The Common Good

Blog Posts By Lauren Markoe

Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 5 weeks ago
Five key Catholic bishops are opposing the newly authorized Violence Against Women Act for fear it will subvert traditional views of marriage and gender, and compromise the religious freedom of groups that aid victims of human trafficking.The act, which was signed into law by President Obama on Thursday, is intended to protect women from domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking, and allows the federal government to spend money to treat victims and prosecute offenders.That language disturbs several bishops who head key committees within the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that deal with, among other issues, marriage, the laity, youth and religious liberty.But for the first time since the original act became law in 1994, it spells out that no person may be excluded from the law’s protections because of  “sexual orientation” or “gender identity” — specifically covering lesbian, transgender and bisexual women.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 6 weeks ago
An advertisement in Athens intertwines a swastika with a Jewish star.  Hungarian politicians declare Jews a national security risk. A gunman executes three children and a rabbi at a Jewish school in France. Such recent instances of anti-Semitism reflect a growing wave of hatred toward Jews across Europe, one documented by civil rights groups and concerning to those who fear that, nearly 70 years after the Holocaust, it has again become socially acceptable to vilify Jews. Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., convened a hearing on Wednesday on this rise in anti-Semitism, calling it a threat not only to Jews, but to other religious minorities and the ideal of tolerance in general.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 9 weeks ago
WASHINGTON — Longtime White House aide Joshua DuBois, who heads the White House office focused on the intersection of religion and public policy, will step down on Friday, President Obama announced Thursday.Obama, speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast, asked DuBois to lead his White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships in 2009 when the Pentecostal reverend was 26, and hoped DuBois could sustain the ties he had helped forge between Obama and religious groups during the 2008 presidential campaign.DuBois will teach at New York University starting later in the year, according to White House officials, and also plans to write a book based on the inspirational messages he sent to Obama daily.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 10 weeks ago
Super Bowl halftime shows often burn more vivid images into the American conscience than the most-watched football game of the year, and can claim millions more viewers.They can also ignite controversy, as Janet Jackson did with her halftime “wardrobe malfunction” in 2004. Last year, performing with Madonna, British-born hip-hop star M.I.A. gave the finger to 114 million people.Outraged by the raunchy behavior, or simply to capture some of the Super Bowl’s supersized audience, some religious programmers are now producing halftime shows of their own.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 11 weeks ago
WASHINGTON — Half of Americans worry that religious freedom in the U.S. is at risk, and many say activist groups — particularly gays and lesbians — are trying to remove “traditional Christian values” from the public square.The findings of a poll published Wednesday reveal a “double standard” among a significant portion of evangelicals on the question of religious liberty, said David Kinnaman, president of Barna Group, a California think tank that studies American religion and culture.While these Christians are particularly concerned that religious freedoms are being eroded in this country, “they also want Judeo-Christians to dominate the culture,” said Kinnamon.“They cannot have it both ways,” he said. “This does not mean putting Judeo-Christian values aside, but it will require a renegotiation of those values in the public square as America increasingly becomes a multi-faith nation.”
