All posts from “February 2012”

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February 28, 2012

Franklin Graham Apologizes for Comments about Obama's Faith

Graham says religion has "nothing to do" with his decision not to support Obama's re-election.

Evangelist Franklin Graham apologized Tuesday (Feb. 28) to President Obama for comments made about his Christian faith and said religion has "nothing to do" with Graham's decision not to support Obama's re-election.

Graham's apology came after a group of prominent black religious leaders criticized the evangelist for responding in an interview that he did not know whether Obama is a Christian and suggesting that Islamic law considers him to be a Muslim.

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Graham, president of the relief organization Samaritan's Purse and the son of famed evangelist Billy Graham, said he accepts Obama's declarations that he is a Christian.

"I regret any comments I have ever made which may have cast any doubt on the personal faith of our president, Mr. Obama," he said in a statement.

"I apologize to him and to any I have offended for not better articulating my reason for not supporting him in this election -- for his faith has nothing to do with my consideration of him as a candidate."

Graham said he objects to Obama's policy stances on abortion and same-sex marriage, which Graham considers to be in "direct conflict" with Scripture.

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February 24, 2012

Same-Sex Marriage Bills Pass in States

Maryland is the latest state to pass a bill approving same-sex marriage.

A same-sex marriage bill passed the Maryland Senate Thursday, sending it to Gov. Martin O'Malley who said he will sign the bill into law.

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Maryland will become the eighth state to legalize same-sex marriage, though opponents are collecting signatures to put a referendum on the November ballot.

The governor of Washington signed a bill this month legalizing same-sex marriage in the state. New Jersey also passed a same-sex marriage bill, but it was vetoed by Gov. Chris Christie. Christie and other state Republican lawmakers want to make the issue a ballot question for voters.

A question on same-sex marriage will likely be on the November ballot in Maine, the Portland Press Herald reports. Minnesota voters will also vote on a marriage amendment in November. North Carolina will be the final Southern state to vote on a constitutional amendment declaring marriage between a man and a woman. The vote will take place on May 8, which is also the same day as the Republican State primary.

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February 22, 2012

Updated: Virginia, Other States Mull Ultrasound Laws

The governor backed off his unconditional support for the legislation.

The notable surge in pro-life legislation from 2011 continues this year with a number of bills pending at the state level.

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Virginia’s General Assembly has made national headlines in recent weeks for several of its abortion-related bills. The most notable bill is one that would require women to have an ultrasound before an abortion. The House and Senate approved their versions of the legislation, and Republican Gov. Robert McDonnell previously expressed full support for the bill. But support appears to be waning in recent days after a large protest outside the Virginia State Capitol.

Proponents argued the ultrasound requirement would allow women to be better informed prior to having abortions. But opponents argued that the requirement imposes unnecessary costs and would be invasive, calling it state-sanctioned rape. Women considering abortion during the first trimester (when 80 percent of abortions occur) would need to have a vaginal probe for a doctor to view the fetus. The House put off a vote approving the final version of the bill, and McDonnell has backed off his unconditional support for the bill. He gave Republican legislators an amendment stipulating that the test be an abdominal ultrasound, according to The New York Times.

Legislators in at least three other states are considering ultrasound legislation. Both Pennsylvania and Illinois Houses have bills up for debate that require ultrasounds prior to an abortion, while a bill before Oklahoma’s state Senate would require women to listen to a fetus’ heartbeat before the procedure.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma’s Senate began its 2012 legislative session by easily passing a bill that states life begins at the moment of conception. The bill’s author, Sen. Brian Crain (R-Tulsa) says the bill asserts that Oklahoma is “pro-life.” The bill drew international attention after Sen. Constance Johnson (D-Holdenville) proposed an amendment that would have made men wasting sperm an act against unborn children. Oklahoma legislators are considering a House Joint Resolution that would send the Personhood issue to a state vote.

