All posts from “December 2010”

« November 2010 | Home | January 2011 »

December 30, 2010

Pro-life Efforts to Watch in 2011

Although November’s mid-term elections halved the number of pro-life Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives, there are hopeful signs for pro-life legislation in the New Year.

January will mark the beginning of the arguably most pro-life House ever,” according to a statement released by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), co-chairman of the bi-partisan Congressional Pro-Life Caucus. Incoming Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) has stated that “he wants to be the most pro-life Speaker ever” and Americans United for Life chose Boehner for an award.

The House will likely tackle the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act (HR 5939) in the upcoming legislative session. Introduced by Smith and Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) in July, Smith said the bill is designed to protect conscience clauses in health care nation-wide. Protecting existing conscience rights remains a high priority in 2011. The Alliance Defense Fundsays that the Obama administration “wants to dismantle” a rule passed by the Bush administration in 2008 that prohibited recipients of federal money from discriminating against healthcare professionals refusing to participate in procedures, such as abortion, for reasons of conscience.

Prohibiting the use of federal money to support abortion providers, such as Planned Parenthood, will also appear on the legislative agenda. The Title 10 Abortion Provider Prohibition Act (HR 614), co-sponsored by Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), would prohibit all federal assistance to organizations performing abortions during the period of assistance. Pence said that the act would close the loopholes in the Hyde Amendment, which allows federally-funded organizations to perform abortions if such procedures are separately funded. In June,the Government Accountability Office foundthat over $1 billion in taxpayer money went to pro-abortion organizations in the past 8 years.

Various states are also expected to tackle pro-life issues in 2011. According to an unreleased NARAL Pro-Choice America analysispreviewed to Politico, the number of anti-abortion governors rose from 21 to 29 in the November election, and the number of states with governments where the governor and the majority legislature are both considered anti-abortion increased from 10 to 15.

In states ranging from Iowa to Tennessee, where anti-abortion legislation has often stalled in committee, anticipation is building that a change in leadership could change the prospects for pro-life legislation as well. Kansas provides one example, where current Democratic Governor Mark Parkinson vetoed a measure preventing the re-establishment of a late-term abortion clinic in the state (following the death of George Tiller and the subsequent closure of his clinic in Wichita). However, Parkinson’s replacement, Governor-elect Republican Sam Brownback, told supporters he would sign any pro-life bill that made it to his desk.

Following Nebraska’s lead—the state passed a late-term abortion ban this year based on the concept of fetal pain—pro-life organizations expect more states to challenge abortion laws by proposing restrictions related to fetus age. Several states, including Kansas, New Jersey, and South Carolina, considered bans on post-viability abortion (abortion past the age a fetus is considered able to live outside the womb) in 2010, according to Americans United for Life. Typically, the “post-viability” age is considered to be between 21 to 28 weeks (Roe v. Wade established viability as “about” 28 weeks); Nebraska’s ban sets the restriction back to 20 weeks. “[F]rom our perspective, if we aren't bucking up against Roe, we're not doing our job,” said Nebraska Right to Life Executive Director Julie Schmit-Albin. "So we did our job in Nebraska and now it's time for the other states to do their job."

Other possible state legislation proposing abortion restrictions will likely include laws requiring an ultrasound to be shown to the patient prior to an abortion--such as the one passed by Oklahoma this year--and measures responding to this year’s federal health care reform that would ban insurance coverage of abortion at the state level.

December 29, 2010

Obama's Church Appearance Highlights Public Trend

President Obama attended church in Hawaii Sunday, continuing a trend of public expressions of his Christian faith in the past three months, argues Carol E. Lee in Politico.

Obama has publicly mentioned his “Christian faith” more times in the past three months than he has over the past year. He has more frequently cited passages of the Bible, including repeated references to the spirit of Genesis 4:9 — “I am my brother’s keeper; I am my sister’s keeper” — which was a mainstay of Obama’s 2010 campaign stump speech. And he’s taken his family to church twice, a shift for a president who has preferred to worship privately since the end of the 2008 campaign.

