Evangelicals and the Tea Partiers

In a comment below, Darren Sherkat questions the (moral) legitimacy of those in the evangelical world who have encouraged Tea Party extremism. In that regard, it’s worth running down the list of those who have signed on to Sojourners’ “Covenant for Civility,” a Christian interfaith document designed to tamp down war of words (and worse). The National Association of Evangelicals is well represented, and it’s good to note Charles Colson’s name and representatives of a host of other evangelical organizations. But conspicuous by absence is anyone from the Southern Baptist Convention, whose prime spokesman on public policy issues, Richard Land, has been among the most vociferous opponents of HCR. Maybe Tea Party activism is part of the Great Covenant Resurgence.

Quebec moves to ban veils for Muslim women

TORONTO (RNS) The Canadian province of Quebec has introduced unprecedented legislation that would effectively bar Muslim women from receiving or delivering public services while wearing a niqab, or face-covering veil. “Two words: Uncovered face,” Quebec Premier Jean Charest told reporters during a press conference in Quebec City on Wednesday (March 24). “The principle is clear.” According to the draft law, Muslim women’s faces would have to be visible in all publicly funded locations, including government offices, schools, hospitals and daycare centers. Fully veiled women in the niqab or burqa, for example, would not be able to consult a doctor in a hospital or attend classes at public schools or a university.

Victims’ group confronts Vatican over abuse

VATICAN CITY (RNS) American victims of clerical sex abuse protested at the Vatican on Thursday (March 25), charging that Pope Benedict XVI had personally mishandled the case of a Wisconsin priest who molested up to 200 deaf boys more than 35 years ago. “What the pope will not admit is what he knew and the Vatican knew,” said John Pilmaier, Milwaukee leader of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, at an informal press conference a few yards from St. Peter’s Square. Pilmaier and three other SNAP members sought to draw attention to the case of the Rev. Lawrence C. Murphy, who was the subject of an article in Thursday’s edition of the New York Times. Murphy, who died in 1998, resigned in 1974 as director of a Catholic school for the deaf in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, following accusations that he had molested students during his nearly 25 years on the staff.

Israeli high court says no bread for prisoners during Passover

JERUSALEM (RNS) Non-Jewish prisoners will not be able to eat bread during Passover, Israel’s High Court has ruled. On Wednesday (March 24), the High Court of Justice denied the petition of Mudabba Mahmoud Rayik, a Muslim prisoner incarcerated in a multi-religion facility, who said his civil rights were being trampled by the Israel Prison Service. Religiously observant Jews do not consume leavened foods like bread or crackers during the week-long Passover holiday, which begins Monday night (March 29). Instead, they eat unleavened foods such as matzo, to recall the Israelites’ swift exodus from Egypt, when their bread had no time to rise. While the High Court acknowledged Ravik’s distress at not being able to consume the foods he was used to during the Jewish holiday, it noted that the prison authority was under no legal obligation to provide specific foods.

Pentagon to provide Passover meals, palm fronds to troops

(RNS) Although U.S. military personnel around the globe will spend Easter and Passover away from home, the Pentagon is taking to steps to ensure they will be able to celebrate the holidays with traditional meals and supplies. The Defense Logistics Agency’s distribution center in Philadelphia has been working since November to provide Passover meals and Seder kits, containing special prayer books and ceremonial robes, to Jews in time for Passover, which beginsMonday (March 29) night. DLA will also supply palm fronds to Christian and Orthodox Christian for Palm Sunday, celebrated on March 28. “Whether service members are in the field or on training assignments away from the regular places they would celebrate, Jewish and Christian alike, we offer all the items needed to conduct their respective ceremonies,” said Maryann Bonk, an inventory management specialist at DLA. Jews observe Passover by refraining from eating leavened baked goods, such as bread and crackers, as well as rice or legumes.

Film probes Americans’ images of God

WASHINGTON (RNS) On the big screen of the movies, God has been played by everyone from George Burns (“Oh, God!”) to Alanis Morissette (“Dogma”) to Morgan Freeman (“Bruce Almighty”). On the small screen of people’s imaginations, God frequently looks like an old man in the clouds, like something out of “The Simpsons.” Or Kenny Rogers. Or more ambiguous terms like creator, energy, love or nature. That’s how some Americans described their image of God in a small independent documentary entitled “God in the Box.”

Creationism critic wins Templeton Prize

(RNS) A former Dominican priest and outspoken critic of creationism has won this year’s Templeton Prize — an honor awarded to scholars who study how science and religion intersect. Francisco J. Ayala is a professor of both biology and philosophy at the University of California, Irvine, where he has been a leading critic of creationism as an erroneous attempt to blend faith and science. But neither do the two realms contradict each other, said Ayala on Thursday (March 25) at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, where he was announced the award’s winner. At $1.5 million, the Templeton prize is the world’s largest annual award given to an individual. “If they are properly understood, they cannot be in contradiction because science and religion concern different matters,” Ayala said.

