All posts from “U.S. House”

November 22, 2011

Congress Protects Hunger Programs from Budget Cuts

Religious groups lobbying for hunger programs were pleasantly surprised last week when President Obama signed the agriculture appropriations act. The law unexpectedly protected—and even expanded—programs aimed at reducing hunger both in the United States and around the globe.

When Congress considered spending reductions this summer, a broad coalition of religious leaders and international aid organizations mobilized to keep funding for hunger programs. Evangelical and other Christian groups formed the Circle of Protection, a coalition that lobbied the president and congressional leaders not to cut back on aid to vulnerable populations.

World Vision president Richard Stearns wrote an open letter to Congress last month, calling for the protection of humanitarian programs. “The United States’ global humanitarian programs are some of the most cost-effective programs within the federal budget,” Stearns said. “Together, they amount to $50 per American per year, just 14 cents per American per day. There are very few places within the federal budget where such a small amount of money can directly save so many lives.”

Continue reading Congress Protects Hunger Programs from Budget Cuts...

July 12, 2011

NBC Apologizes to Congress for Edited Pledge

WASHINGTON--NBC has issued a formal apology to more than 100 members of Congress for omitting the words "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance during a patriotic montage that aired last month.

The letter, signed by Kyle McSlarrow, president of NBC Universal, comes in response to a complaint by 107 members of Congress alleging that a montage shown during coverage of the U.S. Open golf tournament obscured America's religious heritage.

The montage featured video of schoolchildren saying the pledge alongside images of soldiers and American flags, but did not include the phrase "under God." It also omitted "one nation" and "indivisible."

McSlarrow expressed regret over the segment, saying "a serious error in judgment was made by a small group of people. To be absolutely clear, this was not an ideological decision by the company and was not discussed with or approved by any senior NBC official."

The letter also stressed that action had been taken, noting, "The employees involved have been reprimanded. And we have already implemented a new checks and balances process for pre-produced pieces, ensuring that nothing will go on the air without senior-level approval."

The letter was addressed to Reps. Randy Forbes, R-Va., and Mike McIntyre D-N.C., who co-chair the Congressional Prayer Caucus, but was also sent to more than 100 other members of Congress.

July 8, 2011

House Directs Pentagon to Uphold DOMA Law on Gay Marriage

House lawmakers voted Thursday (July 7) to order the Pentagon to uphold the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act that defines marriage as between one man and one woman.

In an amendment to a larger Defense Department funding bill, the House voted 248-175 to restrict the Pentagon from granting same-sex couples the same rights or benefits as married couples. The amendment is also aimed at keeping military chaplains from officiating at same-sex weddings.

The move comes at the Pentagon appears poised to lift the ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military. After the Obama administration called the 1996 law unconstitutional and signaled it will no longer defend it in court, conservatives said the Pentagon needs strict guidance on following the law.

Earlier this year, the Navy suspended a plan to allow Navy chaplains to conduct same-sex weddings on military bases in states where it is legal. After pushback from religious conservatives, Navy officials agreed to study the issue further before adopting any new policies.

“I believe it’s incumbent on the Congress to make this issue very clear so that we don’t have confusion on these military bases when we talk about same-sex marriages,” said Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind.

The House has yet to act on another amendment, sponsored by Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., that would prohibit the Pentagon from implementing a chaplain training program on the repeal of the Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell (DADT) policy.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said that amendment “would substitute Congress’s micromanagement for the judgment of our military leaders on training issues, and it is a transparent attempt to interfere with the repeal of DADT in any way possible.”

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 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?...

February 15, 2011

'Protect Life Act' Advances in the House Despite Questions over Terms

On Friday the House of Representatives Health Subcommittee approved the Protect Life Act (HR 358) that would put into law a ban on federal funding of abortion in last year's health care law. The bill is nearly a copy of a similar measure in 2009. However, the small differences from the original measure make the bill a heightened issue.

The Protect Life Act uses the Stupak-Pitts amendment that would have explicitly banned any connection between federal funds and abortion services. The amendment passed the House, but it was not included in the final version of the Affordable Care Act. The new bill, sponsored by Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Penn.), would codify the ban that is currently included as an executive order signed after the act was signed into law.

