The Common Good

Blog Posts By Lauren Markoe

Posted by Lauren Markoe 4 days 27 min ago
On the first night of Passover, Jews ask aloud, “Why is this night different from all other nights?”For a group of 150-plus women gathered March 22 at Congregation Beth El north of Washington, D.C., that traditional question was followed by an alternative: “Why is this seder different from other seders?”Answer: “At other seders, men traditionally lead the service. At this seder, women are the leaders.”Women’s seders are not new. The women who gathered at Beth El on Sunday, 12 days before the holiday begins on April 3, have been at it for 19 years. These seders began in or near cities with substantial Jewish populations about a generation ago, when fewer women played leading roles in synagogues and other institutions of Jewish life.Today, women in the Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist movements of Judaism in the U.S., which account for about 90 percent of synagogue-affiliated Jews, lead congregations as rabbis, cantors, and synagogue presidents.Still, women’s seders proliferate, and each year, their guest lists grow.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 week 3 days ago
Rabbi Ruth Bader Ginsburg?Not quite, but when a Jewish nonprofit asked the Supreme Court justice to write a biblical commentary for Passover, she agreed, and added a feminist twist: It would raise up the often overlooked women of the Exodus story.Ginsburg, one of three Jews and three women on the high court, is known as a champion of women’s rights — but not for being particularly religious.But Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt, whom Ginsburg asked to help out with the commentary, said Ginsburg had a clear vision for the piece and knew exactly which biblical women she wanted to highlight from the iconic liberation story of the Book of Exodus.“She has a Jewish soul, there is no question,” Holtzblatt, a rabbi at Adas Israel, a Conservative synagogue in Washington, D.C., said of Ginsburg.“It’s in her. It’s deeply in her.”
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 week 6 days ago
The Schwartzs seemed like any other Jewish family in Woodstock, N.Y. except for one thing: Mom and Dad were obviously white, and their daughter Lacey was obviously not.That racial disconnect would be easier to fathom if Peggy and Robert Schwartz hadn't had everyone believing their dark-skinned daughter was the biological child of both parents.It would take Little White Lie, the film an adult Lacey made about family secrets and religious identity, to unpack this mystery.“I grew up in a world of synagogue, Hebrew school, bar mitzvahs,” Schwartz narrates over a home movie montage of Jewish holiday celebrations and her own bat mitzvah.“So it never occurred to me that I was passing,” she continues.“I wasn’t pretending to be something I wasn’t. I actually grew up believing I was white.”Little White Lie, which has enjoyed success on the film festival circuit and will reach a larger audience when PBS’s Independent Lens airs it on March 23, revolves around a flabbergasting central question: How could this family pretend that she owed her complexion to the genes of dad’s darkest Italian ancestor?Schwartz said she wants the film to model how people can face up to family secrets and move on with their lives. In her case, the secret was her mother’s affair with a black man.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 4 weeks 2 days ago
A student group in South Africa this month called on all Jews to leave the Durban University of Technology, an act of anti-Semitism that Americans could not imagine on their own college campuses.But a comprehensive survey of anti-Semitism at American colleges released this week shows that significant hostility is directed at Jews on U.S. campuses, too.The National Demographic Survey of American Jewish College Students, produced by a Trinity College team well-known for its research on religious groups, found that 54 percent of Jewish students experienced anti-Semitism on campus in the first six months of the 2013-2014 academic year.Professors Barry A. Kosmin and Ariela Keysar asked 1,157 students in an online questionnaire about the types, context and location of anti-Semitism they had encountered, and found that anti-Jewish bias is a problem for Jews of all levels of religious observance.“And this is a national problem; it’s not just happening in pockets of areas,” Keysar said. “Hopefully people will read this survey as a wake-up call. Clearly, the students want us to do something.”The survey, she also noted, was given to students months before last summer’s war between Israel and Gaza, which ignited much anti-Israel sentiment on college campuses, sentiment that at times crossed the line into anti-Semitism.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 4 weeks 3 days ago
Samantha Elauf was a teenager who loved clothes and applied to work in an Abercrombie & Fitch Kids store in her native Tulsa, Okla., in 2008. But Elauf, a Muslim, also happens to wear a headscarf. So she didn’t get the job.No one — not even Abercrombie & Fitch — disputes that her hijab cost her the job offer. And the law, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, states that an employer can’t deny employment based on an worker’s religious practice, unless accommodating it would prove terribly burdensome.At the time, Abercrombie had a “no hats” policy for its sales associates. When the U.S. Supreme Court heard Elauf’s case on Feb. 25, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg summed up the religious exemption required of the company: “Title VII doesn’t require accommodating baseball caps, but it does require accommodating religious practice.”So why did this case make it all the way to the Supreme Court?Elauf, though she won in a federal district court in 2011, lost in a federal appeals court in 2013. At the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, the company’s argument — that it shouldn’t have had to give a religious accommodation because Elauf never asked for one — found traction.Do we really want companies delving into an applicant’s religious practice in order to determine whether the person might want an accommodation, Abercrombie lawyer Shay Dvoretzky asked the justices on Wednesday.“This will inevitably lead employers to stereotype,” he said.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 6 weeks 3 days ago
For the Obama administration and the Bush administration before it, drone strikes kill terrorists before terrorists can kill innocents, and the strikes keep American soldiers out of harm’s way.But for a group of faith leaders, drones are a crude tool of death that make killing as easy as shooting a video game villain, and they put innocents in harm’s way.These religious critics — 150 ministers, priests, imams, rabbis, and other faith leaders who gathered at the Interfaith Conference on Drone Warfare at Princeton Theological Seminary in late January — have spent the weeks since drafting a statement that calls on the U.S. to halt targeted lethal drone strikes.“There are enough problems with the current drone policy and the use of drones that we need a break,” said the Rev. Richard Killmer, director of the conference. “Drones have become a weapon of first resort and not last resort. It has made it a lot easier to go to war.”