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 11 weeks ago
In the past four decades, American attitudes have changed markedly on gay marriage, smoking, bullying, and a host of other cultural issues.But on Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, public opinion today looks much as it did back then.When it comes to American views on the legality of abortion, “the trend lines look about as flat as they can be,” said Daniel Cox, research director at the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute.Just a few years after the justices decided Roe, Gallup pollsters began asking Americans about abortion. In 1975, 54 percent said it should be legal only under certain circumstances; last year, that figure was virtually unchanged, at 52 percent.And the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life this month found that 63 percent of Americans don’t want Roe overturned, a mere 3-percentage-point increase from 1992.In more recent years, opinions on the morality of abortion have remained similarly stable, with about half of Americans (47 percent) calling it “morally wrong” and four in 10 considering it “morally acceptable” or “not a moral issue,” according to Pew.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 12 weeks ago
WASHINGTON — Dozens of the nation’s faith leaders said on Tuesday that they’re ready to take on the gun lobby and demanded that politicians take quick and concrete steps to stem gun violence.At a Capitol Hill press conference and in a letter to Congress, more than 45 clergy and heads of religious groups — representing the spectrum of American religious life — petitioned lawmakers to reinstitute a ban on assault weapons, require background checks on all gun buyers, and make gun trafficking a federal crime.Organized by the two-year-old coalition Faiths United To Prevent Gun Violence, the signers said the slayings at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school last month had pushed them to redouble their efforts, and created an opportunity to beat back the gun lobby.The Rev. Jim Wallis, the evangelical who heads the progressive Christian group Sojourners, took on Wayne LaPierre, the outspoken executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, directly.LaPierre’s statement after Newtown that the “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” is “morally mistaken” and “religiously repugnant,” Wallis said.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 13 weeks ago
WASHINGTON — The persecution of Christians “vastly rose” in 2012 as radical Islamists consolidated power in Africa, according to Open Doors, a Christian missionary organization which publishes an annual list of offending nations.Increasing threats to African Christians can be seen in focused attacks, such as the killings of Christians in Nigerian churches by the radical Muslim group Boko Haram, but also in the greater prevalence of radical Muslims in government, according to the California-based Open Doors.In Mali, for example, which made the biggest leap on the “World Watch List,” from unranked in 2011 to No. 7 in 2012, a coup in the north brought fundamentalist Muslims to power. “The situation in the north used to be a bit tense, but Christians and even missionaries could be active,” said Open Doors spokesman Jerry Dykstra.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 14 weeks ago
WASHINGTON — At a time when the ideals of compromise and collegiality seem like a distant dream in the nation’s capital, an unusually diverse coalition of religious leaders is asking Americans to pray for civility.“Through daily prayer, we are calling on the ‘better angels of our nature’ needed to sustain our nation and solve problems,” said the Rev. Peg Chemberlin, immediate past president of the National Council of Churches and one of the faith leaders taking part in “18 days of Prayer for the Nation.”Prayers began Thursday, the first day of the new Congress, and end on Jan. 21, the day of President Obama’s second inauguration.Faith leaders from left, right and center have signed on, including Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, Richard Land of the Southern Baptists’ Ethics, and Religious Liberty Commission and Richard Cizik, president of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good.The Faith & Politics Institute, a nonpartisan group that nurtures the spiritual life of members of Congress and their staffs and presses political foes toward civil debate, organized the days of prayer and an online “commitment to prayer” page to document participation.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 16 weeks ago
WASHINGTON — Foes of the federal contraception mandate are cheering a Tuesday appeals court decision requiring the Obama administration to devise exemptions to the new rule for two Christian colleges.They’re also buoyed by the D.C. Circuit Court’s reversal of lower court decisions to throw out their cases. The administration had argued that because it was crafting an exemption to the contraception rule, the cases should not go forward.Now the cases continue, and every 60 days, the administration must report on its plan to ensure that the colleges do not have to comply with the new rule, which mandates that employers cover contraception in their health plans.“This is a win not just for Belmont Abbey and Wheaton, but for all religious non-profits challenging the mandate,” said Kyle Duncan, general counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, who argued the case.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 19 weeks ago
 WASHINGTON — As a coalition of mostly Christian groups gathered here Thursday to support church leaders who have publicly questioned U.S. aid to Israel, those same church leaders signaled that they want to reconcile with the Jewish groups who were upset by their action.An Oct. 5 letter asking Congress to investigate U.S. aid to Israel led Jewish groups to cancel a long-planned meeting later that month of the Christian-Jewish Roundtable, a eight-year-old group dedicated to improving relations between the two faiths.The Rev. Gradye Parsons, the top official of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the first signatory on the letter, did not attend Thursday's Washington press conference that was convened to support its message. But Parsons said he stands by the letter, and acknowledged that it heightened tensions between Jews and Christians on the roundtable.“We regret any distancing it put between us and our Jewish partners," he said, "and we hope we can close that gap."