Addressing both abortion and the act, the bill was bound to be a flashpoint, but it became even more controversial because of small changes to the original Stupak-Pitts language that said federal funds could not be used for abortion except to save the life of the mother or "unless the pregnancy is the result of an act of rape or incest." In the new bill, the language was changed to the mother's life and "if the pregnancy occurred because the pregnant female was the subject of an act of forcible rape or, if a minor, an act of incest."

The replacement of “rape” with “forcible rape” and limiting incest exclusion to minors raised the level of controversy surrounding the bill. Pitts removed the new language. The bill that passed the subcommittee used the language used for the Stupak-Pitts amendment and other federal funding restrictions.

The bill also explicitly includes language from the “Weldon Amendment” and applies it to the act. The amendment prohibits the federal government from discriminating against any doctor, hospital, or other health care provider who does not perform, refer, or provide for abortions.

This, too, is politically contentious, but it was made more so by a final provision that linked it to the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA). The act requires hospitals to examine and provide stabilizing treatment. The Protect Life Act would extend conscience provisions to the act.

For pro-choice groups, the possibility that a doctor could refuse to provide abortion services necessary to stabilize a woman's condition gave reason to rename the Protect Life Act the “Let Women Die” Act.

The American Civil Liberties Union's Laura Murphy said, “We may not all feel the same way about abortion, but we can agree that hospitals should not abandon a woman whose life may be at risk. Congress has no place telling hospitals that they are free to endanger the life of a woman in need of emergency care.”

Pitts’ spokesman Andrew Wimer told The Hill, “NARAL and other abortion rights groups have vigorously opposed any conscience protection legislation. It is no surprise that they would attack the Protect Life Act with the same old talking points.”

Americans United for Life's Anna Franzonello told CT that the bill's provisions are reactions to recent efforts by the ACLU and other groups to question whether hospitals should provide abortions. She said the AUL believes health care providers have the right to provide care without doing abortions.

"The amendment should not be necessary by the letter of the law, but there are groups that are trying to misuse emergency treatment law to coerce health care providers into providing abortions," Franzonello said.

There are no claims that women may actually need an abortion to have their health stabilized (EMTALA also applies to what the act calls the “unborn child”). The new language may, for both sides of the debate, be more symbolic than anything.

January 18, 2011

Who Fights for Religious Freedom? Obama's Ambassador Position Still Vacant

Also, Open Doors USA gives Barbara Boxer the second highest score in the Senate for sponsoring religious freedom legislation.

No one leads the U.S. Office of International Religious Freedom (IRF) after two years of Barack Obama’s presidency. The IRF vacancy demonstrates the low priority currently placed on religious freedom even though there is nearly unanimous, bipartisan support for international religious freedom in Congress.

Obama did not send a nomination to the Senate until June 2010, nominating Suzan Johnson Cook, a pastor long on religion but short on international human rights. The Senate then failed to act. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee did not hold a hearing on the nomination until November and the Senate never voted on the nomination. Senator DeMint (R-SC) put a hold on the nomination, effectively vetoing it, according to Samuel G. Freedman of the New York Times. As a result, the office remains vacant for the foreseeable future.

“The Obama administration seems to have decided that other policy initiatives -- outreach to Muslim governments, obtaining China's cooperation, advancing gay rights -- would be compromised by vigorous advocacy for religious freedom,” Thomas Farr, the first director of the IRF, wrote in the Washington Post last year.

Farr said that the IRF office has been “emasculated” because the office is not treated like similar offices and no longer has the same staff reporting to it as in earlier administrations.

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Open Doors USA, an advocacy group for the religious freedom of Christians, examined congressional officials who lead the fight for international religious freedom by evaluating who sponsored legislation. Leaders come from both the right and left, Republicans and Democrats. Open Doors gave Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) the second highest score in the Senate. Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) also received high marks for their advocacy work.

The new 112th Congress may be less active on religious freedom issues because of important changes in the Senate. Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) was the key leader on the issue, but he left the Senate to become governor of Kansas. Sen. Kaufman (D-DE) and Sen. Bond (R-MO) are also not returning.

Continue reading Who Fights for Religious Freedom? Obama's Ambassador Position Still Vacant...