Posted by Lauren Markoe 7 weeks 3 days ago
With measles outbreaks in 14 states and health authorities imploring parents to weigh the minimal risks of vaccines against the ravages of preventable disease, some Christians are raising an objection of a completely different sort: the abortion connection.Abortion?The Internet rumors that claim vaccinations mean having tiny pieces of aborted fetuses injected into your body are flat-out wrong, yet there is a grain of truth in the assertion that vaccinations and abortions are linked.Many of the most common vaccines, for rubella and chicken pox for example, are grown in and then removed from cells descended from the cells of aborted fetuses. Pregnant women aborted them about 40 years ago by choice, and not with the intent of aiding vaccine production.Yet for some religious believers, those facts do not lift what they see as a moral prohibition against vaccination.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 10 weeks 3 days ago
Christian missionary work spans the globe. But Jewish mission trips?Your average American synagogue is not planning a congregational visit to a poor corner of the world. But a few are starting to, and some rabbis are lobbying for more to follow.“At a time when synagogues are losing market share and ‘Next Gen’ Jews are deeply ambivalent about how much they are prepared to identify as Jews, I can testify that this kind of service mission is a game changer,” said Rabbi Sid Schwarz, founding rabbi of Adat Shalom, a Reconstructionist synagogue in suburban Bethesda, Md.Unlike many Christian groups, Jews don’t believe in proselytizing: It’s just not in their religious DNA. But alumni attest that synagogue-sponsored mission trips provide a hands-on way for Jews to fulfill the obligation of “tikkun olam,” Hebrew for “heal the world,” as they strengthen Jewish identities.Schwarz and 20 congregants returned from a 10-day trip to Haiti in December — the congregation’s third trip in four years to the outskirts of Port-au-Prince. There, they partnered with a pastor and used their bodies and their bank accounts to build houses and provide school tuition for Haitian families, many who had been living under tarps since the devastating 2010 earthquake.Schwarz can point to less than a handful of synagogues that have done similar mission work. One is Temple Beth El in Hollywood, Fla., which has made more than 10 mission trips to Haiti since 2007 and leaves again for the island on Jan. 19.“The Christians have a tradition of missionary work, and part of it is to Christianize the world. We Jews have no interest in Judaisizing the world,” said Beth El’s Rabbi Allan Tuffs. Nevertheless, “we should be out there.”
Posted by Lauren Markoe 10 weeks 6 days ago
The Supreme Court on Jan. 12 considered a tiny church’s curbside sign in a case that could raise the bar on government regulation of speech, and make it easier for houses of worship to advertise their services.The Alliance Defending Freedom, the nonprofit advocacy group that represents Pastor Clyde Reed and his Good News Community Church, bills the case, Reed v. Town of Gilbert, as a religious rights case. But their attorney mostly argued it on free speech grounds.“The town code discriminates on its face by treating certain signs differently based solely on what they said,” attorney David A. Cortman told the justices. “The treatment we’re seeking is merely equal treatment under the First Amendment.”The town of Gilbert, Ariz., outside Phoenix, allows political signs to be much larger and permits them to stay up much longer, Cortman said.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 12 weeks 5 days ago
Hoping to draw more attention to the global problem of attacks against Jews and Judaism, the Simon Wiesenthal Center on December 29 released its list of the top 10 worst anti-Semitic and anti-Israel incidents of 2014.The list can “bring focus to the fact that anti-Semitism has been increasingly manifest in the mainstream of society,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the center, which is named for the famed Holocaust survivor and Nazi hunter.“Anti-Semitism is not just a Jewish problem, and it certainly is not going to get solved without awakening the non-Jewish world to deal with it.”Founded in 1977 to combat anti-Semitism and bigotry in general, the Los Angeles-based center started drawing up the annual list in 2010 to highlight prejudice against Jews, but also criticism of Israel that seeks to delegitimize or demonize the Jewish state.Below are the three worst incidents on this year’s list.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 14 weeks 6 days ago
The Senate has confirmed Rabbi David Saperstein as the State Department’s ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, making him the first non-Christian to hold the job.Saperstein, who led the Reform Jewish movement’s Washington office for 40 years, focusing on social justice and religious freedom issues, was nominated by President Obama in July and confirmed by a 62-35 vote on Dec. 12.Saperstein takes a liberal bent on domestic issues, and all but one of the votes against him came from a Republican.“Religious freedom faces daunting and alarming challenges worldwide,” Saperstein said at his confirmation hearing in September. “If confirmed, I will do everything within my abilities and influence to engage every sector of the State Department and the rest of the U.S. government to integrate religious freedom into our nation’s statecraft and foreign policies.”Saperstein, named the most influential rabbi in America by Newsweek magazine in 2009, will head the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom, where he will be tasked with monitoring religious freedom abuses around the world.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 15 weeks 1 day ago
Christians don’t seem to mind that so many beloved Christmas songs were written by Jews — and Jews tend to reel off the list with pride."White Christmas." "Let It Snow." "Santa Baby." "I’ll Be Home for Christmas." "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire." "Silver Bells." "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer."Those not mentioned here could fill an album.But why didn’t the Jews write any similarly iconic songs for their holiday that falls around Christmastime — Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights?“I Have a Little Dreidl"? Great song … if you’re 4.There are reasons that Jews are good at Christmas songs and why so many of these songs became so popular. And there are reasons why Jews didn’t write similarly catchy tunes for Hanukkah — or any other Jewish holiday.But first, a little music history. 