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 20 weeks ago
WASHINGTON — It’s an idea that feels particularly poignant this Thanksgiving: American Jews and Muslims banding together to help the homeless and other needy people.The interfaith collaboration has been going on for five years, but the recent exchange of rockets between Gaza and Israel is weighing especially hard on both communities this week. That's why a joint session of sandwich making or a group visit to a nursing home has taken on added significance.“In this time of warfare it was a beautiful experience to see the two come together,” said Haider Dost, a Muslim student at Virginia’s George Mason University who worked with Jewish students to feed the homeless Sunday in Franklin Park, just blocks from the White House.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 21 weeks ago
The road to the White House is no longer white and Christian.President Obama won last week with a voter coalition that was far more racially and religiously diverse than Mitt Romney’s – a phenomenon both predicted in the days before the election and confirmed in the days after.What the Public Religion Research Institute has concluded since, however, has farther-reaching implications: that relying on white Christian voters will never again spell national electoral success — especially for the GOP.“The changing religious landscape is presenting a real challenge to the strategy that relied on motivated white Christians, particularly white evangelical Christians,” said PRRI Research Director Dan Cox, referring to a PRRI study released Thursday.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 23 weeks ago
Anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. dropped by 13 percent in 2011, according to a report released Nov. 1 by the Anti-Defamation League, which tracks assaults and other attacks on Jews.There were 1,080 incidents against Jews last year, according to the ADL, the lowest tallied by the non-profit civil rights group in two decades.“It is encouraging that over the past five or six years we have seen a consistent decline in the number of anti-Semitic incidents across the country and that the numbers are now at a historic low,” said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL's national director.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 24 weeks ago
The largest slice of President Barack Obama’s religious coalition -- at 23 percent --  is not very religious.They’re the “nones,” also known as unaffiliated voters, according to a new American Values Survey by the Public Religion Research Institute.Gov. Mitt Romney’s biggest bloc of religious voters are white evangelical Protestants, at 37 percent, followed by white mainline Protestants and white Catholics, each at 19 percent. Comparing the candidates' supporters, the more diverse religious and nonreligious coalition that's favoring Obama tends to be younger and growing, which could make it easier for Democrats to win elections in the future.But there’s a down side for Obama, said Dan Cox, PRRI’s research director.“The people most likely to support him are the least likely to vote: Latinos, the millennials (voters 18-29), and the unaffiliated,” Cox said.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 26 weeks ago
Meet John Q. Nones, a young, white male who is making a big impression on the American religious landscape for something he doesn't do: align with any religious group.The rise of the religiously unaffiliated, or “nones,” as documented in a new study from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, has major implications for almost all aspects of American life -- from religion to business to culture.Whether you believe the proliferation of Mr. Nones is a depressing or hopeful trend, it pays to get to know him.Who is John Q. Nones? Here's a snapshot drawn from the Pew Forum’s new poll.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 28 weeks ago
Respected news outlets unwittingly sent a lie around the world on Sept.12: a Jew backed by 100 Jewish donors made a film insulting Islam's Prophet Muhammad.Within a day, the lie unraveled. But the damage to the Jewish community had been done, and Jews will continue to suffer for it, say Jewish civil rights leaders. “This is another blood libel that’s in place,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, referring to a history of conspiracy theories that has fueled anti-Semitism for centuries.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 28 weeks ago
