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Race for the White House ’08

McCain Backer Apologizes For Anti-Catholic Remarks
Washington Post – 5/14/08

While Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama has struggled with the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., GOP foe John McCain’s own pastor problem has festered. But yesterday, pastor John Hagee, a McCain supporter whose controversial comments about Catholicism angered church leaders, issued a letter of apology to the president of the Catholic League, who heartily accepted it. In the letter, Hagee admitted that he “may have contributed to the mistaken impression that the anti-Jewish violence of the Crusades and the Inquisition defines the modern-day Catholic Church. It most certainly does not.” Hagee, an evangelical who has been outspoken in his support for Israel, had enraged Catholics with statements about the “apostate church” and the “great whore.” He said in his letter that he meant neither of those to apply to the Catholic Church. Hagee, an evangelical who has been outspoken in his support for Israel, had enraged Catholics with statements about the “apostate church” and the “great whore.” He said in his letter that he meant neither of those to apply to the Catholic Church. He continued: “I pledge to address these sensitive issues in the future with a greater level of compassion and respect for my Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ.”

In Kentucky, Obama ads stress that he’s a Christian
Kansas City Star – 5/15/08

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama’s campaign has ramped up its efforts to emphasize his Christian faith in a series of new radio and television ads, as well as in a flier that volunteers have distributed. Kentucky Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo, who endorsed Obama on Sunday, narrated a new radio spot for Obama that highlights the Illinois senator’s upbringing and values, including how Obama is “a strong Christian.” Mongiardo said he felt compelled to make the ad after constituents contacted his office with what he called “misconceptions” about Obama. “The negative calls have been talking about either the color of his skin or claims that he’s not a Christian,” Mongiardo said. “As I’ve listened to newscasts of primaries across the country, it struck me that there is a segment of people who are not voting for Hillary Clinton but are voting against Barack Obama because of issues that don’t pertain to substance.” U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler of Versailles recorded a similar radio ad for Obama. Obama’s race, religious background and patriotism have become controversial subplots during the drawn-out primary season. E-mail chains circulated earlier this year questioning whether Obama was a Muslim, while talk radio shows seized on why he doesn’t always wear a flag pin on his lapel. Obama, during his speech in Louisville on Monday, dismissed such arguments as static designed to divert attention from important issues. Campaign spokesman Clark Stevens, however, said the ads and flier weren’t “in response to any issue.” “The focus is really to let voters know what issues are important to Senator Obama,” he said. “Part of our effort is to reach out to people of all faiths and to communicate common values.”

Confronting Questions, Obama Assures Jews of His Support
New York Times – 5/13/08

Faced with doubts about his support for Israel and American Jews, Senator Barack Obama has stepped up his efforts to reach out to the Jewish community over the past month, giving speeches and granting interviews to confront questions about the militant Palestinian group Hamas and his commitment to Jewish causes and values. The efforts are part of “a very strong counteraction” against what the Obama campaign considers misinformation about the candidate, said Representative Robert Wexler, a Democrat from South Florida who often speaks on Jewish issues for the Obama campaign. “We’re going to continue to keep making this case with initiatives to make it clear that his support for Israel could not be more unequivocal,” Mr. Wexler said. Since the beginning of his campaign for president, Mr. Obama has combated rumors and e-mail campaigns suggesting that he was a Muslim or was hostile to Israel, a problem exacerbated by pro-Palestinian remarks made by his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. But several other developments, here and abroad, have also played a role in the outreach effort.

What’s Faith Got To Do With It? Presidential Candidates Present “Mixed Bag” For Religious Voters
Oakland Tribune – 5/9/08

When Michigan Gov. George Romney ran in the Republican presidential primary, no mention was made of his Mormon faith. But by 2007, his son, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, ran smack into a wall of doubts from a nation uneasy about his religious allegiances. With each election since Jimmy Carter publicly introduced himself as a born-again Christian, the pulpit has held a prominent place in this public sphere. A poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press last summer found almost seven in 10 Americans said it was important to them “that a president have strong religious beliefs.” In the East Bay, voters differ widely over how their own faiths will play out in the November vote. A devout Mormon said religion had no place in the voting booth. An Episcopal gay rights leader said there was no way to check faith values at the door when casting a ballot. A Christian said her faith background not only influences her values but has caused her to feel deeply conflicted about the November election. “If they believe in a supreme being they’re 90 percent of the way with me,” said Ed Stevenson a Bay Point Presbyterian. “I don’t think anyone’s faith should have any bearing on what I’m thinking,” said Susan Randall, a Mormon who lives in Martinez. “I don’t like the way George Bush uses God.”