As far as I can tell, the Obama family attends church mostly on holidays and special occasions. However, the family attended a church in September after polls suggested that at least 18 percent of Americans think he is a Muslim.

Adelle M. Banks noted a similar trend of faith as a public expression for Religion News Service.

When President Obama lit the National Christmas Tree behind the White House last year, he spoke of a “child born far from home” and said “while this story may be a Christian one, its lesson is universal.”

This year, Obama referenced that same “child born far from home,” but added a more personal twist: “It’s a story that’s dear to Michelle and me as Christians.”

Three days later, at a Christmas benefit concert, the president again talked about how the story of Christmas “guides my Christian faith.”

What changed? For one, three separate polls in the past year have found that one in four Americans think the president is a Muslim, 43 percent don’t know what faith he follows, and four in 10 Protestant pastors don’t consider Obama a Christian.

The AP reports that Obama attended a chapel at Marine Corps Base Hawaii for a multi-denominational service. Obama has said that his family has not joined a church because appearances would be disruptive.

December 18, 2010

Repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Moves Forward

The Senate blocks the DREAM Act.

The Senate voted today to proceed to debate on a bill ending the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which clears the way to repeal the law.

In his State of the Union address earlier this year, President Obama vowed to end the ban on gays and lesbians serving in the military. Last week, Senate Republicans blocked the repeal while delaying a vote on the DREAM Act. Today the Senate blocked the DREAM Act, which carves out a path to legal status for foreign-born children brought to the United States illegally.

Some chaplains had voiced concerns over the repeal, saying that they could be accused of discrimination if they addressed homosexuality. Earlier this year, the Southern Baptist Convention said that a large percentage of currently serving military personnel said they would not reenlist or would end their careers early should the policy be repealed. The National Association of Evangelicals would not encourage chaplains to resign if the law was repealed.

The Washington Post provides the breakdown of votes for DADT.

Senators voted 63 to 33 go proceed to debate on the bill. Fifty-seven members of the Senate Democratic caucus and six Republicans -- Sens. Scott Brown (Mass.), Susan Collins (Maine), Mark Kirk (Ill.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Olympia Snowe (Maine) and George Voinovich (Ohio) -- voted yes. Four senators -- Jim Bunning (R-Ky.), Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Joe Manchin III (D-W. Va.) -- did not vote.

A final vote on the bill is expected Sunday; a simple majority is required for final passage.

The vote came amid an unusually busy Saturday for the Senate, with consideration of gays in the military, the U.S.-Russia nuclear treaty and a bill providing a pathway to citizenship for young undocumented immigrants.

The New York Times reports on how it came back to the Senate floor.

Only a week ago, the effort to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy seemed to be dead and in danger of fading for at least two years with Republicans about to take control of the House. The provision eliminating the ban was initially included in a broader Pentagon policy bill, and Republican backers of repeal had refused to join in cutting off a filibuster against the underlying bill because of objections over the ability to debate the measure.

In a last-ditch effort, Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of Connecticut, and Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, encouraged Democratic Congressional leaders to instead pursue a vote on simply repealing the ban. The House passed the measure earlier in the week.

Politico has more details on its final passage.

The repeal, however, wouldn’t take effect immediately. Obama, Gates Mullen would have to certify to Congress that they have reviewed the Pentagon report on the impacts of repeal, that the Defense Department is prepared to implement repeal and that doing so would not harm military readiness, troop morale, and recruiting and retention.

The policy would be repealed 60 days after the president submits the document.

December 15, 2010

Republican Leaders Join FRC Protest of 'Hate Group' Designation

Pawlenty, Huckabee, DeMint, Boehner, and Cantor among those opposing "intolerance pure and simple."

frc-ad.jpg

The Family Research Council, joined by prominent Republican allies, is mounting an aggressive defense to a decision by the Southern Poverty Law Center to designate the powerful conservative lobby as a hate group.

"The group, which was once known for combating racial bigotry, is now attacking several groups that uphold Judeo Christian moral views, including marriage as the union of a man and a woman," reads a Wednesday (Dec. 15) FRC ad placed in the print editions of Politico and the
Washington Examiner.

