All posts from “March 2011”

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March 31, 2011

Polling Evangelicals: God Causes Disasters, U.S. Should Help Victims

Why are there disasters like the events in Japan? Are they "natural" disasters or "supernatural" events caused by God? A recent poll finds that evangelicals are far more likely than other Americans to believe that God causes disasters and sometimes does so as punishment.

A majority of Americans believe that God controls everything in the world, according to the poll from Public Religion Research Institute, in partnership with Religion News Service, conducted the poll March 17-20, 2011. A vast majority of white evangelicals (84 percent) believe God is in control of everything, which is more than mainline Protestants (56 percent) or Catholics (52 percent).

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Evangelicals are also far more likely than other religious groups to believe that God uses disasters to punish people or send signs. A majority of evangelicals (51 percent) believe that "God sometimes punishes nations for the sins of some of its citizens,” Only one-fifth of mainline Protestants or Catholics hold this believe.

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More people believe that natural disasters are a “sign from God.” Just over a third of Americans believe disasters are signs from God. However, a majority of evangelicals believe this (59 percent), which is more than other religious groups.

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The poll also found that 83 percent of Americans believe that is important for the U.S. to help out financially when nations like Japan suffer a natural disaster. This support is roughly the same for evangelicals (86 percent), other religious traditions, and those who are not religious.

Continue reading Polling Evangelicals: God Causes Disasters, U.S. Should Help Victims...

March 30, 2011

Ohio's 'Heartbeat Bill' Advances to House, Divides Pro-Life Groups

A state committee approved a bill for the full Ohio House that would ban abortions if a fetal heartbeat could be medically detected.

The bill has divided pro-life supporters, with Ohio Right to Life opposing the bill. Janet Folger Porter, director of Faith2Action network and a former legislative director of Ohio Right to Life, hopes the bill creates a legal challenge to Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion. Here's more from the Associated Press:

Porter has led a charge to line up a host of high-profile supporters for the bill. They have included Cincinnati physician Jack Willke, a former president of the National Right to Life Committee and founder of the International Right to Life Federation, and Phil Burress, whose Citizens for Community Values led the charge to ban gay marriage, among others.

But Porter doesn't have the support of Ohio Right to Life, which fears the legal challenge she seeks could jeopardize other abortion limits in Ohio and expand access to legal abortions.

"As drafted, our position has been very clear. This bill had numerous negative consequences and unintended consequences," said Ohio Right to Life executive director Mike Gonadakis. "It's the right idea at the wrong time. Timing's everything in the pro-life movement."

Gonadakis said an unsuccessful court challenge that makes it to the U.S. Supreme Court could end up overturning Ohio's informed consent law, which mandates that a physician must meet with a woman seeking an abortion at least 24 hours before the procedure and that the woman must be given certain information and sign a consent form. He said the group has consulted its lawyers and will continue to share their thoughts with House members in hopes of blocking a vote by the full chamber.

The bill's future is unknown, according to the Columbus Dispatch.

House Speaker William G. Batchelder, R-Medina, said yesterday he had not decided whether to bring the bill to the floor for a vote.

"I don't have any plans for it at this point," he said. "I have a list of friends who helped me draft anti-abortion laws in the '80s and '90s, so I'll be calling them tonight. I want to talk to someone who teaches this in law school."

Gov. John Kasich has not taken a position on the measure, said the governor's spokesman, Rob Nichols.

The article also lists the bill's key provisions. An updated article suggests that Republicans tabled Democrat proposals that would exempt women in cases of rape or if their health was at risk. Across the nation, pro-life groups appear divided on "personhood amendments," defining the unborn as "persons" from the moment of conception.

March 30, 2011

Religious Freedom Envoy Tries for a Second Time

The Obama administration's nominee to oversee international religious freedom returned to Capitol Hill on Tuesday in her second bid to charm senators who have doubts about her lack of experience.

"The life and professional background I offer to this position are unique," the Rev. Suzan Johnson Cook told members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

"I've brought people of different faiths together to achieve common objectives, including religious freedom and respect for people of all faiths and beliefs."

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Cook was initially nominated for the long-vacant post of Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom last June but her nomination lagged in the Senate and expired in December.

