This Time, Evangelicals Aren’t Just GOP Bloc
Atlanta Journal-Constitution – 3/24/08
Hunter Wright, a 27-year-old evangelical Christian from Gwinnett County, is leaning toward Republican John McCain in the upcoming presidential election. John Cooper, a 26-year-old evangelical from Atlanta, likes what he hears in Democrat Barack Obama’s speeches. Both say that no candidate has his vote locked in. “It’s not an easy choice this year,” Wright said. An estimated one-quarter of U.S. voters in 2004 were evangelicals. In Georgia, 38 percent of adults identify themselves as evangelicals, according to a poll released this month by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. Seventy-eight percent of evangelicals voted for Republican President George Bush in 2004. That lopsided advantage in such a large bloc of voters helped push Bush to victory in key states like Ohio. That advantage is dwindling, many agree. “I don’t think Republicans can just assume [evangelicals] are an automatic vote for Republicans unless you give them a reason to do it,” said Ralph Reed, the longtime master of rallying evangelicals for Republicans. The Christian political landscape is changing.
Religion Not New to American Politics
Politico – 3/24/08
Divisive preachers are nothing new in the annals of American politics. From time to time, they have upended presidential contests and bedeviled presidents. Two examples come to mind in tandem with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama’s longtime mentor. They are the Rev. Samuel Burchard (1812-1891), whose slur “Rum, Romanism and Rebellion,” uttered two weeks before the 1884 presidential election, likely cost the Republicans the presidency, and Charles Coughlin (1891-1979), a Catholic priest and anti-Semite whose weekly radio broadcasts reached tens of millions of Americans in the 1930s. In 1884, many people, including James Blaine, the Republican candidate, attributed his defeat to Burchard’s alliterative rant against the Democrats. Blaine was present at the rally, and he never disavowed the New York Protestant clergyman’s insulting phrase. “Rum” meant the “wets,” who opposed prohibition and who recoiled from government-imposed moral codes. “Romanism” meant Catholics, who immigrated in large numbers, particularly from Ireland. “Rebellion” meant Democratic sympathy for the Confederate cause, still an issue at a time when Civil War wounds had yet to heal.
McCain’s Pastor a Sharp Contrast to Obama’s
Washington Post – 3/22/08
HOUSTON (Reuters) – John McCain’s Phoenix pastor, Dan Yeary, is a folksy patriotic Southern Baptist who opposes abortion and believes homosexuality to be a biblical sin, but says Christians have an obligation to love such sinners.That puts Yeary, who heads the church attended for the past 15 years by the Republican presidential candidate firmly in the U.S. Southern Baptist mainstream, and in line with the Republican Party. He offers a sharp contrast to Democratic contender Barack Obama’s former preacher Jeremiah Wright, who has stirred controversy with his fiery comments on race and America. Obama had been seen by some analysts as having an edge over McCain on issues of faith because of his adult conversion experience and his ease in talking about his faith. But his own preacher has proven a political liability.In a country where religion and politics often mix, 25 percent of American adults count themselves as evangelical Christians, giving them huge influence as the country heads to the November 4 presidential election to succeed President George W. Bush.
McCain’s Quiet Campaign: the Catholic Vote
Dallas Morning News – 3/31/08
SAN ANTONIO – When John McCain faced a firestorm over the Rev. John Hagee’s endorsement, he publicly renounced the pastor’s past anti-Catholic remarks but not his support. The controversy largely faded, in part because Mr. McCain had worked quietly to build alliances with conservative Catholic leaders willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. The McCain campaign’s Catholic outreach, which has gone largely unnoticed, is part of a larger effort to build bridges with religious voters who are key to the Republican’s presidential prospects – a constituency Mr. McCain has long had trouble with. “If he can get Catholics and evangelicals together in a coalition, that would make him very difficult to defeat,” said political scientist Mark Rozell of George Mason University. Mr. McCain’s plan to win the White House includes an appeal to Christian conservatives, long a crucial GOP voting bloc, as well as to more moderate independent voters and so-called “Reagan Democrats,” many of them Catholic.
Figuring Out Pennsylvania Catholic Vote Critical for Clinton, Obama
Associated Press – 3/26/08
SCRANTON, Pennsylvania – Understanding Pennsylvania’s rich Catholic tradition and responding to it is an article of faith for Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama as the April 22 primary looms in the still unsettled and intense Democratic presidential race. It’s a way of thinking well-known to the people of Scranton, a working-class city nestled in northeast Pennsylvania where earlier generations worked in the factories, mills and coal mines – and kneeled in prayer in Catholic church pews on Sunday morning. On Election Day of yesteryear, large numbers of Pennsylvania Catholics evoked the name of Franklin D. Roosevelt and voted Democratic. This year, Clinton has fared well among Catholic voters in early primary states and she holds a substantial lead over Obama among Catholic Democrats in Pennsylvania polls. Some analysts argue, however, that Catholic voters’ race, age and economic status – rather than religion – are more likely to play a greater role in determining their vote.