October 18, 2010

Rand Paul Blasts Opponent's Ad Referencing Baylor

Rand Paul, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, chastised his opponent Democratic state Attorney General Jack Conway for an ad referencing Paul's time as a student at Baylor University. During yesterday’s Senate debate in Kentucky, Paul said in his closing statements that the race has "turned ugly," quoting Jesus's words in Mark 8:36/Matthew 16:26.

Most of you who know me know me as a pro-life Christian ... I'm disheartened that my opponent has chosen to attack my religious beliefs. We have serious problems in our country. We have to have a serious discussion. He's descended into the gutter to attack my Christian beliefs.
...I believe that those who stoop to the level of attacking a man's religious beliefs to gain higher office, I believe that they should remember that it does not profit a man to gain the world if he loses his soul in the process. If you wish to be considered for higher office, if you wish to enter into the debate, step up, cast aside these attacks on my personal religion. Jack, you should be ashamed. You should apologize. Have you no decency? Have you no shame?

Conway's ad referenced stories about Paul's past. "Why was Rand Paul a member of a secret society that called the Holy Bible a 'hoax'?" the ad's narrator asks. "Why did Rand Paul once tie a woman up, tell her to bow down before a false idol and say his god was 'Aqua Buddha'."

Paul has denied involvement in a kidnapping, saying that he went along with a college prank. Paul was a member of a secret society at Baylor University that published mocking statements about the Bible in newsletters, according to Ben Smith's Politico.

Paul released a new ad stating that the candidate "keeps Christ in his heart." It asks, "What kind of man would bear false witness just to win an election?" before showing a photo of Conway.

Conway's campaign says that the original ad does not question Paul's faith, according to Greg Sargent of the Washington Post.

Paul, who is the son of Texas Rep. Ron Paul, leads in recent polls. In May, James Dobson switched his endorsement from former Republican candidate Trey Grayson to Paul. Dobson said that “senior members of the GOP” mislead him by saying that Paul was pro-choice. Dobson said that Paul identifies with the tea party and calls him "my kind of man."

June 2, 2010

Pelosi Aims to be a Speaker of the Word

"We have to give voice to what that means in terms of public policy that would be in keeping with the values of the Word," Speaker says.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) surprised many when she told the Catholic Community Conference that she feels compelled to “give voice” through public policy to “the Word made Flesh,” CNS News reported Tuesday.

“My favorite word is the Word,” Pelosi, a lifelong Catholic, said to the May 6 conference on Capitol Hill. “And that is everything. It says it all for us. And you know the Gospel reference of the Word. And that Word is, we have to give voice to what that means in terms of public policy that would be in keeping with the values of the Word.”

“Fill it in with anything you want,” she said. “But, of course, we know it means: ‘The Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us.’ And that’s the great mystery of our faith. … So, we have to make sure we’re prepared to answer in this life, or otherwise, as to how we have measured up.”

Commentators of all stripes had something to say about Pelosi’s revelation. Some, remembering how she voted against a ban on partial-birth abortion in 2003, suggested that Pelosi does not in fact, listen to the Word.

“That perfect pro-abortion record must be getting to her,” wrote Jim Hoft on First Things’s “Gateway Pundit” blog. “Because if this San Francisco radical leftist thinks she can dupe Americans into believing she’s some kind of Bible-thumpin, verse-quoting revival minister, she’s really lost it.”

Coming from the other end, political commentator Taylor Marsh accused Pelosi of “religious groveling.”

“It’s stunning that leading politicians continue to be so clueless of the harm traditional religions do to women across the globe, but also the harrowing message they continue to send to American women, circa the 21st century,” Marsh wrote.

If groveling it was, Sarah Posner believes that it will not do any good: voters, she wrote, are more interested in virtuous policy than verbal piety.

“I have serious doubts,” Posner wrote, “about whether a politician talking “authentically” (as the political consultants like to say) about their faith is actually seen as “authentic” by voters (particularly since it’s political consultants who have sold their services to help with that “authentic” talk). Voters want to see action, don’t they?”

FoxNews.com reports that Pelosi did urge her fellow Catholics toward action in the area of immigration reform, and that she said it was not “practical” to tell the millions living in America illegally to ““go back to wherever you came from or go to jail.”

“The cardinals, the archbishops, the bishops that come to me and say, ‘We want you to pass immigration reform,’ and I said, ‘I want you to speak about it from the pulpit…’ you have to tell them that this is a manifestation of our living the gospels,” she said.