National News

PBS Film Revisits Killing of Ariz. Sikh After 9/11 Attacks
Associated Press – 5/18/08

When filmmaker Tami Yeager set out to make a documentary about a surge in hate crimes following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, she envisioned a movie that would reflect her shock and shame. That was before the director met Rana Singh Sodhi, whose brother was fatally shot on Sept. 15, 2001, by a man who thought Balbir Singh Sodhi – a Sikh who wore a turban as part of his faith – was of Middle Eastern origin. “I thought I’d make a film primarily focused on hate crimes,” Yeager said. “It wasn’t my agenda to go out and make a film really emphasizing the American dream. But of the things I learned from Rana, for the first time in my life, I really understood what it meant to be American.” Rana Sodhi’s utterly upbeat, patriotic attitude is at the heart of Yeager’s film, “A Dream in Doubt,” which will air nationwide May 20 as part of the PBS series “Independent Lens.” The film cuts between interviews and footage of Rana Sodhi and his family and news headlines and audio of 911 calls that recall the racially charged atmosphere in the months after Sept. 11. The result is a portrait of a hardworking family man attempting to live his own American dream amid extraordinary chaos.

Sikhs Wary of San Francisco Airport
Houston Chronicle – 5/17/08

San Francisco International Airport too routinely pulls turbaned Sikhs out of line for a second screening, an act of profiling that does little to combat terrorism, a national civil rights organization says. The Sikh Coalition describes SFO as a “worst case scenario” for Sikh travelers. The coalition says that it found SFO generated 35 percent of all reports of ill treatment of Sikhs from Dec. 1, 2007, to March 31, 2008. Eighty of 113 airport screening complaints involved additional searches, and 28 of those 80 took place at SFO. Some Bay Area Sikhs are opting to fly in and out of Oakland and San Jose as a result, said Neha Singh, staff attorney and advocacy director for the Washington, D.C.-based Sikh Coalition. Before October, travelers wearing turbans were searched only if they failed to clear metal detectors or other preliminary checks. In October, the Transportation Security Administration gave screeners discretion on when to further search travelers wearing “bulky” headgear, taking into consideration such other factors as behavior, facial expressions and ticket status.

Fla. to Consider Key Church-State Question
Washington Post – 5/15/08

The potential repeal of a century-old Florida law barring state funding for religiously affiliated organizations is to be put before the voters there this fall, at the end of a lobbying battle that has attracted the attention of President Bush and has engaged a coalition of liberal or secular educational groups. The vote is widely considered the first of numerous state battles over the funding ban. It exists in 36 other states but has been targeted by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a Washington-based law firm, and by activists in the states. At stake is the Blaine Amendment, a type of law enacted in states about a century ago as an attempt by the country’s Protestant majority to block government support for Catholic schools. The Blaine laws have long kept religious schools and, in some states such as Florida, many programs run by religiously affiliated organizations, away from the public coffers. At a recent White House summit on faith-based schools in urban areas last month, Bush took direct aim at the Blaine laws. “If they’re concerned about quality education for children, and if they’re concerned about these schools closing, they ought to remove the Blaine Amendments,” he said.

California’s Top Court Overturns Gay Marriage Ban
Associated Press – 5/16/08

In a monumental victory for the gay rights movement, the California Supreme Court overturned a voter-approved ban on gay marriage Thursday in a ruling that would allow same-sex couples in the nation’s biggest state to tie the knot. Domestic partnerships are not a good enough substitute for marriage, the justices ruled 4-3 in striking down the ban. Outside the courthouse, gay marriage supporters cried and cheered as the news spread. Jeanie Rizzo, one of the plaintiffs, called Pali Cooper, her partner of 19 years, and asked, “Pali, will you marry me?” “This is a very historic day. This is just such freedom for us,” Rizzo said. “This is a message that says all of us are entitled to human dignity.” In the Castro, historically a center of the gay community in San Francisco, Tim Oviatt started crying while watching the news on TV. “I’ve been waiting for this all my life,” he said. “This is a life-affirming moment.” The city of San Francisco, two dozen gay and lesbian couples and gay rights groups sued in March 2004 after the court halted the monthlong wedding march that took place when Mayor Gavin Newsom opened the doors of City Hall to same-sex marriages. “Today the California Supreme Court took a giant leap to ensure that everybody — not just in the state of California, but throughout the country — will have equal treatment under the law,” said City Attorney Dennis Herrera, who argued the case for San Francisco. The challenge for gay rights advocates, however, is not over.