Obama Seeks to Quell Flap Over Pastor
Associated Press – 3/27/08
GREENSBORO, N.C. — Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama on Wednesday sought to quell concerns over anti-American remarks by his former pastor, saying people are paying too much attention to a small number of “stupid” comments. “This is somebody that was preaching three sermons at least a week for 30 years and it got boiled down … into a half-minute sound clip and just played it over and over and over again, partly because it spoke to some of the racial divisions we have in this country,” Obama told an audience in this central North Carolina city. “There are misunderstandings on both sides,” the Illinois senator said. “We cannot solve the problems of America if every time somebody somewhere does something stupid, that everybody gets up in arms and forgets about the war in Iraq and we forget about the economy.” On Tuesday, Obama’s rival for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, weighed in directly, saying: “I think that given all we have heard and seen, he would not have been my pastor.” The controversy began earlier this month when videos of Wright’s sermons surfaced, including one in which the pastor shouts “God damn America” for its treatment of minorities.
Associated Press – 3/27/08
Religion is supposed to be Barack Obama’s strength. Unlike many Democratic candidates before him, Obama speaks with ease about his faith. He attends Sunday worship and knows his Bible. His supporters believe he can pry some committed churchgoers away from the GOP. But the furor over comments by his Chicago pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, broadcast again and again on TV and viewed by millions on YouTube, is tempering those hopes. “It certainly gives people pause,” even in the Democratic Party, said Corwin Smidt, a Calvin College professor who studies religion and politics. All the top Democratic presidential contenders spoke of their faith this election year. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, a Methodist and Obama’s remaining Democratic rival, has spent years reaching out to traditional Christians. But more than any other candidate, Obama has made religion a core part of his message and outreach.
Pope’s Subtle Impact May Be Felt in Elections
Religion News Service – 3/27/08
Two days after the 2004 presidential election, William Portier ran into an acquaintance at the grocery store. The man was a strong opponent of the Iraq war and had demonstrated against it, but when it came time to vote, he chose not to. “He said he couldn’t vote for (George) Bush because of the war, and he couldn’t vote for (John) Kerry because of his support for abortion,” said Portier, a professor of religious studies at the University of Dayton in Ohio. Pope Benedict XVI arrives for his first visit in the United States next month with the country once again in the middle of a heated presidential election. And while no one believes the pope will speak directly about the November elections during his visit, the tone and focus of his speeches could help influence millions of Catholic voters, many of whom live in key swing states such as Ohio, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, which holds its primary next month.
Progressive Evangelicals Look to Reshape Political Image
Christian Post – 3/28/08
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – An evangelical group that wants to reshape the movement’s political reputation for being focused on opposing abortion and same-sex marriage is hoping that a series of meetings stressing its roots in women’s suffrage and abolition will help it break out of the mold. The stated goal of the first three-day “justice revival,” one of several to be held around the country, is to tackle poverty in the city through a collaboration with Big Brothers Big Sisters. But the broader idea is to energize the relatively small liberal end of the evangelical spectrum by linking religious faith with social action as earlier American social movements did, its planners say. Among the areas to be explored by participants are access to health care, immigration, global warming and the war in Iraq. “I have been very deeply moved by the history of these great awakenings in our national life, where there was a revival of faith that led to big change in our society,” said Jim Wallis, CEO of Sojourners/Call to Renewal. The Washington, D.C.-based group will hold the event April 16-18 in Columbus, with 30 of the city’s largest evangelical churches, representing 10,000 Christians. “A whole generation of young evangelicals believes that Jesus would probably care more about the 30,000 children who died again today — as they did yesterday and they will tomorrow — from preventable disease than he would about passing a gay-marriage amendment in Ohio,” Wallis said. The group’s leaders seek to reverse the public perception that all evangelicals are conservative Republicans whose top social priorities are opposing abortion and gay marriage.
U.S. Court Upholds 10 Commandments on Public Land
Reuters – 3/26/08
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – A nearly 50-year-old monument inscribed with the Ten Commandments does not violate the Constitution just because it sits nearly alone on public grounds in a Washington city, a federal appeals court ruled on Wednesday. The division between church and state is a core principle of American democracy, but courts have long struggled to find exactly where the dividing line falls. The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals cited precedent rulings in this latest case, which involves a 6-foot-tall (1.8-meter-tall) granite monument near the Old City Hall in Everett, Washington, about 25 miles north of Seattle. The court found that the monument did not have a solely religious purpose. “Nothing about the setting is conducive to genuflection,” Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw wrote for a three-judge panel. She noted that the Everett monument does not have nearby benches or evening lighting and is surrounded by trees and that impair its viewing. Such a setting prevents a visitor from concluding that the monument has been placed in a sacred space on public grounds. The monument was donated in 1959 by a national civic organization that distributed more than 150 such monuments to cities across the country.