It’s a beautiful thing to listen to different points of view,” she told the conference, which was sponsored by the National Catholic Reporter and Pelosi’s alma mater, Trinity Washington University. “From a religious perspective we come from a similar Catholic background but sometimes we have to come to a different conclusion about how we translate that into public policy.”

Elizabeth Scalia, of First Things’s Anchoress blog, urged readers to pray for the Speaker of the House.

“It takes a special kind of cognitive dissonance to speak fervently of the Word Made Flesh, and to understand that by his Incarnation God has ennobled all mortal flesh with a sanctity and a holiness relative to his own, and yet to consistently vote–as Nancy Pelosi did in 2003–against legislation that would have banned the most savage of abortion procedures.”

May 18, 2010

Ind. Rep. Mark Souder to Resign over Affair with Staffer

Indiana Rep. Mark Souder admitted to having an affair with a staffer and said he will resign today. In a 2004 interview with Religion and Ethics Newsweekly where he spoke at length about evangelicals, he described his church as somewhere between fundamentalist and evangelical.

According to news reports, Souder said in a statement that he “sinned against God, my wife and my family by having a mutual relationship with a part-time member of my staff."

“In the poisonous environment of Washington, D.C., any personal failing is seized upon, often twisted, for political gain,” he said, according to the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. “I am resigning rather than to put my family through that painful, drawn-out process.

Souder said his job in Congress was all-consuming, “especially in a district with costly, competitive elections every two years. I do not have any sort of ‘normal’ life – for family, for friends, for church, for community.” According to the bio on his website, he and his family attend Emmanuel Community Church, a church associated with the Church of the United Brethren in Christ, in Fort Wayne.

“As I leave public office, my plans are focused upon repairing my marriage, earning back the trust of my family and my community, and renewing my walk with the Lord,” he said.

Continue reading Ind. Rep. Mark Souder to Resign over Affair with Staffer...

August 5, 2009

AP: Proposed Health Insurance Would Allow Abortion Coverage

Proposed health care legislation could allow a new government-sponsored insurance plan to fund abortions, the Associated Press reports.

Pro-life groups want specific restrictions on a health care plan that offers abortion, and a measure was passed, then reversed last week in a House committee.

The new federal funds would take the form of subsidies for low- and middle-income people buying coverage through the health insurance exchange. Subsidies would be available for people to buy the public plan or private coverage. Making things more complicated, the federal subsidies would be mixed in with contributions from individuals and employers. Eventually, most Americans could end up getting their coverage through the exchange.

The Democratic health care legislation as originally introduced in the House and Senate did not mention abortion. That rang alarm bells for abortion opponents.

Since abortion is a legal medical procedure, experts on both sides say not mentioning it would allow health care plans in the new insurance exchange to provide unrestricted coverage.

It would mirror the private insurance market, where abortion coverage is widely available.


Continue reading AP: Proposed Health Insurance Would Allow Abortion Coverage...

February 18, 2009

Pope Gives Pelosi a Stern Reprimand

Pope Benedict XVI lectured House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on the "dignity of human life" at a private meeting today, a decidedly less cordial reception than is frequently given many
U.S. leaders.

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Pelosi, D-Calif., describes herself as an ardent Catholic but raised eyebrows last year by saying "doctors of the church" disagreed on when life begins and that abortion "continues to be an issue of controversy" in the Catholic Church.

The comments earned her a public scolding from a number of U.S. bishops, who said the church has believed abortion is wrong since the first century.

The wording of a Vatican statement suggests she received another reprimand from the pope over her support for abortion on Wednesday.

"His Holiness took the opportunity to speak of the requirements of the natural moral law," the statement read, "and the Church's consistent teaching on the dignity of human life from conception to natural death which enjoin all Catholics, and especially legislators, jurists and those responsible for the common good of society, to work in cooperation with all men and women of good will in creating a just system of laws capable of protecting human life at all stages of its development."

Conservatives were already nervous that a papal photo-op would enable Pelosi, and other Catholic politicians who support abortion rights, to say that Catholics can reject church teaching on abortion and remain in good standing.