President Obama renominated her in February as critics complained the longtime vacancy reflected the administration's low priority for the issue.

Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., who was one of the lawmakers who had questioned Cook's lack of direct experience, cited "indications" she still lacks qualifications for the job.

"I am concerned about a person in this position having the passion, the courage and the boldness to deal with this issue," he said in his opening remarks.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y, who introduced Cook, assured DeMint that Cook, a New York minister, could do the job.

"She will not only astound you, she will very much fit the bill," said Gillibrand, who called Cook "a leader in bridging faith and public service."

The Baptist minister known as "Dr. Sujay" retired in 2009 as pastor of Bronx Christian Fellowship Church, which she founded in 1996. She was the first woman elected to lead the prominent Hampton University Minister's Conference of black clergy.

"In my travels I have found that my experience as an African-American woman and faith leader has enabled me to identify with other minority communities, both religious and ethnic," she said.

Continue reading Religious Freedom Envoy Tries for a Second Time ...

March 28, 2011

Poll Finds Religious Split in GOP Presidential Primaries

Just 318 days before the Iowa caucuses launch the first round of the presidential primaries, a poll suggests a religious divide among Republican primary voters. Former Arkansas governor (and former Baptist pastor) Mike Huckabee polls well among church-goers and evangelicals who are key voting blocs in the Republican primary, according to a new poll by Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.

Pew finds Huckabee and Romney leading the field among Republicans nationwide, each with around one-fifth of Republicans naming them as their top choice. But there is a religious split among GOP voters, with 29 percent of white evangelicals favoring Huckabee and only 15 percent picking Romney.

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Huckabee did about as well among Catholics (27 vs. 16 percent). Huckabee's support among white mainline Protestants was lower (15 percent); Romney was the top-choice of 22 percent of mainliners.

In general, Huckabee performs best among religious voters, with 30 percent of those who attend church weekly supporting him. Romney, however, polled best among those who are not religious. He is the top pick among those who do not attend church weekly (24 percent). Within the GOP, one-third of those who are not religious or belong to a smaller faith group want Romney as the Republican nominee. Only 7 percent said they preferred Huckabee. Indeed, both former Alaska governor Sarah Palin (14 percent) and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) (8 percent) did better than Huckabee among those who are nonreligious or belong to a smaller faith group.

Palin also did well among evangelicals, with 16 percent voicing support for her. A sizable number of mainline Protestants also support her (13 percent). She fared worse among Catholics, with only six percent naming her as their top choice.

Continue reading Poll Finds Religious Split in GOP Presidential Primaries...

March 25, 2011

Chaplains Offered Exit Plan as Gay Training Starts

The Army has started training chaplains on the repeal of the ban on openly gay military members, saying those who are unable to follow the forthcoming policy can seek a voluntary departure.

"The Chaplains Corps' First Amendment freedoms and its duty to care for all will not change," reads a slide in the PowerPoint presentation, released to Religion News Service Thursday. "Soldiers will continue to respect and serve with others who may hold different views
and beliefs."

Critics familiar with the Army presentation, however, say the military is essentially telling chaplains who are theologically conservative that they are not welcome.

"U.S. Army now warning chaplains: If you don't like the homosexual agenda, get out!" reads a headline on the website of Mass Resistance, an anti-gay group based in Waltham, Mass.

President Obama signed a law repealing Don't Ask/Don't Tell last December, but the new policy will not take effect until 60 days after Obama and military leaders are assured that it will not harm military readiness.

Lt. Col. Carleton Birch, a spokesman for the Army chief of chaplains, said about half of the military service's 2,900 chaplains have received the training, which started in February and is likely to
conclude in April.

"Our training is an opportunity for our senior chaplains to have an honest and open conversation about the repeal policy, its effects on them and their ministry," Birch said. "And it's going very well. ... In no way are we giving the message, shape up or ship out."

Birch said only one Army chaplain has left the service over the pending repeal of Don't Ask/Don't Tell.

Continue reading Chaplains Offered Exit Plan as Gay Training Starts ...

March 25, 2011

U.N. Passes Religious Freedom Resolution

U.S. officials praised a United Nations council for a new statement on religious freedom that sidestepped a divisive debate sponsored by Islamic countries over the "defamation of religions."