At least 11 other states have similar “Personhood” amendment bills, according to The Times. Efforts in Utah have been dropped. Mississippi Republicans are trying to add a Personhood amendment to the November ballot, even though voters defeated a similar amendment last fall. In a surprising twist, the full Virginia Senate killed its version of a Personhood bill on Friday by voting to send it back to the Senate Education and Health Committee.*

Georgia’s state House is considering a bill that would limit the time a woman could have an unimpeded abortion to 20 weeks (down from 26 weeks) and remove exceptions for abortions after 26 weeks for reasons involving mental health. Proponents argue the bill would prevent late-term abortions to fetuses who can feel pain. But opponents say 20 weeks is not late enough because some pregnancy complications do not surface until later.

And in South Dakota, lawmakers have proposed new legislation that aims to clarify the state restrictions on abortion passed last year. The law requires women to undergo counseling at a pregnancy help center and wait 72 hours after an initial consultation before having an abortion. Physicians who perform abortions are also required to provide counseling on all the risk factors related to abortion. Opponents argue the newest bill tries to strengthen the restrictions so it can stand up in court. Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit against last year’s law, and a federal judge suspended most of the law from taking effect until the challenge is decided.

*This story has been updated.

February 21, 2012

Franklin Graham, Rick Santorum Bring Up Obama's Faith

Graham: 'He has said he’s a Christian, so I just have to assume that he is.'

Franklin Graham has again stirred some backlash over comments about President Obama's faith.

Asked about whether Obama had “accepted Jesus Christ,” Graham said, “I don’t know.”

“You have to ask him. I cannot answer that question for anybody. All I know is I’m a sinner, and God has forgiven me of my sins," said Graham, who is the son of Billy Graham and the CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. "You have to ask every person. He has said he’s a Christian, so I just have to assume that he is.”

When asked if he believes former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum is a Christian, Graham said, "I think so" on MSNBC's "Morning Joe." "His values are so clear on moral issues. No question about it... I think he's a man of faith." On former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, “Most Christians would not recognize Mormons as part of the Christian faith,” Graham said. Separate from questions about his faith, Graham said, “He would be a good president… He’s a sharp guy.” On former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, he said, "I think Newt is a Christian. At least he told me he is."

Graham spoke with CT last year about his views of Obama's faith. In 2010, he suggested Obama was born a Muslim because of his father's faith.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said that President Obama has not brought up the questions about his faith.

"I did meet with the president this morning and amazingly he didn't bring this up," Carney said. "He firmly believes that getting an extra $40 in every paycheck is of vastly greater significance to most Americans than someone's opinion expressed on cable television about his personal faith, which again, he has spoken about as explicitly as a few weeks ago," Carney said, referring to Obama's remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast.

Santorum said earlier that Obama is guided by "some phony ideal, some phony theology." His choice of words echoed Eric Metaxas's address at the National Prayer Breakfast who decried general "phony religiosity." Santorum said later that he was talking about Obama's connection to environmentalism.

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February 17, 2012

Nonprofit Groups Oppose Obama's Change in Charitable Deductions

For the fourth year in a row, President Obama is proposing lower tax deductions for the wealthy on donations to churches and other nonprofit organizations. And for the fourth year in a row, nonprofit groups say the change would lead to a dramatic drop in charitable giving.

The reduction, included in Obama's 2013 budget proposal, rankled the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.

"We were hoping this would not come up again this year. We asked that they not renew it, but unfortunately the request was not taken," said Nathan Diament, the group's Washington director. "It's a real concern."

Under the Obama proposal, the tax break for charitable donations would fall from 35 percent to 28 percent for the top 2 percent of taxpayers, those earning more than $250,000.

In real terms, that would mean a wealthy taxpayer who donates $10,000 to a charity would be able to only claim a $2,800 deduction on his taxes, rather than the current $3,500.

When it analyzed a similar proposal in Obama's 2012 budget, the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University said it would boost federal revenue by billions of dollars and have a "modest negative effect" on charitable giving.

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February 8, 2012

Rick Santorum Gets New Life with Social Conservative Boost

The candidate has received mixed support from evangelical voters in previous primaries.

Rick Santorum surprised many by winning all three Republican contests yesterday in Colorado, Missouri, and Minnesota, suggesting that none of the Republican candidates have found a way to win consistently across the wide range of caucuses and primaries.