Instead, the Holy See used the encounter to make its disapproval clear, releasing an official statement on what was discussed – a relatively rare step, especially when the visitor is not a head of state.

Judie Brown, president of the American Life League, had earlier said the only photo she wanted to see was one of Pelosi "in the confessional line."

But after the pope's stern rebuke, Brown said she hopes U.S. bishops will be more willing to deny Communion to abortion-rights politicians like Pelosi. "We encourage our bishops and priests to emulate the same courage exhibited in Rome," she said.
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In her own statement Wednesday, Pelosi made no mention of the papal lecture.

"It is with great joy that my husband, Paul, and I met with his Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI today," she said. "In our conversation, I had the opportunity to praise the church's leadership in fighting poverty, hunger, and global warming, as well as the Holy Father's dedication to religious freedom and his upcoming trip and message to Israel."

The papal reception for Pelosi was notable for its contrasts with the warm welcomes given to former President George W. Bush, who shared the Vatican's "culture of life" ideology even as he rejected church overtures not to invade Iraq.

Yet it would have been hard for Benedict to snub Pelosi altogether without straining diplomatic relations with the United States, since her position puts her second in line to the presidency after Vice President Joe Biden, also a Catholic who supports abortion rights.

Pelosi, whose grandparents were Italian immigrants, is on a week-long tour of Italy with fellow lawmakers. Included in her delegation is Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., who has led an effort among Catholic Democrats in the House to create room to disagree with the church on abortion.

DeLauro recently spearheaded a letter to the pope from nearly 50 House members, asking for "clarification" on why the pope lifted the excommunication on a schismatic bishop who not believe 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust.

February 13, 2009

Quote of the Day

"Nancy Pelosi is not Haman, Barack Obama is not King Ahashuerus, and John Boehner is certainly not Queen Esther." -- Rep. Barney Frank, on Republican attempts to make voters believe that the Democratic Congress is causing trouble.

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In Salon fashion, Mike Madden takes the biblical analogies even further by calling the three Senators who joined Democrats on the stimulus bill modern-day Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.

I heard Esther references about Sarah Palin when she was first nominated. When Christian conservatives defended why Palin could run for vice president but couldn't preach in the pulpit, many of them used the example of Deborah.

Photo: Tiffany Dupont as Queen Esther in "One Night with the King."

(Correction: Mike Madden wrote the Salon post)

December 22, 2008

New Congress Reflects Overall U.S. Religious Landscape

The religious makeup of the incoming 111th Congress roughly matches the overall American religious landscape, with overrepresentation among Jews and Mormons, according to new analysis by the nonpartisan Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Just over half (55 percent) of House and Senate members who will take office on Jan. 6 are Protestants, compared to 51 percent of the U.S. population. The second-largest group, Catholics, make up 30 percent of lawmakers, compared to 24 percent of all Americans.

Among Protestants, Baptists lead in the House and Senate, at 12 percent, followed by Methodists (11 percent), Presbyterians (8 percent), Episcopalians (7 percent) and Lutherans (4.5 percent).

Like the nation as a whole, the proportion of mainline Protestant members in Congress has fallen in recent decades. Methodists, for example, made up nearly one in five lawmakers in 1961. Episcopalians and Presbyterians have seen similar drops, while Lutherans have remained
relatively steady.

Catholics, meanwhile, have grown from 19 percent in 1961 -- the same year John F. Kennedy took office as the nation's first Catholic president -- to 30 percent today. Catholics make up a larger share of the Senate (37 percent) than the House (21 percent).

Jews make up 8.3 percent of the new Congress, compared to just 1.7 percent of the general population. Mormons, too, account for 2.6 percent of Congress but 1.7 percent of the general population.

The 111th Congress will see the return of two Muslims (Democrats Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Andre Carson of Indiana) and two Buddhists (Democrats Hank Johnson of Georgia and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii) who were all elected to the House during the 110th Congress.

The Pew analysis said no Hindu has ever been elected to Congress, although a Sikh, Rep. Dalip Singh Saund, represented California for three terms beginning in 1957. Only one member of Congress, Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., is a professing nonbeliever; five members did not specify a religious affiliation in data collected by Congressional Quarterly.

December 9, 2008

How Big the Tent?