The U.N. Human Rights Council on Thursday (March 24) approved a resolution voicing concern on "emerging obstacles" to religious freedom and growing "religious intolerance, discrimination and violence."

The United States supported the resolution, which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called a "significant step forward" in global efforts to combat "intolerance, discrimination and violence ... based upon religion or belief."

Annual U.N. resolutions sponsored by the Organization of the Islamic Conference against the "defamation of religions" have steadily lost support in recent years.

The issue gained greater scrutiny in Pakistan, which prohibits blasphemy against Islam, after two government officials who opposed the law were assassinated by Muslim radicals.

The independent U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which has helped marshal opposition to the blasphemy resolutions in the U.N., said Thursday's vote should prompt Pakistan to rescind its blasphemy law.

"The resolution properly focuses on protecting individuals from discrimination or violence, instead of protecting religions from criticism," the commission said in a statement.

March 25, 2011

Tennessee Amends Anti-Shariah Bill

Tennessee lawmakers are rewriting a bill that described Islamic law as a threat to U.S. security and seemed to equate peaceful Muslim practices with terrorism.

State Sen. Bill Ketron and House Speaker Pro Tempore Judd Matheny, both Republicans, offered the revision after questions arose about the proposed bill's constitutionality.

"The revision reflects our original intention to prevent or deter violent or terrorist acts, but does so without any room for misinterpretation regarding the language's affect on peaceful religious
practices," said Ketron.

Muslim and civil liberty organizations strongly criticized the original bill, saying its focus on Shariah law unfairly targeted Muslims and equated religious rituals such as dietary restrictions with
terrorism.

The bill now contains no references to Islam, but will allow Tennessee to prosecute those who offer financial or material support to known terrorist entities.

"I think it's a victory for common sense and legislative restraint," Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told The Tennessean. "This is a win for Tennessee's Muslim community."

March 25, 2011

Little Evangelical Consensus on Libya

The U.S., Britain, and France led a military intervention to secure a no-fly zone over Libya last week after the United Nations Security Council authorized military force against Libya. Evangelicals appear to agree that President Obama could have done a better job handling the situation in Libya, but they disagree over whether the intervention is moral and the country’s next step.

Sojourners president Jim Wallis said the U.S. military action in Libya was hypocritical because the U.S. is not taking similar actions in other countries like Sudan, Bahrain, or Yemen. He mocked the claim that the motivation was a humanitarian crisis.

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“Darfur doesn’t have [oil]. Bahrain does, along with a huge U.S. naval base. And the Saudis, who have come in to crush the democratic protests in Bahrain for their good friends in the royal family, have all the oil. Obviously, no humanitarian concerns there,” said Wallis. “It’s amazing how consistent U.S. foreign policy is from administration to administration, and how little changes when we elect a new president.”

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, supported the no-fly zone, but he said America should have unilaterally made this move much earlier.

"At least in the end we're doing the right thing. I just hope and pray that it's not too late because Gaddafi murdering his fellow citizens, butchering them, is what the world looks like without U.S. leadership,” Land said on his weekly radio program Richard Land Live! Land said that Qaddafi should be killed for his actions. "Mr. Qaddafi needs to be tried and found guilty of crimes against humanity including the Lockerbie bombing and then he needs to be hung as the war criminal that he is."

For Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association, the ethical standard for evaluating military policy is the U.S. Constitution and national security. He said that the only justifiable action against Libya would be to kill Qaddafi for his role in the bombing of an airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland that killed hundreds of Americans.

“Once Congress issues a 'letter of marque and reprisal' for Gadhafi’s scalp, we can - and should - take it any way we can. Blowing his compound to kingdom come with him in it would be one way,” said Fischer.

Faith in Public Life provided a list of the criteria of ethical military action under Just War Theory, comparing how it views U.S. action in Iraq and in Libya. Its analysis also leaned toward the military action in Libya being just, but not for the Iraq war.

Continue reading Little Evangelical Consensus on Libya...

March 22, 2011

S.D. Requires 3-Day Waiting Period, Pregnancy Center Visit Before Abortion

South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard signed a law today that makes the state the first to require women seeking abortions to first undergo counseling at pregnancy centers. The law also establishes that a woman must wait three days after an initial visit with an abortion provider before the procedure can be done, the longest waiting period in the nation.

