If Obama won’t fight gay marriage, conservatives will

WASHINGTON (RNS) If President Obama and the U.S. Department of Justice no longer want to defend the Defense of Marriage Act from challenges by gay rights activists, who will? Leading conservative law firms say they’re eager to defend the 1996 law that defines marriage as between a man and a woman, but that may not be so easy. Could a conservative firm like Liberty Counsel, a Florida-based group that often opposes the administration, be the stand-in for the U.S. attorney general before a judge hearing DOMA challenges? “That’s what we’re pursuing,” said Mathew Staver, founder of the firm and dean of Liberty University School of Law. “Somebody has to step in and do the job when the attorney general and the president will abandon theirs.”

U.S. rabbis blast Israel over new conversion rules

JERUSALEM (RNS) Nearly 100 American Orthodox rabbis have signed a letter demanding that the conversions they perform outside Israel be recognized — at least for immigration purposes — by Israel’s Interior Ministry. The rabbis — including members of the Rabbinical Council of America, the Orthodox Union, Yeshiva University and the International Rabbinic Fellowship — were caught off guard by an article in the New York Jewish Week that said the ministry had empowered Israel’s Chief Rabbinate to scrutinize the Jewishness of Orthodox converts. Although the Rabbinate, which has sole authority over Jewish marriage in Israel, began to scrutinize Orthodox converts who wanted to marry under its auspices a few years ago, it had not previously had decision-making power on immigration issues. In their letter delivered Tuesday (Feb. 22), the U.S. rabbis said they are “concerned” that some of the conversions performed under their auspices are being questioned.

Catholic bishops back Wis. union protesters

WASHINGTON (RNS) The U.S. Catholic bishops on Thursday (Feb. 24) threw their moral weight behind the pro-union protesters in Wisconsin, saying the rights of workers do not abate in difficult economic times. “The debates over worker representation and collective bargaining are not simply matters of ideology or power,” said Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, Calif., chairman of the U.S. bishops’ committee on domestic justice, “but involve principles of justice, participation and how workers can have a voice in the workplace and economy.” Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker says proposed legislation to limit collective bargaining rights for public-sector employees is necessary to close a $137 million deficit in the state’s budget, a political strategy that has since spread to statehouses in Indiana and Ohio. Union supporters have responded with massive protests.

COMMENTARY: When Israel was in Egypt’s land …

(RNS) Egypt and Israel aren’t your typical neighbors with an occasional across-the-fence feud. The complex relationship between these two nations and peoples that began more than 3,200 years ago is one of the world’s oldest sagas. The Bible alone contains more than 600 references to Egypt. With the recent overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak, Egypt and Israel are writing a new chapter in their long history. A lot of people want to know what comes next, but trying to predict the future of the Middle East is a fool’s errand.

Thursday’s Religion News Roundup

So the big news is the Justice Department’s decision to stop defending the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage (for federal purposes) as between a man and a woman. Attorney General Eric Holder lays out the reasoning here in a letter to House Speaker John Boehner. Jeffrey Toobin explains the legal rationale over at The New Yorker. The reaction is as boringly predictable as you’d expect: gays like it, conservatives don’t. It looks like Maryland will become the next state to legalize same-sex marriage (and then maybe Hawaii?), and Tennessee could become the first state to jail Muslims who follow Shariah law.

GOP Crusaders

Visiting a private Christian school in South Carolina two days ago, former PA senator and would-be GOP presidential nominee Rick Santorum opined, “The idea that the Crusades and the fight of Christendom against Islam is
somehow an aggression on our part is absolutely anti-historical. And that is what the perception is by the American left
who hates Christendom. They hate Christendom. They hate Western civilization at the core. That’s the problem.”Since I happened to be teaching the history of the First Crusade today, I thought I’d try this out on the students, who’d had the opportunity to read various contemporary accounts of that notable historical event.