John Boehner bubbles that Ahn Cao, Vietnamese-American congressman from New Orleans, is the future of the Republican Party. Likewise Newt Gingrich: "This is the opposite of red-vs.-blue, base-mobilization politics." Meanwhile, African-American RNC chair wannabe Michael Steele rages against GOP conservatives who, in shutting him out, would shut out moderates:

They have been beating me upside the head with it and let me give it to you straight on: Wake up people. I mean what are you going to do? Are you going to kick these folks out of the party? I have watched this party self disintegrate for the last four or five years. I've watched this party isolate itself from itself.

Stay tuned.

(Originally published at Spiritual Politics.)

December 9, 2008

Spiritual Lagniappe

One associates Louisiana politics with many exotic things, but Asian Catholic Republicans are not among them. Now there are two. The first is Bobby Jindal, born to Indian immigrants, who abandoned the Hinduism of his youth and converted to Catholicism. In 2007, he became the first Indian-American governor in the nation's history. Then, over the weekend, Joseph (Anh) Cao defeated the disgraced William Jefferson to become the nation's first congressman of Vietnamese antecedents. Before becoming a lawyer, he spent some time in a Jesuit seminary studying to be a priest.

Jindal and Cao both deserve to be considered Catholic intellectuals, but there the resemblance ends. A graduate of Brown University and a Rhodes Scholar, Jindal quickly established himself as a culture warrior. Here he is writing on "Atheism's Gods" in the Catholic apologetic magazine This Rock in 1995:

The wave of political correctness, which has affected universities at every level, has also infected religious and philosophical thought. Whereas Western universities once existed to train clergymen and educate others in the fundamentals of the Christian faith, modern centers of higher learning are much more secular and skeptical toward anything remotely religious.

Currently being touted as presidential material, Jindal is a favorite of the social conservative elite.

Cao, by contrast, appears to be anything but a social conservative ideologue. According to Adam Nagourney's profile in today's NTY, he has spent most of his adult life as a political independent--an existential choice perhaps related to his fondness for Camus and Dostoevsky. While studying to be a priest he worked with the poor in Mexico and in Vietnamese refugee camps in Hong Kong, then decided to work for social change via politics, helping his community as a lawyer in post-Katrina New Orleans. "Politics and religious life," he told Nagourney, "don't mix."

If anything, Cao seems most akin to fellow freshman congressman-elect Tom Perriello (D-Va), a "common good" Catholic who has spent much of his legal career working for international nonprofits dedicated to improving the lot of the least among us. It will be interesting to see how Cao fares in the House Republican conference.

(Originally published at Spiritual Politics.)

November 5, 2008

Michele Bachmann Re-elected

Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann narrowly defeated Democratic opponent, Elwyn Tinklenberg. Bachmann, who is an evangelical, drew attention after she made controversial remarks to Chris Matthews on MSNBC.

"I'm very concerned that he may have anti-American views," Bachmann said in reference to Mr. Obama.' She later said she regretted the remarks.

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October 22, 2008

Evangelical, Jew, Muslim among six politicians' homes defaced with Psalm 2 graffiti

Six Minnesota politicians found their homes spray-painted with graffiti that called for them to resign and included a reference to Psalm 2, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.

The targeted politicians seem very diverse: Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D), Rep. Keith Ellison (D), Sen. Norm Coleman (R), Rep. Michele Bachmann (R), Rep. Jim Ramstad (R), and Rep. John Kline (R). Coleman is a Jew, Bachmann is an evangelical, and Ellison is the country's only Muslim congressman.

Patricia Lopez writes that Bachmann's home, garage and driveway were defaced with the words "Resign Now, Scum, Psalm 2." The graffiti also said "Vote No on the bailout." Bachmann was one of 171 representatives to vote against the $700 billion financial bailout package.

Lopez writes:

The invocation of Psalm 2 also does little to shed light on possible motives. Sometimes called the coronation psalm, it refers to rulers who have displeased God and risk his wrath, said William Barnes, a professor of Hebrew and the Old Testament at North Central University in Minneapolis. "I took it to a meeting [of biblical scholars] today and we just don't know what to make of it," he said. "It's not something we've commonly seen used in a political context."