The Associated Press reports that Planned Parenthood will challenge the law.

The law, which takes effect July 1, says an abortion can only be scheduled by a doctor who has personally met with a woman and determined she is voluntarily seeking an abortion. The procedure can't be done until at least 72 hours after that first consultation.

Before getting an abortion, a woman also will have to consult with a pregnancy help center to get information about services available to help her give birth and keep a child. The state will publish a list of pregnancy help centers, all of which seek to persuade women to give birth.

A Guttmacher Institute employee told the New York Times that more than half of the states have introduced legislation that restricts health insurance coverage for abortion, requires an ultrasound, or that bars abortion after 20 weeks.

Many states require counseling from doctors or other clinic staff members before an abortion to cover topics like health risks. What makes the new South Dakota law different is that the mandated counseling will come from people whose central qualification is that they are opposed to abortion.

Earlier this month, New York City passed a bill requiring centers to disclose whether they provide abortions or emergency contraception, make referrals to organizations that do, and if they have a licensed medical provider on site. The Alliance Defense Fund has filed a lawsuit against the city.

CBS reports on how states are testing the limits of Roe v. Wade.

The anti-abortion rights movement last year found itself in a set of circumstances that have all worked to advance their agenda. Most importantly, states across the country elected new, emboldened conservative politicians. Hundreds of anti-abortion rights legislators and a net of 12 new anti-abortion rights governors were elected, according to Americans United for Life.

Meanwhile, a set of news-making events in the past year — such as the passage of health care reform and video of the conservative “sting” on Planned Parenthood — galvanized conservative activists. National leaders are more vocal than ever on the issue. And a possibly sympathetic swing vote now sits in the Supreme Court.

Americans United for Life has a map on its website showing legislation in other states.

March 21, 2011

NAE: Reduce Debt but Protect Poor

The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) is calling for the federal government to reduce debt, but not on the backs of the poor. The NAE board of directors approved the resolution “Lowering the Debt, Raising the Poor” at its semiannual meeting.

The NAE said the debt is a spiritual issue that demands moral leadership. “This will require extraordinary political courage, bipartisan cooperation and shared sacrifice. Every major area of expense and revenue must be scrutinized – particularly those that have contributed the most to the deficit,” said the resolution.

Aid to the poor—particularly the poorest of the poor—is not a major contributor to the debt, said the NAE. The resolution stated that all international aid programs make up less than 2 percent of the budget, and aid aimed at alleviating poverty is around 0.6 percent.

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“The Bible encourages wise stewardship and calls nations to uphold justice and compassion for the poor and vulnerable, NAE director of government affairs Galen Carey said. “Smart and cost-effective strategies to help those living in poverty are in the national interest and should be maintained and strengthened even as we make necessary adjustments elsewhere.”

Robert Zachritz, director of World Vision’s advocacy and government relations, said that foreign aid is a small investment that results in high return in terms of lives saved.

“Through programs like disaster assistance, clean water, AIDS, fighting global hunger, and malaria prevention, lives are being saved. These programs should not receive a disproportionate amount of the coming cuts,” Zachritz said.

The NAE resolution comes as the Congress is considering drastic cuts to foreign aid including a 41 percent cut to international poverty programs and 67 percent cuts to health programs. According to a March 2 letter by NAE and aid organizations including World Vision, ONE Campaign, Food for the Hungry, Alliance to End Hunger, Bread for the World, and World Relief, the cuts includes the following reductions:

 

-- U.S. food aid programs ($687 million)

-- Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance ($875 million)

-- Development assistance by ($747 million)

-- Refugee programs ($827 million)

-- Global health and childhood survival programs ($365 million)

-- Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis ($450 million)

 

While the reductions would include hundreds of millions of dollars, it remains less than 1 percent of the federal spending. These cuts have not been put in place yet, however. The Senate and House are currently negotiating the final details of the government budget.

Continue reading NAE: Reduce Debt but Protect Poor...

March 18, 2011

Poll: Growing Public Approval of Gay Marriage

The House of Representatives picks up defense of DOMA.