The Tea Party God Gap

Surprise, surprise! Not. Pew’s latest report on religion and the Tea Party shows Tea Party support to be centrally located in the community of white evangelicals, who are five times more likely to agree than disagree with the T.P. agenda. By contrast, the Nones (those Pew insists on calling “Unaffiliated”) are three times more likely to disagree than agree. The fact that the Tea Party puts tax-and-spend issues on its banner doesn’t mean that they’re libertarians.

Sex abuse charges put Catholic prosecutor front and center

PHILADELPHIA (RNS) For Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, leading the sex abuse prosecution that has roiled this city’s Catholic community is not an attack on the church in which he was raised, and to which he remains deeply committed. But the Philadelphia native says he is determined to bring to justice the “evil” clergy his office accuses of harming children. Earlier this month (Feb. 10), Williams announced criminal charges against three priests and a parochial school teacher for allegedly raping boys in the late 1990s. In addition, Monsignor William Lynn, the archdiocese’s former secretary of clergy, was charged with endangering the welfare of a child because he allegedly transferred abusive priests without warning schools and parishes.

Muslims and ACLU sue FBI over mosque surveillance

(RNS) Is sending a secret informant into a mosque in search of terrorists proactive policing, or a violation of worshippers’ civil rights? That’s the question a federal judge will have to answer after the American Civil Liberties Union and the Council of American-Islamic Relations filed a lawsuit Tuesday (Feb. 22) in Los Angeles against the FBI. The suit charges the nation’s top law enforcement agency targeted Muslims for surveillance based solely on their religious affiliation, violating their constitutional rights. FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Obama drops defense of anti-gay-marriage law

WASHINGTON (RNS) The Obama administration announced on Wednesday (Feb. 23) it will no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act, a nearly 15-year-old law that defines marriage as heterosexual unions. In a letter to Congress, Attorney General Eric Holder said President Obama has determined the law, widely known as DOMA, is unconstitutional when applied to same-sex couples married legally under state law. Holder, writing to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the decision came as he and the president reviewed the administration’s role in current court challenges from legally married same-sex couples in New York and Connecticut. The attorney general said Obama considered a number of factors, including a history of discrimination against gays and a “growing scientific consensus” that a person’s sexual orientation cannot be changed.

Supreme Court rejects 10 Commandments case

WASHINGTON(RNS) The Supreme Court on Tuesday (Feb. 22) chose not to reexamine its decision to strike down displays of the Ten Commandments in two Kentucky courthouses. The high court ruled in 2005 that the Ten Commandments displays outside two county courthouses violated the Constitution’s Fist Amendment. After that ruling, the counties attempted to revise and repurpose the displays as secular. “This case presented the opportunity for the Supreme Court to bring sanity back to the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment,” said Liberty Counsel, a conservative Christian law firm representing the Kentucky counties.

Judge rejects Christians’ health care suit

(RNS) A federal judge on Tuesday (Feb. 22) dismissed a lawsuit filed by Christians who argue that President Obama’s health care overhaul violates their religious freedom. The Christians said they believe that God will heal them from disease and that the requirement to purchase health insurance in the new Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act forces them to demonstrate a lack of faith. The lawsuit argued the health care law also violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. But, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler said, “It is unclear how (the new health care law) puts substantial pressure on plaintiffs to modify their behavior and to violate their beliefs, as it permits them to pay a shared responsibility payment in lieu of actually obtaining health insurance.”

Christian movie draws a (political) crowd

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.(RNS) Mixing science and religion seems a good recipe for on-screen fireworks. Add politics and things will erupt off the screen, too. “The Genesis Code,” a film about college students trying to reconcile creationism and evolution, has been drawing local and national politicians to the movie theater. The film, which was shot here, stars former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson. Nationally, conservative politicians are working hard to link themselves to the film’s message.

Zondervan CEO leaving Christian publisher

CASCADE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (RNS) Zondervan CEO Maureen “Moe” Girkins will step down March 11, the Grand Rapids-area publisher has announced. A search for a new CEO will begin immediately, according to a statement released by the company. The company declined to comment on the reason for Girkins’ departure, which was announced last Thursday (Feb. 17).