The ad, in the form of an open letter, was signed by more than two dozen Republican leaders, including several potential GOP presidential candidates: Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, and Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina.

Other signatories included House Speaker-designate John Boehner of Ohio and House Majority Leader-elect Eric Cantor of Virginia.

The ad follows a November 22 report from the Alabama-based civil rights watchdog adding the FRC and four other conservative religious organizations to its list of hate groups for their "demonizing propaganda aimed at homosexuals."

The report's editor, Mark Potok, told Religion News Service the groups on the list were chosen for "propagation of known falsehoods" and not because of their religious nature.

The ad says the signatories "stand in solidarity" with FRC and other groups known for their opposition to gay marriage.

They also expressed dismay at criticism of the Manhattan Declaration, a 2009 statement that opposes abortion and gay marriage. An iPhone app promoting the manifesto was recently removed from Apple's online store after liberal critics objected to it.

"This is intolerance pure and simple," the ad reads. "Elements of the radical Left are trying to shut down informed discussion of policy issues that are being considered by Congress, legislatures, and the courts."

December 9, 2010

Sarah Palin to Visit Haiti with Franklin Graham

As far as I can tell, Sarah Palin doesn't appear with many religious leaders very often. It seems, however, that she has developed a special relationship with the Grahams. She will visit Haiti this weekend with Franklin Graham as part of his Samaritan's Purse outreach, according to the Washington Post.

Gunfire and barricades were reported Thursday in the capital city of Port-au-Prince, and the U.S. State Department reissued a travel warning to the country and recommended against nonessential travel.

Graham said he appreciates Palin's willingness to visit Haiti during such troubled times.

"I believe Gov. Palin will be a great encouragement to the people of Haiti and to the organizations, both government and private, working so hard to provide desperately needed relief," he said in a statement.

In early 2009, she also traveled with Franklin Graham to Alaska to distribute food. She also visited Billy Graham, who recently turned 92. Right after the 2008 election, I spoke with Billy Graham's daughter, asking the longtime registered Democrat had any preference for the candidates at the time. Gigi Graham said he was very fond of Palin. "He's a typical man. I don't care if he's 90 years old, he thought that she is so pretty," she said. "He loves a pretty woman."

Earlier this year, Palin defended remarks Franklin Graham made about Islam.

Andy Barr of Politico suggests that the appearance in Haiti with Graham could help her image among evangelicals.

The Haiti trip could serve two distinct political purposes for Palin.

First, it provides an opportunity to expand her image and policy portfolio beyond her limited image as a darling of the tea party movement.

Second, she'll be able to better establish her claim to evangelical voters if she chooses to seek the Republican presidential nomination. Evangelicals overwhelmingly supported former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, one of Palin's potential 2012 rivals, in the early 2008 GOP primaries and caucuses.

Graham, the son of Rev. Billy Graham, is extremely popular among evangelicals. But he has at times found himself in hot water over his comments, especially regarding Islam.

However, Palin has not done the same kind of religious outreach that we saw President Obama do before the 2008 election. As far as I know, she hasn't done any interviews with Christian media about her latest book and seems to prefer Fox News, TLC, Facebook, and Twitter for her outlets.

Former President Bush openly appealed to evangelicals during his 2000 presidential candidate and met with them while in office. Since his new memoir came out, Bush has appeared at Saddleback Church and on Focus on the Family radio, though that may be an attempt to sell books. Evangelicals appeared to be less excited about John McCain, but he met with the Grahams, Rick Warren, Pat Robertson, and other leaders.

What do you think? Does she have the same kind of appeal to evangelicals as other potential candidates?

December 9, 2010

Senate Blocks DADT, Delays DREAM Act

Senate Republicans blocked an effort to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" today, garnering 57 of the 60 votes needed. The Senate attempted a vote in September to change the military's policy barring openly gay members from serving.

One Republican, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, voted yes. The Wall Street Journal reports that other Republicans were willing to support the repeal but said the Senate needed to consider tax and spending legislation first.

