The Common Good

Blog Posts By Lauren Markoe

Posted by Lauren Markoe, Brian Pellot 2 days 22 hours ago
President Obama on Monday said he plans to tap Rabbi David Saperstein as the next ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, the first non-Christian to hold the job, which was created in 1998.As ambassador, the man named as the most influential rabbi in America by Newsweek magazine in 2009, will head the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom, and will be tasked with monitoring religious freedom abuses around the world.“When it comes to the work of protecting religious freedom, it is safe to say that David Saperstein represents the gold standard,” said Secretary of State John Kerry, announcing the nomination at the State Department.A Reform rabbi and lawyer, Saperstein, 66, has led the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism for 40 years, and has spent his career in Washington, focusing on social justice and religious freedom issues. He was instrumental in the 1993 passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which requires the government to show a compelling reason for any action that impinges upon the exercise of religion.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 2 weeks 2 hours ago
Worried about global warming, a growing number of churches and other faith groups are divesting their holdings in fossil fuel companies, which release large amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.“The warning in Scripture that ‘the wages of sin is death’ could not be more literally true than it is in the case of fossil fuels,” said Serene Jones, president of New York’s Union Theological Seminary, whose board voted in June to divest its $108.4 million endowment from fossil fuel companies.“While we realize that our endowment alone will hardly cause the fossil fuel giants to miss even half a heartbeat, as a seminary dedicated to social justice we have a critical call to live out our values in the world. Climate change poses a catastrophic threat, and as stewards of God’s creation we simply must act.”
Posted by Lauren Markoe 4 weeks 21 hours ago
The Presbyterian Church (USA) has removed from its website a booklet that many Jewish groups have criticized as hostile to Israel and denigrating to Judaism.“Zionism Unsettled,” published in January by the church-chartered Israel/Palestine Mission Network, is a history and commentary on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that paints Israel as the aggressor and describes Zionism as inherently racist and theologically flawed.The booklet played a role last month in the denomination’s debate on divesting from three American companies that, divestment proponents say, profit from Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.
Posted by Lauren Markoe, Cathy Lynn Grossman 4 weeks 2 days ago
Five things to know about one of the most anticipated Supreme Court decisions of the year:1. Corporations can’t pray, but they do have religious rights.Hobby Lobby isn’t a person. It’s a chain of crafts stores owned by a religious family. And though the evangelical Green family objects to parts of the Affordable Care Act’s emergency contraception mandate, it’s not the Greens but the company that writes the check for employees’ health insurance. The first question the justices had to answer was this: Does Hobby Lobby have religious rights? To many Americans, this sounds a little nutty. Does a craft store believe in God?A majority of the justices held that a closely held company such as Hobby Lobby does have religious rights. The court didn’t apply those rights, however, to publicly held corporations, where owners’ religious beliefs would be hard to discern.But well before the justices had delivered their verdict on this question, many legal scholars said they wouldn’t be surprised were they to affirm the company’s religious rights. American corporations do have some of the rights and responsibilities we usually associate with people. And in the 2010Citizens United campaign finance case, the justices overturned bans on corporate political spending as a violation of freedom of speech — corporations’ free speech.
Posted by Lauren Markoe, Cathy Lynn Grossman 4 weeks 3 days ago
The Supreme Court on Monday sided with the evangelical owners of Hobby Lobby Stores Inc., ruling 5-4 that the arts-and-crafts chain does not have to offer insurance for types of birth control that conflict with company owners’ religious beliefs.Beyond the specifics of the Hobby Lobby case before them, the justices broke new legal ground by affirming that corporations, not just individual Americans or religious non-profits, may claim religious rights.Does Monday’s decision mean, however, that the religious beliefs of business owners stand paramount? That they are more important than a female employee’s right to choose from the full array of birth control methods she is promised under the Affordable Care Act? Or that a business owner may invoke his religious rights to deny service to a gay couple?Not necessarily, legal experts say. 
