All posts from “U.S. Senate”

March 1, 2012

Senate Rejects Conscience Clause Change to Contraception Rule

The Republican-led bill would have inserted a broad religious exemption.

The Senate on Thursday defeated a Republican-led bid to insert a broad religious exemption into a federal mandate that requires most employers and health insurance companies to provide free contraception coverage.

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The largely party-line vote was 51-48 in favor of tabling an amendment that Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., had offered to a federal transportation bill.

Blunt and other Republicans had argued that the measure would protect the religious liberty of institutions such as Catholic charities and hospitals that object to contraception on moral grounds.

"It's not just the Catholic Church," Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said during the floor debate on Thursday. "It's a moral and religious issue that should not be interfered with by the federal government."

In February, the Obama administration proposed a revision whereby insurers, not religious institutions, could provide contraception services to employees.

Continue reading Senate Rejects Conscience Clause Change to Contraception Rule ...

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...

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."

February 4, 2011

Senate Pro-Life Democrats: Extinct or Endangered?

The Senate rejected an effort by Republicans to repeal last year's healthcare law on Wednesday, failing on a straight party line vote, 51 to 47 with every Democrat opposing repeal. Whether you consider pro-life Democrats extinct or endangered depends on one's view of the healthcare law passed last year.

For many pro-life groups, the healthcare law is the largest expansion of abortion since Roe v. Wade. For instance, pro-life Democrats in the Senate are now “extinct,” according to LifeNews.com. For Democrats who supported the bill, however, the law does not fund abortion and the executive order signed by the President ensures this prohibition.

Of the 53 Senators in the Democratic coalition, three are more pro-life than pro-choice, according to the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC): Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Ben Nelson (D-NE), and Sen. Bob Casey, Jr. (D-PA). Each senator has a long pro-life record. Nelson and Casey voted in favor of the healthcare bill. Manchin, who is new to the Senate, joined Nelson and Casey in voting against a motion this week to repeal the healthcare law. The repeal failed on a party-line vote, 51-47.

For pro-life groups, this was a vote against the movement. LifeNews.com political blogger, Andrew Bair, said, "The U.S. Senate lost its last-standing pro-life Democrat today when Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia betrayed his long-held pro-life convictions to vote against the repeal of the pro-abortion Obama healthcare law."

Manchin said he does not support all parts of the healthcare law, but he would rather work to fix the bill rather than adopt the “repeal and replace” approach of Republicans.

“I don’t think that throwing out the good parts of this bill, like helping seniors afford prescription drugs or ending discrimination against people with preexisting conditions, makes good common sense. That’s why I have repeatedly said that we should make every effort to work together on repairing this bill before we start talking about repealing it,” Manchin said.

Nelson said he voted against the repeal because it was bad for his state.

“I continue to support the health reform law because it is the right thing to do for Nebraska. There are a lot of good parts in the bill and some that I will work to improve,” Nelson said. “The repealers already have health care. But they’re ready, willing and eager to take it away from hundreds of thousands of Nebraskans.”

The healthcare law is now* the litmus test pro-life groups like the National Right to Life Commission uses to differentiate between pro-life and pro-choice legislators. Pro-choice groups, such as NARAL Pro-Choice America, do not consider healthcare to be an abortion-related issue.

Nelson cosponsored the Nelson-Hatch amendment to the health-care bill last year, which was the Senate version of the Stupak amendment. The amendment would have expressly banned funding for abortion. The amendment failed, but it was supported by Casey and several other Democrats.

Nelson and Casey supported other pro-life efforts in the Senate, including efforts to allow states to designate an embryo a beneficiary of the State Children's Health Insurance Program, to prohibit funding to United Nations Population Fund, expressly permitting crisis pregnancy centers eligible for funding under the Generations Invigorating Volunteerism and Education, and codifying the right of health-care workers to deny abortion counseling or other family-planning services if doing so would violate their beliefs.

Nelson voted in favor of an effort to return the “Mexico City Policy” (which pro-choice groups call the “global gag order”), which banned funding to groups that promote or endorse abortion. Casey, however, opposed this policy.

In the House of Representatives has a larger coalition of pro-life Democrats than in the Senate. Even with the number of pro-life Democrats in the House cut in half as a result of the November election, around 12 percent of Democrats in the House Democrats vote pro-life. In the Senate, NRLC ratings suggest six percent of Democrats are pro-life.