A new ABC-Washington Post poll finds that, for the first time, a majority of Americans now believe that same-sex marriages should be legal. The poll finds 53 percent think “it should be legal for gay and lesbian couples to get married.” About 45 percent said it should be illegal.

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The survey also finds that most Americans hold strong views on the issue. Just over a third—36 percent—feel strongly that same-sex marriage should be legal, while 35 percent strongly think that it should be illegal. As late as 2006, a majority strongly opposed it.

The survey's results reflect findings by other surveys that find increasing support for allowing gay marriage. Last year's surveys by Pew Research Center for the People and the Press (Pew) found, that for the first time, less than 50 percent of Americans oppose gay marriage. Only 48 percent oppose “allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally.” However, only 42 percent favor gay marriage in the Pew polls.

Pew also finds a majority of evangelicals remain opposed to same-sex marriage, with 72 percent of white evangelicals stating that it should be illegal. 62 percent of black Protestants also oppose gay marriage. Mainline Protestants support gay marriage. In 2008-2009, 40 percent of mainline Protestants approved of gay marriage. In 2010, 48 percent think gay marriage should be legal.

National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) president Leith Anderson is one of several evangelical leaders who are lobbying Congress to defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in court. In February, the Obama administration informed Congress that it would no longer defend the constitutionality of DOMA in some federal lawsuits.

Anderson said that the NAE disagreed with Obama's decision. “We hope that Congress will hire its own lawyers to vigorously defend DOMA in federal courts,” said Anderson. “Marriage is foundational to a healthy society in which children enjoy the care and nurture of both their mother and father. Radically redefining marriage will have a far-reaching impact on the health of our nation.”

Last week, the leaders in the House of Representatives decided to defend DOMA in court. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said, “The constitutionality of this law should be determined by the courts—not by the president unilaterally—and this action by the House will ensure the matter is addressed in a manner consistent with our Constitution.”

Family Research Council president Tony Perkins commended the Speaker's position while also accusing the president of violating his constitutional oath.

"We thank Speaker Boehner for working to protect the rule of law and the institution of marriage,” said Perkins. “The Speaker is sending a bold message that Congress will not stand idly while the President picks and chooses which laws will be nullified by Executive Branch surrender to antagonistic litigants.”

In general, the administration defends U.S. law even when it goes against White House policy positions. However, presidents are not bound to defend laws that it determines are violations of the U.S. Constitution. Though extremely rare, previous presidents have also chosen to not defend a law.

Continue reading Poll: Growing Public Approval of Gay Marriage...

March 17, 2011

Poll: Evangelicals Wary of Government Involvement on Childhood Obesity

First Lady Michelle Obama continues to campaign for her “Let's Move” initiative, which aims to help parents and caregivers decrease childhood obesity in the United States. Over the last three decades, the level of obesity double among preschool children and tripled for school aged children, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Nearly one in five school-aged children are obese.

Some conservatives, including former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, have criticized Obama’s effort as a big-government solution. However, other Republican leaders, including former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, defended the First Lady's efforts saying that the public should work to decrease childhood obesity rates.

A February 22-March 1 poll suggested that evangelicals were suspicious of government efforts on childhood obesity. The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press asked 1,504 adults, “Should government have a significant role in reducing childhood obesity?” Among evangelicals, 56 percent said that government should not have a significant role. Among non-evangelicals, 35 percent said this.

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Evangelicals composed the only religious tradition that had a majority saying government should not play a significant role on this issue. Mainline Protestants were split over the question but leaned toward a stronger government role. A vast majority of Catholics, Black Protestants, and those with no religion said government should have a significant role to play.

Whether this means that a majority of evangelicals would side with Palin over Huckabee on the issue depends on what is meant by a “significant role” for government. Both Huckabee and Obama said that parents are responsible for children, but that government can provide information to help them.

Huckabee interviewed Michelle Obama on his February 21 Fox News show. He asked Obama about criticisms by some that her proposals were going to lead to a nanny-state.

"I’ve spoken to a lot of experts about this issue, and the one thing that they haven’t said is that government telling people what to do is the answer. This is not government intervention," said Obama. "This is not an initiative that is about telling people what to do. It’s giving people the tools to make the decisions that make sense for them."