President Obama on Tuesday gave a forceful speech at the United Nations, in which he challenged much of the world's assumptions about free speech and religion.Here are five points from his address, which together, add up to as close to an Obama Doctrine on Religion as we've seen:1. Blasphemy must be tolerated, however intolerableThe idea that the U.S. protects even vile speech, so ingrained in American culture, seems counterintuitive to much of the world. It’s an especially tough concept when speech targets a religion, but Obama argued that restrictions on speech too often become weapons to suppress religion – especially the rights of religious minorities.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 29 weeks ago
The white working class, a potentially rich bloc of voters for Republicans or Democrats, hasn’t settled on Mitt Romney or President Barack Obama, a new study from the Public Religion Research Institute shows.“These white working class voters are not particularly enamored of either candidate,” said Daniel Cox, PRRI’s research director. “In terms of their favorability, they’re both under 50 percent.” Forty-four percent look favorably upon Obama and 45 percent upon Romney.Released seven weeks before the election, the August survey found Romney with a double-digit lead over Obama among the white working class, which preferred the GOP candidate 48 to 35 percent.But Cox points out that the gap narrows to statistical insignificance among women voters in this group, and in the Midwest and West, home of several swing states. The upshot for Romney and Obama?If they want to woo this group, which makes up 36 percent of the nation according to the study, the campaigns may want to consider other findings of the PRRI poll.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 31 weeks ago
UDATE: (Posted 9/6/12)Criticized by Republicans and some members of their own party, Democrats voted to restore the word “God” to the Democratic national platform late Wednesday (Sept. 5). The GOP had seized upon the omission as a failure of their opponents to appreciate the divine's place in American history.GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan took to the airwaves early Wednesday to blast the change from the Democrats’ 2008 platform. “I guess I would just put the onus and the burden on them to explain why they did all this, these purges of God,” Ryan said on “Fox & Friends.”Ryan also attacked the Democratic platform’s initial failure to affirm Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, an issue important to some American Jews and conservative Christians. After a voice vote at the party's convention in Charlotte, language about God and endorsing Jerusalem as the capital was added.God is mentioned 12 times in the 2012 GOP platform. The 2008 Democratic platform made one reference to God: the “God-given potential” of working people. The 2004 platform had numerous references to God.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 32 weeks ago
The host city for the Democratic National Convention is not a particularly political place. Charlotte, N.C., is known for three things: banking, NASCAR, and religion.And when it comes to religion, Billy Graham’s spirit looms large.America’s most famous evangelist of the 20th century was born on a dairy farm just outside of town and was raised in Charlotte, home of his ministry.For the Democrats – labeled disparagingly by some Republicans as the party of secular humanism – Charlotte is not a bad place to try and raise their religious profile.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 34 weeks ago
After the movie theater massacre in Aurora, Colo., and a deadly shooting at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis., Americans are divided on gun control, and within certain religious groups, attitudes are far from ambivalent.But on the question of guns in churches, there is actual consensus: A strong majority of Americans don’t want them in the pews, according to a new poll released Wednesday (Aug. 15) by the Public Religion Research Institute conducted in partnership with Religion News Service."Although the issue of gun control tends to divide Americans by party, gender, region and race, there is broad agreement among the public that there are some places where concealed weapons should be off limits," said Daniel Cox, PRRI’s research director.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 35 weeks ago
A group of faith leaders Thursday exhorted Americans to do more than pray for better times.Representing seven different faith traditions, many advocated a period of public mourning after a week that saw a shooting rampage at a Sikh temple and a suspicious fire at a Missouri mosque."It is my hope that this is more than a time to express personal sorrows," said Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America."Our most concrete rejection of violence occurs when we engage the neighbor, the neighbor who is new in our community, the neighbor who worships differently than we," he said.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 36 weeks ago