Posted by Lauren Markoe 5 weeks 3 days ago
The Presbyterian Church (USA) voted Friday to divest church funds from three American companies it cited for profiting from the oppression of Palestinians within Israel’s occupied territories.The 310-303 vote of the church’s General Assembly in Detroit marks a victory for divestment supporters both within and without the 1.8 million-member PCUSA, now the largest American church to embrace divestment as a strategy to pressure Israel to return its illegally held lands.The divestment resolution targets companies that divestment supporters say supply electronic and earth-moving equipment that help Israel violate Palestinian rights. Presbyterians in support of the resolution described it as a long overdue stand on behalf of Palestinians suffering under the occupation, which began in 1967 when Israel pushed back attacks from neighboring countries.The issue has roiled the church for the last decade, and during a more than three-hour debate, many lamented the divisiveness and noted how many around the world — in the U.S., Israel, and the Palestinian territories – would be watching.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 9 weeks 6 days ago
One of the nation’s leading — and official — champions of religious freedom implored the Obama administration to add Pakistan and Syria to the list of nations that most egregiously violate religious rights.Before a congressional subcommittee on Thursday Robert P. George, chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, said it makes little sense that the roster compiled by the U.S. has barely changed in a decade.The congressionally chartered commission George heads recently advocated that the State Department add eight nations to the eight already designated as “countries of particular concern.” But among the recommended additions, he singled out Pakistan and Syria for their deteriorating and troublesome records on religious liberty.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 11 weeks 20 hours ago
Celebrity Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, spiritual counselor to Michael Jackson, onetime Republican candidate for Congress, and author of the best-selling “Kosher Sex” and “Kosher Jesus,” has a new book for Jews and non-Jews alike: “Kosher Lust.”Its provocative subtitle: “Love Is Not the Answer.”The answer, Boteach says, is lust, the God-given fuel for a healthy marriage. Love, he argues, cannot sustain marriage, but lust — what he calls the unfairly maligned member of the Seven Deadly Sins — can.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 11 weeks 1 day ago
The first ever global study of anti-Semitic attitudes shows that more than a quarter of the world’s population (26 percent) harbors anti-Semitic views.The poll, released Tuesday by the Anti-Defamation League, also finds that a large proportion of the world has never heard of the Holocaust, or denies historical accounts of it.Of those polled, 54 percent of those polled — and less than half of those under 35 years old — had heard of the Holocaust.“For the first time we have a real sense of how pervasive and persistent anti-Semitism is today around the world,” said Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League.
Posted by Lauren Markoe, Cathy Lynn Grossman 12 weeks 2 days ago
The Supreme Court Monday declared that the Constitution not only allows for prayer at government meetings, but religious prayer.Writing for the 5-4 majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy held that the town of Greece, N.Y., did not violate the Constitution’s Establishment Clause, which forbids the government from endorsing a religion — by sponsoring clergy who delivered sectarian prayers.“To hold that invocations must be non-sectarian would force the legislatures sponsoring prayers and the courts deciding these cases to act as supervisors and censors of religious speech,” Kennedy wrote for himself and the conservatives on the court.Lawmakers and judges would otherwise have to police prayer, he wrote, involving “government in religious matters to a far greater degree than is the case under the town’s current practice of neither editing nor approving prayers in advance nor criticizing their contact after the fact.”
Posted by Lauren Markoe 13 weeks 6 days ago
Director Darren Aronofsky says he is not religious, and that his Russell Crowe blockbuster movie “Noah” is the “least-biblical biblical film ever made.”But the strong environmental message of his film — which makes Noah a hero as a God-inspired steward of the earth — firmly roots itself in Scripture, Aronofsky told an audience of religious environmentalists on Wednesday. Many of them hope the message of the movie, which has grossed more than $300 million since its release on March 28, spurs more people of faith to work against climate change.In “Noah,” Aronofsky said, he hoped to capture the beauty of creation, and to dramatize God’s dramatic decision to destroy it because of human sin. Noah, he said, “is saving the animals. He is not looking for innocent [human] babies. It’s about saving the animals.”