>After the interview, Huckabee said he angered some conservatives by having the First Lady on his show. Speaking to talk show host Sean Hannity, Huckabee said that he disagrees with the administration on many issues but not the efforts to curb childhood obesity.

“No doubt [President Obama is] way left of you and me. No doubt about that. But, on this issue, I think the first lady is right,” said Huckabee. “And she is not taking a leftist position on it. And the conservatives are going to immediately say, 'Oh, we're against this.' They need to listen and be part of the solution.”

Huckabee is not new to the issue of obesity—personally or politically. As governor of Arkansas, he made national news for losing over 100 pounds and implementing policies designed to improve childhood nutrition. During his time in office Arkansas was the only state to reduce its level of childhood obesity, Huckabee says.

Continue reading Poll: Evangelicals Wary of Government Involvement on Childhood Obesity...

March 11, 2011

Faith Leaders Urge Higher Profile for Religious Freedom

In letter to Senate Foreign Relations Committee, they say reported plans "would harm American interests."

A group of faith leaders sent a letter this week to the leadership of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee urging them to emphasize religious freedom in foreign policy.

The March 7 letter asks Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) and the ranking Republican member, Sen. Richard Lugar (Ind.), of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to attend the confirmation of Suzan Johnson Cook as the president's nomination for ambassador for International Religious Freedom (IRF).

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"Dr. Johnson Cook's confirmation hearing is a perfect opportunity to let the nominee and the administration know that IRF should be a high priority for the United States," according to the letter.

The letter is signed by religious leaders from a variety of faith backgrounds including Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, Susan Taylor, president of the Church of Scientology, Joel C. Hunter, senior pastor of Northland - A Church Distributed, Jim Mellado, president of the Willow Creek Association, Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners and Robert Seiple, the first U.S. ambassador-at-large for IRF. (Christianity Today Media Group editor in chief David Neff also signed the letter.)

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has not announced a hearing to consider Cook's nomination.

Cook was originally nominated to the position by President Obama on June 15, 2010. The letter signers said they were "disappointed by the low attendance at Dr. Johnson Cook's first confirmation hearing last year."

Her nomination expired at the end of the congressional session, due to the concerns of a senator who confidentially filed a hold-over letter following her hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The senator was widely believed to be Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.).

Following the start of the new congressional session, Obama re-nominated her to the position, which has remained unfilled since January 2009. Religious leaders criticized the administration for neglecting the issue of religious freedom by waiting more than a year after Obama's election to originally nominate someone to the post.

The Washington Post noted that "the policy Johnson Cook has been nominated to lead is being sidelined even before she takes the job" in favor of other policy initiatives. Others pointed out that Obama did not take advantage of the congressional recess to appoint Cook to the position.

"The utter indifference to this key office, and to IRF policy, by the White House and the State Department has been scandalous," Thomas Farr, a former diplomat and current director of the Religion and U.S. Foreign Policy program at Georgetown University, wrote for CT last month.

The letter to Kerry and Lugar urges the Senate to support the importance of both the position and its function. "With strong leadership in its IRF policy, the United States could have had a much greater effect on levels of religious violence, persecution, and terrorism than it has had to date," the letter reads.

The position of Ambassador for IRF functions as the head of the office of IRF, which is part of the State Department. The IRF office's stated mission is to monitor religious persecution and discrimination worldwide, which is does by submitting an Annual Report on International Religious Freedom to Congress and serving as principal advisor on religious freedom to the Secretary of State. The position was created by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.

However, the letter cites reports that the administration may be planning to remove the IRF office from the ambassador's direct authority, and similarly laments reports that, "while other ambassadors at large work directly under the Secretary of State, the IRF ambassador will be several levels removed from the Secretary. . . . Both of these steps would harm American interests."

March 10, 2011

Polling Evangelicals: Is Islam Violent?

Evangelicals are the only religious tradition with more followers seeing Islam as violent than those who see it as not more violent.

Rep. Peter King (R-NY), chair of the Homeland Security Committee, is making headlines for his hearings on the "extent of radicalization in the American Muslim community." King said that hearings will address both efforts by terrorists to recruit Americans and the reactions by Muslim leaders in the U.S. to these attempts to radicalize American Muslims.

