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Special Feature

Expelled Flunks the Test
National Center for Science Education – 4/15/08

Millions of dollars have been spent promoting Ben Stein’s Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed to fundamentalist church groups, but that money would have been better spent on fact checkers. www.ExpelledExposed.com, a website launched today by the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), reveals the truth behind the creationist movie’s misrepresentations. “Creationists have been making the same arguments for decades,” says Eugenie C. Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education. “They’ve gotten better at marketing these claims, but they’re no more valid now than during the Scopes trial of the 1920s. Creationists have been predicting the death of evolution for over a century, yet it is constantly affirmed by evidence from fields Darwin could never have imagined.” Given the damning assessment at www.ExpelledExposed.com, Scott adds, “Perhaps the filmmakers should have spent more time hitting the books, instead of beating up on hardworking scientists.”

Race for the White House ’08

Faith in Spotlight, Candidates Battle for Catholic Votes
New York Times – 4/15/08

Many years have passed since the Democratic Party was as much a part of American Catholic identity as weekly Mass and parochial school. But it still came as a shock to many Democrats to lose the Catholic vote, a key group in must-win states like Ohio, in the 2004 presidential election. It is an experience they are determined not to repeat. The presidential candidates are in the middle of an escalating battle for Catholic voters — most immediately between Senators Barack Obama of Illinois and Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York in the Pennsylvania Democratic primary, but also between the two parties as they look ahead to the general election. This struggle is an important part of the backdrop for Pope Benedict XVI’s trip to the United States starting Tuesday, which has drawn gestures of respect from all of the presidential contenders. There is widespread agreement that American Catholic voters are far more diverse than monolithic. Even so, both the Clinton and the Obama campaigns have hired Catholic outreach directors, deployed an army of prominent Catholic surrogates testifying on their behalf and created mailings that highlight their commitment to Catholic social teachings on economic justice and the common good.

‘Bitter’ Remarks Cloud Faith, Values Forum
Los Angeles Times – 4/14/08

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton warned Sunday that ordinary voters may see Sen. Barack Obama as “out of touch” and removed from everyday concerns, trying to equate her rival with the Democratic nominees who were beaten in the last two presidential elections.Obama lashed back, accusing Clinton of practicing the kind of politics in which “we tear each other down.” Making back-to-back appearances Sunday night in a televised forum on faith and values, the Democratic rivals continued the escalating fight over a recent comment in which Obama said, among other things, that embittered small-town voters “cling to guns or religion.” Clinton suggested that Obama’s remark, which was made at a San Francisco fundraising event, was fresh evidence that he could not win the general election in the fall. She cast the comment as “elitist, out of touch and, frankly, patronizing,” and then drew a comparison with the last two Democratic presidential standard-bearers. Although she did not mention former Vice President Al Gore or Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kerry by name, Clinton said that “large segments of the electorate concluded that they did not really understand, or relate to, or frankly respect their ways of life. “And I think that is an issue for the voters.”

Obama Tackles Catholic Challenge
Chicago Tribune – 4/14/08

Barack Obama was waiting in the wings when the priest began to bless his rally last week in this conservative, middle-class Indiana town. “God of power and light open our hearts and minds to the needs of people all over the world,” intoned the Rev. Clement Davis as 2,500 heads bowed reverentially in the local high school gym. Davis said he had come at the request of a parishioner — not the campaign’s behest — but the appearance of the priest came during a week when the Illinois senator intensified his efforts to win over Catholics, a constituency that has proved widely resistant to Obama’s candidacy. Catholics are among the most powerful swing voting blocs in American politics; they backed the winner in seven of the last eight presidential elections. And Obama’s failure to connect with a majority of Catholics in the Democratic primaries is one of his campaign’s biggest headaches — one that poses a major threat to his chances of winning heavily-Catholic Pennsylvania next week and the big prize in November, experts say. “It’s a big problem for him not just now but if he prevails and goes to the general election,” said pollster Chris Borick, director of Pennsylvania’s Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion. “He’s trailed in all of our polls among Catholics and that’s been consistent in other polls,” he said.

Faith Vote at Play in Pennsylvania Primary
Christian Post – 4/17/08

Pennsylvania faith voters are being heavily courted by the Democratic presidential candidates ahead of next week’s primary, when this voting bloc is expected to play a significant role in the contest result. About one-fifth of Pennsylvania’s adult population is evangelical, according to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. Another 29 percent of the adult population are self-described Catholics. Experts say the “faith vote” will be a factor in the state’s April 22 primary, when Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton go head-to-head for the Democratic Party’s nomination, according to Reuters. The Pennsylvania showdown is considered a make-or-break contest for Clinton. Obama currently leads in delegate counts, 1,644, and states won, according to CNN. Clinton has 1,498 delegates. Given the significance of next week’s primary, both candidates sought to court faith voters this past weekend by taking part in a discussion about their faith and how it influences their decision on moral issues in Pennsylvania. The Compassion Forum, held nine days before the state’s primary and broadcasted by CNN, provided a platform for the Democratic candidates to court Pennsylvania faith voters.