Posted by Lauren Markoe 20 weeks 3 days ago
Conservative Christians are taking credit for the Republican sweep of the U.S. Senate and GOP victories farther down the ticket in Nov. 4's midterm elections, and they predict they will prevail again in 2016.“This is not only the largest single constituency in the electorate, but it is larger than the African-American vote, the Hispanic vote, the union vote, and the gay vote combined,” Ralph Reed, one of the most recognized figures in conservative Christian politics, said Nov. 5 in a celebratory post-election press conference.Reed, who chairs the Faith & Freedom Coalition, which mobilizes conservative Christian voters across the nation, said politicians in both parties ignore this constituency “at their own peril.”Reed pointed to a poll commissioned by his group that shows that conservative Christians — Protestants and Catholics — made up 32 percent of the Republican electorate, and that they overwhelmingly voted (86 percent) for Republicans Nov. 4. These voters contributed 52 percent of the total votes received by Republicans, according to the Public Opinion Strategies survey, which had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent.But some experts pointed out that little has changed in the religious electoral landscape.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 21 weeks 3 days ago
The mayor of Houston on Wednesday withdrew the subpoenas of sermons from five pastors who opposed an ordinance banning discrimination against LGBT people.Filed two weeks ago, the subpoenas outraged many conservative Christians as an affront to religious freedom.Houston Mayor Annise Parker said Oct. 29 that as important as it is to protect the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), the subpoenas became a distraction. They were aimed at pastors active in the movement to overturn HERO through a citywide vote.Parker, Houston’s first openly gay mayor, said she made the decision after meeting with Houston pastors and then with national Christian leaders, including National Clergy Council President Rob Schenck.“They came without political agendas, without hate in their hearts and without any desire to debate the merits of HERO,” Parker said. “They simply wanted to express their passionate and very sincere concerns about the subpoenas.”Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, called the subpoenas a “gross abuse of power.”
Posted by Lauren Markoe 23 weeks 3 days ago
The Blood of Christ will not be offered during Mass. The Host will be placed in the hands, not on the tongue. And the faithful should not hold hands while reciting the “Our Father.”These are but a few of the guidelines the Diocese of Fort Worth — not far from the Dallas hospital where three Ebola cases have been diagnosed — has sent to its parishes to calm fears about the deadly disease and to prevent the spread of flu.While the diocese is perhaps the first in the U.S. to send around such a memo thanks in part to Ebola, such restrictions are common during flu season in Catholic and other churches that offer Communion.“It’s the same guidelines we have used in past years,” said Pat Svacina, communications director for the Diocese of Fort Worth. “This is just a normal thing. There is no panic whatsoever.”
Posted by Lauren Markoe 23 weeks 6 days ago
Christian researchers tracking decades of decline in charitable giving say the trend will not be reversed until pastors challenge congregants to embrace Jesus’ teachings on the poor.But that, says Sylvia Ronsvalle, one of the authors of the annual “Empty Tomb” reports on Christian giving, will take a different kind of pastor than the counselors and comforters that seminaries and divinity schools have trained for ministry.Seminaries instead need to school future clergy on the affluence of American congregations, and remind church members of “God’s agenda to love a hurting world,” the report said.“The State of Church Giving through 2012: What are Christian Seminaries and Intellectuals Thinking — or Are They?” was issued by Empty Tomb, an Illinois-based nonprofit that tracks the percentage of church members’ income that they give to their congregation.“Pastors are not being prepared to effectively pastor their people within an age of affluence,” said Ronsvalle, who wrote the report with her husband, John L. Ronsvalle.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 24 weeks 4 days ago
In some ways, the case of the Muslim prisoner who wants to grow a beard seems easy.  When it comes to a prisoner’s religious rights, federal laws favors accommodation when possible.So how could Gregory Holt — known as Abdul Maalik Muhammad after his conversion to Islam — possibly lose at the Supreme Court, where the justices heard his case on Oct. 7?Holt wants to grow a mere half-inch beard — a length of whisker allowed in the vast majority of state prison systems, but not the one where he is incarcerated: Arkansas.Even Chief Justice John Roberts wondered how such a seemingly straightforward case came before the high court, which usually occupies itself with the thorniest of legal questions.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 24 weeks 6 days ago
If you are a Christian who doesn’t smoke, abstains from sex outside your heterosexual marriage and can get your priest to vouch that you go to church at least three times a month, you may qualify for a new Catholic alternative to health insurance.Taking a cue from evangelicals, a group of traditionalist Catholics on Oct. 2 unveiled a cost-sharing network that they say honors their values and ensures that they are not even indirectly supporting health care services such as abortion that contradict their beliefs.Christ Medicus Foundation CURO, as the group is called, will be financially integrated with Samaritan Ministries International, which was launched in 1991 by an evangelical home-schooling dad. The SMI network now serves 125,000 people and is exempt from the Affordable Care Act.“Think about the Gospels and how the Apostles lived,” said CMF CURO director Louis A. Brown Jr. at the program’s Washington, D.C., debut. “They very much shared and cared for each other. And we’re saying: ‘Catholics, you can do that too.’”