Posted by Lauren Markoe 22 weeks 5 days ago
Some of the brightest pro-business minds in the nation prodded the Dalai Lama on Thursday to offer a warm endorsement of capitalism.But during an appearance by the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism at the American Enterprise Institute, one of the world’s most stalwart and, in conservative circles, respected free enterprise think tanks, they came up short. The Dalai Lama was the star participant in a morning of panels on “moral free enterprise” and “human happiness.”Asked by AEI President Arthur Brooks and Columbia Business School Dean Glenn Hubbard whether he agrees that the free enterprise system is the most moral of economic systems, and why he thinks the U.S. is the richest nation on earth, the Dalai Lama answered in broken English with his own question: What do you mean by rich?
Posted by Lauren Markoe 25 weeks 5 days ago
Throughout elementary, middle, and high school, Prabhdeep Suri has been the only Sikh in his class, and it’s been obvious.Like all Sikh boys, he wore a patka, a head covering for his uncut hair that’s worn out of respect for his gurus. To his classmates, the patka was a license to stare, taunt, isolate, punch, and kick him. It was a target to knock off his head. It was the reason they called him “Osama bin Laden” and “terrorist.”“He came home crying three days out of five,” his mother, Harpreet Suri remembered. “They were taking his patka off almost every day.”
Posted by Lauren Markoe 26 weeks 6 days ago
Growing up in small-town Georgia, John B. Johnson had family friends who ran the funeral home down the street, so the particulars of a typical American funeral — the embalming, the heavy casket, and remarks about how great the deceased’s hair looked — were all familiar to him.When the time came, he assumed, his funeral would look much the same.But Johnson, now 44, envisions a different sort of send-off for himself: a “green burial” that draws both upon his faith and his commitment to the environment. For Johnson and others like him, a green burial is a way to care for the Earth and answer to the part of his soul that recoils at the pomp of the average American funeral, and takes seriously the biblical reminder: “For dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”
Posted by Lauren Markoe 28 weeks 34 min ago
WASHINGTON — It’s been three months since the Rev. Suzan Johnson Cook resigned as the State Department’s religious freedom watchdog, and those who decry religious persecution in Syria, Sudan, and elsewhere are wondering how long it’s going to take the White House to name a new ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom.Many in the field hope it’s someone with a more diplomatic background than Johnson Cook, a former Clinton administration official and popular Baptist minister whose international experience was mostly acquired on the job.The other factor: the more than two years it took for the Obama administration to choose Johnson Cook and to get her confirmed by the Senate.“A continued vacancy will confirm the suspicion that already exists among foreign governments, persecutors, victims and American diplomats that the issue is not a priority,” said Thomas Farr, director of the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs.The White House has been tight-lipped about the timeline for a decision, as well as about any candidates it may be considering for the position, which Congress created in 1998 to highlight and alleviate religious persecution worldwide.Here’s a short list of five names swirling around Foggy Bottom, culled from experts who work in the field and were asked who they see as likely to be under consideration, or as particularly qualified for the job.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 29 weeks 6 days ago
Jesus was breast-fed.It’s a point often made by mothers who want to breast-feed in church, but know others would prefer that they retreat to the nursery, or find an out-of-the-way bench. Another point they make: Breast-feeding is part of God’s plan — so of all places, why not in church?“Breasts were made to feed a baby,” said Misti Ryan, a devout Christian lactation consultant in Texas whose business has a cross in its logo.A mother can breast-feed modestly and should be allowed to nurse in church if she wants to, said Ryan, who has nursed five children in her Baptist congregation. “The church needs to go there.”Pope Francis did go there last month, in his much-noted comment to a journalist about a young mother and infant who had come to a recent general audience:“She was shy and didn’t want to breast-feed in public, while the pope was passing,” Francis recalled. “I wish to say the same to humanity: Give people something to eat! That woman had milk to give to her child; we have enough food in the world to feed everyone.”