"The danger comes from a small segment within the Muslim community," said King. "Unfortunately, the issue we are facing is that not enough leaders in the community are willing to come forward when they know an individual is being radicalized. In some cases, these leaders have encouraged individuals to not cooperate with investigations."

David Gushee of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good is one of several evangelicals who have criticized the hearings.

"It is always a very dangerous thing when one group is singled out in front of the rest. It is humiliating, shaming and stigmatizing, and almost invites average citizens to marginalize and mistreat members of the targeted group. When religion is involved, and a minority religious group to boot, the danger grows exponentially," said Gushee.

Still, Gushee said that despite his concerns, "I do not dismiss the legitimate fears that lie behind widespread public support for such hearings."

According to a newly released poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press (Pew), such "legitimate fears" are far more common in evangelicalism than in other religious traditions in America.

Pew asked people if they thought Islam "is more likely than others to encourage violence among its believers" or if it "does not encourage violence more than others." Among evangelicals, 60 percent said that Islam was more violent than other religions. Other Americans hold the opposite view, with only 35 percent seeing Islam as more violent.

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Evangelicals are the only religious tradition that had more people seeing Islam as violent than those who see it as not more violent. Mainline Protestants and Catholics were split equally over the question (statistically speaking). Around four-in-ten of each of these traditions saw Islam as more violent; the same proportion saw Islam as no more violent than other religions. African-Americans and those with no religion were the least likely to see Islam as violent. A majority of each group said Islam was not violent.

Continue reading Polling Evangelicals: Is Islam Violent?...

March 4, 2011

Evangelicals Issue Warning on Budget Cuts

Cutting the deficit without sacrificing the needy is a moral imperative, several prominent evangelicals stressed Thursday in a push-back against debate over taking government budget cuts out of humanitarian aid.

“From a fiscal perspective, cuts in global health programs are insignificant; from a moral and humanitarian perspective, they would be tragic,” said Michael Gerson, former speechwriter for President George Bush and current Washington Post columnist.

Ron Sider, founder of Evangelicals for Social Action, and Gideon Strauss, President of The Center for Public Justice, announced on a conference call March 3 that they, along with other faith leaders including Florida megachurch pastor Joel Hunter and Jim Wallis of Sojourners, have signed a document entitled “Christian Proposal on the American Debt Crisis.”

The proposal, available at EvangelicalsforSocialAction.org and The Center for Public Justice, is a response to the “double moral challenge,” in Strauss’ words, to both reduce the debt level and maintain programs that provide aid to the needy and vulnerable.

Gerson acknowledged that amongst evangelicals, there are many disagreements on where spending cuts can be made in the budget. However, he said, “There is broadly shared agreement that a focus on cutting effective discretionary programs is a seriously misplaced priority.” A spokesperson for USAID told CT that State and USAID comprise just 1 percent of of the federal budget.*

“We don't have a debt crisis because America spends too much on AIDS funds and malaria nets,” Gerson said. “We have a long-term debt crisis primarily, in my view, because of entitlement commitments, health care inflation, and an aging population. ... I think cuts in federal spending are possible and quite necessary, but the right priorities matter.”

Gerson criticized Congress for taking budget cuts out of AIDS programs, contributions to the Global Fund and child survival programs. He also said that educating new members of Congress on the effectiveness of programs such as PEPFAR (President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2003) and PMI (President's Malaria Initiative, launched in 2005) would be “an up-hill climb” in any attempt to emphasize the necessity of funding these programs to lawmakers. “There are a whole lot of members that don't know that history and don't know the dramatic success that's taken place,” he said.

Addressing the recent Pew Research Center survey finding that more than 50 percent of evangelicals surveyed favor cutting economic assistance to needy people around the world, Gerson said, “There is an educational task here to convince not just Christians but others that these commitments that we make, which are relatively inexpensive, in fact both serve our values and our interests.”

The same survey indicated that evangelicals tend to support increased spending on defense. “People think of those interests as just served by military power, but they're also really served by helping to create stability and hope in unstable parts of the work,” Gerson said. “The case that needs to be made is that this aid is both a moral imperative but it's also in the interests of the United States.”

Continue reading Evangelicals Issue Warning on Budget Cuts ...