Posted by Lauren Markoe 25 weeks 4 days ago
It’s not every day that a coalition of legal minds is rooting for a violent inmate convicted of stabbing his girlfriend in the neck.When Gregory Holt’s case arrives at the U.S. Supreme Court on Oct. 7, lawyers won’t be arguing about what landed him a life sentence in an Arkansas state prison, but rather what he wanted to do once he got there: grow a beard in observance of his Muslim religious beliefs.The state of Arkansas says he can’t. Holt — a convert to Islam who now calls himself Abdul Maalik Muhammad — says he would keep his beard no longer than half an inch. But prison officials, backed by the state’s attorney general, argue that even such a short beard poses security risks.“When it comes to making prison policies, the stakes are high; lives can be lost if the wrong decision is made,” according to the state’s legal brief, which describes Holt as a violent self-declared fundamentalist. “The ADC takes religious freedom seriously, but it takes seriously its paramount interests in safety and security, too.”The St. Louis-based 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Ray Hobbs, the director of the Arkansas Department of Correction. But it’s hard to find too many others who think that the prison’s case for security trumps Holt’s right to exercise his religion.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 26 weeks 4 days ago
More than 120 Muslim scholars from around the world joined an open letter to the “fighters and followers” of the Islamic State, denouncing them as un-Islamic by using the most Islamic of terms.Relying heavily on the Quran, the 18-page letter released Sept. 24 picks apart the extremist ideology of the militants who have left a wake of brutal death and destruction in their bid to establish a transnational Islamic state in Iraq and Syria.Even translated into English, the letter will still sound alien to most Americans, said Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council of American-Islamic Relations, who released it in Washington with 10 other American Muslim religious and civil rights leaders.“The letter is written in Arabic. It is using heavy classical religious texts and classical religious scholars that ISIS has used to mobilize young people to join its forces,” said Awad, using one of the acronyms for the group. “This letter is not meant for a liberal audience.”Even mainstream Muslims, he said, may find it difficult to understand.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 26 weeks 5 days ago
If you’re Jewish, it’s the time of year to do some serious soul-searching.On Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year that begins at sundown on Sept. 24, Jews ask how they could have lived up to their better selves during the previous year, and for forgiveness from God and those they have wronged.And while they’re not required to make New Year’s resolutions, a lot of Jews do anyway.“Mine usually revolve around my mother,” said Debbie Sann, a Washington, D.C., mother of two. “I ask God to forgive me for not being a better daughter, and then I resolve to be a better daughter and I say I will call my mother at least once a week.”Sann is typical of many Jews who make resolutions around Rosh Hashanah — nobody ever discussed the idea with her, or taught it to her in Hebrew school, but she started the practice because it just felt right. In her 20s, walking home from synagogue, she made her first resolution, and has been doing so ever since.To some — and not always the most traditional of Jews — the practice seems a bit un-Jewish, a little too reminiscent of the quickly abandoned resolutions that spur couch potatoes to dig out their workout gear and join a gym in early January.But like many Jews who make Rosh Hashanah resolutions, Sann also makes resolutions on Jan. 1. Those are different — she resolves to keep a more organized house, or to work harder. But the ones she makes during the Jewish High Holy Days “are about being a better person,” she said.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 28 weeks 3 days ago
After he said “Christians have no greater ally than Israel,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, was heckled off the stage at a Sept. 10 gala to raise awareness of beleaguered Mideast Christians.Cruz, the keynote speaker at the Washington, D.C., dinner, sponsored by In Defense of Christians, a new organization spearheaded by Catholic and Orthodox Christians, prompted boos and cries of “stop it!” and “enough” and “no!” as an increasingly louder crowd told him to get off the stage.The incident, first reported by the online news organization The Daily Caller, was captured on video by EWTN, the Catholic television network. The video shows that Cruz tried to continue speaking, but many in the audience, in a hotel ballroom, expressed anger when he included Hamas in the list of militants out to destroy religious minorities in the Middle East.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 28 weeks 3 days ago
Watching ancient Christian communities stand nearly defenseless as Islamic militants roll across swaths of the Middle East, coalitions of Christians are banding together to sound the alarm and demand government action.The most recent effort is a three-day conference (Sept. 9-11) in Washington, D.C., which gathered Orthodox Christians, evangelicals, Roman Catholics and others for prayer, speeches and a lobbying push on Capitol Hill.“If Christian voices are able to ring out as one from Egypt to Syria to Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan, then we really do believe it will be possible for Middle Eastern Christians to survive,” said Andrew Doran, executive director of In Defense of Christians, which organized the conference.Doran, who describes himself as a Catholic with a great affinity for Orthodox Christianity, said the gathering has shown how Middle Eastern Christians can put aside their sometimes 1,500-year-old disagreements and take up the cause of their beleaguered brethren.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 28 weeks 4 days ago
Faith leaders who sit to the left in American politics say they won’t let the religious right claim the moral mantle in the elections of 2014.On Sept. 9,  they announced a new campaign to boost voter registration and encourage voters, particularly in poor and immigrant communities, to go to the polls.On a conference call to reporters, Ted Strickland of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, an ordained Methodist minister and former Democratic governor of Ohio, said he and others leaders will go door to door and church to church to press their message: that people of faith should pursue a public policy that is fair and just.The Rev. William Barber, leader of North Carolina’s “Moral Monday” movement, which has long protested acts of the state’s conservative legislature, quoted Isaiah 10: “Woe to those who make unjust laws.”