National News

Coach in New Jersey Cannot Pray With Players
New York Times – 4/16/08

A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that the public school district in East Brunswick, N.J., was not violating the constitutional rights of a football coach when it prohibited staff members from participating in student prayers. Marcus Borden, who has been the head football coach at East Brunswick High School since 1983, sued the district in 2005, saying its policy violated his rights to free speech and due process, as well as to academic freedom and freedom of association. In July 2006, the United States District Court for New Jersey ruled that Borden could bow his head and bend his knee when the team captains led the players in prayer, but three judges of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit overturned the lower court’s ruling Tuesday, citing Borden’s history of leading prayers in the past. Judge D. Michael Fisher wrote in his opinion that “the conclusion we reach today is clear because he organized, participated in and led prayer activities with his team on numerous occasions for 23 years.” “Thus,” Fisher continued, “a reasonable observer would conclude that he is continuing to endorse religion when he bows his head during the pre-meal grace and takes a knee with his team in the locker room while they pray.” In its policy, the district wanted to prevent a public employee from appearing to give preference to a particular religion.

Muslim Leaders to Talk Faith With Pope
Associated Press – 4/15/08

Unease with Pope Benedict XVI’s approach to Islam has led a U.S. Muslim group to decline joining in an interfaith event with him this week. Several other U.S. Muslim leaders expressed similar concerns about the pope but will participate in the Washington gathering, saying the two faiths should do everything possible to improve relations. “Our going there is more out of respect for the Catholic Church itself,” said Muzammil Siddiqi, chairman of the Fiqh Council of North America, which interprets Islamic law. “Popes come and go, but the church is there.” Siddiqi, co-chairman of the West Coast Muslim-Catholic Dialogue, is among the Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Jain and Hindu leaders scheduled to meet Benedict on Thursday at the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center. U.S. Catholic and Muslim leaders started holding interfaith talks in the 1990s, and many of the Muslim leaders invited to the event Thursday are veterans of those discussions. But Salam al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, a group based in Los Angeles, said the event seemed “more ceremonial than substantive” and his organization would not participate. He said he was disappointed that no time was made in the pope’s six-day trip for even a brief private meeting with U.S. Muslim leaders. This is the first trip to the U.S. that Benedict has made since he was elected in 2005 to succeed John Paul.

Polygamist Sect Unleashes Public Relations Campaign
Associated Press – 4/20/08

Before authorities raided their west Texas retreat, members of a secretive polygamous church spent decades holding as tightly to their intense privacy as the Scriptures guiding their way of life. Contact with outsiders was limited. Media inquiries were rejected with either stone-faced silence or a polite “no comment.” But after Texas officials removed 416 children belonging to members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the sect fired up the public relations machine. From newspaper stories to appearances on morning network television, “Larry King Live” and “Oprah,” FLDS women are speaking publicly about the heartbreak of being separated from their children and sharing some details of their life. “This was just such a heinous thing that the normal rules didn’t apply,” said Rod Parker, a Salt Lake City attorney serving as a spokesman for the church. “What we were trying to do was inject a human element into what was happening here. Put names to faces and not just think of these people as being so different.”

Jewish Liberals to Launch A Counterpoint to AIPAC
Washington Post – 4/15/08

Some of the country’s most prominent Jewish liberals are forming a political action committee and lobbying group aimed at dislodging what they consider the excessive hold of neoconservatives and evangelical Christians on U.S. policy toward Israel. The group is planning to channel political contributions to favored candidates in perhaps a half-dozen campaigns this fall, the first time an organization focused on Israel has tried to play such a direct role in the political process, according to its organizers. Organizers said they hope those efforts, coupled with a separate lobbying group that will focus on promoting an Arab-Israeli peace settlement, will fill a void left by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, and other Jewish groups that they contend have tilted to the right in recent years. The lobbying group will be known as J Street and the political action group as JStreetPAC. The executive director for both will be Jeremy Ben-Ami, a former domestic policy adviser in the Clinton White House. “The definition of what it means to be pro-Israel has come to diverge from pursuing a peace settlement,” said Alan Solomont, a prominent Democratic Party fundraiser involved in the initiative. In recent years, he said, “We have heard the voices of neocons, and right-of-center Jewish leaders and Christian evangelicals, and the mainstream views of the American Jewish community have not been heard.”

