Faith & Politics

“Values voters” and George W. Bush’s successful election campaign have made religion the hot political topic. Today’s edition of FOCUS surveys the media terrain.

State Sponsored Religion
Traditions & Trends

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Creationism resurgent
Schools in Ohio, Wisconsin, Kansas and Pennsylvania are at the frontlines of the debate on teaching evolution.

The cultural divisions are deep. Editor & Publisher reports that a Gallup Poll found that 35 percent of Americans believe evolution is “well-supported by evidence.”

Twenty-nine percent said they didn’t know enough to comment, and 45 percent said they believed that humans “were created by God essentially as they are today (that is, without evolving) about 10,000 years ago.”

As the Boston Globe reports, the current debate often isn’t even about advancing Christian perspectives, so much as undermining Darwin.

In Dover, Pa., Jeff Brown, a school board member, resigned in protest over a vote to include concepts of “intelligent design” in the educational curriculum. Speaking with a San Francisco Chronicle reporter, Brown professed his religious faith, but objected to the teaching of spiritual belief in taxpayer-funded schools.

According to Brown: “A guy came up to me and said, ‘Wait a minute, you believe in God and evolution at the same time? Evolution isn’t in the Bible!'”

“Anti-evolution teachings gain foothold in U.S. schools”
San Francisco Chronicle, November 30, 2004

“School science debate has evolved”
USA Today, November 28, 2004

“Evolution foes see opening to pursue fight in schools, courts”
The Boston Globe, November 29, 2004

“Note to religion editors: Public doubts Darwin, evolution, poll finds”
Editor & Publisher, November 30, 2004

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Ten Commandments
Disputes over the legality of Ten Commandments monuments in Kentucky and Texas will go before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005, according to the Associated Press.

In addition to covering the basics of the cases, the reporter goes in-depth on various “scriptural conundrums” raised by differing interpretations and translations of the commandments.

“Are Ten Commandments displays the next ‘civil religion’ showdown?”
Associated Press, November 28, 2004

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Boy Scouts
The Pentagon has agreed to not sponsor Boy Scouts activities and troops, due to the Scout’s requirement that members must profess belief in a deity.

“Military told not to sponsor scout troops because of religion”
Associated Press, November 16, 2004

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In Maryland, activists are up in arms about the teaching of the origins of the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, which derives from Puritan pilgrims’ ordeals in the harsh New England winter of 1621.

An article in the Capital Times report found that religious details were excluded as a matter of policy. School administrators say they take a “historical rather than religious perspective.”

The governor of Maryland later said there is no policy excluding religion in the state.

“Religion kept out of Thanksgiving stories”
Capital News Service, November 22, 2004

“Ehrlich disputes limit on religion”
Washington Times, November 25, 2004

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Home schooling and Christian America

The Home School Legal Defense Fund at Patrick Henry College in Virginia is unabashed in its ambition to make America a definitively Christian nation.

The school and fund actively oppose homosexuality, abortion, “political correctness,” the Clintons and U.N. resolutions supporting women’s and children’s rights.

It advances these causes through aggressive advocacy programs at the state and local level, and works to “groom leaders” who want to “change the culture.” Students take internships in the White House, the Capitol, and in think-tanks such as the Cato Institute.

“Power center driven by religion to reshape nation”
Akron Beacon Journal, November 19, 2004


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As Iraq prepares for elections in January, some leaders there say the real battle will not be between political parties, but between secular and religious rule.

Saad Saleh Jabr, head of Iraq’s Nation Party, describes himself as a Shiite Muslim, but aspires towards American-style pluralism: “Here, we say, ‘I’m Shiite, I’m Sunni, I’m Kurdish.’ I want it to be like it is in the United States, where everyone says, ‘I’m American.'”

In Pakistan, President Musharraf has failed to live up to a promise to reform the 20,000 religious schools there, called madrassas, that espouse the firebrand Islamism of Osama bin Laden.

Also in Pakistan, one religious party objects to the Musharraf government’s removal of religious faith from national passports, on the ground that it would fail to ensure that “non-Muslims do not enter Mecca.”

“Religion and secularism focus of Iraq elections”
United Press International, November 29, 2004

“Schooled in Jihad”
Chicago Tribune, November 28, 2004

“MMA wants religion listed in passports”
Pakistan Daily Times, November 30, 2004

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Islam in the Homeland
The Philadelphia Daily News reports on a “mouthy” lesbian Muslim working to open doors in both the Islamic and non-Islamic world. Her efforts to advance Islam as a religion of peace and progress have earned her death threats and praise in equal measure.

Renew America, a Web site sponsored by the perennial pundit and political candidate Alan Keyes, ran an op-ed proclaiming the inevitable barbarism of Islam.

A professor at Southeast Missouri University disputes this perspective, saying most Muslims “abhor” violence in the name of Islam.

An Austin TV station reports that Islam is the fasted growing religion in America, with 15,000 Muslims living in Central Texas alone.

“Irshad Manji puts herself at risk”
Philadelphia Daily News, November 30, 2004

“The truth about Muslims”
RenewAmerica, November 28, 2004

“SEMO program to focus on Islam”
The Missourian, 2004

“Islam Post 9/11: Unveiling the face of Islam in Austin”
News 8 Austin, November 28, 2004

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The apparent ascent of faith-based politics in the U.S. has stirred passions in some European leaders and consituencies. The debates seem remarkably similar — everything from discrimination against homosexuals, to a petition campaign claiming more than a million signatures that aims to have acknowledgement of Christianity included in the E.U. Constitution.