Supreme Court to Consider Ten Commandments vs. ‘Seven Aphorisms’
Los Angeles Times – 4/1/08
WASHINGTON — If a city allows a monument with the Ten Commandments to be erected in a public park, must it also allow other religions and groups to display monuments of their choosing? The Supreme Court agreed Monday to take up that question in an unusual dispute over the reach of the 1st Amendment and freedom of speech. In the past, the court has said the free-speech rule applies in parks and officials may not discriminate against speakers or groups because of their message. In this context, freedom of speech means a freedom from government restrictions. But last year, the U.S. appeals court in Denver extended this free-speech rule to cover the monuments, statues and displays in a public park. It ruled in favor of a religious group called Summum, which says it wants to erect its “Seven Aphorisms of Summum” next to the Ten Commandments in Pioneer Park in Pleasant Grove, Utah. Its ruling left the city with an all-or-nothing choice: Allow Summum and others to erect their own displays in the park, or remove the other monuments. The city’s lawyers called the appeals court ruling “confused” and “flawed” and said it could cause problems around the nation.
Floridians Might Vote on Church-State Issue
Miami Herald – 3/25/08
TALLAHASSEE — About 140 years after anti-Catholic bigotry helped lead Florida to ban government aid to religious institutions, a powerful state tax commission will decide Wednesday whether to ask voters to strike that provision from the state Constitution. The so-called ”no-aid” provision led an appeals court in 2004 to cancel a centerpiece of then-Gov. Jeb Bush’s voucher program that allowed private religious schools to get state money. The court ruling left the door open to a more far-reaching consequence: that scores of programs costing millions of public dollars and serving thousands of people could be vulnerable — from Baptist hospitals to Catholic universities to church drug-treatment centers to religious voluntary Pre-K schools. All it would take is the right lawsuit and the right court and the state could be in crisis, says former Bush aide and voucher backer Patricia Levesque, who sits on the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission and has proposed eliminating the strict and far-reaching no-aid language. But opponents, such as the state teachers union and church-state separatists, say Levesque and religious supporters such as the Florida Catholic Conference are misreading the law, exaggerating the threats to secular programs run by nominally religious groups, and trying to prop up a newer type of voucher program that hasn’t been challenged in court and that the Legislature wants to double in size.
Evolution Dissent Advances
Tampa Tribune – 3/27/08
TALLAHASSEE – It’s not about letting religion creep into science classrooms, Sen. Ronda Storms insisted. It’s about protecting the rights of students and teachers who don’t agree with the science behind Darwinian evolution, the Republican from Valrico argued before the Senate’s pre-k through 12 education committee voted 4-1 Wednesday to approve the bill. Despite her argument, religion kept coming up anyway, as Storms pressed for her “academic freedom” act. Her bill would allow public school teachers to present science-based alternatives to Darwin’s theory of evolution, a theory written into Florida’s curriculum standards and one that is held as a fundamental concept of biology by most members of the science community. Although professors spoke in opposition to the bill and a representative from the American Civil Liberties Union said it would open the door to teaching creationism, the committee voted to move the bill forward. “Evolution will still be taught as a matter of law. This bill does not undo the current standard,” Storms said. She added, “It’s interesting for me to note that the only folks who brought up religion today have been those in opposition.” A debate about evolution has been swirling in the Capitol since last month, when the state Board of Education adopted the state’s new science standards, which mandated teaching evolution. Activists persuaded the board to qualify evolution as a “theory,” but the board did not write in any special provision for teaching alternative beliefs.
Texas Ed Board Adopts Broad Bible Class Standards
Associated Press – 3/28/08
AUSTIN — The State Board of Education decided today to allow standard English and social studies guidelines to be applied to elective Bible courses rather than drafting curriculum standards specific to the teaching of the religious doctrine. Despite concerns that the guidelines are too broad, a majority of the board agreed that they would suffice until they have further clarification from Attorney General Greg Abbott on several legal questions. The Legislature passed a law last year allowing for Bible courses to be offered as an elective starting in the 2009-2010 school year and directed the board to adopt curriculum standards that do not run afoul of the constitutional separation of church and state. “Maybe, what we’re doing at this point, is anticipating problems we’re probably not going to have,” said Republican board member Cynthia Dunbar of Richmond. “If we give direction to the districts of staying within social studies and staying within language arts … that is the best directive to the district as to how to go forward with this.” Some members voiced concern that religious opinions could be taught to high school students in the classes without specific restrictions.
Vatican: Islam Overtakes Catholicism as Largest Religion
Associated Press – 3/31/08
VATICAN CITY — Islam has surpassed Roman Catholicism as the world’s largest religion, the Vatican newspaper said Sunday. “For the first time in history, we are no longer at the top: Muslims have overtaken us,” Monsignor Vittorio Formenti told the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano. Formenti compiles the Vatican’s yearbook. He said Catholics accounted for 17.4 percent of the world population — a stable percentage — while Muslims were at 19.2 percent. “It is true that while Muslim families, as is well known, continue to make a lot of children, Christian ones on the contrary tend to have fewer and fewer,” the monsignor said. Formenti said the data refer to 2006. The figures on Muslims were put together by Muslim countries and then provided to the United Nations, he said, adding that the Vatican could only vouch for its own data. When considering all Christians and not just Catholics, Christians make up 33 percent of the world population, Formenti said.