Editor's note: *The sentence has been corrected.
Due to an editing error, National Right to Life Committee was originally listed incorrectly.

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...

December 9, 2010

Senate Blocks DADT, Delays DREAM Act

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

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

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

November 2, 2010

Christine O'Donnell, Charlie Crist Defeated

Christine O'Donnell, who received more media coverage than any other candidate this election, was defeated by her opponent Democrat Christopher Coons in the Delaware Senate race today.

Before the election she told CBN's David Brody, "God is the reason I'm running." Alicia Cohn wrote about O'Donnell in the women's blog round-up of this year's female candidates.

Reminiscent of Sarah Palin, who endorsed her, O’Donnell is the type of woman who has many fellow conservatives racing to disassociate themselves. O’Donnell hits a lot of strong points and is an outspoken Christian. But she also has made flamboyant statements — about witchcraft, masturbation, teaching evolution in schools, and the separation of church and state — that have raised eyebrows and set off “airhead” alerts across media.

Republican Marco Rubio defeated Gov. Charlie Crist to win Florida's Senate seat. Earlier this year, Crist vetoed legislation that would have required a woman to get an ultrasound test before an abortion and bar federal funding for abortion, and he said he was open to gay adoption.

November 2, 2010

Rand Paul, Dan Coats Take Senate Seats

Republicans scored two early victories in an election that is supposed to create turnover for the House and the Senate.

Kentucky Senate/tea party candidate Rand Paul won Kentucky's Senate race while former Indiana Senator Dan Coats beat Democratic Rep. Brad Ellsworth, reclaiming his old seat.

During the campaign, Paul chastised his opponent state Attorney General Jack Conway for an ad referencing Paul's time as a student at Baylor University, asking whether he was a member of a secret society.

"I believe that those who stoop to the level of attacking a man's religious beliefs to gain higher office," Paul said during a debate. "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."

Right before the election, a new ad paid for by a group that opposed Paul accused him of mocking Jesus Christ and Christians.

CT spoke with Coats, a graduate of Wheaton College, back when he first retired from the Senate.

September 21, 2010

GOP Stalls 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Repeal

The Republican Party blocked a vote in the Senate to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” earlier today. The Senate could not close debate on the issue due to a filibuster, which blocked the defense authorization bill.

Several moderate Republicans have said they would vote to end DADT after they review a Pentagon study of the policy, the Washington Post reports.

In 1993, President Clinton signed the law that says if openly gay military personnel will be discharged. The reversal has been a rallying point for many conservative groups.

Senate Democrats were also considering an amendment that would lift restrictions on abortions at military hospitals, according to the Washington Times.

Republicans have a lot riding on Tuesday, said Charles Colson, a longtime evangelical activist.

"The Republican leadership would be pretty stupid if they didn't fight this issue," Mr. Colson said. Should the GOP fail to filibuster the plan, he said, "I think it would turn [social and religious conservatives] off from the Republican Party."


During his first State of the Union address earlier this year, President Obama pledged to work with Congress to overturn DADT. The Post reports that advocates for a DADT repeal want another vote in December after the election.

January 19, 2010

GOP Takes Ted Kennedy's Senate Seat

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The Republican candidate in Massachusetts has taken Ted Kennedy's Senate seat in an surprise victory today. With 97 percent of precincts reporting, Republican Scott Brown had 52 percent of the vote to Martha Coakley’s 47 percent.

Brown's victory strips the Democrats' 60-seat Senate supermajority needed to overcome Republican filibusters. Senate Democrats used all 60 votes in their caucus to pass the health care bill, and Democratic leadership was scrambling today to save health care reform, The Hill reports.

Democratic aides say that senior White House officials would prefer the House pass the Senate healthcare bill without changes, which would obviate the need for a second Senate vote on the legislation.

The problem is that many liberal lawmakers in the House don’t like the Senate bill.

To compensate for this opposition, there is a proposal that the House would then pass a second measure making changes to the Senate bill. That measure could then pass through the upper chamber at a later date under special budgetary rules known as reconciliation, which allow legislation to pass with a simple majority.

Although Brown is pro-choice, abortion became a point of attack between the two candidates. Brown is a member of the Christian Reformed Church of America, The Boston Globe reported in a story in November.

The family worships at New England Chapel in Franklin, a member of the Christian Reformed Church of America, a Protestant denomination, but has developed a special relationship with an order of Cistercian Catholic nuns at Mt. St. Mary’s Abbey in Wrentham.

