U.S. opposes bid to bar religious defamation
WASHINGTON – The Obama administration on Monday came out strongly against efforts by Islamic nations to bar the defamation of religions, saying the moves would restrict free speech.”Some claim that the best way to protect the freedom of religion is to implement so-called anti-defamation policies that would restrict freedom of expression and the freedom of religion,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told reporters. “I strongly disagree.”
Clinton said the United States was opposed to negative depictions of specific faiths and would always fight against belief-based discrimination. But she said a person’s ability to practice their religion was entirely unrelated to another person’s right to free speech.
“The protection of speech about religion is particularly important since persons of different faith will inevitably hold divergent views on religious questions,” Clinton said. “These differences should be met with tolerance, not with the suppression of discourse.”Her comments came as the Organization of the Islamic Conference, a 56-nation bloc of Islamic countries, is pressing the U.N. Human Rights Council to adopt a resolution that would broadly condemn the defamation of religion.
The effort is widely seen as a reaction to perceived anti-Islamic incidents, including the publication in Europe of several cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed.
Michael Posner, the assistant U.S. secretary of state for human rights, democracy and labor whose office prepares the religious freedom report, said the resolution “goes too far.”
“The notion that a religion can be defamed and that any comments that are negative about that religion can constitute a violation of human rights to us violates the core principle of free speech,” he said.
Posner was part of a delegation at the Human Rights Council that successfully negotiated with Egypt a compromise over another similar resolution that had aimed to condemn religion-related harassment or discrimination.
He said the administration wanted to differentiate between such harassment and defamation and would do so both in the Human Rights Council and the U.N. General Assembly.
“There are limits to free expression and there are certainly concerns about people targeting individuals because of their religious belief or their race or their ethnicity,” he said.
‘Violation of free speech’
“But at the same time, we’re also clear that a resolution, broadly speaking, that talks about the defamation of a religion is a violation of free speech.”
Clinton and Posner spoke as they released the State Department’s annual report on international religious freedom, which, as in years past, criticized Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, Myanmar, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea and Sudan for violating religious freedom.
Since this is a free country… fuck all religions.
Obama’s Nonbeliever Nod Unsettles Some
Not everyone was happy with President Barack Obama’s nod to nonbelievers and non-Christians in his inaugural address. And some of the stiff criticism about Obamaâ€™s religious inclusiveness is coming from African-American Christians who maintain that no, all faiths were actually not created equal.
“For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness,” the new president said. “We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this earth,” he also said. Nothing too controversial, proclaiming that America’s strength lies in its diversity.
But between those two statements, the new president got specific: “We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers.”
In his inaugural address, President Barack Obama celebrated America as a “nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and nonbelievers.” Some Christians are taking issue with the approach to inclusiveness, saying the president misrepresented America’s culture and heritage.
By mentioning, for the first time in an inaugural address, the 16.1 percent of Americans who check “no”â€™ when asked about religion, Obama turned it into the most controversial line in his speech — praised by The New York Times editorial board and cited by some Christians as evidence that he is a heretic, and in his well-spoken way, a serious threat.
With that one line, the president “seems to be trying to redefine American culture, which is distinctively Christian,” saidâ€™ Bishop E.W. Jackson of the Exodus Faith Ministries in Chesapeake, Va. “The overwhelming majority of Americans identify as Christians, and what disturbs me is that he seems to be trying to redefine who we are.â€™”
Earlier this week, Jackson was a guest on the popular conservative Christian radio show ‘Janet Parshall’s America,’ where a succession of callers, many of whom identified themselves as African-American, said they shared the concern, and were perplexed and put off by the presidentâ€™s shout-out to nonbelievers.
Parshall noted that atheists were celebrating the unexpected mention, and indeed they were: “In his inaugural address â€¦ President Barack Obama did what many before him should have done, rightly citing the great diversity of America as part of the nation’s great strength, and including ‘nonbelievers’â€™ in that mix,â€™” said Ed Buckner of American Atheists.
“His mother would have been proud,”â€™ Buckner said, referring to the fact that Obamaâ€™s mother was not a church-goer. “And so are we.”
Jackson said he and others have no problem acknowledging that “this country is one in which everybody has the freedom to think what they want.â€™” Yet Obama crossed the line, in his view, in suggesting that all faiths (and none) were different roads to the same destination: “He made similar remarks in the campaign, and said, ‘We are no longer a Christian nation, if we ever were. We are a Jewish, Hindu and non-believing nation.'”