Parts of Psalm 2 include, "Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his anointed one. Let us break their chains, they say, and throw off their fetters. ... You will rule them with an iron sceptre; you will dash them to pieces like pottery. Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth. (NIV)"

August 28, 2008

The Other Benediction

After Hunter came Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, whose final words of the Democratic Convention were a kind of benediction of her own:

"Now let us go forward and work hard to elect Democrats at every level of government and to send Barack Obama and Joe Biden to the White House to take our country in a new direction. To make the change America needs. Yes we can. Yes we can. Yes we can. God bless you. God bless America. Amen."

Amen? "God bless America" is a frequent closer for politicians. But can anyone name me someone else who tags it with "Amen"?

August 28, 2008

What it means to be a pro-life Democrat

Congressman Dan Lipinski of Illinois finds it very challenging to be a pro-life in a party that unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade. He is one of 17 Democrats given 100 percent pro-life rating by the National Right to Life Committee, and we spoke at a Democrats for Life reception earlier this evening.

What obstacles do you face as a pro-life Democrat?
It’s always a difficult issue for a pro-life Democrat, because the Democratic Party is not going to have a pro-life platform. It’s not going to happen. It’s very unfortunate, but I think it’s very important for the Democratic Party to have pro-life party. As some of my pro-life Democratic colleagues say, it’s no use preaching to the choir. You have to go out and evangelize. We just have to keep working on fellow Democrats. It’s a tough position to be in. I think the party from the top and leadership has been much more open to pro-life Democrats. Unfortunately, there are still some groups really trying to get rid of pro-life Democrats. I had a tough primary. I people come up to me and ask me, ‘what are you doing in the Democratic Party?’ The pro-choice groups gave funding to my opponent.

Why are you a Democrat?
I believe in so much of what the Democrats stand for, basically standing up for middle class families, for working people. I believe the government does have a role in some important areas of our society, helping to protect the environment, helping to protect workers, seniors. I think there are some places where they should be involved and I think it’s much better with the Democratic Party than with the Republican Party. But it’s not easy being a pro-life Democrat. So t’s not easy in the Democratic party. I have a lot of a pro-life constituents, too.

Why are you pro-life?
Because I believe life begins at conceptions. It comes from my faith as a Catholic. I don’t think it’s the only place that it comes from. Ever individual has to make a decision about when life began. Why draw a line somewhere else? We were all once an embryo. With the proper conditions, the natural conditions, I think an embryo becomes a child. That’s where we all started from, and that is where I think the line should be drawn. I think drawing lines in other places leaves room for where do we draw that line? I believe in the sanctity of life and it’s something I feel very strongly about.

I truly believe that the Democratic Party, especially now, has a better view of the future and where we should be going, but it’s not perfect. I’m willing to, when I think the Democratic Party is wrong, I’m willing to say it. I’m willing to speak up and willing vote for what I think is right.

What about Barack Obama?
I wish Barack Obama were pro-life. He’s not. I don’t have any expectation that in the future the Democrats are going to have a pro-life presidential candidate. Its disappointing to me, but I am a Democrat and will support the party.

August 27, 2008

Rep. Shuler wants more diversity in the platform

Rep. Heath Shuler spoke with me about the Democratic platform on abortion for about 40 seconds after the Democrats for Life Forum.

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Shuler is a pro-life Democrat and a new Congressman from North Carolina.

"Obviously reducing the number is very important. There are other issues that I have a lot of difficulty with.

But I think with the panel we have today, and what I feel the influence of the blue dog members – Lincoln Davis and Bob Casey – we can strengthen that.

My hope is to say that within the platform of the Democratic Party, there is diversity and that we do have people who are pro-life."

Photo by Sarah Pulliam for Christianity Today.

August 27, 2008

Democrats for Life event focuses on pregnant women

The Democrats for the Life event turned into mostly a couple of speeches on taking care of pregnant women.

Sen. Bob Casey from Pennsylvania drew a crowd of media behind him, but his speech did not not really address abortion.

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A few of Casey's remarks: "One area where I think we can bring both sides together, in my judgment, the only way we can bring sides together is to come together on a central priority ... and that priority is pregnant women. What our government and society should do is show solidarity with a woman who is facing a crisis pregnancy. If the law of the land is that a woman has a choice to make, that she has a constitutional right to have an abortion. We ought to also make sure that she has the choice to carry that child to term."