Many of the 48 nuns are from other countries, and Brown’s first contact was in response to their request for help on an immigration matter.

“It has turned into a beautiful friendship,’’ said Sister Katie McNamara, the monastery’s nurse.

Brown raised money to buy a special golf cart to transport elderly sisters, and, with his wife, has assisted efforts to raise $5.5 million needed to replace the order’s 50-year-old candy factory with an environmentally friendly plant, complete with solar panels and a wind turbine. The order is self-sustaining through sale of its candies and fudges.

January 15, 2010

GOP Candidate Takes Lead in New Mass. Senate Race Poll

Republican state Senator Scott Brown is leading Democratic state Attorney General Martha Coakley by 50 percent to 46 percent, according to a Suffolk University/7News poll. Massachusetts voters will vote on Tuesday to fill the Senate seat made vacant by Senator Ted Kennedy's death. If Brown wins, he could impact health care legislation by preventing Senate Democrats from breaking a filibuster.

The conscience clause, where health care workers workers can opt out of offering services like contraception if the workers are morally against it, has become a contentious issue in the campaign.

In a recent interview, Coakley suggested to radio host Ken Pittman that Catholics should not work in emergency rooms.

Pittman: Right, if you are a Catholic, and believe what the Pope teaches that any form of birth control is a sin. ah you don't want to do that.

Coakley: No we have a seperation of church and state Ken, lets be clear.

Pittman: In the emergency room you still have your religious freedom.

Coakley: (pause) The law says that people are allowed to have that. You can have religious freedom but you probably shouldn't work in the emergency room.

Continue reading GOP Candidate Takes Lead in New Mass. Senate Race Poll...

November 7, 2009

House Passes Health Care Bill, Bars Funding for Abortion

The House just voted 220-215 to approve health care legislation that would create a public health insurance option and require employers to offer health insurance.

Before the final vote, the House also voted 240-194 to bar federal funding of abortion in the proposed government-run health care plan.

Sixty-four Democrats voted in favor of the amendment led by Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), while Republican Rep. John Shadegg voted present in an effort to derail the bill. Here's the full description of the Stupak amendment.

The amendment prohibits federal funds for abortion services in the public option. It also prohibits individuals who receive affordability credits from purchasing a plan that provides elective abortions. However, it allows individuals, both who receive affordability credits and who do not, to separately purchase with their own funds plans that cover elective abortions. It also clarifies that private plans may still offer elective abortions.

Here's analysis from the Associated Press:

Under the Stupak amendment, people who do not receive federal insurance subsidies could buy private insurance plans in the exchange that include abortion coverage. People who receive federal subsidies could buy separate policies covering only abortions if they use only their own money to do it.

Companies selling insurance policies covering abortions would be required to offer identical policies without the abortion coverage.

...A health overhaul bill pending in the Senate also bars federal funding for abortion, but the language is less stringent. Discrepancies between the House and Senate measures would have to be reconciled before any final bill is passed.

Continue reading House Passes Health Care Bill, Bars Funding for Abortion...

October 22, 2009

Senate Passes Hate Crimes Bill

The Senate approved legislation today that broadened the definition of federal hate crimes to include attacks based on sexual orientation. The Senate voted 68-29 to approve the measure attached to a $680 billion defense bill.

The bill has frustrated several conservative Christian groups who feared that pastors would see repercussions from the law. The latest version of the bill included new language that explicitly protected an excused person’s free exercise of religion.

Scholars and activists have disagreed over whether a minister could be prosecuted, if he or she preached against homosexuality and a parishioner would later commit a hate crime against someone for being gay.

Continue reading Senate Passes Hate Crimes Bill...

August 26, 2009

Kennedy's Catholic Faith

The Boston Channel offers details on Sen. Ted Kennedy's last hours and his Catholic faith.

"It was a total surprise to me to see another world he was involved in -- the spiritual world," said Rev. Patrick Tarrant of Our Lady of Victory Church.

Tarrant, who was called to Kennedy's bedside late Tuesday as the senator was dying, said it was clear that Kennedy was ready for the journey that awaited him. He described the senator as "a man of quiet prayer" in his last hours.