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Santorum showed once again that he can win in states where he can talk face-to-face with social conservatives. He barnstormed through the states, personally meeting with many conservative activists. The strategy worked. Santorum's margin of victory was unexpectedly wide.

The former senator from Pennsylvania won nearly twice the number of the votes in Missouri that Romney received (55 vs. 25 percent). In Minnesota, he received nearly three times the votes as Romney (45 vs. 17 percent). Romney performed better in Colorado than he did in other states, but Santorum still edged him out 40 to 35 percent.

"I don't stand here and claim to be the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney," Santorum said. "I stand here to be the conservative alternative to Barack Obama."

A key to Santorum's victory was an excited, social conservative base willing to go to polls and caucuses, observers suggested. Santorum's evangelical base has proven to be more important in Midwestern states where social conservatives can mobilize voters to attend caucuses.

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February 7, 2012

Ninth Circuit Declares California's Proposition 8 on Marriage Unconstitutional

A panel ruled that a proposition to define marriage as between a man and a woman violates the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

A federal appeals court ruled that California's Proposition 8 defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman is unconstitutional. A three-judge panel from the 9th Circuit ruled that California's state constitutional amendment violates the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The 2-1 decision is likely to be appealed directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Proposition 8 serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California, and to officially reclassify their relationships and families as inferior to those of opposite-sex couples,” Stephen Reinhardt wrote for the majority. The opinion rejected arguments that the proposition advanced the state's interests in child-rearing, procreation, education, or religious freedom.

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Judge Michael Daly Hawkins (appointed by President Clinton) agreed with Reinhardt's opinion.
Judge Randy Smith (appointed by President George W. Bush) dissented, at least in part, to the majority decision. Smith said that Proposition 8 is “rationally related to a legitimate governmental interest” because it “preserves the fundamental and historical purposes of marriage.” However, Smith disagreed with proponents who said the state had an interest in promoting child-rearing by opposite-sex couples as the best family structure for children.

National Organization for Marriage (NOM) president Brian Brown said the decision “was as predictable as the outcome of a Harlem Globetrotters exhibition game.”

"We have anticipated this outcome since the moment San Francisco Judge Vaughn Walker's first hearing in the case. Now we have the field cleared to take this issue to the US Supreme Court, where we have every confidence we will prevail,” Brown said.

Continue reading Ninth Circuit Declares California's Proposition 8 on Marriage Unconstitutional...

February 3, 2012

Pro-Life Advance and Setback as Va. Focuses on Abortion

State Senate passes ultrasound bill, but committee kills bill ending abortions at 20 weeks.

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For only the second time since the Civil War, Republicans control both houses of Virginia’s General Assembly, and the state’s abortion laws might change drastically because of it.

On Wednesday, the state Senate narrowly passed a bill that requires an ultrasound for women seeking an abortion, signaling the probable passage of the bill into state law.

Twenty-one people in the 40-member Senate approved the bill, which mandates an ultrasound but does not require the woman to view the image. Proponents argued the requirement is important because it determines the fetus’s gestational age; opponents said the requirement imposes unnecessary costs and acts as a “thinly veiled attempt” to restrict abortion access. The House of Delegates is expected to pass the measure, and Governor Robert McDonnell has already said he will sign it into law.

Meanwhile,a bill that prohibits abortions after 20 weeks failed to make it out of the Health and Education Committee in the Senate Thursday, effectively stalling it. Other bills still in the Assembly’s consideration include giving legal rights to fetuses from conception on, ending subsidies for poor women to abort fetuses with serious birth defects, and requiring insurers that cover abortions to also offer policies that do not.

Should the sonogram bill pass, Virginia would join six other states with similar laws. Last month, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a Texas law requiring abortion providers to perform an ultrasound, have the patient listen to the fetal heartbeat, and give a detailed description of the fetus. Under the law, a woman cannot decline hearing the description except in cases of rape, incest, or fetal abnormality.

The January ruling by a three-judge panel overturned a lower court decision that said the law was unconstitutional because it forced doctors to be the “mouthpiece” of the state’s ideological agenda. Proponents argue the law ensures women are fully informed before deciding to abort. The Center for Reproductive Rights said it would appeal for a rehearing by the entire Fifth Circuit.

