politics

Stand Up for Religious Freedom

Michele Bachmann comments about the struggle for religious liberty.

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Christian-Muslim Socialist-Capitalist President of the United States

 

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The office of President of the United States carries with it heightened public scrutiny.  The vigilance of the media chips away at a leader’s privacy until every facet of his life becomes an open book for the world to see.  One of the constant attacks that the current president has faced is intense concern by the American people about the Commander in Chief’s religious views.  Capitalizing on anti-Muslim sentiments in the wake of September 11th, various members within the complex framework of various extreme right organizations have planted doubt in the minds of voters using accusations and the power of social media to disseminate unsubstantiated claims. So why would a “Muslim” who “despises Christians and God” concern himself with the opinion of the Vatican?

This week President Obama met with Pope Francis to discuss religious freedom, human trafficking and international conflict:

ROME — President Obama and Pope Francis met for the first time Thursday in a discussion that focused on international conflict, human rights and religious freedom.

Obama invited Francis to visit the U.S. next year.

The private meeting was widely expected to be cordial — while providing Francis with an opportunity to raise some prickly issues. The Vatican opposes the Affordable Care Act mandate that Catholic hospitals and institutions provide health plans that cover contraceptive drugs and abortifacients such as morning-after pills, which the church opposes on moral grounds. The church also opposes same-sex marriage, which Obama supports.

Obama, at a news conference later with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, said those discussions took place with the Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, not with Francis. Issues such as contraception and religious freedom, Obama said, were “not a topic of conversation” with the pope.

“I was grateful to have the opportunity to speak with him about the responsibilities that we all share to care for the least of these, the poor, the excluded,” Obama said. “And I was extremely moved by his insights about the importance of us all having a moral perspective on world problems and not simply thinking in terms of our own narrow self-interests.”

The brief Vatican statement provided few specifics from the 52-minute meeting.

“Views were exchanged on some current international themes and it was hoped that, in areas of conflict, there would be respect for humanitarian and international law and a negotiated solution between the parties involved,” the statement said.

The statement add that “there was a discussion on questions of particular relevance for the Church in that country, such as the exercise of the rights to religious freedom, life and conscientious objection, as well as the issue of immigration reform.”

The statement also included a mutual commitment to ending human trafficking.

Before the meeting, both men were all smiles.

“I bring greetings from my family,” the president said to the pope when they met. “The last time I came here to meet your predecessor I was able to bring my wife and children.”

Obama presented Francis with a custom-made seed chest featuring a variety of fruit and vegetable seeds used in the White House’s garden. “These I think are carrots,” he said, holding a pouch. “Each one has a different seed in it. The box is made from timber from the first cathedral to open in the United States in Baltimore.”

The pope gave the president an encyclical. “I actually will probably read this in the Oval Office when I’m deeply frustrated. I’m sure it will give me strength and calm me down,” the president said smiling.

In Italy, Obama’s visit — which also included talks with Renzi and President Giorgio Napolitano — has been a topic of conversation all week. Italians said they hoped Obama’s short stop in Italy would lead to positive changes in the country and beyond.

“The whole world is suffering, and when you have two great leaders meet to discuss the world’s economic problems, you have to have hope it will make a difference,” said Salvatore Mucci, a 44-year-old coffee bar worker.

via Obama has first audience with Pope Francis.

ImageAccording to several polls, as high as 17% of registered voters believe that Obama is a Muslim despite the fact that he attended a Catholic school in his youth and has been a member of a Christian church for over 20 years.  Today, on Facebook and Twitter countless comments expressed an overwhelming desire for the President to “find Jesus” and “learn the One True God” from his meeting with the Pope. 

This NBC News article attempts to clear up any confusion about the President’s religious stance:  

Barack Obama is stepping up his effort to correct the misconception that he’s a Muslim now that the presidential campaign has hit the Bible Belt.