La. Courthouse’s Jesus Portrait Deemed Unconstitutional
Associated Press – 4/17/08

Displaying a portrait of Jesus in the foyer of a Louisiana courthouse is unconstitutional, a federal judge ruled this week, siding with civil libertarians who sued over the display. But inserting Jesus within a group portrait of historic figures at the courthouse is permissible, the judge said. In a ruling filed Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Ivan Lemelle awarded “nominal” damages plus attorneys’ fees and costs to the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana in its case against Slidell City Court, Judge James Lamz and St. Tammany Parish, which partially finances the court. Lemelle said during a hearing last September that he would have ordered court officials to remove the Jesus icon if they hadn’t already expanded the display to include portraits of other historic “lawgivers,” including Moses, Charlemagne and Napoleon Bonaparte. His ruling this week echoes those remarks and explains that the expanded display is constitutional because a reasonable observer wouldn’t see it as sending a religious message. However, Lemelle concluded that the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights were violated by the original display, which depicted Jesus presenting the New Testament above the words, “To Know Peace, Obey These Laws.” “Context” is the “crucial factor” in determining if a religious display is unconstitutional, Lemelle wrote. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a Ten Commandments display on the grounds of the Texas state capitol was constitutional, in part, because it was accompanied by other monuments and historical markers, Lemelle noted

Teacher, School District Battle Over Bible in Classroom
Columbus Dispatch – 4/16/08

A Mount Vernon science teacher said today that he will refuse to remove a Bible from his classroom desk, despite his school district’s order. “Thousands of citizens in this community have built their lives on deeply held religious convictions, and it is for them that I stand today,” John Freshwater, 51, who teaches at Mount Vernon Middle School, said in a news release. The religious activist Dave Daubenmire, Freshwater’s friend, acted as his spokesman today. “This is not a religion issue; this is a free-speech issue,” Daubenmire said. “He didn’t take the Bible to read to anybody.” Mount Vernon Superintendent Steve Short said Freshwater’s characterization of the events leading to the district order that he remove religious items from his classroom was “not entirely accurate,” but Short wouldn’t elaborate. The district later released a one-paragraph statement saying that district officials don’t oppose religion but are required “under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution to protect against the establishment of religion in the schools. As a public school system the district cannot teach, promote or favor any religion or religious beliefs.” Freshwater and Daubenmire believe that separation of church and state “is a fraud” and that the framers of the Constitution never intended it to be practiced the way it is today, Daubenmire said.

Religious Expression Bill Passes
Associated Press – 4/16/08

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – The Oklahoma Senate has passed a bill designed to allow students to have more freedom to express their religious viewpoints. An amendment incorporating Sen. James A. Williamson’s “Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act” was attached to a measure dealing with student testing. Williamson’s proposal provides protection to students who voluntarily express their religious views at school. The amendment reads, “Students may organize prayer groups, religious clubs, see-you-at-the- pole gatherings, or other religious gatherings before, during, and after school to the same extent that students are permitted to organize other non-curricular student activities and groups.” Under the legislation, religious groups are given the same rights to school facilities for the assembling of or advertising of their organization. Students are also free from discrimination when expressing their religious beliefs in homework and artwork along with other written and oral assignments.

Nuanced View of Academic Freedom
New York Times – 4/18/08

Pope Benedict XVI extolled the virtues of academic freedom yesterday, but he cautioned that scholarly pursuits and the search for truth must not undermine church doctrine. In a speech long anticipated by Catholic educators, Benedict said church-affiliated colleges and universities must “evoke among the young the desire for the act of faith, encouraging them to commit themselves to the ecclesial life.” Academic scholars, Benedict said in the late afternoon talk at Catholic University, “are called to search for the truth wherever careful analyses of evidence leads you.” However, in a pointed message to scholars who stray from church teachings, the pope stressed that Catholic doctrine is paramount. “Any appeal to the principle of academic freedom in order to justify positions that contradict the faith and the teaching of the Church would obstruct or even betray the university’s identity and mission,” he said. “Teachers and administrators,” the pope continued, “whether in universities or schools, have the duty and privilege to ensure that students receive instruction in Catholic doctrine and practice.” Benedict’s speech was the first papal address on U.S. soil to focus on Catholic education in 20 years. Vatican leaders have long expressed frustration over what they say is the failure of many American Catholic colleges and universities to follow church teachings.