February 2, 2012

Christians Join Fight Against Cockfighting

Concern is focused on the state of South Carolina, where critics are trying to strengthen state laws against the practice.

Christian leaders are teaming with animal rights advocates to fight against cockfighting, calling the practice of watching and betting on roosters who fight to the death antithetical to biblical values.

"Christians should stand up and speak out against this barbaric practice, which horrendously abuses God's creatures," said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

Concern about cockfighting is focused on the state of South Carolina, where critics of the practice are trying to strengthen state laws against it. Though cockfighting is illegal in all 50 states, it remains a misdemeanor in 11 of them, including South Carolina.

The Humane Society of the United States describes cockfighting as "a lucrative crime, with gambling winnings offsetting even the maximum misdemeanor fines." The group is working with such groups as the South Carolina-based Palmetto Family Council to toughen legislation against what some describe as a "blood sport."

Oran Smith, the Palmetto Family Council's executive director, said South Carolina is increasingly attracting people interested in watching cockfighting and betting on the outcome.

"As a matter of state pride, we must strengthen our laws now," he said.

Smith's organization has produced a video that has drawn praise from the Humane Society. "Wonton cruelty toward animals is frankly unbiblical and un-Christian," Smith says in the video.

In the video, Land says humans are called to "respect every living thing ... Cockfighting is a pornography of violence. People who watch it are going to be brutalized by it."

February 1, 2012

Tracking Newt Gingrich’s Recent Claims

The former House Speaker has made several claims during his campaign that haven't stood up to scrutiny.

Mitt Romney won Tuesday's Florida primary, tying with second-place Newt Gingrich among evangelicals by receiving 37 percent of votes from evangelicals. The votes were a boost for Romney, who received far fewer votes among evangelicals in South Carolina. The Gingrich campaign likely saw the loss coming. In the final days of the Florida campaign, the Gingrich campaign reached out to social conservatives and evangelicals, despite some steep challenges.

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The Gingrich campaign announced on Tuesday that it had "nine new leaders for its Florida Faith Leaders Coalition,” according to Religion Dispatches. When Sarah Posner contacted those on the list of new leaders, she found that three of the pastors were unaware of the the coalition and were not working with the campaign. The Gingrich campaign has not responded to Posner's requests for comment.

The Florida Faith Leaders Coalition came after Gingrich announced a position on life that was a change from the one he held just two months ago. Previously, he suggested that life begins at implantation and favored federally funded stem cell research on embryos created for in vitro fertilization process but never implanted. He told a Baptist church on Sunday that life begins at conception, he opposes all stem cell research and wants to investigate the ethics of in vitro fertilization efforts.

“I believe life begins at conception...If you have in vitro fertilization, you are creating life; therefore, we should look seriously at what the rules should be for clinics that are doing that, because they are creating life,” Gingrich said.

In December, Gingrich told ABC that human life begins at “implantation and successful implantation.” He said he took this position, “because otherwise you’re going to open up an extraordinary range of very difficult questions.”

This fit with his previous statements on the issue from 2001, when he supported President Bush's policy on embryonic stem cell research. “For many of us, there’s a very, very real distinction between doing something with an unborn child, a fetus that is implanted, and doing something with cells in a fertility clinic that are otherwise going to be destroyed,” Gingrich said at the time.

Gingrich’s change on stem cell research came after media outlets raised questions about his previous marriages. During a debate days before the South Carolina primary, Gingrich refuted any claim that he asked his second wife for an “open marriage.” He rebuked CNN's John King for asking him about an interview his ex-wife did for ABC.

"Every personal friend I have who knew us in that period says the story was false,” Gingrich said. “We offered several of them to ABC to prove it was false. They weren't interested because they would like to attack any Republican.”

After the debate, however, several media outlets pressed the campaign for details on who was vouching for the former House Speaker. The Gingrich campaign conceded that it did not provide any “personal friends” to ABC; the only people the campaign offered to ABC were Gingrich's daughters from his first marriage.