At a rally to kick off a weeklong campaign for the South Carolina primary, Obama tried to set the record straight from an attack circulating widely on the Internet that is designed to play into prejudices against Muslims and fears of terrorism.

“I’ve been to the same church _ the same Christian church _ for almost 20 years,” Obama said, stressing the word Christian and drawing cheers from the faithful in reply. “I was sworn in with my hand on the family Bible. Whenever I’m in the United States Senate, I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. So if you get some silly e-mail … send it back to whoever sent it and tell them this is all crazy. Educate.”

Obama is referring to a debunked chain e-mail circulating widely on the Internet that suggests he is hiding his Islamic roots and may be a terrorist in disguise. It says he was sworn into the Senate on the Quran and turns his back on the flag during the pledge.

Some facts, some misstatements

There are some truths in the e-mail’s details. Obama’s middle name is Hussein. His father and stepfather were Muslim. And he spent part of his childhood in Indonesia, a largely Muslim country. But he attended secular and Catholic schools, not a radical madrassa.

His campaign has been pushing back against the false rumors all year. His aides decried an incorrect news report that Obama was educated in a Muslim madrassa and a section of his Web site is devoted to correct that and other false rumors circulating on the Internet.

But they are stepping up the effort now that the campaign has hit South Carolina and soon turns to other southern states where religion is so important to voters. The campaign distributed an open letter from seven Jewish senators this weekend condemning the attacks; aides are planning an event this week to respond directly to the e-mails; and campaign representatives blanketed South Carolina churches Sunday with literature that touted Obama’s Christian faith.

One piece features photos of Obama praying with the words “COMMITTED CHRISTIAN” in large letters across the middle. It says Obama will be a president “guided by his Christian faith” and includes a quote from him saying, “I believe in the power of prayer.”

A second piece, which like the first doesn’t mention the Muslim rumor, includes photos of Obama with his family and a caption that says they are active members of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. It explains how as a young man Obama “felt a beckoning of the spirit and accepted Jesus Christ into his life.”

via Obama sets record straight on religion – politics – Decision ’08 – Barack Obama News | NBC News.

The Line in the Sand: Where Free Exercise and The Establishment Clause Collide

As I began my study of the interactions between the political and religious institutions in the United States, it quickly became apparent that the line between the two is less like a line and more like a grey battle zone where secularists and theists fight to shape each state according to their beliefs.  Years before and every year since the Constitution was drafted, American lawmakers have proposed and continue to propose legislation that favors the agendas of their constituents.  One of the biggest agendas (if not the biggest) continues to be the dominating religious views of each state.  The map below illustrates the distribution of each denomination across the country.

churchbodies 

With so many competing and varying views, one would think that surely bills are constantly being proposed to bend to the wills of each congregation.  This assumption is correct.  We are only 2 months into 2014, but here is a list of bills by state that land in the grey battle zone previously mentioned:

Bills allowing religious displays on public property

Alabama: A constitutional amendment would allow the Ten Commandments to be displayed in government buildings, including public schools (HB 45/SB 64).

Georgia: Legislation calls for placing the Ten Commandments on Capitol grounds (HB 702).

Bills celebrating “America’s religious history”

Kansas: A bill would designate a “Celebrate Freedom Week” that critics say is a cover for Religious Right “Christian nation” views (HB 2280).

Virginia: This measure would al­low teachers to use “supplemental materials” that purport to support Ameri­ca’s heritage. Such efforts are usually covers for historically inaccurate “Chris­tian nation” propaganda (HB 197).

Bills promoting creationism in public schools and official school prayer

Oklahoma: Legislation would require science teachers to allow students to analyze and critique the “strengths and weaknesses” of certain “scientific theories.” This model legislation, pushed by creationist groups like the Discovery Institute, is a backdoor effort to undermine instruction about evolution in science classes (HB 1674).

Virginia: Legislation identical to the Oklahoma bill has been introduced (HB 207).

Pennsylvania: A state legislator has signaled his intention to introduce the same bill in Pennsylvania. The measure has not been formally introduced and doesn’t yet have a bill number.