Not so, Jackson says: “Obviously, Jewish heritage is very much a part of Christianity; the Jewish Bible is part of our Bible. But Hindu, Muslim, and nonbelievers? I don’t think so. We are not a Muslim nation or a nonbelieving nation.”â€™
With all the focus on Obama as the first African-American president, the succession of black callers to Janet Parshall’s show was a reminder that the “community”â€™ is not a monolith, and that many socially conservative black Americans are at odds with Obama’s views, particularly on abortion and gay rights. Nor do they all define civil rights in the same way.
The Rev. Cecil Blye, pastor of More Grace Ministries Church in Louisville, Ky., said the president’s reference to nonbelievers also set off major alarm bells for him. “It’s important to understand the heritage of our country, and it’s a Judeo-Christian tradition,”â€™ period.
But his even bigger beef with the president, he said, is that a disproportionate number of “black kids are dying each day through abortion. President Obama is supportive of abortion, and that’s a genocide on black folks. Nobody wants to talk about that as a civil rights issue.”
Catholic bishops plan to forcefully confront Obama
BALTIMORE – In a direct challenge to President-elect Barack Obama, America’s Roman Catholic bishops vowed on Tuesday to accept no compromise for the sake of national unity until there is legal protection for the unborn.
About 300 bishops, gathered in Baltimore for their national meeting, adopted a formal blessing for a child in the womb and advised Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George, president of the conference, as he began drafting a statement from the bishops to the incoming Obama administration. That document will call on the administration and Catholics who supported Obama to work to outlaw abortion.
“This is not a matter of political compromise or a matter of finding some way of common ground,” said Bishop Daniel Conlon of Steubenville, Ohio. “It’s a matter of absolutes.”
The bishops, long one of the leading political forces against abortion, spent the first part of Tuesday behind closed doors reportedly debating the merits of “Faithful Citizenship,” a nuanced guide for Catholic voters issued last November.
Though the document made clear that “the direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life is always wrong and is not just one issue among many,” it also advised Catholics to weigh issues like poverty, war, the environment and human rights when choosing candidates.
But some bishops said they were surprised to see Catholics cite the document as justification for selecting candidates–like Obama–who support abortion rights. A slim majority of the nation’s Catholics voted for the Democratic candidate.
Several bishops said that Catholics could not in good conscience vote for a candidate who favored abortion rights after Obama pledged to pass legislation that would overturn state’s restrictions on abortion such as late-term abortion bans and requirements of parental consent.
“Any one of us here would consider it a privilege to die tomorrow–die tomorrow!–to bring about the end of abortion,” said Auxiliary Bishop Robert Hermann of St. Louis.
Bishops Thomas Paprocki of Chicago said such legislation could threaten laws that allow health-care workers to refrain from carrying out procedures that violate their conscience, putting Catholic health care institutions in jeopardy.
“There are grave consequences,” Paprocki said in an interview. “If Catholic hospitals were required by federal law to perform abortions, we’d have to close our hospitals.”
“I don’t think I’m being alarmist,” Paprocki told the bishops.
George agreed that losing federal funds would put Catholic health care facilities, which make up a third of the nation’s hospitals, out of business. Closing Catholic hospitals would put many patients seeking charitable care from those facilities at risk, he added.
In crafting the statement to Obama, the bishops urged the cardinal to indicate a desire to work with the administration in areas of economic justice, immigration reform, health care for the poor and religious freedom. But they stressed the church’s “intent on opposing evil” and “defense of the unborn child.”
They vowed to oppose any law or executive order that might loosen restrictions on abortion.
They emphasized that efforts to advance abortion rights would “permanently alienate tens of millions of Americans and would be interpreted by many Catholics as an attack on the Church.” They also urged Catholics in public life to be committed to the teachings of the church.
Bishop Joseph Martino of Scranton, Pa., vice president-elect Joe Biden’s home town, called on his brother bishops to be more punitive against Catholic officials who are “stridently anti-life.”
“I cannot have the vice president coming to Scranton and saying he learned his values there when those values are utterly against those of the Catholic Church,” Martino said.
Sister Jamie Phelps, a theologian at Xavier University in Louisiana, also served on Obama’s National Catholic Advisory Board. She applauds the bishops for issuing the statement. But she said the Faithful Citizenship document made it clear that while the rights of an unborn child are a priority voters should consider a whole range of issues regarding the preservation and quality of life.
“That child has no voice if it’s not the voice of the bishops and the voice of Catholics,” she said. “But you can not pick and choose an intrinsic evil.”
George said the Faithful Citizenship document remains the guiding principle for Catholic voters. But he said future versions should be tweaked so portions are not “misused and misinterpreted.” He said Catholics seemed to overlook the “whole question of proportionate reason.”
George has attributed Obama’s victory to the economy, insisting that it was not a referendum on moral issues such as abortion rights.