Banks make loans they know homebuyers can’t pay back. Conglomerates market unhealthy food to children. Wall Street tycoons bet against their own shareholders.In an age when the phrase “business ethics” can seem like an oxymoron, a group of rabbis has designed a course to use age-old Jewish teachings to help infuse some morality into economics -- from the household budget to the stock market.Run by the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute, which is affiliated with the Chabad-Lubavitch movement of Orthodox Jewry, “Money Matters” is offered at more than 350 locations in 22 countries this year, and is proving to be one of the most popular courses JLI has ever offered, said Rabbi Efraim Mintz, JLI’s executive director.“When students first come to the course, they may respect the Torah (the Hebrew Bible) and the Talmud (a 2,000 year-old compendium of Jewish oral law and biblical commentary), but few see it as something relevant to the here and now,” Mintz said.“But soon, they are mesmerized and surprised by its applicability to the business issues of the day.”More than 22,300 people have taken “Money Matters,” which was first offered in January, and lawyers can get continuing legal education credit for it in 22 states.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 36 weeks ago
A new poll shows that American Catholics tend to agree with their bishops’ concerns that religious liberties are at risk in the U.S.Nevertheless, Catholics seem to be warming to President Obama, even as the bishops lambaste his administration in their fight to roll back a federal mandate that requires employers — with some exceptions — to cover birth control in their health plans.The poll, released on Aug. 1 by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life as the contraception mandate took effect, found that among Catholics who are aware of the bishops' protests, 56 percent say they agree with the bishops’ concerns, as opposed to 36 percent who disagree.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 37 weeks ago
WASHINGTON — Bend the Arc, a liberal Jewish group that has advocated for social justice causes for more than 30 years, last week launched a lobbying arm and political action committee to give it more weight on Capitol Hill and across the nation.The move is unusual, if not unique. There seem to be no other Jewish groups with a broad agenda that have such lobbying tools at their disposal, said Rabbi David Saperstein, who heads the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 38 weeks ago
The most comprehensive study of religion and Asian-Americans to date finds them less religious than most Americans, but also far more religiously diverse.Within that diversity, however, researchers discovered a wealth of spirituality.“Asian-Americans are really a study in contrasts, with religious groups that are running the gamut from highly religious to highly secular,” said Cary Funk, lead researcher on  “Asian Americans: A Mosaic of Faiths,” released Thursday (June 19) by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.Though a plurality of Asian-Americans are Christian, “it’s a striking difference” compared to the U.S. population in general, Funk said.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 38 weeks ago
Amid a battle with President Obama over a new contraception mandate, the nation's Roman Catholic bishops are promoting natural family planning -- but will their flock take heed?  When the Obama administration in January announced that employers will have to provide contraception coverage to their employees, U.S. Catholic bishops took the lead in fighting the mandate.Allied with other denominations, the Catholic hierarchy has organized an energetic, nationwide effort to overturn this new federal rule. The Catholic Church calls birth control a sin, even as many Catholics practice it.The bishops are hoping to change that with their Natural Family Planning Awareness Week, an annual campaign that begins this Sunday (July 22). It’s the church’s only acceptable form of birth control, even as many sexuality educators consider it relatively unreliable. Natural Family Planning Awareness Week, then, may provide a window into a church teaching that is helping to drive the most serious standoff between the church and the federal government in decades.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 39 weeks ago
Ongoing violence in Nigeria has exacerbated tensions between the country's Muslims and Christians. Nigeria has equal numbers of Christians and Muslims, and 92 percent of the country's population says they pray every day, according to a 2010 poll by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.Hundreds of Christians and Muslims have died this year alone, including scores killed last weekend (July 7-8) when Muslim militants attacked Christian villages in the nation’s central plateau, where the mostly Muslim north and the mostly Christian south meet.Read five things you should know about the violence in Nigeria inside the blog...
