continue a long line of speakers who find common ground with Liberty on political issues.

Mitt Romney will speak at next week’s commencement at Liberty University, an addresss that follows the university’s history of politically conservative speakers. For Romney, the speech is an outreach to conservative Christians who have been wary of him, both for his political positions and his Mormon faith. For Liberty, Romney will continue a long line of speakers who find common ground with Liberty on conservative politics, not religious affiliation.

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The Liberty speech is one of many events Romney has planned that will allow him to shore up support with conservatives while beginning to sound themes for the general election. Two weeks ago, Romney spoke at the National Rifle Association meeting. While Romney tipped his hat to second amendment rights activists, he spent most of the speech on taxes and the economy.

Romney is likely to follow a similar strategy at Liberty, one that commencement speakers John McCain (2006) and George Bush (1990) used to avoid hot button social issues to focus on foreign policy and other issues.

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