The bishops also approved a blessing on Tuesday devoted to a child in the womb, intended to support parents, unite parishes and foster respect for human life within society.
“Obviously it’s a very tangible way for us to witness pastorally and sacramentally to the life of an unborn child,” said Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville. “It’s very consistent with the priorities we’ve raised.”
Canadians are leery about mixing politics and religion
What do Democrats Barack Obama and Joe Biden, and Republicans John McCain and Sarah Palin, have in common?
All four candidates for U.S. president and vice-president have made it clear, exceedingly clear, they’re proud Christians.
None is willing to follow the wishes of many annoyed Canadians and refrain from ending speeches with “God bless America.”
Religion, specifically Christianity, plays a much bigger role in American politics than it does north of the border. God talk just can’t be avoided down there — thanks to the overwhelming Protestant presence.
And even though it’s not unethical by definition to invoke a Supreme Being from a political stage, the practice can be manipulated. It can even be abused for demogoguery, through suggesting, for instance, questionable wars and policies reflect “God’s will.”
That doesn’t mean the word God doesn’t ever sneak into Canadian politics. Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who is quiet about his loyalty to the evangelical Alliance Church, will sometimes talk of his faith, carefully. Harper has also been known to declare “God bless Canada.”
Former Liberal PM Jean Chretien, a Catholic, occasionally mentioned God, including in this novel way: “God gave me a physical defect [a facial tic] . . . but I accepted that because God gave me other qualities and I’m grateful.”
Still, there are many fascinating reasons Canadian politicians are much less inclined than their American counterparts to, as typically skeptical Canadians might put it, “play the God card.”
I’ll cite a few of them.
The most obvious is the rising strength of white evangelical Protestants. They make up one out of four Americans.
They feel divinely motivated to convert others to their Jesus, and some are ready to use politics as part of that. Seventy-eight per cent of conservative white evangelicals voted for George W. Bush in the past two presidential campaigns. It made all the difference.
Conservative politicians north of the border don’t have this huge religious voting advantage because fewer than one out of 10 Canadians belong to evangelical churches.
And while many evangelicals quietly support Canada’s Conservatives — half of Harper’s caucus of MPs are evangelical — most don’t have any illusions they can openly bring most Canadians onside with their beliefs.
Canadians are like secularized Europeans that way. Of the world’s industrialized countries, the U.S. is the most religious and most Christian.
It wasn’t always this way.
In the early 20th century, Canada had a much higher percentage of the population attending churches than in the U.S., as North America’s leading historian of religion, Mark Noll (an evangelical), writes in A History of Christianity in Canada and the U.S.
Beginning in the 1950s, however, Canadian church attendance dropped off dramatically, as it did in Europe. At the same time, however, U.S. evangelical churches began to become more appealing, particularly to the middle classes.
The trend has caused many U.S. evangelical leaders to become carried away and aggressively declare theirs is a “Christian nation” — and always has been.
Â Ok, admit it, none of you were expecting ANY of the presidential candidates to say something like this: “Iâ€™m agnostic.” .. Granted he wasn’t talking about it in the religious sense, it’s just fun to hear politicians say such things.
Where is Barack Obama coming from?
Obamaâ€™s voting record is one of the most liberal in the Senate, but he has always appealed to Republicans, perhaps because he speaks about liberal goals in conservative language. When he talks about poverty, he tends not to talk about gorging plutocrats and unjust tax breaks; he says that we are our brotherâ€™s keeper, that caring for the poor is one of our traditions. Asked whether he has changed his mind about anything in the past twenty years, he says, â€œIâ€™m probably more humble now about the speed with which government programs can solve every problem. For example, I think the impact of parents and communities is at least as significant as the amount of money thatâ€™s put into education.â€ Obama encourages his crossover appeal. He doesnâ€™t often criticize the Bush Administration directly; in New Hampshire recently, he told his audience, â€œIâ€™m a Democrat. Iâ€™m considered a progressive Democrat. But if a Republican or a Conservative or a libertarian or a free-marketer has a better idea, I am happy to steal ideas from anybody and in that sense Iâ€™m agnostic.â€ â€œThe number of conservatives whoâ€™ve called meâ€”roommates of mine, relatives who are Republicansâ€”whoâ€™ve said, â€˜Heâ€™s the one Democrat I could support, not because he agrees with me, because he doesnâ€™t, but because I at least think heâ€™ll take my point of view into account,â€™ â€ Michael Froman, a law-school friend who worked in the Clinton Administration and is now involved in Obamaâ€™s campaign, says. â€œThatâ€™s a big thing, mainstream Americans feeling like Northeast liberals look down on them.â€