Alan Gross, the Jewish international aid worker held on alleged spy charges in Cuba for five years, was freed on Dec. 17 — what some are calling a Hanukkah miracle on the first day of the holiday that celebrates religious freedom.
Gross, 65, of Maryland, has always claimed that he only went to Cuba to bring communications equipment to the small Jewish community left in Havana. However, the Castro government said he was part of a spy network attempting to set up a secret network for Cuban Jews. Gross was serving a 15-year sentence.
President Obama chose the Dec. 17 release as a springboard to announce a massive historic “normalization” of U.S.-Cuba relations. Meantime, in Cuba, President Raul Castro, who held a press conference in Havana at noon, was expected to release 53 Cuban political prisoners.
Obama particularly credited the “moral example of Pope Francis,” who actively encouraged Gross’ release. Francis, who held private meetings at the Vatican to secure the deal, praised the move, sending “his warm congratulations for the historic decision taken by the Governments of the United States of America and Cuba to establish diplomatic relations, with the aim of overcoming, in the interest of the citizens of both countries, the difficulties which have marked their recent history.”
1. A United Evangelical Response: The System Failed Eric Garner
The Staten Island grand jury’s decision not to indict the police officer who killed unarmed Eric Garner was a shocking injustice — but this time the injustice has been universally condemned across religious and political lines. Read this great roundup of evangelical leaders’ responses.
2. These Are the Best Jobs Numbers in Months, Maybe Years
In good news today, the jobs numbers released this morning were a pleasant surprise. The Upshot breaks down the numbers for you.
3. This Atheist Is Thankful for the Clergy
“The clergy here in St. Louis are a credit to their traditions and to their profession. They are doing what religious leaders ought to do: holding society to a higher moral standard, using their authority as a weapon against injustice, mobilizing the rich resources of their religion to bring hope and encourage change. I’m glad they are here, and I feel privileged to work with them.”
4. Why Are Some Cultures More Individualistic Than Others?
Apparently it all comes down to farming practices. “As we enter a season in which the values of do-it-yourself individualism are likely to dominate our Congress, it is worth remembering that this way of thinking might just be the product of the way our forefathers grew their food and not a fundamental truth about the way that all humans flourish.”
More Americans today say religion’s influence is losing ground just when they want it to play a stronger role in public life and politics.
A new Pew Research Center survey finds 72 percent of Americans say religion’s influence is declining in society — the highest percentage since Pew began measuring the trend in 2001, when only 52 percent held that view.
“Most people (overwhelmingly Christians) view this as a bad thing,” said Greg Smith, associate director of Pew’s Religion & Public Life Project. “That unhappiness may be behind their desire for more religion and politics.”
Growing numbers want their politicians to pray in public and for their clergy to endorse candidates from the pulpit. And nearly half of Americans say business owners with religious objections to gay marriage should to be able to refuse wedding-related services to same-sex couples.
There are three ways to look at the findings, released Sept. 22:
1. In Record Turnout, Demographics Shape Scotland's Emphatic No Vote
National Geographic has a recap (and stunning photos) of yesterday's vote: "Tomorrow a new campaign—for reconciliation—will begin. The referendum opened up deep, sometimes venomous, class and regional divisions."
2. WATCH: It’s On Us
Today, the White House announced its nationwide public service campaign to prevent and respond to sexual assault on campuses. Watch and share.
3. Together We Make Football
“Football encourages some deep tremor of romance about what it means to be a man. ...Save for the military — with which it has a symbiotic relationship — the NFL is the biggest and strongest exponent of American masculinity. And integral to that notion of American masculinity is violence.”
4. Confessions of a Military Skeptic
"Do we believe that everything will be fine after we kill the last Islamic State militant?" Thomas Reese, on being neither military hawk nor pacifist in regards to ISIS, for National Catholic Reporter.