Lauren Markoe covered government and features as a daily newspaper reporter for 15 years before joining the Religion News Service staff as a national correspondent in 2011.
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Is Purim the Jewish Halloween? Some Jews Say No.
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.
Repairs, Fundraising at Quake-damaged National Cathedral Are Slow Going
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.
Catholic Bishop on Contraception Mandate: Not Kosher.
WASHINGTON — Exhibit A in the fight over President Obama's mandate for religious institutions to provide insurance coverage for contraception: a ham sandwich.
At a hearing Thursday convened by House Republicans to cast opposition to the mandate as a matter of religious liberty, Roman Catholic Bishop William E. Lori invoked the image of a kosher deli forced to sell ham sandwiches.
"The mandate generates the question whether people who believe — even if they believe in error — that pork is not good for you, should be forced by government to serve pork within their very own institutions.
"In a nation committed to religious liberty and diversity, the answer, of course, is no," said Lori, the bishop of Bridgeport, Conn., and the point man on religious liberty for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Obama Says Faith Mandates Him to Care for The Poor
President Obama connected his faith with his policies toward the poor at the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday (2/2/12), a subtle but sharp contrast to remarks made by presidential hopeful Mitt Romney the day before.
"Living by the principle that we are our brother's keeper. Caring for the poor and those in need," Obama said before an audience of about 3,000 at the Washington Hilton. These values, he said, "they're the ones that have defined my own faith journey."
Specifically, Obama said, they translate to policies that support research to fight disease and support foreign aid. His faith, he continued, inspires him "to give up some of the tax breaks that I enjoy."
New Poll: Mainline Protestants Up for Grabs Heading into November
They may not be as large as Catholics or as active as evangelicals, but white mainline Protestants have a big thing going for them this election cycle: they are divided, and possibly persuadable.
That's according to a new poll released today (2/2/12), which found white mainline Protestants are more evenly split between President Obama and his Republican challengers than other religious groups.
"They're the most important ignored religious group in the country," said Dan Cox, research director at the Public Religion Research Institute, which conducted the poll in partnership with Religion News Service.
In a matchup between Obama and GOP front-runner Mitt Romney, mainline Protestant voters are nearly evenly divided, with 41 percent supporting Obama and 43 percent for Romney. The same holds true between Obama and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich — each is the choice of 41 percent of white mainline Protestants.