CREW files Brownback complaint

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a nonpartisan good-government group, filed a Senate ethics complaint against Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) over the use of faux Senate letterhead in a fundraising letter on behalf a conservative Catholic group.

Not so Pleasant

Yesterday’s unanimous Supreme Court decision, Pleasant Grove City v. Summum, was, strictly speaking, not about religion and yet was all about religion–weaving yet more potential tangles into the tangled web of Establishment Clause jurisprudence. The Summum religious sect does not get to place its principles as a monument in a Pleasant Grove park as a matter of free speech, because there is now such a thing as “government speech” that extends to the Ten Commandments monument in the park but need not extend to Summum’s Seven Aphorisms. Whether the Ten Commandments momument violates the Establishment Clause is a subject for another day–and the Court sees Ten Commandments displays in different ways. Justice Scalia thinks there will be no problem. Justice Souter is not at all sure about that. And Justice Breyer, who represents the fifth vote in these cases, played his cards close to the vest.

Return to sender?

National Catholic Reporter has received a fundraising letter lambasting liberal Catholics and bearing Kansas Senator Sam Brownback’s signature. The letter’s from Catholic Advocate, a conservative Washington-based group. The undated Brownback letter names many prominent Catholic Democrats and accuses them of abandoning the Catholic faith in their support for The Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA). Moneyquote: “Real Catholics need a new voice – not the likes of Ted Kennedy and Nancy Pelosi who have campaigned as Catholics while voting to undermine the values that we hold most dear,” said the letter. Among other Democrats named in the letter are John Kerry, Barbara Mikulski, Robert Menendez, Patty Murray, and Maria Cantwell.

10 Minutes with … David T. Olson

(UNDATED) Booming megachurches might grab headlines, but the bigger story of American congregations is one of accelerating decline, according to David T. Olson, director of the American Church Research Project. Based on data collected from more than 200,000 churches, he projects that by 2050, only 10 percent of Americans will be in church on any given Sunday. Olson, who’s also director of church planting for the Evangelical Covenant Church, analyzes the situation in his 2008 book, “The American Church in Crisis.” Some answers have been edited for length. Q: Why do you say the American church is in crisis?

After expulsion from Argentina, Catholic bishop lands in England

LONDON (RNS) A Holocaust denying Catholic bishop whose readmission by the Vatican has sparked international outrage arrived in Britain on Wednesday (Feb. 25) after his turbulent expulsion from Argentina. Four police officers hastily bundled Bishop Richard Williamson into a car and to a waiting contingent of fellow clergy from the ultra-conservative Society of St. Pius X (SSPX). Williamson, a British native, flew into London’s Heathrow airport from Buenos Aires after the Argentine government had given him 10 days to leave the country because of anti-Holocaust remarks he had made in an interview with Swedish television.

Latino lawmakers to visit churches for immigration reform

(RNS) Latino lawmakers and advocates are traveling to churches in 17 cities to collect stories from families who have been hurt by current immigration policies. “We can no longer wait to take action that will help keep families in our communities together and ensure a safe and secure nation,” said Rep. Nydia Velázquez, D-N.Y., chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. The National Family Unity Campaign begins Friday (Feb. 27) in Providence, R.I. and will stretch coast-to-coast before concluding April 4 in Philadelphia. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., created the model for this campaign, which will also include the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders (CONLAMIC).

Study: Compared to Christians, fewer Jews `switch’ faiths

(RNS) Jews are less likely than Catholics or Protestants to change faiths, though religious switching nationwide has increased since 1965, according to a study released this week by the American Jewish Committee. Most who leave Judaism become unaffiliated, rather than converting to another religion; Many continue to identify as Jewish in an ethnic or cultural sense, concluded the study’s author, Tom W. Smith, director of the General Social Survey at the National Opinion Research Center of the University of Chicago. “Jewish losses are disproportionately to no religion,” he said. With 76 percent retaining their faith, Jews are more “religiously stable” than Catholics (73 percent); and while eight in ten Protestants remain Protestant, specific denominations retain a much lower percentage of members — as low as 16 percent in one case. Nevertheless, like its Christian counterparts, Judaism is losing more adherents than it gains.

Supreme Court rules against religious monument

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Wednesday (Feb. 25) that a city park in Utah does not have to include a monument of a small religious sect even though it already features a Ten Commandments monument. Summum, a Salt Lake City-based group, had argued that officials in Pleasant Grove City, Utah, violated its free speech rights when they did not permit a proposed monument of the group’s beliefs. The “placement of a permanent monument in a public park is best viewed as a form of government speech,” wrote Justice Samuel Alito in the unanimous opinion, “and is therefore not subject to scrutiny under the Free Speech Clause” of the First Amendment. Jay Sekulow, the attorney who argued the case for the city, cheered the decision as a “great victory” for municipalities.

A Passionate Church

Louie Giglio, founder of the Passion Conferences and record label sixstepsrecords, has teamed up with Christian worship leaders Matt Redman and Chris Tomlin to start a church. The Atlanta-based Passion City Church held its first service on February 15, 2009. Giglio, Tomlin, and Redman are three very prominent names in the evangelical Christian community. One possible criticism they face in starting Passion City Church is that the church might become a “superstar church.” Giglio offers a response.

Presidential prayers

President Barack Obama seems to be starting a tradition that breaks away from his presidential predecessors. Apparently “the practice of commissioning and vetting prayers for presidential rallies is unprecedented in modern history, according to religion and policy experts,” writes Dan Gilgoff of U.S. News and World Report. You haven’t seem them? Don’t be surprised if you don’t, says Gilgoff: “The Obama administration may have skirted controversy by scheduling the invocations to be delivered before the president arrives at the events- and before national cable network cameras start rolling.” While some favor the practice, there are those on both the right and the left who seem to take issue with the matter.

Out of blue, into the bank

A church struggling with declining membership and dwindling funds has met a blessing in the form of an antique weather vane. The weather vane, perched on top of the First Parish Church in Newbury since 1869, caught the eye of antiques collector Raymond Egan. After Egan and a weather vane specialist investigated the history of the object, they concluded that the weather vane was possibly created in 1772 by Thomas Drowne. Significant? The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston purchased it for $575,000.

Hallelujah

Leonard Cohen, the novelist/poet/singer/songwriter, has emerged from his mountaintop Buddhist monastery for a world tour. The New York Times catches up to Cohen (whose Zen Buddhist appellation is “The Silent One”) for a rare interview. Some nuggets: “Even on the longest flights Mr. Cohen sits cross-legged and straight-backed in his seat, in a monk’s posture. Asked whether he also does yoga to build strength and agility for his stage shows, Mr. Cohen, his demeanor courtly but reserved, smiled and replied, `That is my yoga.'” “`There’s a similarity in the quality of the daily life’ on the road and in the monastery, Mr. Cohen said. `There’s just a sense of purpose` in which `a lot of extraneous material is naturally and necessarily discarded,’ and what is left is a “`rigorous and severe`” routine in which `the capacity to focus becomes much easier.’