Posted by Lauren Markoe 32 weeks 18 hours ago
Clergy used to rank near the top in polls asking Americans to rate the honesty and ethics of people in various professions. This year, for the first time since Gallup began asking the question in 1977, fewer than half of those polled said clergy have “high” or “very high” moral standards.But opinions on clergy differed markedly by party, with Republicans viewing them far more favorably than Democrats.Overall, 47 percent of respondents to the survey gave clergy “high” or “very high” ratings, a sharp drop in confidence from the 67 percent of Americans who viewed them this way in 1985.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 32 weeks 19 hours ago
Rep. Frank Wolf, one of the loudest and most persistent voices in Congress for the right of people around the globe to practice their religions freely, will not seek an 18th term.“As a follower of Jesus, I am called to work for justice and reconciliation, and to be an advocate for those who cannot speak for themselves,” Wolf, a Presbyterian, said in a statement Tuesday.The Republican from Northern Virginia, who will turn 75 in January, said he will work on human rights, religious freedom, and other social issues in his retirement.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 32 weeks 6 days ago
Joe Biden was a young senator from Delaware when he was first exposed to the evils of apartheid. As the only white lawmaker in a congressional delegation to South Africa, he resisted security officers who tried to usher him through one door, and his more senior black colleagues through another.“I had what we Catholics call an epiphany,” the vice president said Wednesday as official Washington packed the National Cathedral to recall the life and legacy of former South African President Nelson Mandela.“He was the most impressive man or woman I have ever met in my life,” Biden said of Mandela, who died peacefully on Dec. 5.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 34 weeks 20 hours ago
Sapped by three weeks of a water-only diet, three activists for immigration reform ended their fasts Tuesday with a morsel of bread blessed by a priest and “passed the fast on” to others who hope to keep attention focused on the issue.“You have truly put your faith in action,” said retired Washington Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, one in a small crowd of political and clerical dignitaries who came to the National Mall to praise those who have gone without food in a bid to pressure Republican House leaders to pass an immigration reform bill.Also seated alongside the quiet and wan fasters: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi; the Rev. Bernice King, the daughter of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.; Secretary of Labor Tom Perez; Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga.; and the Rev. Al Sharpton.In recent weeks, the fasters have attracted high-profile visitors, including President Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, and Vice President Joe Biden, to the heated tents where the fasters have been living on the National Mall.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 36 weeks 5 days ago
It may be as close as a person can get to praying at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Western Wall, without actually going there.The newly released movie “Jerusalem,” filmed in 2D and 3D and playing on IMAX and other giant-screen theaters across the U.S. and the world, gives viewers grand, hallmark panoramas, at once awe-inspiring and intimate.For years filmmakers had sought the rights to capture the city from the air, but never before had permission been granted, in part because the holy city is a no-fly zone.Still, before filming began in 2010, producer Taran Davies came up with an extensive wish list of all the sites and rituals he wanted in the film, and presented it to advisers familiar with the spectrum of religious and secular officials who would have to approve.“They all laughed and said forget about it,” Davies said. “They said, ‘It’s impossible and you’re not going to get half of what you’re looking for.’”
