Vatican blasts New York’s sex ed program

VATICAN CITY (RNS) The Vatican took a swipe at new sex education classes in New York City schools on Wednesday (Aug. 31), saying teaching middle school students how to use a condom is “useless, and even harmful.” The front-page editorial of the Vatican’s official newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, criticized all mandatory sex ed classes in public schools but was aimed particularly at New York’s new program, which has been opposed heavily by Archbishop Timothy Dolan. The editorial criticized governments’ “magical trust in the effectiveness of sex education.” Citing longtime sex ed programs in Britain, the paper said “boys and girls continue to have early sexual intercourse without any kind of protection, and the number of pregnancies and abortions among adolescents has multiplied.”

Muslim lawmakers appeal for Israeli soldier’s release

WASHINGTON (RNS) Two Muslim congressmen and other prominent Muslims have urged Hamas to release Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was captured in a cross-border raid five years ago and has been held ever since in the Gaza Strip. Their hope is that Shalit’s release will spark more goodwill gestures between the militant Palestinian group and Israel, and remove Shalit’s imprisonment as an obstacle to substantive peace talks. “It’s a shot in the dark,” said Akbar Ahmed, a former Pakistani ambassador to Great Britain who now teaches at American University, and one of 11 Muslim leaders who signed the letter. “But if one side can make a gesture purely on the basis of compassion, it might have an impact on the other side.” The letter was timed to the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims are called upon to be particularly compassionate.

Czech government agrees to turn over seized churches

WARSAW, Poland (RNS/ENInews) A prominent Czech church leader has welcomed an agreement that would allow churches to reclaim land and buildings seized under communist rule, but forfeit state subsidies in return. A draft settlement was finalized in Prague on Aug. 25 that allows religious groups to retrieve assets that were confiscated after the 1948 communist takeover, while obtaining financial compensation for others. “The ball is now in the government’s court to prepare the necessary legislation,” said Joel Ruml, chairman of the Czech Ecumenical Council, and a member of the Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren. Ruml said the restitutions — expected to begin in January 2013 — would particularly affect the Czech Republic’s predominant Roman Catholic Church, which lost the most under communist rule.

Bogus defense of vets’ religious liberty

Here’s what’s claimed by an outfit called the Liberty Institute:Obama administration-backed officials at the U.S. Department of Veterans
Affairs and the Houston National Cemetery are continuing to deny the
use of Christian words or phrases at veterans’ funerals. Stated simply,
Jesus is not welcome at gravesides. Even VFW honor guards are no longer
able to say, “God bless you,” part of their traditional ritual. As James Dao’s NYT piece makes clear, this is baloney. A Bush administration regulation requires that the bereaved family ask for religious language when volunteer honor guards assist at the graveside ceremony at one of the country’s national cemeteries.

Does religion cause terrorism? It’s complicated

(RNS) The shock of the 9/11 attacks was so great, and the personal losses so deep, that many people understandably sought simple answers for such overwhelming malevolence. What, they asked, would cause someone to hijack a plane of innocent civilians and fly it into a building? Since Osama bin Laden’s holy warriors carried out the attacks, some decided that Islam was clearly to blame, case closed. Others — especially the New Atheists who found a wide audience after 9/11 — didn’t stop at Islam and instead said that all religions are bad because they all inspire senseless violence. In the decade since 9/11, however, experts in religion and terrorism have elaborated more complex theories for the role religion plays in global violence.

Wednesday’s Religion News Roundup

Muslims across the globe are celebrating Eid al-Fitr, the three-day feast that concludes Ramadan. For many, the Arab Spring adds new emotions to the holiday. In Yemen, Libya and Egypt – where they are dropping “Mubarak” from the customary salutation “Eid Mubarak” (a blessed Eid) – joy and optimism run high. In Syria and Pakistan, not so much. A scuffle broke out at Playland, an amusement park in New York, when Muslims celebrating the end of Ramadan were told that women could not wear their head coverings on certain rides.

GUEST COMMENTARY: How far we’ve come, how far we’ve yet to go

(RNS) A fascinating exchange recently took place in the pages of the Vatican’s newspaper between the chief rabbi of Rome and the Vatican’s chief representative to the Jewish people. Their conversation reflected just how far we’ve come in Christian-Jewish relations — but also how far we have yet to go. It started when L’Osservatore Romano published an article by Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews. Writing about the upcoming interfaith gathering at Assisi, Italy, on Oct. 27, Koch noted two key changes since the first Assisi summit 25 years ago: the collapse of communism and the rise in terrorism.