March 3, 2011

NYC Passes Bill Requiring Pregnancy Center Disclosure on Abortion

The New York City Council passed a bill yesterday requiring centers to disclose whether they provide abortions or emergency contraception, make referrals to organizations that do, and if they have a licensed medical provider on site.

Last year, a Maryland county approved a regulation requiring pregnancy centers that do not have licensed medical staff to post a sign in the waiting room. A federal judge struck down the regulation, writing that the requirement violated the centers' right to free speech.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg is expected to sign the New York City measure. Here are more details on the law from the Wall Street Journal:

Opponents cited a federal judge’s ruling that struck down a similar bill in Baltimore as proof that this type of legislation violates the centers’ constitutional rights to free speech. The opponents of the bill pledged to file a lawsuit immediately after Bloomberg signs it into law.

The legislation would require all pregnancy-service centers to disclose whether they provide abortions, emergency contraception and prenatal care, or make referrals to organizations that do. Centers would also be required to disclose if they have a licensed medical provider on site.

Under the legislation, the information would have to be posted in English and Spanish at the centers and in advertisements. A center employee might have to make the disclosure orally if, for example, a client asked for an abortion.

The advertising company that put up a billboard sponsored by Life Always removed it last week. The billboard, located a half-mile from a Planned Parenthood center, showed a black girl in a pink dress that said, “the most dangerous place for an African-American is in the womb.”

In other abortion-related news, prosecutors intend to pursue the death penalty against Dr. Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia doctor charged with killing a patient and seven babies at his abortion clinic.

David Gibson reported earlier this week that the FBI in New York arrested Theodore Shulman, a radical pro-choice advocate who threatened pro-life activists.

Ohio is considering a law that would ban abortion if a heartbeat can be medically detected. Members of Ohio's state House watched ultrasounds given to two pregnant women yesterday.

March 2, 2011

Supreme Court Sides with Westboro on Funeral Protests

The Supreme Court has decided that Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church is protected under the First Amendment when they protest at military funerals, the Associated Press reports.

The court had picked up the case last May. Westboro pastor Fred Phelps leads his church members in funeral protests, suggesting that military deaths are punishment for the country's tolerance of homosexuality.

Here's an excerpt from the majority opinion from Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.:

Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and - as it did here - inflict great pain. On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker. As a Nation we have chosen a different course - to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate. That choice requires that we shield Westboro from tort liability for its picketing in this case.

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. dissented alone. "Our profound national commitment to free and open debate is not a license for the vicious verbal assault that occurred in this case," he wrote.

Here's more coverage so far from The New York Times, the Kansas City Star, the Wall Street Journal, and Scotusblog.

March 1, 2011

The Moral Components of the Wisconsin Labor Stalemate

The political stalemate in Wisconsin is entering its third week. One side includes the newly elected Republican Governor Scott Walker and Republicans state legislators who are seeking to pass a law that would reduce the wages and benefits of public employees and cut back on their collective bargaining rights. The other side includes public unions who are rallying in Madison and Democrats in the state Senate, who fled the capital, a strategy that keeps the Senate one vote short of a quorum.

With little movement by either side, the political fight has been mostly rhetorical volleys wrapped in religious and moral language.

In an interview with CBN's David Brody, House Speaker John Boehner compared public sector unions in the states to hostage takers.

“In some of these states you’ve got collective bargaining laws that are so weighted in favor of the public employees that there’s almost no bargaining. We’ve given them a machine gun and put it right at the heads of the local officials and they really have their hands tied,” said Boehner.   

But one person's hostage taker is another's faithful crusader. Service Employees International Union president Mary Kay Henry told Faith in Public Life, "Faith is the lifeline that gives me courage to act.” Henry also praised faith leaders who are supporting the labor unions. Some of these religious leaders went so far as to offer Senate Democrats “sanctuary” within their houses of worship as they avoid the quorum vote.

But while the left invokes the ancient right of “sanctuary,” the right sees the relationship between the government and public unions as sinister pact. American Family Radio's Crane Durham said, “State governments are facing budget crises because they have made this Faustian bargain with unions (i.e. votes for job protection) which inevitably leads to the incumbent’s political ouster, failing institutions and broken contracts.”

Continue reading The Moral Components of the Wisconsin Labor Stalemate...