"The truth is, he had expressed to his family that he did want to go. He did want to go to heaven. He did want to die and he did want to go. He was ready to go. There was a certain amount peace -- a lot of peace, actually -- in the family get-together last night. I couldn't help but think that the world doesn't know that part of the senator at all," Tarrant said in a lilting Irish brogue.

Tarrant told the news channel that the priest saw a more personal side that was deeply devout and the "secret" of Kennedy's power.

"I think the whole world knows certain parts very well, but I think there's another part of his life that very few people know, and that's his deep faith. His very deep faith in God and his love for his family," Tarrant said.

The Boston Globe has more details on the funeral arragements:

Senator Edward M. Kennedy will lie in repose at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum before his funeral at a historic Boston church where he prayed daily while his daughter successfully battled her own cancer. Kennedy will then be buried at Arlington National Cemetery next to his brothers.

Kennedy's funeral is being planned for the Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica in the Mission Hill section of Boston. Commonly known as the Mission Church, the 1,300-seat basilica on Tremont Street was built in the 1870s. Kennedy prayed there in 2003 while his daughter, Kara, overcame lung cancer.

August 26, 2009

Ted Kennedy Has Died

Senator Ted Kennedy known as the "Lion of the Senate," died at age 77 earlier tonight after battling brain cancer.

Hailing from a large Catholic family, Kennedy was the brother of former President John F. Kennedy and New York Sen. Robert Kennedy, who were both assassinated. He was also brother of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who was hailed after her recent death among pro-life groups for her efforts.

Kennedy's presidential aspirations were damaged after a 1969 crash that left a woman dead, and was defeated in the 1980 primary by former President Jimmy Carter.

The Washington Post is calling him "one of the most powerful and influential senators in American history." According to CNN, he played major roles in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act and the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act.

Update: Sojourners President Jim Wallis released a statement, saying that Kennedy had invited Wallis to his home to discuss the relationship between faith, morality, and politics after the 2004 election.

Their own deep Catholic faith was evident and their articulation of it very impressive. Our discussion was not partisan at all--it was not about how to win religion back for the Democrats. Rather, we focused on the great moral issues facing the nation, and how we as people of faith needed to respond to them.

Kennedy delivered the 1983 speech at Jerry Falwell's Liberty Baptist College (now Liberty University) called "Faith, Truth and Tolerance in America." From the Associated Press:

When a Moral Majority fundraising appeal somehow arrived at his office one day in the early 1980s, word leaked to the public, and the conservative group issued an invitation for him to come to Liberty Baptist College if he was ever in the neighborhood.

Pleased to accept, was the word from Kennedy.

"So I told Jerry (Falwell) and he almost turned white as a sheet," said Cal Thomas, then an aide to the conservative leader.

Dinner at the Falwell home was described as friendly.

Dessert was a political sermon on tolerance, delivered by the liberal from Massachusetts.

"I believe there surely is such a thing as truth, but who among us can claim a monopoly?" Kennedy said from the podium that night. "There are those who do, and their own words testify to their intolerance."

June 17, 2009

Nevada Senator Admits Affair

Sen. John Ensign admitted yesterday that he had an affair with a staff member of his campaign.

The New York Times reports that during college at Colorado State University, he became a born-again Christian and he and his wife, Darlene, were active in the Promise Keepers. A Las Vegas Review-Journal article from 2000 says that he was attending Meadows Fellowship Foursquare Church, a pentecostal denomination, at the time.

The Republican from Nevada said that he had "violated the vows" of marriage and "the worst thing I have ever done in my life.

"If there was ever anything in my life that I could take back, this would be it. I take full responsibility for my actions," he said.



Continue reading Nevada Senator Admits Affair...

February 9, 2009

Take That, Hustler!

The Philadelphia Inquirer profiled U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley's regular crusades, including one that involves Christianity Today.

When Hustler publisher Larry Flynt sent free subscriptions of his magazine to members of Congress, Grassley skipped the moralizing speeches his colleagues gave in response and sent a letter:

"Dear Larry: Since you have sent me a slice of your mind, I'd like to send you a slice of mine. You will shortly receive your first installment of an annual subscription to Christianity Today."

February 7, 2009

Senate Rejects Stimulus Aid for Religious Buildings

The U.S. Senate defeated an amendment to the economic stimulus bill Thursday that would have allowed federal funding for renovations at college buildings that are used for religious activity.

Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., proposed the amendment after voicing criticism of a stimulus provision that says funds for colleges and universities could not be used for modernization or renovation of buildings where "sectarian instruction" or "religious worship" occur.

