Becket seeks correction

I’ve received the following request for a correction from

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Eric Rassbach, the national litigation director for the Becket Fund, regarding yesterday’s post on HHS’ contraceptive mandate. Normal
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I wanted to point out an error in your post regarding the
HHS mandate litigation and request a correction: the Supreme Court would not
have to “reverse” itself with respect to RFRA were it to rule in
favor of our clients. Although in Boerne v. Flores RFRA was declared
unconstitutional as applied to the states, it still remains in force with
respect to the federal government. For example, almost 6 years ago the Supreme
Court upheld a RFRA claim against the federal government in Gonzales v. O
Centro Espirita Beneficente Uniao do Vegetal
(we filed a brief in support of UDV in the appeal). The same is true of Smith–it also provides for strict scrutiny if, for example a law contains
categorical or individualized exceptions; the HHS mandates contain both.

Confused Hawkeye Evangelicals

The latest PPP Iowa poll makes clear just how divided Iowa evangelicals are about who to caucus for next Tuesday. Six candidates poll within nine points points: Paul (21 percent), Romney (16 percent), Bachmann (15 percent) Santorum (15 percent), Gingrich (14 percent), and Perry (12 percent). Four years ago, Mike Huckabee garnered 46 percent of evangelicals, with Romney picking up 19 percent, Fred Thompson 11 percent, John McCain 10 percent, and Paul 10 percent. In 2008, Huckabee beat Romney handily in Iowa, 35 percent to 25 percent, because evangelicals showed up in force, constituting fully 60 percent of the turnout. PPP makes out evangelicals at 47 percent this time around.

2011: A year of taking it to the streets

(RNS) 2011 was supposed to be the year the world ended. Twice. But after evangelist Harold Camping’s doomsday predictions failed to materialize, all eyes are now on 2012 when, according to an ancient Mayan calendar, we need to once again prepare for the end of the world as we know it. Jesus was pretty clear: the wars and rumors of wars, the earthquakes and uprisings, are just the beginning of the end. Indeed, 2011 had enough tumult, anxiety and unrest to make people think maybe the end is nigh after all.

The Contraceptive Mandate

Opposition to Health and Human Services’ rules on coverage of contraception under the Affordable Care Act is no longer just a Catholic thing. Last week, a collection of the evangelical elite plus the heads of the leading Orthodox Jewish groups wrote a letter to President Obama protesting the mandate as a violation of their institutions’ free exercise rights: “We believe that the Federal government is obligated by the First
Amendment to accommodate the religious convictions of faith-based
organizations of all kinds, Catholic and non-Catholic.”But there actually appears to be no such obligation in this case, thanks to Antonin Scalia’s majority decision in Smith v. Employment Division (1990). Smith says that free exercise claims cannot be made against “a neutral law of general applicability,” and the HHS mandate looks altogether neutral and generally applicable. That is, it requires all providers of health insurance to cover contraceptive services, even as it permits HHS to make discretionary exceptions for religious institutions. The opponents think the exceptions are too narrow, though they do not agree on how much broader they ought to be.

Off the Air

The Religion News Roundup is on vacation until Tuesday, Jan. 3. Enjoy the holidays and thanks for reading. Cheers, RNS

NH GOP preferences by religiosity

The new Boston Globe New Hampshire poll, which has Mitt Romney far out in front (39 percent, followed by Gingrich and Paul at 17 percent), shows what happens when you’ve got a state with few evangelicals and a fair number of Ayn Rand libertarians. Romney gets his fair share of Protestants (39 percent), disproportionately large shares of Catholics (45 percent) and frequent worship attenders (47 percent), and a disproportionately small share of those who never go to church (30 percent). Ron Paul, by contrast, does poorly with Protestants (11 percent) and scores his biggest numbers with those who are neither Protestant nor Catholic (27 percent) and who never go to church (26 percent). That all makes sense. But why do Granite State Teapartiers disproportionately favor Romney (44 percent), while Tea Party opponents are as likely to favor Paul (26 percent) as Romney (25 percent)?

Poll: Nearly 80 percent of Americans are Christian

(RNS) As Christmas nears, more than three-quarters of Americans identify themselves as Christian, Gallup reports. Pollsters found that 78 percent of Americans identify with Christianity. Overall, more than 82 percent of Americans have a religious identity, with this breakdown: — Protestant/other Christian: 52.5 percent — Catholic: 23.6 percent — Mormon: 1.9 percent — Jewish: 1.6 percent — Muslim: 0.5 percent — Other non-Christian religion: 2.4 percent — None/atheist/agnostic: 15 percent — No response: 2.5 percent The findings fit the trend of an increasing percentage of Americans who do not embrace a formal religious identity. In 1951, 1 percent of Americans did not have a religious identity, compared to 24 percent identifying as Catholic and 68 percent claiming a non-Catholic Christian faith. Gallup found earlier this year that 92 percent of Americans say they believe in God, which suggests that a lack of religious identity is not necessarily linked to atheism.