COMMENTARY: It’s not all about you

(RNS) How many narcissists does it take to change a light bulb? Just one. He holds the bulb while the world revolves around him. Naughty narcissist Jesse James has humiliated his wife (and our collective darling) Sandra Bullock with his wandering ways. This after she won the Oscar for Best Actress, and the same week she told Barbara Walters that her work got better because she could be both fearful and braver knowing she had her husband to go home to.

Thursday’s roundup

The abuse scandal that creeps ever closer to Pope Benedict XVI has crept one step closer, with the NYT describing how U.S. bishops warned the Vatican about a troublesome priest who was abusing boys at a deaf school. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Benedict XVI) didn’t respond to pleas from the archbishop of Milwaukee, and the man who’s now the Vatican’s Secretary of State (the No. 2 position) ordered a secret church trial. The Times, in an editorial, says the pope has some explaining to do, and Germany’s Stern magazine finds a steep drop in Benedict’s poll numbers among his fellow Germans. President Obama signed his executive order intended to prohibit federal funding of abortion as part of the health care bill, but both sides agreed on one thing: it’s essentially meaningless.

Tea Party Legitimacy Panic

Recent threats of violence against members of Congress who voted for HCR raise questions about the nature of the protest movement that has inspired them. As it happens, Quinnipiac yesterday released a poll that gives us a portrait of the movement’s members. The Tea Partiers are spread out evenly among those earning less than $250,000 a year, and are a bit more likely to be female than male, older than younger, and lacking than having a college degree. In short, by the standard socioeconomic measures, they are pretty typical “middle class” Americans. What sets them apart from the norm is that they are very white (88 percent) and very Republican (74 percent).

Religious leaders pledge to combat `stigma’ of HIV/AIDS

(RNS) Religious leaders from around the world pledged at a meeting in The Netherlands to work to eliminate the stigma and discrimination of those living with HIV/AIDS. “Religious leaders can play a vital role in the AIDS response,” said Michael Sidibe, executive director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS in his opening address to the summit. “By promoting community solidarity, they can prevent new HIV infections and ensure that people living with HIV are treated with dignity and respect,” he said. The first High Level Summit of Religious Leaders on HIV, held Monday and Tuesday (March 22-23), included some 40 Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh leaders. Participants from the United States included, among others, the Rev. Calvin O. Butts, III, pastor of New York’s famed Abyssinian Baptist Church; the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; and Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly.

Survey detects church support for immigration reform

WASHINGTON (RNS) A new survey detected broad support among religious groups for comprehensive immigration reform, rebutting a December survey showing most religious communities want to send illegal immigrants home. According to the new study, released Tuesday (March 23) by the Public Religion Research Institute, 86 percent of U.S. voters support a provision for an earned pathway to citizenship in which undocumented immigrants would need to pay taxes, work, register with the government and learn English before they can apply for citizenship. The Rev. Tom Reese, a senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Woodstock Theological Center, said he was encouraged by the findings. “People are clearly aware that our immigration system is broken,” Reese said. “People want a system that not only is good for our national security and our economy but also one that protects the dignity of every human person and keeps families together.”

Irish bishop resigns in sex abuse scandal

VATICAN CITY (RNS) An Irish Catholic bishop has resigned following accusations he mishandled cases of clerical sex abuse of children. The Vatican announced on Wednesday (March 24) that Bishop John Magee of Cloyne, 73, had stepped down in accordance with a church law requiring the resignation of a “bishop who has become less able to fulfill his office because of ill health or some other grave cause.” Magee served as a private secretary to three popes — Paul VI, John Paul I and John Paul II — before becoming bishop of Cloyne in 1987. He stepped down indefinitely from active duty a year ago, pending the conclusion of an inquiry into sex abuse in his diocese. The Cloyne inquiry, which has still not officially concluded, is the fourth major government-sponsored investigation of clerical sex abuse in the Irish Catholic Church since 2003.

Archdiocese must open bids on Katrina reconstruction

NEW ORLEANS (RNS) The federal government has ordered the Archdiocese of New Orleans to open millions of dollars in Hurricane Katrina-related rebuilding to public bid, but will not penalize the church for not having done so thus far. Auditors from the Department of Homeland Security told the archdiocese last month the church had to stop using only its preferred contractors in rebuilding parochial schools, gyms and other sites financed with FEMA reimbursement dollars. While the notice did not specify how much the church spent without seeking public bids, a church report issued in the summer of 2008 told local Catholics the archdiocese then had spent $35.5 million in FEMA money on rebuilding. According to FEMA officials, the archdiocese has collected $329 million in reimbursements thus far. Despite the finding, the government will not impose any penalty on the church for its past practices with FEMA dollars, FEMA spokesman Andrew Thomas said.