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Faith and Rights Groups Call for Hate Crime Hearings
Amid a rash of recent attacks that are being investigated as hate crimes, a coalition of more than 150 organizations is calling on the Senate Judiciary Committee to conduct hearings next month with the aim of revamping hate crime legislation.
Led by the Sikh Coalition, the group of civil rights and religious organizations issued a letter on August 21 urging committee chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and ranking member Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, to look into hate crimes and hate groups in the United States.
The letter noted that the shooter that killed six at a Wisconsin Sikh temple, or gurudwara, in August had ties to hate groups. It also cited 10 Islamic institutions in seven states that have been vandalized, shot at, or burned in the past month.
Does Megachurch ‘High’ Explain Their Success?
Maybe religion really is the opiate of the masses – just not the way Karl Marx imagined.
A University of Washington study posits that worship services at megachurches can trigger feelings of transcendence and changes in brain chemistry – a spiritual “high” that keeps congregants coming back for more.
“We see this experience of unalloyed joy over and over again in megachurches. That’s why we say it’s like a drug,” said James Wellman, an associate professor of American religion who co-authored the study.
The study, “‘God is like a drug’: Explaining Interaction Ritual Chains in American Megachurches” was presented on Sunday at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in Denver.
Family Research Council Accuses Southern Poverty Law Center of Sparking Shooter’s Hatred
WASHINGTON — The head of the Family Research Council on Thursday accused the Southern Poverty Law Center of sparking hatred that led accused gunman Floyd Lee Corkins II to shoot a security guard at the conservative Christian lobbying group’s headquarters.
FRC president Tony Perkins called the Wednesday shooting “an act of domestic terrorism.”
“Corkins was given a license to shoot an unarmed man by organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center that have been reckless in labeling organizations as hate groups because they disagree with them on public policy,” Perkins said.
The SPLC tracks domestic extremists and lists the FRC as an “anti-gay” hate group. On Thursday, Perkins called “an end to the reckless rhetoric that I believe led to yesterday’s incident that took place right here.”
The SPLC's Mark Potok called Perkins' accusations "outrageous," and said his group is committed to offering "legitimate and fact-based criticism."
N.Y. Cardinal Timothy Dolan Defends Obama Invitation to Al Smith Dinner
New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan defended his invitation of President Obama to the annual Al Smith Dinner in October, saying he is trying to encourage civility and dialogue amid a bitter battle with the White House over abortion rights and access to contraception.
Dolan has received “stacks of mail protesting the invitation to President Obama,” he wrote in an Aug. 14 blog post. At issue are Obama’s new health care regulations, which require employers to provide insurance plans that cover contraceptive services for women.
Conservatives and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops – of which Dolan is president – have criticized the regulations, which they say abridge the religious freedom and conscience rights of faith-based employers.
But the nonpartisan charity dinner is a time for civility, engagement, and dialogue, Dolan wrote.
“Those who started the dinner 67 years ago believed that you can accomplish a lot more by inviting folks of different political loyalties to an uplifting evening, rather than in closing the door to them,” Dolan wrote.
Report Highlights Islam’s Global Diversity
Nearly all Muslims can agree on the basic beliefs of Islam: There is one God, Muhammad is God’s prophet, Muslims should fast during the holy month of Ramadan, and give alms to the poor.
Yet beyond these central pillars of the faith, Muslims worldwide vastly differ as religious convictions are shaped by cultural and social contexts, according to a new report by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.
“The World’s Muslims: Unity and Diversity” draws on 38,000 face-to-face interviews in 39 countries, and finds that Muslims differ sharply over questions of faith like who counts as a Muslim and what spiritual practices are acceptable.
With 1.6 billion adherents, Islam is the world’s second-largest religion, behind Christianity, and accounts for one-quarter of the world’s population.
Survey: Most Americans Keep Faith Private Online
The Public Religion Research Institute survey found about one in 20 Americans followed a religious leader on Twitter or Facebook. A similar number belonged to a religious or spiritual Facebook group.
The results seem to defy the familiar story of prominent religious leaders using social media to build a following – and a brand.
“We were surprised when this turned up really low levels of people engaging religion and faith online,” said PRRI research director Daniel Cox.