South Carolina: Discussed above, a bill would allow for a moment of silent prayer in schools with teacher participation (HB 3526).

“Religious Viewpoint Anti-Discrimination” bills

Oklahoma: This legislation purports to protect public school students’ “religious liberty” rights but is really just a ruse to work mandated forms of prayer and worship into the schools. The Oklahoma measure (SB 1142), would state that schools may not “discriminate against students’ voluntary religious expression in the classroom, as student groups to form prayer groups or ‘See You At The Pole’ events; shall create limited public forums and neutral criteria for selecting religious commencement speakers who may express religious viewpoints.”

Similar legislation is pending in Michigan (HB 4986), New Hampshire (HB 1388/LSR 2343), North Carolina (SB 370) and Pennsylvania (HB 1427).

Vouchers and tuition tax credits

Kansas: This proposal would establish a system of tuition tax credits for students with disabilities. An identical measure passed House and Senate committees last year (SB 22).

South Carolina: Similar to the Kansas proposal, this bill would create tuition tax credits for students with disabilities. Gov. Nikki Haley attempted to add this plan to the state budget last year. It is expected to be pushed as separate legislation this year (SB 866).

Tennessee: A bill that would set up a voucher plan for students in public schools deemed “failing” in Memphis (HB 190) has been introduced.

New Jersey: Gov. Chris Christie is a relentless proponent of vouchers and tried to force a plan into the state budget last year. That attempt failed, and it is expected that Christie will push a voucher plan in the legislature this year.

Legislation designed to protect religious discrimination in university student groups

North Carolina: This measure would prohibit colleges and universities from denying funding to any student-run group based on the members’ religious views. Many colleges have policies that restrict funding only to groups that don’t discriminate and are open to all students. This measure is designed to override those policies and give special treatment to fundamentalist Christian clubs that refuse to admit gay members or members of other faiths.  (HB 735/SB 719).

South Carolina: Similar to the North Carolina measure, this bill (SB 472) would create a “Student Association Freedom of Religion Act” that would give preferential treatment to university student groups that discriminate on the basis of religion.

Sweeping “conscience” clauses

Tennessee: This measure would protect college students studying coun­seling or psychology or social work who refuse to work with gay clients – even though professional counseling standards almost always require that counselors must refrain from this type of discrimination (SB 514/HB 1185).

Michigan: SB 136, a bill that is broader than the Tennessee proposal, would allow health-care professionals to opt out of any service that they say violates their right of conscience.

Alabama: The bill would allow those working in the health-care field to opt out of any medical service related to abortion or contraceptive medical services (HB 31).

Utah: A constitutional amendment would allow religious organizations or associations or individuals connected with religious organizations from solemnizing marriages that violate their consciences. Critics note that this measure – HJR 1 – is unnecessary because the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution already protects the right of religious organizations to determine their own criteria for marriage ceremonies.

Anti-Islam measures

Florida: Originally intended to ban Islamic law, this measure (SB 386) has been amended to state “foreign law,” which many critics say is code language for sharia. A similar bill nearly passed last year.

Missouri: Similar to the Florida bill, this measure bans the application of “foreign laws.” The measure cleared the legislature last year but was vetoed by Gov. Jay Nixon (SB 619).

Vermont: Bans the application of “foreign laws” in the state (SB 265).

Federal law nullification measures

Missouri: This constitutional amendment would state that Missouri has the power to nullify any federal law deemed to interfere with the state’s interest (including application of church-state separation). Such measures are considered blatantly unconstitutional (SJR 38).

Bills that would “restore” religious freedom

Maine: This bill would create a state “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” that opponents say would give religious groups and individuals the right to impose their faith and suppress the rights of others (LD 1428). Similar bills are pending in Ohio (HB 376) and Wisconsin (AJR 43/SJR 38).

List courtesy of Americans United

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www.au.org/content/state-action-center