Posted by Lauren Markoe 31 weeks 3 days ago
What happens to a community when a Roman Catholic school closes its doors?That’s the question Nicole Stelle Garnett and Margaret F. Brinig, two Notre Dame law professors, pondered as they studied closures in Chicago, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles.There were 7,000 Catholic schools in the U.S. in 2010, down from 13,000 in 1960, according to the National Catholic Education Association. The decline, rooted in the migration of parishioners to the suburbs and the secularization of Catholic culture, has been dubbed the “closure crisis” within the church.Religion News Service asked Garnett about what she and Brinig found in their investigation, which resulted in their new book: Lost Classroom, Lost Community: Catholic Schools’ Importance in Urban America.The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 32 weeks 2 days ago
Civil rights and religious groups say efforts to rid federal agencies of anti-Muslim bias have faltered and prejudice against Muslims persists, particularly in the training of anti-terrorism officers.On Thursday, 75 groups—including the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Auburn Seminary, and the NAACP—sent a letter to the White House urging an audit of federal law enforcement training material.“The use of anti-Muslim trainers and materials is not only highly offensive, disparaging the faith of millions of Americans, but leads to biased policing that targets individuals and communities based on religion, not evidence of wrongdoing,” the letter reads.A National Security Council representative said the letter will be reviewed and a response issued.“As we said when these news reports first came to light, the use of racial or ethnic stereotypes, slurs or other similar language by employees is both unacceptable and inconsistent with the country’s core values,” said Caitlin Hayden, National Security Council spokeswoman.The groups point to a reference to “Mohammed Raghead” in a memo and the claim by a former FBI official that the CIA’s director is a “closet Muslim.”
Posted by Lauren Markoe 32 weeks 4 days ago
The U.S. Navy will no longer allow Bibles and other religious materials in the guest rooms of Navy lodges, a decision that has infuriated some conservative groups, which recently learned about the new policy.The Navy’s decision came after the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter questioning the constitutionality of religious literature in the Navy lodges’ 3,000 guest rooms.The June 19 directive from the Navy Exchange Service Command, which runs the Navy’s 39 guest lodges in the U.S. and abroad, allows religious materials to be made available to guests. But it forbids religious items to be placed in guest rooms, aligning the command, known as NEXCOM, with U.S. Navy policy, said NEXCOM spokeswoman Kathleen Martin.On Tuesday the American Family Association made the directive the subject of its latest “action alert,” asking members to call Navy officials to reverse the decision. The Chaplains Alliance for Religious Liberty has called on the Navy to do the same.But supporters of the Navy directive, said it rights a constitutional wrong, in that the Establishment Clause does not allow the U.S. government to promote or favor any particular religion.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 33 weeks 6 days ago
When Philadelphia’s St. Paul Baptist Church hired the Rev. Leslie Callahan as its first female pastor, in 2009, she was nearing her 40th birthday and the tick-tock of her biological clock was getting hard to ignore.She delighted in her ministry but also wanted a husband and children in her life. The husband she couldn’t do much about — he just hadn’t stepped into her life.“But it was clear to me that I was going to do everything in my power to realize my dream of becoming a parent,” she said.Now Callahan is mother to 22–month-old Bella, who was welcomed joyously by what the pastor describes as “a pretty traditional Baptist church.” She describes Bella’s arrival as “a divine regrouping,” a different answer to her prayers than the traditional mommy-daddy-baby model she had envisioned.Ever since unmarried sitcom anchorwoman Murphy Brown shocked much of the country in 1991 by deciding to raise her baby on her own, the culture has changed. Once unthinkable and later unacceptable, single mothers by choice today are met with less judgment.In fact, according to federal statistics, more than 40 percent of births are to unmarried mothers. But what if, like Callahan, the single mom by choice is a minister, or a rabbi?