Pollster: Romney’s Israel Visit to Have Little Effect on Jewish Vote
WASHINGTON — Neither Mitt Romney’s trip to Israel Saturday nor President Obama’s Middle East policies will have much effect on Jewish voters this fall, according to a new report that says Jewish voting patterns are predictable and unchanging.
The report, “Making Sense of the Jewish Vote,” predicts Jewish Americans will follow historical precedent and largely vote Democrat this fall. Moreover, Jewish voters will have a negligible effect on the presidential election’s outcome, even in swing states, said Jim Gerstein, a pollster with polling firm GBA Strategies who compiled the report.
Still, the Republican Jewish Coalition recently announced a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign targeting Jewish voters in swing states Pennsylvania, Florida and Ohio. “My Buyer’s Remorse” features testimonials decrying Obama’s posture toward Israel and economic policies.
GODSPEED: Religion at the Olympics, from Greece to London
A 600-foot footrace was the only athletic event at the first Olympics, a festival held in 776 B.C. and dedicated to Zeus, the chief Greek god.
For the next millennium, Greeks gathered every four years in Olympia to honor Zeus through sports, sacrifices and hymns. The five-day festival brought the Greek world together in devotion to one deity.
What began in ancient Greece as a festival to honor a single god, Zeus, has now become an almost Olympian task, as organizers of the games navigate dozens of sacred fasts, religious rituals and holy days.
The London Olympics will try to accommodate religious athletes with 193 chaplains, a prayer room in every venue and a multifaith center in the Olympic Village.
Athletes at the ancient Olympics believed their training honored the gods, and victory was a sign of favor from a deity. As contests like wrestling, boxing, and horse racing were added to the Olympic roster, they supplemented devotional sacrifices, hymns, and ceremonies.
“The idea was that you were training to please Zeus. But part of the festival would be to visit the temple, visit the cult statues, making offerings, celebrating and seeing your family,” said David Gilman Romano, a professor of Greek archaeology at the University of Arizona.
The combination of Greek sport and worship led the Roman Emperor Theodosius I, a Christian, to ban the Olympics in 393 A.D.
Bachmann's Muslim Brotherhood Claims Draw Fierce Fire
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Accusations by Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., that an Islamist group has infiltrated the U.S. government are drawing fierce criticism from fellow lawmakers and religious groups.
Bachmann and four other GOP legislators have sent letters to five government agencies citing "serious security concerns" about what Bachmann has called a "deep penetration in the halls of our United States government" by the Muslim Brotherhood.
Bachmann also accused Huma Abedin, an aide to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and former Rep. Anthony Weiner's wife, of having family connections to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., defended Abedin. "These attacks on Huma have no logic, no basis and no merit, and they need to stop now," he said in a Senate speech on Wednesday.
Bachmann's letters cite a report by Frank Gaffney, a conservative who has accused President Obama of "embracing the agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood."
Debate Reignites Over Religion at Air Force Academy
The long-smoldering debate at the U.S. Air Force Academy over the role of religion in cadets' lives has reignited, just as a new class arrives on campus for basic training.
Accusations of improper proselytizing on the Colorado Springs, Colo., campus have been challenged by those who argue that AFA guidelines curtail religious expression.
The two sides recently clashed over a letter from 66 House Republicans urging Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to investigate the USAF’s growing “hostility toward religious freedom” under guidelines set last September by USAF Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz.
In response to allegations of proselytizing, Schwarz mandated that only chaplains could endorse religious programs.
'God Particle' Discovery Ignites Debate Over Science and Religion
The Higgs boson is perhaps better known by its sexier nickname: the "God particle."
But in fact, many scientists, including the physicist for whom it is named, dislike the term.
In 1993 when American physicist Leon Lederman was writing a book on the Higgs boson, he dubbed it "the goddamn particle." An editor suggested "the God particle" instead.
One thing is clear: The July 4 discovery that marked a new chapter in scientific knowledge also reignited debate over the universe’s origins — and the validity of religious faith as scientific knowledge expands.
The Higgs boson explains why particles have mass — and in turn why we exist. Without the boson, the universe would have no physical matter, only energy.
The cosmological implications are hotly debated. Can God fit in a scientific story of creation?
Study: Pastors’ Concerns for Others May Harm Their Own Health
Most members of the clergy are taught to put the physical and spiritual needs of others first, but that self-denial may be harmful to their own health, according to a new Duke University study.