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 41 weeks ago
The news that Israel’s memorial to Holocaust victims had been grafittied in early June with bitterly anti-Semitic and anti-Israel statements was shocking. More shocking still was the news that the three men arrested for the crime are Jewish. How could Jews desecrate the memories of millions of fellow Jews who perished at the hands of the Nazis? The religious identities of the culprits -- however surprising to many who read of their arrests last Tuesday (June 26) -- did not surprise many Israelis, however. They know that a number of ultra-Orthodox Jews, for religious reasons, believe the State of Israel should not yet exist.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 41 weeks ago
The Supreme Court's nearly split decision on the new health care law is mirrored by the American public, according to a new survey.On Thursday the high court upheld most of the Affordable Care Act, a massive health care overhaul often considered President Obama's signal legislative achievement.A poll taken days before the high court's ruling found that 43 percent of Americans said the court should not overturn the law, and 35 percent hoped it would.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 41 weeks ago
WASHINGTON — The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is persecuted around the world, but it has plenty of friends on Capitol Hill.House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., joined more than 20 House colleagues and at least one senator on June 27 at a reception to mark the first visit of the Ahmadiyya’s spiritual leader, Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, to Congress.The Ahmadiyya have faced severe repression, Pelosi said,  “but you refused to turn to bitterness or vengeance.”“The message we carry is 'if you are being hurt, do not respond with hurt,'" said Ahsanullah Zafar, president of the Ahmadiyya community in the U.S.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 42 weeks ago
Post-recession America is beginning to open its wallet to charities again, but is not giving as generously to religious institutions.While charitable donations from individuals rose nearly 4 percent overall in 2011, according to the annual "Giving USA" report, donations to houses of worship and other religious bodies dropped by 1.7 percent — a decrease for the second year in a row.The report, compiled by the Indiana University Center on Philanthropy and released on June 19, shows that individual Americans gave nearly $218 billion last year, $96 billion of which went to religious organizations.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 45 weeks ago
WASHINGTON — The 200 or so African-American pastors gathered here for the Conference of National Black Churches feel strongly about the topic of gay marriage, some for, many against. But there's one thing nearly all of them agree on.The issue won't distract black voters from supporting President Obama's reelection.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 45 weeks ago
Muslim civil rights groups are calling a new Kansas law that bans Shariah in state courtrooms an expression of Islamophobia that is vulnerable to a legal challenge.The law, signed by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback on Monday (May 28), does not specifically mention Shariah, or Islamic law, but forbids state courts from basing decisions on foreign laws that contradict rights granted by the U.S. Constitution and state constitutions.But the Council on American-Islamic Relations and other Muslim groups called the law little more than anti-Muslim propaganda.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 46 weeks ago
U.S. Catholic bishops have used the Obama administration’s contraception mandate as Exhibit A in their high-stakes defense of "religious freedom." But it’s not just the bishops who are fuming, and it’s not only over contraception.Like-minded religionists of several denominations – including Southern Baptist leader Richard Land and Baltimore Archbishop William Lori -- gathered in Washington Thursday (May 24) to organize a response to what they see as the sorry state of religious freedom in America today.“We must all be willing to stand up and tell the government ‘no,’” said Land, who heads the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “Secularists don’t like people of faith because the ultimate authority for us is not the state. The ultimate authority is God.”
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 46 weeks ago
The film shows a burning crucifix, gun-toting priests and the torture of a young boy. And the Roman Catholic hierarchy is loving it.The film, “For Greater Glory,” hits theaters on June 1 and tells a little known chapter of Mexican history -- the Cristero War of 1926 to 1929, which pitted an army of devout Catholic rebels (led in the movie by Andy Garcia) against the government of Mexican President Plutarco Calles (played by Ruben Blades).For Catholics enraged by the Obama administration’s proposed contraception mandate, the film about the Mexican church's fight in 1920s is a heartening and timely cinematic boost in the American church's battle to preserve "religious freedom" in 2012.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 46 weeks ago
When Sally tells Jimmy that he’s going to hell for believing in a false religion, is that Sally exercising her First Amendment right to free expression, or is that Billy getting bullied?A broad coalition of educators and religious groups – from the National Association of Evangelicals to the National School Boards Association – on Tuesday (May 22) endorsed a new pamphlet to help teachers tackle such thorny questions.Authored chiefly by the American Jewish Committee, “Harassment, Bullying and Free Expression: Guidelines for Free and Safe Public Schools,” contains 11 pages of advice on balancing school safety and religious freedom. 