Rep. Heath Shuler, a Baptist from North Carolina said, "The Democrats have it right when it comes from birth to natural death. Whether or not women have access to health care, that's pro-life. We have to make sure all children, unborn or throughout the entire life, that they can count on Congress on this issue."

Rep. Lincoln Davis, a Southern Baptist from Tennessee, spoke on the reduction of abortion.

"It is a blessing to know that at least for the first time our Democratic platform ? has made abortion reduction as a major part of the platform," Davis said. "We need to start giving assistance to those ladies ? who see no hope other than abortion."

Photo of Casey by Sarah Pulliam for Christianity Today.

August 26, 2008

Who's on Tonight: Not Just Clinton

All of the buzz today is on Hillary Clinton's big speech tonight (and, to a lesser extent, Bill Clinton's speech tomorrow night).

But this is also a fascinating night at the Democratic podium for a several other reasons. First, this is the night of Bob Casey Jr.'s address. It's an important symbolic moment because of the decision in 1992 to deny then-Pennsylvania governor Bob Casey Sr. a speaking spot at the convention. Casey had wanted to talk about his opposition to abortion. Some suggest that the invitation to Casey Jr. demonstrates a Democratic Party that's more open to prolifers. Others say he's not as prolife as his father was.

It's unclear whether Casey will talk about abortion, but a few hours before his speech you'll almost certainly hear the subject come up as Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards addresses the convention. A big difference: Casey is speaking in prime time. Richards is on around 4 p.m. (Casey also has a much better slot than Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, Casey's opponent in the tumultuous 2002 primary race for governor. Reckon that has more to do with Casey's strong support for Obama over Rendell's major backing of Clinton than it does with either's views on abortion.)

Another speech tonight that could be more conservative or more religious than usual: that of Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland. The United Methodist minister did very well among evangelicals in 2006.

Mara Vanderslice and Eric Sapp won't be speaking tonight, but their presence will be felt. Their old organization, Common Good Strategies, is credited with helping Strickland, Casey, Kansas Gov.Kathleen Sebelius, and Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm -- all of whom are speaking tonight -- win election in 2006 by emphasizing their religious backgrounds. All the podium is missing is Sen. Sherrod Brown (Oh.) and Rep. Heath Shuler (N.C.), but if they did that they'd probably have to make one of those video tributes to Vanderslice. (Vanderslice is now with the Matthew 25 Network. Sapp is at the Eleison Group.)

July 11, 2008

Giving Back Before You're Elected

Three months ago, Tom Perriello, the Democratic challenger in Viriginia's fifth congressional district, announced that his campaign workers would be required to spend a tenth of their time doing volunteer work.

Previous campaigns have done the odd bit of community service, but this appears to be the first to make it an integral part of the enterprise, and to couch it in religious terms as a form of tithing. By the end of this weekend, the campaign expects to have logged 300 hours of tithed volunteer work.

In line with the ancient and pretty honorable principle of doing well by doing good, the effort has gotten a lot of positive attention from the press, most recently in a Christian Science Monitor article by Gail Russell Craddock. To be sure, Craddock doesn't omit to include a snide swipe from David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report; to wit: "Perriello has a great profile in a very liberal district in Boulder, Colo., but that's not Virginia's Fifth." But the campaign couldn't have asked for more than it got by way of a quote from Larry Campbell, assistant pastor at Bible Way Cathedral in Danville:

"I've had many political candidates come through, but I've never had any work along with us in the area of social-action changes," he says, citing ongoing help from Perriello volunteers. "Most candidates who are running for national office have more programs just getting people out voting for them, but to give back to the community is a heavy statement for social change."

This article is cross-posted from Spiritual Politics.

July 9, 2008

If you need a break

Don't forget that there's also a congressional race this November.

Just in case you forgot, CT editor at large Collin Hansen reminds us that there is another election this fall.

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Hansen writes that the congressional races are expected to go to the Democrats once again, as they are nominating faith-friendly social moderates in some conservative congressional districts. Eric Sapp, senior partner at Common Good Strategies, an organization that helped three key Democratics win in 2006, told Hansen that he predicts another landslide for the Democrats.

"That will be really significant, perhaps most importantly because the Democrats that have been winning and will be coming into Congress are much more 'faith-friendly' and tend to come from strong faith backgrounds themselves."

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