Posted by Lauren Markoe, Brian Pellot 34 weeks 6 days ago
President Obama on Monday said he plans to tap Rabbi David Saperstein as the next ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, the first non-Christian to hold the job, which was created in 1998.As ambassador, the man named as the most influential rabbi in America by Newsweek magazine in 2009, will head the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom, and will be tasked with monitoring religious freedom abuses around the world.“When it comes to the work of protecting religious freedom, it is safe to say that David Saperstein represents the gold standard,” said Secretary of State John Kerry, announcing the nomination at the State Department.A Reform rabbi and lawyer, Saperstein, 66, has led the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism for 40 years, and has spent his career in Washington, focusing on social justice and religious freedom issues. He was instrumental in the 1993 passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which requires the government to show a compelling reason for any action that impinges upon the exercise of religion.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 36 weeks 3 days ago
Worried about global warming, a growing number of churches and other faith groups are divesting their holdings in fossil fuel companies, which release large amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.“The warning in Scripture that ‘the wages of sin is death’ could not be more literally true than it is in the case of fossil fuels,” said Serene Jones, president of New York’s Union Theological Seminary, whose board voted in June to divest its $108.4 million endowment from fossil fuel companies.“While we realize that our endowment alone will hardly cause the fossil fuel giants to miss even half a heartbeat, as a seminary dedicated to social justice we have a critical call to live out our values in the world. Climate change poses a catastrophic threat, and as stewards of God’s creation we simply must act.”
Posted by Lauren Markoe 38 weeks 4 days ago
The Presbyterian Church (USA) has removed from its website a booklet that many Jewish groups have criticized as hostile to Israel and denigrating to Judaism.“Zionism Unsettled,” published in January by the church-chartered Israel/Palestine Mission Network, is a history and commentary on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that paints Israel as the aggressor and describes Zionism as inherently racist and theologically flawed.The booklet played a role last month in the denomination’s debate on divesting from three American companies that, divestment proponents say, profit from Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.
Posted by Lauren Markoe, Cathy Lynn Grossman 38 weeks 6 days ago
Five things to know about one of the most anticipated Supreme Court decisions of the year:1. Corporations can’t pray, but they do have religious rights.Hobby Lobby isn’t a person. It’s a chain of crafts stores owned by a religious family. And though the evangelical Green family objects to parts of the Affordable Care Act’s emergency contraception mandate, it’s not the Greens but the company that writes the check for employees’ health insurance. The first question the justices had to answer was this: Does Hobby Lobby have religious rights? To many Americans, this sounds a little nutty. Does a craft store believe in God?A majority of the justices held that a closely held company such as Hobby Lobby does have religious rights. The court didn’t apply those rights, however, to publicly held corporations, where owners’ religious beliefs would be hard to discern.But well before the justices had delivered their verdict on this question, many legal scholars said they wouldn’t be surprised were they to affirm the company’s religious rights. American corporations do have some of the rights and responsibilities we usually associate with people. And in the 2010Citizens United campaign finance case, the justices overturned bans on corporate political spending as a violation of freedom of speech — corporations’ free speech.
Posted by Lauren Markoe, Cathy Lynn Grossman 38 weeks 6 days ago
The Supreme Court on Monday sided with the evangelical owners of Hobby Lobby Stores Inc., ruling 5-4 that the arts-and-crafts chain does not have to offer insurance for types of birth control that conflict with company owners’ religious beliefs.Beyond the specifics of the Hobby Lobby case before them, the justices broke new legal ground by affirming that corporations, not just individual Americans or religious non-profits, may claim religious rights.Does Monday’s decision mean, however, that the religious beliefs of business owners stand paramount? That they are more important than a female employee’s right to choose from the full array of birth control methods she is promised under the Affordable Care Act? Or that a business owner may invoke his religious rights to deny service to a gay couple?Not necessarily, legal experts say. 