In England, Christianity is widely professed, but a survey found that Hindus there hold their faith more dearly.

Fears over resurgent sectarian violence are strong enough that the E.U.’s anti-terrorism chief warned against religious intolerance.

Centuries of interfaith conflict have made an impression in at least some quarters.

“Bush victory makes European pols ponder religion”
Pacific News Service, November 29, 2004

“E.U. leaders to be petitioned over religion in the constitution”
Ekklesia, November 25, 2004

“Religion more relevant to UK Hindus than Christians”
India News Service, November 2004

“EU anti-terror head warns on religion intolerance”
SABC News (South Africa), November 30, 2004

VIEWPOINTS: Religion in government
Democracy seems alive and well at the grassroots, as communities, newspapers, pundits and leaders all participate in a widespread, if disjointed, dialog on the role of religion in American government and daily life.

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The Pundits
The conservative mainstay the Weekly Standard disputes the notion that “religious Americans are mindless, violent, and deluded into embracing the country’s doom.” Such an attitude is attributed to ignorance of America’s religious history, and widespread “dogmatic secularism.”

Nonprofit radio takes its turn with the Tavis Smiley Show, which features a host of interviews with spiritual leaders ranging from Rabbi Michael Lerner and Bishop Noel Jones of the City of Refuge Church.

And columnists from around the country take on Jerry Falwell’s Christian law school, readings of the Bible that result in homophobia and slaveholding, and debates over spiritual faith as divisive or uniting.

“Religion, Politics, and the New Obtuseness”
The Weekly Standard, November 30, 2004

“The Tavis Smiley Show”
NPR, November 29, 2004″

“U.S. cannot endorse a religion”
U-Wire Service, November 29, 2004

“Religion and law school: an inappropriate combination”
The Daily Bruin, November 29, 2004

“Politics and religion: more divisiveness”
Boston Globe, November 28, 2004

“Not all religions share same dogma”
Nashua Telegraph, November 29, 2004

“On Religion: Homosexuality stance will be proven wrong”
Palm Beach Post, November 19, 2004

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Political calculus
A columnist says that Democrats need to embrace America’s religious history, and that the blue-state party can to “ride to the rescue” as Islamists move in to fill the “vacuum” created by an anti-Christian agenda in U.S. schools.

Another columnist complains that Jimmy Carter’s evocations of faith never earned him the condemnation visited upon George Bush’s similar expressions.

Finally, a writer for Africana says that if newly spiritual Democrats “pander to white nationalism,” the party will continue to fail. What’s needed is a fusion of “religion and politics in a more progressive manner.”

“An opportunity for Democrats in red states”, November 29, 2004

“On Faith: Bush about par in ties to religion”
Religion News Service, November 27, 2004

“The Black Slate: Race, Religion and the DNC”
Africana, November 2004

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Down in the trenches
The local newspaper letters pages are where you’ll find the meat and potatoes — the perspectives of the everyday folks who get out and vote. Suffice it to say that the breadth of opinion is wide, and the passions deeply felt.

The bottom line: Strict interpretation of the Bible or the Constitution is no indication of liberal or conservative perspectives.

“Locals weigh in on religion, Bush’s victory”
Lodi News, November 30, 2004

“Evangelical religion vs. our founding fathers”
OpEd News, November 2004

“Mail Call — Tax dollars should not fund religion in any form”
The Battalion, November 23, 2004

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Clash of the Titans
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s Catholic conservatism is renowned, as is his fundamental belief in America’s essentially religious nature. His speech in an orthodox Jewish temple only reaffirmed this.

Speaking to students as part of an MTV program, pop culture icon Marilyn Manson says he doesn’t mind religion, except when it’s used to “manipulate” people.

A more perfect ideological diptych we cannot imagine.

“Scalia in shul: State must back religion”
Jerusalem Post, November 23, 2004

“Marilyn Manson regales class with thoughts on religion”
Associated Press, November 24, 2004

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Regardless of any Constitutional prohibition on the establishment of religion, or on the prevention of its free exercise, America has a spiritual yearning that cannot be denied.

The manner of its expression, however, is up for grabs.

Reacting to the Worldcom and Enron scandals, business leaders in Connecticut hope to bring religious values to the workplace. In the Pacific Northwest, a trend is apparently emerging where young people embrace religion with more zeal than their parents.

Further down the West Coast in true-blue California, Santa Cruz is home to a thriving and utterly hodgepodge community of seekers. A weekly event roundup finds locals studying kabbala, dharma, several varieties of reformist Christianity, “rock ‘n’ roll worship,” Taoism, Baha’i, reiki, “the Seven Inner Holy Planets” and the “Infinite Way Tape Group.”

In diversity we have plurality, and such is the stuff of democracy.

Democracy always has its discontents. Dr. Joyce Brothers advises a reader who has “no respect for religion” to remember that “many religions engage in behavior outsiders might consider bizarre … Forgive them for making you attend church as a child.”

“Group seeks to bridge gap between business world, religion”
Greenwich Time, November 28, 2004

“Young Christians blaze own trail, independent of parents”
Religion News Service, November 30, 2004

“Religion, spirituality guide”
Santa Cruz Sentinal, November 27, 2004

“Accepting past religion rules may lessen anger”
Dr. Joyce Brothers, November 30, 2004

One thought on “Faith & Politics

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