Posted by Lauren Markoe 36 weeks 6 days ago
Speaker of the House John Boehner signaled Wednesday that there would be no immigration reform this year, an announcement made the same day that some of the nation’s most prominent evangelical pastors met with President Barack Obama to try to advance the issue.Only months ago, immigration reform seemed to enjoy strong bipartisan momentum.It still does across the nation, said Russell D. Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, one of the eight clergy invited to the Oval Office meeting.“I urged the president not to make this a divisive issue, but to work with House Republicans,” said Moore. “We need to work together to fix the system rather than just scream at each other.”The Obama administration, in a statement issued after the meeting, squarely blamed House Republicans for the impasse. The Democratic-led Senate passed a bipartisan immigration reform plan in June.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 37 weeks 6 days ago
The Supreme Court struggled Wednesday with a case that asks whether government bodies can open with prayers that some people find overly religious and excluding.From their lines of questioning, it’s unclear whether the court is ready to write new rules on what sort of prayer falls outside constitutional bounds. And more than one of the justices noted that just before they took their seats, a court officer declared: “God save the United States and this honorable court.”Few court watchers believe the justices will rule all civic prayers unconstitutional — the nation has a long history of convening legislative bodies with such language.Rather, the question raised by Town of Greece v. Galloway is how sectarian these prayers can get.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 38 weeks 6 days ago
WASHINGTON — In a case that could determine restrictions on expressions of faith in the public square, the Supreme Court on Wednesday will consider religious prayers that convene government meetings.At issue in Greece v. Galloway is whether such invocations pass constitutional muster, even when government officials are not purposefully proselytizing or discriminating.Can a town council, for example, open its meetings with prayers invoking Jesus Christ, as happened repeatedly in the town of Greece, N.Y.?“There’s a whole lot at stake here,” said Ira Lupu, a law professor at George Washington University who specializes in the First Amendment’s religion clauses.“This case is about first principles: whether the government of a town, acting through its town board, can advance a particular brand of Christianity or any other faith,” said Lupu.On the other side of the question, Jeff Mateer of the Texas-based Liberty Institute invokes free speech rights and hopes the court will reason that government has no business parsing the words of those who wish to pray in a public forum.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 39 weeks 20 hours ago
It last happened in 1888 and, according to one calculation, won’t happen again for another 77,798 years: the convergence of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah.This year, Nov. 28 is Thanksgiving and the first full day of the eight-day Jewish festival of lights, which begins at sundown the previous night.For many Jewish Americans, this is no trivial convergence, but a once-in-an-eternity opportunity to simultaneously celebrate two favorite holidays, one quintessentially American, the other quintessentially Jewish.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 39 weeks 6 days ago
American Jews say they face discrimination in the U.S., but they see Muslims, gays, and blacks facing far more.This and other findings from the recently released Pew Research Center’s landmark study on Jewish Americans help make the case that Jews — once unwelcome in many a neighborhood, universitym, and golf club — now find themselves an accepted minority.“While there are still issues, American Jews live in a country where they feel they are full citizens,” said Kenneth Jacobson, deputy national director of the Anti-Defamation League, which was founded in 1913 to combat anti-Semitism.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 41 weeks 21 hours ago
Suzan Johnson Cook, the State Department’s ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, will announce this week that she is resigning after 17 months on the job, according to two sources familiar with her office.President Obama nominated the former Baptist minister to serve as his top adviser on protecting religious freedom around the world. When confirmed by the Senate in April 2011, she became the first woman and the first African-American in the position, which had been held by two people before her.Obama had been criticized for taking too much time after his own swearing-in to nominate a religious freedom ambassador, a position created by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 42 weeks 3 days ago
They taught English, gym, music, and fifth grade, and are typically described as “beloved” by their students.But that didn’t stop the Catholic schools where they worked from firing these teachers for their same-sex relationships, or, in one woman’s case, for admitting that she privately disagreed with church teaching on gay marriage.A recent spate of sackings at Catholic institutions — about eight in the past two years — is wrenching for dioceses and Catholic schools, where some deem these decisions required and righteous, and others see them as unnecessary and prejudicial.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 43 weeks 20 hours ago
Hanukkah comes early this year. But it apparently never comes to Hobby Lobby.The national craft store owned by conservative billionaire Steve Green seemingly refuses to carry merchandise related to Hanukkah because of Green’s “Christian values,” and some Jews are taking offense.“I will never set foot in a Hobby Lobby. Ever,” wrote Ken Berwitz, the New Jersey blogger who brought the Hobby Lobby Hanukkah flap to light in a Sept. 27 blog post.Berwitz’s outrage has spread to other bloggers who are taking Hobby Lobby to task as a store that courts the general public, but refuses to stock anything related to Judaism — even in communities with significant Jewish populations.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 43 weeks 2 days ago
WASHINGTON — In the most comprehensive study of American Jews in 12 years, a strong majority said being Jewish is mostly about ancestry or culture, not the religious practice of Judaism.“A Portrait of Jewish Americans,” released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center, shows strong secularist trends most clearly seen in one finding: 62 percent of U.S. Jews said Jewishness is largely about culture or ancestry; just 15 percent said it’s about religious belief.“Non-Jews may be stunned by it,” said Alan Cooperman, co-author of the study. “Being Jewish to most Jews in America today is not a matter of religion.”