Posted by Lauren Markoe 39 weeks 6 days ago
The Presbyterian Church (USA) voted Friday to divest church funds from three American companies it cited for profiting from the oppression of Palestinians within Israel’s occupied territories.The 310-303 vote of the church’s General Assembly in Detroit marks a victory for divestment supporters both within and without the 1.8 million-member PCUSA, now the largest American church to embrace divestment as a strategy to pressure Israel to return its illegally held lands.The divestment resolution targets companies that divestment supporters say supply electronic and earth-moving equipment that help Israel violate Palestinian rights. Presbyterians in support of the resolution described it as a long overdue stand on behalf of Palestinians suffering under the occupation, which began in 1967 when Israel pushed back attacks from neighboring countries.The issue has roiled the church for the last decade, and during a more than three-hour debate, many lamented the divisiveness and noted how many around the world — in the U.S., Israel, and the Palestinian territories – would be watching.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 44 weeks 3 days ago
One of the nation’s leading — and official — champions of religious freedom implored the Obama administration to add Pakistan and Syria to the list of nations that most egregiously violate religious rights.Before a congressional subcommittee on Thursday Robert P. George, chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, said it makes little sense that the roster compiled by the U.S. has barely changed in a decade.The congressionally chartered commission George heads recently advocated that the State Department add eight nations to the eight already designated as “countries of particular concern.” But among the recommended additions, he singled out Pakistan and Syria for their deteriorating and troublesome records on religious liberty.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 45 weeks 4 days ago
Celebrity Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, spiritual counselor to Michael Jackson, onetime Republican candidate for Congress, and author of the best-selling “Kosher Sex” and “Kosher Jesus,” has a new book for Jews and non-Jews alike: “Kosher Lust.”Its provocative subtitle: “Love Is Not the Answer.”The answer, Boteach says, is lust, the God-given fuel for a healthy marriage. Love, he argues, cannot sustain marriage, but lust — what he calls the unfairly maligned member of the Seven Deadly Sins — can.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 45 weeks 5 days ago
The first ever global study of anti-Semitic attitudes shows that more than a quarter of the world’s population (26 percent) harbors anti-Semitic views.The poll, released Tuesday by the Anti-Defamation League, also finds that a large proportion of the world has never heard of the Holocaust, or denies historical accounts of it.Of those polled, 54 percent of those polled — and less than half of those under 35 years old — had heard of the Holocaust.“For the first time we have a real sense of how pervasive and persistent anti-Semitism is today around the world,” said Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League.
Posted by Lauren Markoe, Cathy Lynn Grossman 46 weeks 6 days ago
The Supreme Court Monday declared that the Constitution not only allows for prayer at government meetings, but religious prayer.Writing for the 5-4 majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy held that the town of Greece, N.Y., did not violate the Constitution’s Establishment Clause, which forbids the government from endorsing a religion — by sponsoring clergy who delivered sectarian prayers.“To hold that invocations must be non-sectarian would force the legislatures sponsoring prayers and the courts deciding these cases to act as supervisors and censors of religious speech,” Kennedy wrote for himself and the conservatives on the court.Lawmakers and judges would otherwise have to police prayer, he wrote, involving “government in religious matters to a far greater degree than is the case under the town’s current practice of neither editing nor approving prayers in advance nor criticizing their contact after the fact.”
Posted by Lauren Markoe 48 weeks 2 days ago
Director Darren Aronofsky says he is not religious, and that his Russell Crowe blockbuster movie “Noah” is the “least-biblical biblical film ever made.”But the strong environmental message of his film — which makes Noah a hero as a God-inspired steward of the earth — firmly roots itself in Scripture, Aronofsky told an audience of religious environmentalists on Wednesday. Many of them hope the message of the movie, which has grossed more than $300 million since its release on March 28, spurs more people of faith to work against climate change.In “Noah,” Aronofsky said, he hoped to capture the beauty of creation, and to dramatize God’s dramatic decision to destroy it because of human sin. Noah, he said, “is saving the animals. He is not looking for innocent [human] babies. It’s about saving the animals.”
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 5 weeks ago
Some of the brightest pro-business minds in the nation prodded the Dalai Lama on Thursday to offer a warm endorsement of capitalism.But during an appearance by the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism at the American Enterprise Institute, one of the world’s most stalwart and, in conservative circles, respected free enterprise think tanks, they came up short. The Dalai Lama was the star participant in a morning of panels on “moral free enterprise” and “human happiness.”Asked by AEI President Arthur Brooks and Columbia Business School Dean Glenn Hubbard whether he agrees that the free enterprise system is the most moral of economic systems, and why he thinks the U.S. is the richest nation on earth, the Dalai Lama answered in broken English with his own question: What do you mean by rich?
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 8 weeks ago
Throughout elementary, middle, and high school, Prabhdeep Suri has been the only Sikh in his class, and it’s been obvious.Like all Sikh boys, he wore a patka, a head covering for his uncut hair that’s worn out of respect for his gurus. To his classmates, the patka was a license to stare, taunt, isolate, punch, and kick him. It was a target to knock off his head. It was the reason they called him “Osama bin Laden” and “terrorist.”“He came home crying three days out of five,” his mother, Harpreet Suri remembered. “They were taking his patka off almost every day.”