"This is a direct attack on students of faith, and I'm outraged Democrats are using an economic stimulus bill to promote discrimination," DeMint said after the 54-43 vote defeating the amendment.

Church-state groups, however, welcomed the vote.

"The Senate has voted to reaffirm an important American principle -- that religious groups should pay their own way and not expect funding from the taxpayer," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Conservative Christian groups, meanwhile, agreed with DeMint. Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice said the provision "has nothing to do with economic stimulus and everything to do with religious discrimination."

Andrea Lafferty, executive directosr of the Traditional Values Coalition, called the vote "a significant defeat to our First Amendment's guarantee of religious freedom and free speech."

January 6, 2009

Al's Take on the Religious Right

The drama between Democrat Al Franken and Republican Norm Colemen continues as Franken won the ballot recount for a Minnesota senate seat by 225 votes.

It's not official, but so far, it looks like Franken may win this round. Franken has an entire chapter in his book Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them entitled "Thank God for Jerry Falwell," referring to the late pastor who co-founded the Moral Majority.

Franken refers to Ann Coulter's book Slander where Coulter writes "The Religious Right," is the "boogeyman" for the left. Franken writes that "if Coulter doesn't think the religious right exists, she should really get out more. I've been to Christian Coalition events, and there are a lot of people there . . . The point is, they're big and they're growing."

After his book was published, Steve Waldman of Beliefnet asked Franken what was wrong with the Religious Right.

They sometimes forget we don’t live in a theocracy. They can be in the public square and express their opinion but to expect other people to alter their behavior to say that, for example, that homosexuality is immoral because it says so in the Bible…I mean it also says you can’t eat pork. I don’t see a lot of orthodox Jews saying people who eat pork shouldn't be allowed to get insurance benefits.

I mean there’s stuff in the Bible how about how to sell your daughter. They kind of are pretty selective about what is important and what isn’t. I think slavery is ok in the Bible. It’s stupid! It’s like the dumbest thing that they want to proscribe other people’s behavior based on their belief.

In other words, Franken won't be singing "You've Got a Friend in Me."

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.

November 14, 2008

Hagan drops lawsuit over Dole's 'godless' ad

Senator-elect Kay Hagan, the North Carolina Democrat who ousted Republican Sen. Elizabeth Dole, has withdrawn a defamation suit over a Dole ad that linked Hagan with a 'godless' group.

Hagan filed the suit Oct. 30, saying Dole inaccurately accused her of having ties to an atheist political action committee. Hagan filed a motion to dismiss the suit yesterday.

"It's clear that the people of North Carolina have rejected personal attacks aimed at dividing people of this state instead of bringing them together to solve the problems at hand," said Colleen Flanagan, communications director for Hagan's campaign.

"This lawsuit would just continue the focus on a very personal and negative attack against Kay, instead of focusing on the people of North Carolina."

In the suit, Hagan charged that Dole and her campaign maligned her reputation with an ad that "falsely implies that (Hagan) shares the views of an entity that calls itself the Godless Americans PAC."

The two campaigns created dueling ads in which Dole defended her initial attack against Hagan, and Hagan denying the alleged connections with the atheist group.

Hagan stated in the suit that she attended a September fundraiser at the Boston home of Woody Kaplan but never took contributions from the Godless Americans PAC.

Ellen Johnson, executive director of Enlighten the Vote, the new name of the PAC, responded to the controversy by saying Kaplan, a former advisory board member, was involved in the fundraiser independently of the PAC.

A spokesperson for the Dole campaign could not be reached immediately for comment.

The original ad can be viewed here.

November 4, 2008

Dole Loses Race after 'Godless' Ad

Sen. Elizabeth Dole lost her seat in North Carolina to State Senator Democrat Kay Hagan.

The Associated Press reports that Dole had been hurt by revelations that she's spent little time in North Carolina this past year. Dole also recently ran an ad connecting Hagan to "godless Americans" and "godless money." Hagan responded by saying Dole was "bearing false witness against fellow Christians."

Update: Mollie Hemingway informs me that Dole has been the only pro-life woman in the Senate.

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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 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

Little mention of abortion from Sen. Bob Casey

Sen. Bob Casey barely mentioned abortion during his speech tonight at on the floor of the Democratic National Convention.