Studies of United Methodist pastors in North Carolina found high rates of chronic disease and depression, and researchers worry it can be difficult to convince clergy to seek help.
To address these unique problems, Duke Divinity School's Clergy Health Initiative developed a program to provide preventative care in a spiritual context.
‘Radicalization’ Hearings on American Muslims Return to Capitol
House lawmakers split along party lines at a hearing on June 20 meant to gauge Muslim responses to earlier hearings on the “radicalization” of American Muslims.
Testimony by four witnesses was overshadowed by Republicans who defended the four prior hearings and Democrats who questioned whether they were misguided or actually harmful to Muslim Americans.
Short on new data but long on rhetoric, lawmakers argued both sides of the same statistics and relied heavily on anecdotes.
“The overwhelming majority of Muslim Americans are outstanding Americans, yet the reality is that the Islamist terror threat comes from the community,” said Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., who chairs the House Committee on Homeland Security.
Sandusky Charity Transfers $2 Million to Christian Group
A Christian foster care organization has been tapped to take charge of $2 million in assets from the troubled charity run by former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, who is on trial for multiple counts of child sexual abuse.
Pending court approval, Arrow Child & Family Ministries would receive the cash assets from Sandusky’s The Second Mile and take over its mentoring and camp programs.
"The Second Mile has made a positive difference in many peoples' lives, and we are very pleased that Arrow will continue this good work," David Woodle, interim CEO of The Second Mile, said in a prepared statement.
Evangelical Group Proposes Code of Ethics for Pastors
The National Association of Evangelicals is urging pastors to seek a common moral ground by uniting under a consistent code of ethics.
NAE leaders said the new code will provide uniform guidance to church leaders across the 40 denominations that comprise the nation’s largest evangelical group.
The new code is a good starting point for ministers in a profession that can be individualistic and entrepreneurial, said David P. Gushee, a professor of Christian ethics and director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University.
“In some ways it’s the Wild West out there in terms of the context of preparation for ministry in the evangelical world,” he said. “Any effort to raise the moral bar and establish a minimal set of expectations for clergy — or any profession — is a very good thing.”
Supreme Court Tosses ‘Christian Candy Cane’ Case
WASHINGTON --- An appeal over Christmas sweets turned bitter on Monday (June 11) when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the so-called “Christian candy cane” case.
The case out of Texas has become a rallying point for conservative Christians concerned about free religious expression in public schools and students' ability to distribute religious literature.
The case, Morgan v. Swanson, kicked off nine years ago in the Plano Independent School District as principals prevented self-described evangelical students from distributing religious literature on school grounds.
Conservatives Rally Across U.S. for ‘Religious Freedom’
Hundreds gathered on Capitol Hill and at rallies across the nation on June 8 in a double-barreled attack on President Obama's health care law and a mandate to require employers to provide insurance coverage of birth control.
Bachmann, a former GOP presidential candidate, emphasized that the fight over the insurance mandate is not about birth control or women's rights, but the freedom to practice religion without government involvement.
“This is about, at its heart and soul, religious liberty first and religious liberty always,” she said. “We will fight this and we will win.”
House GOP Moves to Act on Religion in Vets’ Funerals
Families of deceased veterans were shocked and angry last year when religious references were banned from funeral rituals and a Memorial Day service at Houston National Cemetery.
A lawsuit eventually resolved the matter, but a House bill would enshrine in law the lessons learned from that isolated incident.
Such protections already exist as a result of the lawsuit and Bush-era policies that protect families’ free exercise of religion at military funerals. However, the bill filed by Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas, would spell out families' rights to religious expression while curtailing the government’s role.
Episcopal Bishops Ask Obama for Continued Aid to Middle East Hospital
A group of Episcopal bishops is asking President Obama to help assure that a United Nations agency continues to support a diocese-run hospital in the Gaza Strip.
In a June 6 letter, the 102 bishops ask the president to support funding for Al Ahli Hospital from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees. The letter asserts funding was cut off in May, though an UNRWA official said a final decision has not been made.
The hospital, run by the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, “is the only facility of its sort in the Gaza Strip that is not run by the Hamas government and as such, it is able to provide care without any outside interference or political calculation,” the letter states.