Posted by Lauren Markoe 43 weeks 3 days ago
Evangelical businessman Steve Green on Thursday unveiled what he called “the oldest Jewish prayer book ever found” and will add it to the collection of religious artifacts that will form the core of the Bible museum he is building in Washington, D.C.The artifact, dating from 840 A.D., is written in Hebrew on parchment and shows Babylonian vowel marks. Green said it was purchased less than a year ago from a private collection and is of Middle Eastern origin. But he declined to name the seller or how much he paid for it.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 44 weeks 1 day ago
Conservatives are rallying around a House bill designed to protect religious people who advocate for traditional marriage — a belief, they say, that is held in increasing contempt.But supporters of same-sex marriage say the bill actually protects the discriminators — individuals and nonprofits that would deny gay people benefits or services simply because they are married to a same-sex partner.More than 60 House members — mostly (but not all) Republican — have signed on to the Marriage and Religious Freedom Act, which was introduced Sept. 19 by Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, who came to Congress in 2010 on a wave of support from the conservative Tea Party.
Posted by Yonat Shimron, Sarah Pulliam Bailey, David Gibson, Lauren Markoe 47 weeks 6 days ago
As the Obama administration readies for a probable military strike against Syria, Religion News Service asked a panel of theologians and policy experts whether the U.S. should intervene in Syria in light of the regime’s use of chemical weapons against civilians. Would the “Just War” doctrine justify U.S. military action, and what is America’s moral responsibility? Here are their responses, which have been edited for clarity.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 47 weeks 6 days ago
The weeks leading up to the Jewish High Holy Days are supposed to be marked by self-questioning: What failings must I atone for, and to whom must I apologize?A group of artists, writers and animators are hoping a cartoon goat may help.They call it the eScapegoat, and it’s supposed to approximate the original scapegoat, described in Leviticus as an important player in the atonement ritual of the ancient Israelites, who symbolically placed their sins upon the animal and sent it into the wilderness.
Posted by Lauren Markoe, Adelle M. Banks 48 weeks 19 hours ago
WASHINGTON — Fifty years to the day after Martin Luther King, Jr., knocked on the nation’s conscience with his dream, religious leaders gathered in a historic church to remind the nation that he was fueled by faith.Later, in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial where King thundered about America’s unmet promises, King’s children joined the likes of President Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey to rekindle what Obama called a “coalition of conscience.”At Shiloh Baptist Church, where King preached three years before his 1963 “I Have A Dream” speech, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Sikh clergy summoned King’s prophetic spirit to help reignite the religious fires of the civil rights movement.King’s daughter, the Rev. Bernice A. King, said at the service that her father was a freedom fighter and a civil rights leader, but his essence was something else.“He was a pastor,” said King, who was 5 when her father electrified the nation in front of the Lincoln Memorial. “He was a prophet. He was a faith leader.”
Posted by Lauren Markoe 49 weeks 6 days ago
A Royal Bris! A Royal Bar Mitzvah! Hanukkah at Buckingham Palace!From the moment Prince William and Kate Middleton got engaged, a rumor ran happily through the Jewish blogosphere (and menacingly on many anti-Semitic websites): the couple’s progeny, the heir to the British throne, would be Jewish! And then, on July 22, a son was born — a Son of Israel!Um, no.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 51 weeks 2 hours ago
Amid persistent criticism that the U.S. marginalizes religion and religious people in its foreign policy, Secretary of State John Kerry Wednesday tapped ethicist and campaign adviser Shaun Casey to lead the State Department’s new Office of Faith-Based Community Initiatives.Casey is a professor of Christian ethics at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington and advised President Obama’s campaign and other Democrats on outreach to religious voters. 