Exploring Evangelical Minds
Washington Post – 5/17/08

For decades, Boston University sociologist Peter Berger says, American intellectuals have looked down on evangelicals. Educated people have the notion that evangelicals are “barefoot people of Tobacco Road who, I don’t know, sleep with their sisters or something,” Berger says. It’s time that attitude changed, he says. “That was probably never correct, but it’s totally false now and I think the image should be corrected,” Berger said in a recent interview. His university’s Institute on Culture, Religion and World Affairs is leading a two-year project that explores an “evangelical intelligentsia,” which Berger says is growing and needs to be better understood given the large numbers of evangelicals and their influence. “It’s not good if a prejudiced view of this community prevails in the elite circles of society,” said Berger, a self-described liberal Lutheran. “It’s bad for democracy and it’s wrong.” The study is being directed by Berger and Timothy Shah, an evangelical political scientist at the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. Shah is documenting the history of the evangelical movement, including its hostility to higher learning, a revival of scholarship, and the minds and ideas it has since produced.

Not the Party Faithful Anymore
Washington Post – 5/18/08

Irmo Antonacci used to vote for Democratic presidential candidates. A son of Italian immigrants, the 80-year-old retiree lives in Jeannette, Pa., a down-at-the-heels smokestack city southeast of Pittsburgh. After dropping out of college in 1950, he got a job installing telephones with Bell Penn and joined a union. He registered as a Democrat and became a John F. Kennedy fan. A decade ago, he was the Democratic committeeman from the town’s 5th ward. But Antonacci no longer automatically pulls the lever for the candidate with (D) beside his or her name. “I’d seen the time from where the party used to be and where the party is now accepting abortion and gay rights,” he says. “And I didn’t go for that.” On the lawn in front of Antonacci’s one-story brick house stands a foot-high statue of St. Francis and another of the Virgin Mary, symbols of a transformation that could spell trouble for the Democrats in November. It’s the transformation of a group of voters we might call Casey Democrats, after the late Robert P. Casey Sr., governor of Pennsylvania from 1987 to 1995. Like Casey, these voters — blue-collar and religious, often Catholic — are liberal on economic issues but conservative on cultural ones. Where they once looked to union leaders and their fellow union members for political guidance, they now look to their religious leaders and fellow churchgoers. And in the last decade, to the dismay of Democratic strategists, they’ve been voting for Republican presidential candidates. According to Democratic pollster and strategist Stan Greenberg, they made up the 10 percent of white Catholics who identify with the Democrats but didn’t vote for Sen. John F. Kerry for president in 2004. And if Sen. Barack Obama can’t do better with the Casey Democrats, his presidential bid may fare no better than Kerry’s.

Fashion Students Designing Stylish Cloaks for Muslim Women
Associated Press – 5/13/08

The assignment for Virginia Commonwealth University fashion students: design an abaya, an enveloping cloak worn by Muslim women, that is stylish yet acceptable in Arab countries. The results: elaborately beaded designs, a flamenco-influenced abaya, a punk rock abaya – and perhaps a better understanding of cultural norms in the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar, where the university has had a campus for 10 years. The project was part of Kim Guthrie’s “Give Me Shelter” class, during which her students discussed the idea of clothing as shelter and how different cultures address the concept of clothing. “The students talked about why girls ‘cover’ – is it cultural or religious?” said Guthrie, who traveled to Doha this spring to oversee production of the abayas. “There’s a huge spectrum of how covered or uncovered they are, dependent on family and tradition.” Abayas are the traditional overgarment in the Persian Gulf nations of Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates and Oman. They also are worn in Iraq and some other Arab nations. Women and girls wear the black abaya, a lightweight crepe garment that includes a head covering called a shayla, in the presence of men and boys who are not immediate family members.


The Neural Buddhists
New York Times Op-Ed, David Brooks – 5/13/08

In 1996, Tom Wolfe wrote a brilliant essay called “Sorry, but Your Soul Just Died,” in which he captured the militant materialism of some modern scientists. To these self-confident researchers, the idea that the spirit might exist apart from the body is just ridiculous. Instead, everything arises from atoms. Genes shape temperament. Brain chemicals shape behavior. Assemblies of neurons create consciousness. Free will is an illusion. Human beings are “hard-wired” to do this or that. Religion is an accident. In this materialist view, people perceive God’s existence because their brains have evolved to confabulate belief systems. You put a magnetic helmet around their heads and they will begin to think they are having a spiritual epiphany. If they suffer from temporal lobe epilepsy, they will show signs of hyperreligiosity, an overexcitement of the brain tissue that leads sufferers to believe they are conversing with God. Wolfe understood the central assertion contained in this kind of thinking: Everything is material and “the soul is dead.” He anticipated the way the genetic and neuroscience revolutions would affect public debate. They would kick off another fundamental argument over whether God exists. Lo and behold, over the past decade, a new group of assertive atheists has done battle with defenders of faith. The two sides have argued about whether it is reasonable to conceive of a soul that survives the death of the body and about whether understanding the brain explains away or merely adds to our appreciation of the entity that created it. The atheism debate is a textbook example of how a scientific revolution can change public culture. Just as “The Origin of Species reshaped social thinking, just as Einstein’s theory of relativity affected art, so the revolution in neuroscience is having an effect on how people see the world.