In 1992, former Pennsylvania governor Bob Casey Sr. wanted to discuss his opposition to abortion but was denied a speaking slot. His son barely touched on the subject in his speech tonight.

"Traveling around Pennsylvania, and looking around this room, I have no doubt that is exactly what we're going to do. So now let us work together, with a leader who, as Lincoln said, appeals to the better angels of our nature. Barack Obama and I have an honest disagreement on the issue of abortion. But the fact that I'm speaking here tonight is testament to Barack's ability to show respect for the views of people who may disagree with him."

August 26, 2008

God-o-Meter Talks to Bob Casey Jr. Before Tonight's Convention Speech

Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey Jr's landing a prime time speaking slot at the Democratic convention is another step in the party's campaign to burnish its image among pro-lifers. Casey's dad, then-Pennsylvania Governor Robert Casey, was famously denied a speaking role at the 1992 Democratic convention because of his pro-life views. Casey Jr. called God-o-Meter to talk about his role at the convention and to give a little preview of tonight's speech:

Many pro-life Democrats were pushing for the opportunity for you to speak at the convention because of what it would represent symbolically, since your father was famously denied a speaking role at the 1992 convention over his pro-life views. Were you pushing for a speaking slot for that same reason?

We were invited to speak by Senator Obama's campaign and were grateful for the opportunity. But when you're in your first 18 months in the Senate, you shouldn't expect it. So I didn't ask.

Did your father's experience color your own reaction to learning that you'd been accorded a speaking role during prime time?

Everybody remembers 1992, but I also have memories of the 1988 convention, when [my father] did speak about the economic struggles our state had. So I think about more than one convention. What happened in 1992 is something people are talking about, the subject of a lot of discussion, but it's important to look ahead and not just recollect about the past.

Does your inclusion on tonight's speakers' lineup send a message that the Democratic Party has changed on abortion?

The fact that I'm speaking is really a testament to Senator Obama's willingness to reach out to people who disagree with him even on important issues. It's emblematic of his ability to put coalitions together on an issue and to bring all sides together. He's not just talking about that, but acting.

Do you see signs that pro-life voters are getting that message?

It's hard to tell. A lot of what will come before voters between now and Election Day. Most of the hard work of a campaign like this and most of the weighing that voters do when they decide who to vote for will come after the convention. That's the real decision period and the time for the really hard work.

How did you decide what you're going to speak about in your limited time tonight?

I'm speaking with about ten other governors, about the economy and about what I know about Barack Obama personally and about his ideas and his personality. That'll really be the focus of almost every speech at the convention. And also trying to bring people together. If Democrats are going to make the case that they can bring the country together, it's important to bring our party together.

Will your speech address the life issue, which is what many in the party identify you with?

Yes, it will. But it's mostly a night and an opportunity when we've been invited to focus on the economy and frankly what a lot of folks are struggling with in Pennsylvania. But certainly not only that. There's been a lot of discussion about '92, but there is an obvious disagreement I have with Senator Obama and we want to make sure that people understand that difference of opinion.

One of the things that's missing in this important debate in American politics is candid and honest talk about disagreements and an honest effort to try to find common ground. It's much easier to say you don't agree with someone and to continue fighting and discontinue the dialogue. It's much harder but it's important to be honest and show respect for others that we disagree but to actually work to bring the sides together.

One way to do that, and neither party has done enough on this, is to be very supportive of pregnant women. And the Pregnant Women Support Act is the only vehicle and the best vehicle to do that. It's a challenge to the left and a challenge to the right and helps not only bring the sides together but provides affirmative options for women. When a woman becomes pregnant, for most women that's a time of happiness and joy and they look forward to bearing a child. But to some it's a crisis because they don't have the economic wherewithal and the support they need. And a lot of women feel all alone and we don't do enough to show solidarity with them. As Pope John Paul II said, we should show radically solidarity with the woman facing these challenges. This piece of legislation is the one vehicle in American government for bringing the sides together and for providing women with options.

But is Senator Obama supporting it?

He's spoken about it. I have gotten to know him on the campaign trail and he spoke about the concept when he was at Rick Warren's church. So I believe he will be supportive. We have not talked directly about the bill but it's something I will be discussing with people in both parties. It's going to take a lot of work.

Also check out God-o-Meter's interview with Senator Casey in the run-up to the Pennsylvania primaries in April.

This article is cross-posted from Beliefnet's God-o-Meter.

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.)