Posted by Lauren Markoe 51 weeks 3 hours ago
WASHINGTON — What’s one way to ensure that a new Hebrew-immersion public charter school isn’t a Jewish school? Hire a priest to run it.Sela, which means “rock” or “foundation” in Hebrew, opens in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 19. As a public school, Sela may not teach or show preference to any religion. But the intimate connection between Hebrew and Judaism makes some people wonder whether the separation is truly possible.The question is not just for Sela, but for the dozen or so other public Hebrew charter schools from Brooklyn, N.Y., to San Diego that have started since the first one opened in Florida in 2007. And more Hebrew language charters are in the design stage.Making things even more complicated is Hebrew’s ties not only to Judaism but to Israel. When the Sela staff began naming classrooms for major cities in Israel this summer, the school’s executive director, Jason Lody, said there would be no class named after the disputed capital of Jerusalem.“We want to be a public school of excellence,” Lody said. “We don’t want to be sidetracked by political conversations that don’t focus on getting our 4-year-olds ready for kindergarten.”
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 6 days ago
The Anti-Defamation League’s study of anti-Semitism in the U.S. shows a 14 percent decrease in incidents during 2012, the second consecutive year of a downward trend.Overall, the ADL counted 927 anti-Semitic incidents — including assaults, vandalism, and harassment — down from the 1,080 incidents reported in 2011. Abraham H. Foxman, the ADL’s national director, called the trend “encouraging.”“While these numbers only provide one snapshot of anti-Semitism in America, to the extent that they serve as a barometer the decline shows that we have made progress as a society in confronting anti-Jewish hatred,” he said.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 6 days ago
A federal appeals court has ruled unconstitutional a 2002 law that allows Americans born in Jerusalem to designate Israel as their birth country on their passports.The lawsuit, brought by an American couple whose American son was born in Israel in 2002, challenged the government to uphold the law. Instead the court found it unconstitutional.The State Department has not permitted Americans born in the city to list “Israel” as their birthplace on their passports, despite the law.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 1 week ago
She graduated from all-female Bryn Mawr College in 1995, where she came out as gay and also as a woman called to the priesthood. After college, she graduated from Harvard Divinity School, married her girlfriend, became an Episcopal priest, changed her name — and changed her gender.Today the Rev. Cameron Partridge, a religion scholar at Harvard Divinity School and Episcopal chaplain at Boston University, is living outside Boston with his wife and two young children in what looks, to those who don’t know them, like a typical heterosexual marriage.We talk to Partridge about his transgender and spiritual journeys, his discomfort with simplistic views of male and female, and feeling at home in Anglicanism. Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 1 week ago
There is a lopsided divide in America about what it means to be a religious person, with a majority believing that it’s about acting morally but a strong minority equating it with faith.Nearly six out of 10 Americans (59 percent) say that being a religious person “is primarily about living a good life and doing the right thing,” as opposed to the more than one-third (36 percent) who hold that being religious “is primarily about having faith and the right beliefs.”The findings, released Thursday, are part of a report by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution that aims to paint a more nuanced picture of the American religious landscape, and the religious left in particular.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 2 weeks ago
Most people have heard of Hanukkah and Passover and maybe Yom Kippur — the Jewish Day of Atonement. But Tisha B’Av?Translated as the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, it counts as one of the most important days on the Jewish calendar. But even many Jews have not heard of this period of mourning, which requires a 25-hour fast to commemorate the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem.Tisha B’Av, many rabbis say, can be a tough sell, in part because a radical group of far-right Jews wants to rebuild the temple on the site of what is now the Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam’s most revered sites.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 4 weeks ago
When it comes to God and country, white evangelicals report the strongest levels of patriotic feelings in a new poll, with more than two-thirds (68 percent) saying they are extremely proud to be an American.That figure was markedly higher than for white mainline Protestants (56 percent), minority Christians (49 percent), Catholics (48 percent) and religiously unaffiliated Americans (39 percent), according to the study, conducted by the Washington-based Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with Religion News Service.White evangelicals are also more likely than any other religious group surveyed to believe that God has granted the U.S. a special role in history (84 percent) and to say they will likely attend a public July 4th celebration (62 percent).