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 9 weeks ago
Growing up in small-town Georgia, John B. Johnson had family friends who ran the funeral home down the street, so the particulars of a typical American funeral — the embalming, the heavy casket, and remarks about how great the deceased’s hair looked — were all familiar to him.When the time came, he assumed, his funeral would look much the same.But Johnson, now 44, envisions a different sort of send-off for himself: a “green burial” that draws both upon his faith and his commitment to the environment. For Johnson and others like him, a green burial is a way to care for the Earth and answer to the part of his soul that recoils at the pomp of the average American funeral, and takes seriously the biblical reminder: “For dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 10 weeks ago
WASHINGTON — It’s been three months since the Rev. Suzan Johnson Cook resigned as the State Department’s religious freedom watchdog, and those who decry religious persecution in Syria, Sudan, and elsewhere are wondering how long it’s going to take the White House to name a new ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom.Many in the field hope it’s someone with a more diplomatic background than Johnson Cook, a former Clinton administration official and popular Baptist minister whose international experience was mostly acquired on the job.The other factor: the more than two years it took for the Obama administration to choose Johnson Cook and to get her confirmed by the Senate.“A continued vacancy will confirm the suspicion that already exists among foreign governments, persecutors, victims and American diplomats that the issue is not a priority,” said Thomas Farr, director of the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs.The White House has been tight-lipped about the timeline for a decision, as well as about any candidates it may be considering for the position, which Congress created in 1998 to highlight and alleviate religious persecution worldwide.Here’s a short list of five names swirling around Foggy Bottom, culled from experts who work in the field and were asked who they see as likely to be under consideration, or as particularly qualified for the job.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 12 weeks ago
Jesus was breast-fed.It’s a point often made by mothers who want to breast-feed in church, but know others would prefer that they retreat to the nursery, or find an out-of-the-way bench. Another point they make: Breast-feeding is part of God’s plan — so of all places, why not in church?“Breasts were made to feed a baby,” said Misti Ryan, a devout Christian lactation consultant in Texas whose business has a cross in its logo.A mother can breast-feed modestly and should be allowed to nurse in church if she wants to, said Ryan, who has nursed five children in her Baptist congregation. “The church needs to go there.”Pope Francis did go there last month, in his much-noted comment to a journalist about a young mother and infant who had come to a recent general audience:“She was shy and didn’t want to breast-feed in public, while the pope was passing,” Francis recalled. “I wish to say the same to humanity: Give people something to eat! That woman had milk to give to her child; we have enough food in the world to feed everyone.”
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 14 weeks ago
Clergy used to rank near the top in polls asking Americans to rate the honesty and ethics of people in various professions. This year, for the first time since Gallup began asking the question in 1977, fewer than half of those polled said clergy have “high” or “very high” moral standards.But opinions on clergy differed markedly by party, with Republicans viewing them far more favorably than Democrats.Overall, 47 percent of respondents to the survey gave clergy “high” or “very high” ratings, a sharp drop in confidence from the 67 percent of Americans who viewed them this way in 1985.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 14 weeks ago
Rep. Frank Wolf, one of the loudest and most persistent voices in Congress for the right of people around the globe to practice their religions freely, will not seek an 18th term.“As a follower of Jesus, I am called to work for justice and reconciliation, and to be an advocate for those who cannot speak for themselves,” Wolf, a Presbyterian, said in a statement Tuesday.The Republican from Northern Virginia, who will turn 75 in January, said he will work on human rights, religious freedom, and other social issues in his retirement.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 15 weeks ago
Joe Biden was a young senator from Delaware when he was first exposed to the evils of apartheid. As the only white lawmaker in a congressional delegation to South Africa, he resisted security officers who tried to usher him through one door, and his more senior black colleagues through another.“I had what we Catholics call an epiphany,” the vice president said Wednesday as official Washington packed the National Cathedral to recall the life and legacy of former South African President Nelson Mandela.“He was the most impressive man or woman I have ever met in my life,” Biden said of Mandela, who died peacefully on Dec. 5.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 16 weeks ago
Sapped by three weeks of a water-only diet, three activists for immigration reform ended their fasts Tuesday with a morsel of bread blessed by a priest and “passed the fast on” to others who hope to keep attention focused on the issue.“You have truly put your faith in action,” said retired Washington Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, one in a small crowd of political and clerical dignitaries who came to the National Mall to praise those who have gone without food in a bid to pressure Republican House leaders to pass an immigration reform bill.Also seated alongside the quiet and wan fasters: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi; the Rev. Bernice King, the daughter of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.; Secretary of Labor Tom Perez; Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga.; and the Rev. Al Sharpton.In recent weeks, the fasters have attracted high-profile visitors, including President Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, and Vice President Joe Biden, to the heated tents where the fasters have been living on the National Mall.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 19 weeks ago
It may be as close as a person can get to praying at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Western Wall, without actually going there.The newly released movie “Jerusalem,” filmed in 2D and 3D and playing on IMAX and other giant-screen theaters across the U.S. and the world, gives viewers grand, hallmark panoramas, at once awe-inspiring and intimate.For years filmmakers had sought the rights to capture the city from the air, but never before had permission been granted, in part because the holy city is a no-fly zone.Still, before filming began in 2010, producer Taran Davies came up with an extensive wish list of all the sites and rituals he wanted in the film, and presented it to advisers familiar with the spectrum of religious and secular officials who would have to approve.“They all laughed and said forget about it,” Davies said. “They said, ‘It’s impossible and you’re not going to get half of what you’re looking for.’”
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 19 weeks ago
Speaker of the House John Boehner signaled Wednesday that there would be no immigration reform this year, an announcement made the same day that some of the nation’s most prominent evangelical pastors met with President Barack Obama to try to advance the issue.Only months ago, immigration reform seemed to enjoy strong bipartisan momentum.It still does across the nation, said Russell D. Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, one of the eight clergy invited to the Oval Office meeting.“I urged the president not to make this a divisive issue, but to work with House Republicans,” said Moore. “We need to work together to fix the system rather than just scream at each other.”The Obama administration, in a statement issued after the meeting, squarely blamed House Republicans for the impasse. The Democratic-led Senate passed a bipartisan immigration reform plan in June.