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 47 weeks ago
The small stack of envelopes that arrives at Grace Community United Church of Christ in St. Paul, Minn., each day are filled with good will and small bills – ones, fives and tens mostly.The donations lift the spirit, said Rev. Oliver White, but they likely won't be enough to save the church.“Technically, we should be packing,” White said.On June 1, the church will likely default on a high-interest loan and lose its building, unless it can come up with $175,000 to buy the loan out.As of Wednesday (May 16), Grace Community was about $170,000 short, but its plight has gained considerable attention within and without the UCC, thanks to one of several reasons the predominantly African-American church may lose its home.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 48 weeks ago
The Rev. Tom Sherrod loathed to "declare" a couple man and wife.As a stutterer, Sherrod always had problems with hard “c” sounds, and the “c” in “declare” was a doozy. “P” sounds weren’t easy either, and the Bible is full of them.“If I tried to read, I would lock onto words,” said Sherrod, a North Carolina hospital chaplain who is an ordained United Methodist minister. “I tried to steer clear of certain Scriptures.”Now, after intensive speech therapy, Sherrod publicly reads aloud whatever parts of the liturgy he likes. But before he learned to control the stutter, life -- as it can be for many stutterers -- was an exhausting exercise in avoiding some tough words and muscling through others.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 48 weeks ago
After nearly four years in the Oval Office, President Obama is incorrectly thought to be Muslim by one in six American voters, and only one quarter of voters can correctly identify him as a Protestant, according to a new poll.Voters do better identifying Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith, according to a poll released Thursday (May 10) by the Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with Religion News Service. A slim majority of voters -- 51 percent -- knows the presumed Republican presidential nominee is Mormon.“Wow. He said it 100 times that he’s not a Muslim,” said Zainab Al-Suwaij, executive director of the American Islamic Congress, expressing surprise over the persistent number of American voters (16 percent) who make the mistake.Is there something insidious behind the belief, a concerted attack to link the president with a religion that's considered alien -- or worse -- by some Americans?
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 50 weeks ago
Speaking at Georgetown University, Rep. Paul Ryan—the chairman of the House Budget Committee and a possible vice-presidential candidate— seemed to seek to quell the debate. He called his budget a roadmap to avoid a debt crisis that will hurt the poor hardest of all.And he seemed to soft peddle his defense of the document as consistent with Catholic teaching.“The work I do as a Catholic holding office conforms to the social doctrine as best I can make of it.  What I have to say about the social doctrine of the Church is from the viewpoint of a Catholic in politics applying my understanding to the problems of the day,” he told an audience composed mostly of students, faculty and staff. 
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 51 weeks ago
Kirk Cameron was once one of Hollywood's babies, the spunky, handsome teenager who starred in the 1980s hit "Growing Pains," and whose picture was taped inside many a schoolgirl's locker.But now, Hollywood scolds and even mocks Cameron who, at 41, is a vocal evangelical Christian, and, in the view of many of his fellow celebrities, kind of a jerk.Cameron's more recent acting and directing projects almost always carry a deeply Christian message, and he knows he is now the darling of only a certain segment of America. He even seems to take some pride in the fact. "I'm kind of a Hollywood freak," he said in a recent interview. "I didn't really turn out the way most people turn out growing up in this industry."
Posted by Lauren Markoe 2 years 2 weeks ago
One of two new members of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has Muslim civil rights groups crying foul.Zuhdi Jasser, who lauded a controversial New York City police surveillance program that targeted Muslims and helped lead the opposition to an Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero, has been appointed to the commission, which advises the president, Congress and State Department on religious rights abuses internationally."It would have been better to appoint someone who has some measure of credibility with Muslim Americans," said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations."He has long been viewed by American Muslims and the colleagues in the civil liberties community as a mere sock puppet for Islam haters and an enabler of Islamophobia."