Man sentenced to 14 years for burning black church after Obama’s election

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (RNS) The second of three city men termed “shiftless and pathetic” by a judge was sentenced to nearly 14 years in prison for burning a local black church to the ground in the predawn hours after President Barack Obama was elected. Michael F. Jacques Jr., 27, did not go quietly during a three-year prosecution linked to the 2008 burning of the Macedonia Church of God in Christ in Springfield, Mass. His case included protracted arguments over a false confession, an 11-day trial earlier this year that yielded a hate crime conviction and multiple delays in sentencing proceedings. But Jacques on Thursday (Dec.

Friday Godbytes: Geeky Menorahs; Atheist Scorecard for Presidential Candidates; Christmas Lights!

Everyone is working on a newfangled menorah these days. Google may have gotten some flack this week for not making a Hanukkah “Google Doodle,” but they made sure folks knew about the lava-lamp menorah in their offices (at left). There are other techie menorahs too, such as this robotic menorah and even a “digital” menorah made out of a circuit board. (you can see how they made it here) For the curious, you can enjoy a whole list of off-beat (and often geeky) menorahs here. Jewish rappers are all over the news these days, with Forbes even putting out an entire article on the best Jewish rappers of all time.

Friday’s Religion News Roundup: Gay KKK, Vatican porn and no Midnight Mass in Iraq

Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George – never a man afraid to say exactly what he’s thinking – says “gay liberation” forces are now as big a threat to the Catholic Church as the KKK once was. And the other guy who isn’t afraid to say what’s on his mind – Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow – is one of the top religion authors of 2011. A court-brokered settlement will allow 12 nurses at a New Jersey teaching hospital to avoid participating in abortions for religious or moral reasons. Two verdicts in cases we’ve been following: A former church janitor was convicted in New Jersey of stabbing a Catholic priest to death; and a white man who torched a black church on the night of President Obama’s election was sentenced to 14 years in Massachusetts. Catholics aren’t the only ones who oppose new rules that require insurance coverage for contraception: so do evangelicals.

Christmas banner causes big spat in small N.J. town

PITMAN, N.J. (RNS) Located just 17 miles southeast of Philadelphia, Pitman, N.J., has the rural feel of fictional Bedford Falls in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Life, however, became a lot less wonderful for Pitman’s mayor, Mike Batten, a week ago when he received an email from Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation in Madison, Wis. Gaylor was writing, she said, on behalf of a “concerned area resident and taxpayer” who was offended by a religious banner long displayed in downtown Pitman. The sign, strung across Broadway, the town’s main thoroughfare, reads, “Keep Christ in Christmas.” And now the town is embroiled in a legal and religious dispute that has made residents resentful.

Bill Cosby brings his comedic touch to the Bible

(RNS) Like many Americans, Bill Cosby owns multiple Bibles — eight, in fact. And, like many Americans, he doesn’t read any of them regularly. But for a half-century or more, Cosby’s been looking for funny nuggets from the Bible, particularly the book of Genesis. He’s had audiences roaring, imagining poor Noah struggling to build his ark with pairs of animals and cubits of wood. “Am I on ‘Candid Camera’?”

Mormons are Christians

According to Gallup, anyway. In its annual survey of Americans’ religious preferences, the eminent polling firm 1) declares that 78 percent of Americans “identify with some form of Christian religion”; and 2) breaks out Mormons as a separate category. Add up the numbers for Protestant/Other Christian, Catholic, and Mormon and you get…78 percent.I expect this hasn’t escaped their notice in Salt Lake. It will be interesting to see if there is any squawking from Protestant/Other Christian or Catholic quarters.

‘Tis the Season

A few days ago, Cardinal George of Chicago fretted to local Fox News
that next year’s Gay Pride parade might go past a church where Mass was
being said: “You don’t want the gay liberation movement to morph into
something like the Ku Klux Klan, demonstrating in the streets against
Catholicism.”  Meanwhile, Newt Gingrich begged a few hundred supporters in Hiawatha, Iowa, “When you see one of these guys ask them, ‘How can you keep running this negative stuff?'”About the same time, Benedict XVI was visiting a prison in Rome when some HIV-positive inmates asked what they should do about being addressed “in aggressive terms” and made to feel “subhuman.” “They also speak aggressively about the Pope,” he sniffed, “yet nonetheless we persevere.” And yesterday, Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX) excused the surrender to Santa Obama: “”I am willing to fight on…but House Republicans felt like they were
reenacting the Alamo, with no reinforcements and our friends shooting at
us.” It’s beginning to sound a lot like…Whine-nachten. (h/ts David Gibson)