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 5 weeks ago
People who hoped the Arab Spring would lead to greater religious freedom across the Middle East have been sorely disappointed, and a new Pew study confirms that the region has grown even more repressive for various religious groups.“In 2011, when most of the political uprisings known as the Arab Spring occurred, the Middle East and North Africa experienced pronounced increases in social hostilities involving religion, while government restrictions on religion remained exceptionally high,” according to the report by the Pew Research Center.The study shows the number of countries in the Middle East or North Africa with sectarian or communal violence between religious groups doubled from five to 10 during 2011, a year that coincided with most of the political uprisings of Arab Spring.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 6 weeks ago
For the first time, the federal government has issued written guidelines for houses of worship that are confronted with a homicidal gunman.Vice President Joe Biden released the new rules on Tuesday, six months after the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., that left 26 dead, including 20 children.Beyond seeking shelter and waiting for police to arrive, as many Newtown victims did, the new rules also advise adults in congregations to fight back — as a last resort — in a bid to stop the shooter. The new federal doctrine is “run, hide or fight.”
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 6 weeks ago
The way fans reacted to Dolores Hart’s decision to become a cloistered nun, you might have thought the movie star had announced her intention to kill herself.Even close friends and family could not fathom why this Grace Kelly look-alike, who gave Elvis his first on-screen kiss and had her pick of acting jobs, would stow herself away in a nunnery for the rest of her life.As if to test her resolve in those weeks before she left Hollywood, Universal Studios offered her a role opposite Marlon Brando, a role she turned down shortly after she broke off her engagement to Don Robinson, a kind and handsome businessman who loved her intensely.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 7 weeks ago
Rabbi Sidney Schwarz, ordained in the liberal Reconstructionist tradition, sees a divide between generations of American Jews that could spell disaster for the community.One generation he calls “legacy” or “tribal” Jews — those who built the national organizations and synagogues that have served for decades as the backbone of American Jewry. But reams of statistics show legacy Jews have enjoyed limited success attracting younger Jews.The other is what he calls “covenantal” or “innovation sector” Jews, a younger generation that has founded a myriad of niche Jewish organizations — environmental, social justice and political — that can, in Schwarz’s vision, build on their parents’ work toward a more brilliant American Jewish future.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 8 weeks ago
In a conference full of people who champion traditional religious values, Amardeep Singh knew that everyone might not appreciate his recounting of the “uncomfortable” cab ride he had taken the previous day.Singh, a featured speaker at the second annual National Religious Freedom Conference in Washington on Thursday, told the several hundred attendees that his D.C. taxi driver had the radio tuned to a religiously minded commentator, who was explaining that women become lesbians because they had been abused.His cab story — both his telling and the reaction to it — reveals fault lines in the coalition of Americans concerned that government and popular culture are eroding religious freedom and trying to banish religion from the public sphere.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 10 weeks ago
The Obama administration isn’t afraid to call out Republicans for playing politics on Capitol Hill, or Wall Street for runaway profits or insurance companies for health care woes.But why, when it comes to protecting religious freedom abroad, is the State Department so hesitant to name names?Watchdogs say the State Department missed a key opportunity to put teeth into its annual assessment of global religious freedom, which was released by Secretary of State John Kerry Monday.Continuing a pattern begun under President George W. Bush, the report does not include a list of “countries of particular concern,” or “CPCs” — the diplomatic term for countries that either actively suppress religious freedom or don’t do enough to protect it.