Posted by Lauren Markoe 2 years 3 weeks ago
Days after a lone gunman murdered a rabbi and three children at a Jewish school in Toulouse, France, a new study reports widespread anti-Semitism in France and across Europe. The survey, completed in January and released Tuesday by the New York-based Anti-Defamation League, finds that 24 percent of the French population holds anti-Semitic views, up from 20 percent in 2009. When asked if violence against Jews is rooted in anti-Jewish or anti-Israel sentiment, four in 10 Europeans (39 percent) responded that it was the result of anti-Jewish sentiment. In France, 45 percent of those asked held this view, up from 39 percent in the previous survey.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 2 years 4 weeks ago
WASHINGTON--A vocal contingent of Republican presidential candidates and church leaders are railing against the Obama administration's ``war on religion,'' but most Americans can't seem to find the fight. A majority (56 percent) of Americans say religious liberty is not threatened in the U.S., according to a new poll released Thursday (March 15) by the Public Religion Research Institute, which conducted the survey in partnership with Religion News Service. The poll, which asked a wide range of questions, also found significant support for same-sex marriage. Even though Catholic bishops are leading the charge that the new White House mandate requiring insurance plans to cover birth control for employees is a threat to religious liberty, Catholics reject -- by a 57 to 38 percent margin -- the idea that religious liberty is under siege.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 2 years 4 weeks ago
WASHINGTON--Pope Benedict XVI will use his upcoming trip to Cuba to press for the release of Alan Gross, a Jewish man who has languished in a Cuban jail for more than two years, according to Gross' supporters. That's the latest Ronald Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, said he has heard through Vatican back channels. In recent weeks, the council has circulated a petition asking the pope to intercede on Gross' behalf when he visits the island on March 26-28. "He represents humanitarianism and cherished values, and hopefully his presence could help lead to Alan Gross' release," Halber said.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 2 years 5 weeks ago
WASHINGTON--Ever since their mad dash out of Egypt bound for the Promised Land, Jews have been on the move -- and they continue to be, far more than any other religious group, according to a new study. One in four of the world's Jews has migrated from one country to another, compared to 5 percent of Christians and 4 percent of Muslims who have left their native lands. The findings are part of a comprehensive new study on religion and global migration, released Thursday (March 8) by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, which tracked the journeys of the world's 214 million migrants. "The world Jewish community is consolidating," said Jonathan Sarna, a professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University who did not work on the study. "Jews are abandoning Third World countries where historically they had been persecuted and moving to large and generally free First World countries." No other major religious group approached the 25 percent migration rate of the Jews, said Phillip Connor, the senior researcher on the study. On average, he said, only 3 percent of the world's population migrates.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 2 years 6 weeks ago
WASHINGTON — Debby Levitt's four children are dressing up big time for Purim, one of the more raucous of Jewish holidays, which begins on Wednesday (March 7) this year.Commemorating Queen Esther's brave and successful efforts to save the Jews of Persia from extermination, Purim calls on Jews to rejoice in costume and to give goodies to neighbors and friends.Girls often dress up as the beautiful queen, and boys as her valiant cousin Mordecai, who refused to bow down to the evil Haman, who aimed to extinguish all vestiges of Judaism from the kingdom.The goody baskets — mishloach manot, in Hebrew, or the "sending of portions" — are meant to contradict Haman, who asserts in the biblical book of Esther that Jews were a people riven by strife.Costumes? Goodies? Sounds like Halloween. But for the Levitts, it's nothing like Halloween.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 2 years 7 weeks ago
WASHINGTON, D.C. — It took 83 years to build the iconic Washington National Cathedral, but a rare East Coast earthquake last summer took just seconds to send carved stone finials tumbling from the heavens to the ground below. Now, six months after the 5.8-magnitude quake, the cathedral is facing repair costs of at least $20 million, and a reconstruction timeline that could stretch out a decade or more.The bill to fix the iconic church is now at least $5 million more than original estimates, said church officials, who are still working to stabilize the building, repair its intricate stonework and raise money to continue the restoration.So far, donations for repairs have reached $2 million, or 10 percent of the predicted cost.