The Senate delayed a vote on the DREAM Act, which carves out a path to legal status for foreign-born children brought to the United States illegally. The House passed the the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act Wednesday. Last week, Regent University President Carlos Campo was included on a White House conference call supporting the DREAM Act.

December 7, 2010

Elizabeth Edwards Dies

Elizabeth Edwards, wife of John Edwards, who coped publicly with breast cancer and marital infidelity, died today.

(This post was updated at 12 p.m. on 12/08):

"Today we remember Elizabeth Edwards who was an outspoken advocate for health-care reform and used her position of influence to speak out for those who could not get the care they needed," Sojourners posted on its politics blog. She wrote a cover story for Sojourners magazine on health care in 2008.

Adele M. Stan (who was there on behalf of the National Women's Editorial Forum) wrote on "The Original Theology of Elizabeth Edwards" at American Prospect in 2007 on her response to a question at a nonpartisan conference called BlogHer.

Asked by Beth Corbin of Americans United for Separation of Church and State to explain how her faith beliefs inform her politics, Elizabeth Edwards gave an extraordinarily radical answer: She doesn't believe in salvation, at least not in the standard Christian understanding of it, and she said as much:

"I have, I think, somewhat of an odd version of God. I do not have an intervening God. I don't think I can pray to him -- or her -- to cure me of cancer."
After the words "or her," Mrs. Edwards gave a little laugh, indicating she knew she had waded into water perhaps a bit deeper than the audience had anticipated. Then she continued:

"I appreciate other people's prayers for that [a cure for her cancer], but I believe that we are given a set of guidelines, and that we are obligated to live our lives with a view to those guidelines. And I don't that believe we should live our lives that way for some promise of eternal life, but because that's what's right. We should do those things because that's what's right."

She posted a farewell message on Facebook.

You all know that I have been sustained throughout my life by three saving graces—my family, my friends, and a faith in the power of resilience and hope. These graces have carried me through difficult times and they have brought more joy to the good times than I ever could have imagined.

Donald Douglas at American Power looks at her statement where she says she was sustained by "my family, my friends, and a faith in the power of resilience and hope" and suggests that she puts her faith in something other than God.

CNN has rounded up reactions from political leaders:

Barack Obama
"In her life, Elizabeth Edwards knew tragedy and pain. Many others would have turned inward; many others in the face of such adversity would have given up. But through all that she endured, Elizabeth revealed a kind of fortitude and grace that will long remain a source of inspiration. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family and friends."

John Kerry
"America came to know her in a different and even more personal way, as she fought back with enormous grace and dignity. She became an inspiration to so many. "

Mike Huckabee
"I was very sorry about what she's been through. And I think she showed this country and the world, an extraordinary level of courage, and not just on the physical challenges but the others that she's faced with honor and dignity."

Sarah Palin, Twitter
"Very sorry for Elizabeth Edward's family. May God comfort her kids, especially, through this tough time. God bless her family & loved ones."

Here's a profile from the local television station and a New York Times obituary.

December 6, 2010

Appeals Court Hears Proposition 8

A federal appeals court began considering Proposition 8, California’s ban on gay marriage today, reviewing Judge Vaughn Walker's ruling that it was unconstitutional. The Associated Press reports that the Proposition 8 defense was less than stellar.

The defenders of California's gay marriage ban took a pummeling during the first federal trial to explore the civil rights implications of outlawing same-sex marriages. They summoned only two witnesses, one of whom left the stand looking thrashed. Even the lead attorney was left groping for words when pressed to explain how allowing gays and lesbians to wed would undermine traditional unions.

If the courtroom had been a boxing ring, the referee would have called a knockout.

Yet lawyers for the ban's sponsors say their side was on the ropes for a reason: They disputed that live testimony and reams of evidence were relevant to a lawsuit against the voter-approved Proposition 8, so they did not provide it. In their view, the proceedings were a "a show trial," and they were willing to invite the unfavorable verdict they eventually got while betting they would win in a later round where the ground rules would be different.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the the case could also be appealed again to Ninth Circuit judges or to the Supreme Court, which would consider same-sex marriage for the first time. Court proceedings were televised on C-SPAN.

