Catholic Groups File Suit Over HHS Birth Control Mandate

Catholic demonstrator in NYC protests the HHS rule on contraception, March 23, 2012. Photo by Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images.

Dozens of Catholic universities, dioceses and other institutions filed lawsuits in courts around the country on Monday in a coordinated effort, spearheaded by the U.S. hierarchy and Catholic conservatives, to overturn the Obama administration’s contraception mandate plan.

The 43 plaintiffs, which include 13 dioceses and the University of Notre Dame, say the mandate forces religious employers to provide contraceptive and sterilization services to employees that violate their beliefs. They say that infringes on First Amendment religious freedom protections, and charge that the federal government’s exemption for religious organizations is too narrow.

TRANSCRIPT: President Obama on Food Security, Hunger and Foreign Aid

In advance of two days of meetings with G8 leaders at Camp David this weekend, on Friday morning, President Obama spoke to a gathering of international political and NGO leaders and activists in Washington, D.C. at the Symposium on Global Agriculture and Food Security.

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you so much.  (Applause.)  Thank you, everybody.  Please have a seat.  Thank you.  Well, good morning, everybody.  Thank you, Catherine Bertini, and Dan Glickman and everyone at the Chicago Council.  We were originally going to convene, along with the G8, in Chicago.  But since we’re not doing this in my hometown, I wanted to bring a little bit of Chicago to Washington.  (Laughter.)  It is wonderful to see all of you.  It is great to see quite a few young people here as well.  And I want to acknowledge a good friend.  We were just talking backstage -- he was my inspiration for singing at the Apollo -- (laughter) -- Bono is here, and it is good to see him.  (Applause.)

Now, this weekend at the G8, we’ll be represented by many of the world's largest economies.  We face urgent challenges -- creating jobs, addressing the situation in the eurozone, sustaining the global economic recovery.  But even as we deal with these issues, I felt it was also important, also critical to focus on the urgent challenge that confronts some 1 billion men, women and children around the world -- the injustice of chronic hunger; the need for long-term food security.

Watch live streaming video from thechicagocouncil at livestream.com

                                       WATCH PRESIDENT OBAMA AT 2:28:45

Voters See Brighter Future for Economy

The Hill reports on a new poll focussing on the country's economic prospects:

Voters are optimistic the economy will improve in the next year, but still hold doubts on President Obama’s economic policies, a new USA Today/Gallup poll released Monday finds. Likely voters in the U.S. think the economy is improving already, giving Obama an edge as the incumbent. Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed believe they will be "better off" next time this year and 58 percent predict good economic conditions in a year.

Read more about the poll here

How Congress Can Hinder a Presidential Campaign

From yesterday's New York Times

"There is nothing a presidential campaign likes less than to be forced to answer for someone else’s actions. And yet President Obama and Mitt Romney are likely to face that challenge repeatedly during this election season as their allies and adversaries in Congress pursue agendas that do not always make things easy on the campaign trail."

Read the full story here

Obama and Gay Marriage: In U.S. Religion, the Golden Rule Rules

Open Bible,  Robyn Mackenzie / Shutterstock.com

Open Bible, Robyn Mackenzie / Shutterstock.com

As pundits and politicians struggle to divine the political fallout from President Obama’s sudden endorsement of same-sex marriage, one thing has become clear: The Golden Rule invoked by Obama to explain his change of heart is the closest thing Americans have to a common religious law, and that has important implications beyond the battle for gay rights.

In fact, one of the most striking aspects of Obama’s revelation on Wednesday (May 9) that he and his wife, Michelle, support marriage rights for gays and lesbians, is that he invoked their Christian faith to support his views. In past years, Obama – as many believers still do – had cited his religious beliefs to oppose gay marriage.

Obama told ABC News that he and the first lady “are both practicing Christians and obviously this position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others but, you know, when we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it's also the Golden Rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated.”

One in Six Voters Still Think Obama’s a Muslim: Why?

RNS file photo courtesy Pete Souza/The White House

President Obama and his family pray during Easter services. RNS file photo courtesy Pete Souza/The White House.

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?

War and Peace and the President

Yale Professor David Bromwich analyses President Obama's foreign policy for The Huffington Post:

President Obama, it has been said, is a master of having it both ways. Nowhere is this truer than in foreign policy. He ended the torture regime at Guantanamo, in line with rulings handed down by the Supreme Court. At the same time he assured impunity to the lawyers who justified torture and the agents who executed it. He publicized his intention of closing the prison itself as a matter of principle; but when resistance sprang up, he scuttled the plan. To facilitate the extension of the war in Afghanistan, he allowed American diplomats and military officers not to inquire too closely into the treatment of enemy combatants at Bagram and elsewhere.
Read the full analysis here

Update: Obama in Afghanistan

Presidents Obama and Karzai have signed in Kabul a strategic partnership agreement between the two countries.

The Associated Press reports:

“The partnership spells out the U.S. relationship with Afghanistan beyond 2014, covering security, economics and governance. The deal is limited in scope and essentially gives both sides political cover: Afghanistan is guaranteed its sovereignty and promised it won't be abandoned, while the U.S. gets to end its combat mission in the long and unpopular war but keep a foothold in the country. The deal does not commit the United States to any specific troop presence or spending. But it does allow the U.S. to potentially keep troops in Afghanistan after the war ends…”

“At a signing ceremony in Kabul with Afghan President Karzai, Obama said the agreement paves the way for 'a future of peace’ while allowing the United States to ‘wind down this war.’ Karzai said his countrymen ‘will never forget’ the help of U.S. forces over the past decade.”

Nebraska Lawmakers Approve $2M Study on Keystone XL Route Through State

(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Pipe is stacked at the southern site of the Keystone XL pipeline on March 22, in Cushing, Oka. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty)

The Nebraska state legislature on Wednesday approved a bill (LB1161) that will allow Nebraska to proceed with a $2 million study to find a route for TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline through the state. Gov. Dave Heineman is expected to sign the measure into law. But what does this mean?

It means a couple of things. First, it means that the global “people power” movement against the Keystone XL pipeline beat back the energy and oil industry in January when President Obama and the State Department denied TransCanada’s transnational permit. Our “united we stand” organizing strategy was effective. It forced the TransCanada to switch tactics. Now the oil industry is pushing a “divide and conquer” tactic. Its strategy is to break the pipeline up into state-sized parts and negotiate on each section. In Nebraska, new proposals to route the pipeline away from the environmentally sensitive Sandhills has removed a key political organizing tool from those of us who are working against the pipeline, especially in the Midwest.

Second, it means that Nebraska needs cash and will move forward to get it. Since the oil industry lobbyists have convinced the Obama administration to allow new routes to be proposed, Nebraska has leapt into the maneuvering space – in part to keep filling the state’s depleted coffers with funds from the TransCanada cash cow. The bill approved today will re-start the pipeline “review” process on the state level. And, the bill requires TransCanada to reimburse the state for the route study.