C’mon pollsters

This is the kind of thing that drives me nuts. Yesterday PPP released a poll on the GOP presidential primary in South Carolina with a lot of very interesting
crosstabs on views (e.g. evolution, global warming) and candidate
preferences, including Tea Party support–but no religious breakdown
whatsoever. With two Mormon candidates (including one frontrunner), a
couple of Catholics, and major league evangelicals, how is this not
relevant?Four years ago, 60 percent of the voters in South Carolina’s Republican primary described themselves as evangelical or born-again, and of those 43 percent voted for Mike Huckabee and 27 percent for John McCain. (Mitt Romney picked up only 11 percent of the evangelicals, while Fred Thompson garnered 15 percent.) McCain won the primary narrowly–and the lion’s share of the state’s delegates–by far outstripping Huckabee among non-evangelicals, 43 percent to 14 percent. (Romney picked up 20 percent of the latter.) McCain also dominated Huckabee among Catholics, 45 percent to 11 percent, with Romney picking up 24 percent.What PPP shows this year is a massive shift in GOP preference since Perry joined the race.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Shame on you, Dick Cheney

(RNS) Dear Vice President Cheney: As one of those Americans who voted for you in two elections, the excerpts from your new book and recent interviews you’ve given remind me of what has caused me the most regret. You sullied the good name of the United States of America around the globe when you authorized the use of torture. During trips to North Africa and the Middle East, I’ve witnessed firsthand the loss of respect that Americans now confront. Ordinary citizens have asked me, “Do you know that your government, allegedly a `Christian country,’ is conducting torture? You should be ashamed.”

Survey: Muslim Americans have moderate views

(RNS) Almost half the nation’s estimated 2.8 million Muslims fault their leaders for not speaking out against Islamic extremists, but a vast majority are far more satisfied than Americans overall with the way things are going in this country, according to a major survey of U.S. Muslims released Tuesday (Aug. 30). The Pew Research Center report, the most comprehensive survey since 2007, shows no evidence of rising support for Islamic extremism among Muslim Americans, although 52 percent say government anti-terrorism policies single out Muslims for increased surveillance. Nearly half of U.S. Muslims say their leaders here have not done enough to challenge extremists. “I think we should all do more,” says Hassan Jaber, executive director of Dearborn, Mich.-based ACCESS, the largest nonprofit Arab-American human services organization.

Americans flunk question on Captain America vs. Bible

(RNS) Pop quiz: Who said “We often suffer, but we are never crushed. Even when we don’t know what to do, we never give up”? According to a recent poll, more Americans attributed the passage to comic book hero Captain America, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and former President George W. Bush than its actual source: the New Testament book of 2 Corinthians. A survey commissioned by the American Bible Society found that 56 percent of Americans surveyed misattributed the quote. At 27 percent, King received the most misplaced credit; just 12 percent correctly attributed it to the Bible.

At 39, Gordon president leads evangelical up-and-comers

WENHAM, Mass. (RNS) For the past decade, sociologist D. Michael Lindsay has been living the very phenomenon he’s studied in depth: evangelicals climbing the ranks of secular institutions and becoming American elites. Yet in a surprise move, this 39-year-old rising star has traded a tenure-track position at Rice University to become president of Gordon College, a respected outpost of evangelicalism 25 miles north of Boston. Some of Lindsay’s former students have wondered why he would leave a highly ranked university with a growing, well-funded sociology department. For Lindsay, it’s a matter of calling.

COMMENTARY: 10 years later, the failure of terrorism

NEW YORK (RNS) Last weekend, we were all about Hurricane Irene. Before that, it was the earthquake. Now starts the run-up to the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Is there a theme here? Well, yes three themes.

Tuesday’s Religion News Roundup

Security forces killed at least seven people in Syria as they emerged from a mosque after prayers marking the end of Ramadan, according to activists. The sculptor of the controversial statue of the late Pope John Paul II that now stands at Rome’s main train station says he’s open to making minor changes in the work. Some have called his depiction of John Paul’s head “excessively spherical,” among other criticisms. Speaking of popes, Pope Benedict XVI says cradle Catholics have fallen down on the evangelical front. A federal judge has blocked the Alabama immigration law that church leaders, the Obama administration and civil rights activists have decried as unusually cruel and unconstitutional. The AP reports that polygamist pastor Warren Jeffs is in a medically-induced coma The Oregon couple who tried to faith-heal their daughter may have to pay medical bills that mounted when the state took custody and brought her to specialists who saved her eyesight.

Listening to Ralph Reed

When Ralph Reed talks, I listen. On the religious right, truer words were never spoken than when he told the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot 20 years ago, “You don’t know it’s over until you’re in a body bag. You don’t know until election night”–and if you don’t believe that, unzip the body bags of the 2002 leaders of the Democratic Party of Georgia. The other day Ralph published a piece over on Patheos that pretty much nails the current contest for the Republican presidential nomination.So it is that a presidential campaign that is largely about the economy
is nevertheless deeply shaped by issues of faith and morality. The
evangelical vote, which comprised
an astonishing 44 percent of GOP presidential primary voters in 2008,
is poised to play a larger role than ever.