Update: Several evangelicals joined an interfaith statement released Monday by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops describing marriage as "the permanent and faithful union of one man and one woman." The list of signers included the following:

Leith Anderson
President
National Association of Evangelicals

Dr. George O. Wood
General Superintendent
Assemblies of God

Dr. Richard Land
President
Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission

Continue reading Appeals Court Hears Proposition 8 ...

December 3, 2010

Military Chaplains Voice 'Intense' Views on Gay Ban

A long-awaited report on the possible repeal of the military's ban on openly gay members says the chaplains corps has "some of the most intense and sharpest divergence of views" on the issue.

The comprehensive review, issued Tuesday (Nov. 30), concluded that "special attention" should be given to the concerns among the approximately 3,000 chaplains in the military services when and if a repeal is implemented.

The report said some chaplains condemned homosexuality as a sin and said they could not support homosexuals, while others said "we are all sinners" and chaplains should care for everyone.

Nevertheless, the report concluded that existing regulations protecting chaplains' First Amendment rights are "adequate" for the ban's repeal.

"Service members will not be required to change their personal views and religious beliefs," the report said. "They must, however, continue to respect and co-exist with others who may hold different views and beliefs."

Some retired chaplains and leaders of agencies that endorse chaplains have been outspoken against a repeal, with some predicting it could prompt an exodus of chaplains from the military.

The report said the military heard from 77 of 200 endorsing agencies, and none said they would withdraw endorsements of chaplains if a repeal occurred. It said just three of about 145 chaplains who took part in focus groups said they would seek to leave the military if there was a repeal.

Officials of some chaplains' organizations that have opposed the repeal questioned the report's claims of sufficient protections for chaplains who oppose homosexuality.

"I do not expect that anyone who holds fast with the truth as it is in the word of God ... to be allowed to continue on and to advance in their career as I did," said James Poe, a retired Navy captain and former secretary of the International Conference of Evangelical Chaplain
Endorsers.

Other retired chaplains seem unwilling to suggest that chaplains should walk out on the troops if the ban is repealed.

"I have said, 'Before you consider resigning and leaving, recognize that you are there for your people in the positive and the negative,"' said Paul Vicalvi, a retired Army chaplain who directs the Chaplains Commission for the National Association of Evangelicals.

"I'm telling them not to retire. ... Now some of them may say, `I just can't operate in this environment,' but that's not coming from me."

But with the release of the report, Vicalvi remains concerned that chaplains will be prevented from counseling military members about their biblical interpretations on homosexuality.

Continue reading Military Chaplains Voice 'Intense' Views on Gay Ban ...

December 1, 2010

Judge Rejects Liberty's Health Care Lawsuit

A federal judge threw out a lawsuit from Liberty University that said the health care reform law is unconstitutional and would permit the religious institution’s insurance payments to cover abortions, Politico reports.

“The Act explicitly states that no plan is required to cover any form of abortion services,” Judge Norman K. Moon wrote in his order Monday.

The White House praised the ruling. “The judge’s ruling today only underscores the importance of the law’s individual responsibility provision,” Stephanie Cutter wrote in a White House blog post Tuesday.

More details come from the New York Times and Politico (blockquote below).

Liberty – and five individuals who joined the suit — also argued that the employer and individual coverage requirements are beyond Congress’s powers and violate the First, Fifth and Tenth amendments. The suit claimed that the law is an illegal direct tax, violates the Constitution’s promise of a republic form of government and violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The university argued that it would face significant fines – of about $1.1 million— if the employer requirements are kept in place. The legislation requires companies with more than 50 employees to provide insurance coverage to workers or face additional taxes.

The federal government countered that the university didn’t have a right to file the suit and that the issues aren’t ripe for trial.

Politico writes that oral arguments in the most high-profile case, a suit backed by 20 states and expected to end up in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, are scheduled for December 16.