Gingrich v. Judge Biery

Appearing on CBS’ Face the Nation yesterday, Newt Gingrich advocated  dispatching U.S. marshals to haul federal judges before Congress to explain controversial rulings, citing what has become his favorite example of judicial overreaching.Let’s
take the case of Judge Biery. I think he should be asked to explain a
position that radical. How could he say he’s going to jail the
superintendent over the word “benediction” and “invocation”? Because
before you could — because I would then encourage impeachment, but
before you move to impeach him you’d like to know why he said it.So what’s the deal with Judge Biery? Last May, the agnostic parents of two students in the Medina Valley Independent School District a few miles west of San Antonio brought suit to stop what they considered to be official promotion of religion by the district in various forms, but immediately in the high school graduation ceremony about to take place.

What’s wrong with Mormons?

Bob Vander Plaats, president of Iowa’s Family Leader organization explains to WaPo’s Jason Horowitz thusly:Mormons, he said, had “not only added a whole ‘nother book,” a reference
to the Book of Mormon, the scripture of the Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints, “but they have changed to adapt a culture. It has
changed.” Normal



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So if the LDS Church had stuck to its guns and refused to abandon the practice of plural marriage, Vander Plaats would be more likely to support Mitt Romney?

Hitchens on his way

I met Christopher Hitchens once, when he came to Trinity six years ago to help inaugurate our Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture. He was his usual entertaining self, and dished out his usual kind of provocation. During the panel discussion, he did his riff on metzitzah b’peh, the controversial practice of sucking the blood from a circumcision that he persisted in portraying as institutionalized pedophilia. Undergraduates and elderly Jewish attendees were suitably shocked. On the way back to the airport, he traded stories with fellow professional skeptic Susan Jacoby about their respective close encounters with religion, recounting how, after his marriage-induced conversion to Greek Orthodoxy, it was “like waking up a cockroach.”And yet, venture around the internet and you can find barely a religious scribbler who doesn’t have a kind word to say about the man.

Obama defends his Israel policy at Jewish conference

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. (RNS) President Obama told a supportive crowd of Reform Jews here on Friday (Dec. 16) that no other administration in U.S. history “has done more in support of Israel’s security.” “Don’t let anybody else tell you otherwise. It is a fact,” Obama told more than 4,500 people attending the biennial convention of the Union for Reform Judaism.

Friday Godbytes: Christopher Hitchens; Pin the Beard on Matisyahu; Jesus Toasters

Christopher Hitchens, famed author, columnist, atheist and overall critic of religion, passed away yesterday after a prolonged battle with esophageal cancer. Traditional media responded quickly: the New York Times, Vanity Fair, Fox News and NPR and others promptly posted obituaries. There were reactions from believers and nonbelievers alike, with nuns from Mother Teresa’s charity offering up prayers for Hitchens and his family. (They’re not sure he would have appreciated the prayers, but then the nuns probably didn’t appreciate Hitchens’ scathing critique of Mother Teresa in 2003 either) New media outlets were the quickest to weigh in. Hemant Mehta of “The Friendly Atheist” blog offered both a written and artistic tribute, and satirical comedy news outlet The Onion poked fun at Hitchens’ talent as a debater.

Pope Benedict XVI’s peace message calls for wealth redistribution

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Noting a “rising sense of frustration” at the worldwide economic recession, Pope Benedict XVI said that a more just and peaceful world requires “adequate mechanisms for the redistribution of wealth.” The pope’s words appeared in his message for the World Day of Peace 2012, released on Friday (Dec. 16) at the Vatican. The message laments that “some currents of modern culture, built upon rationalist and individualist economic principles, have cut off the concept of justice from its transcendent roots, detaching it from charity and solidarity.” Authentic education, Benedict writes, teaches the proper use of freedom with “respect for oneself and others, including those whose way of being and living differs greatly from one’s own.”

Religious freedom panel gets 11th-hour reprieve

WASHINGTON (RNS) Congress saved an independent religious freedom watchdog commission that was about to shut down with a last-minute vote on Friday (Dec. 16). The bill reauthorizing the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) for three years was held up in the Senate for almost three months before passing with an amendment on Tuesday. The House approved it on Friday, the same day the commission was set to close. “I’m very pleased to see that the Congress has reauthorized the commission, and we can get back into the business of doing what we do best, which is monitoring conditions for religious freedom around the world,” said USCIRF chairman Leonard Leo.

Christopher Hitchens’ atheism was a gift to believers

WASHINGTON (RNS) Christopher Hitchens will be remembered as many things: an acerbic essayist, connoisseur of Scotch and cigarettes and roguish writer whose forceful pen was fueled by an imposing intellect. Yet his impact on American life, which will be felt long after his death at age 62 on Thursday (Dec. 15), is likely to be the unabashed atheism he championed throughout his life, and the public voice he gave to growing numbers of unbelievers. Even his foes — whose prayers he simultaneously welcomed and rejected as he battled esophageal cancer — say his acid-tongued arguments against God sharpened their own. “As an atheist who challenged America’s deeply held religious convictions, he will continue to serve as a thorn in the side of those who believe that religion requires no rational defense,” Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, a friend and frequent sparring partner, wrote in a tribute for The Forward, a national Jewish newspaper.

Friday’s Religion News Roundup: Pink Bibles, Tebowing and Gingrich on celibacy

Christopher Hitchens, the acid-tongued atheist and lovably roguish essayist, has met his maker (or not) at age 62. Saith Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, a friend and sparring partner: “He was religion’s most vociferous enemy but you could not help but develop an affection for him due to his warmth, wit, and, bizarre as it may sound, humility.” WaPo sits in on a choir practice at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, where the “gleaming flaxen bob” in the alto section belongs to none other than Callista Gingrich. Speaking of, Newt says that if Catholic priests can choose to be celibate, so can the gays. POTUS will be speaking to the nation’s largest Jewish movement this afternoon in Washington, and our own Lauren Markoe profiles the new president of the Union for Reform Judaism, Rabbi Rick Jacobs.

On Dec. 25, Atheists celebrate a different birthday

(RNS) Deck those halls with boughs of apples and top that tree with a finger puppet of Sir Isaac Newton. At least that’s what Robin Zebrowski does at her home in Beloit, Wis., where she and her husband, Joshua, observe the birthday of the great 17th-century English scientist and mathematician, Dec. 25, 1642. They send cards featuring a bust of the great man (inside reads: “Reasons Greetings!”), and exchange gifts that emphasize science and knowledge, including books and other “nerdy” things, Zebrowski said. On Dec.

New Reform Jewish leader promises revitalization

WASHINGTON (RNS) Rabbi Richard Jacobs, who will soon head the congregational arm of the largest Jewish denomination in North America, understands why so many Jews avoid synagogues. His own experience growing up in a Reform synagogue in Southern California, he said, was “dreary” and “shallow.” Citing Jacobs’ willingness to experiment with new approaches to traditional synagogue life, Reform Jews have generally heralded his election as a hopeful sign for the movement, which is struggling to attract millions of Jews who have expressed little interest in their religion. “The largest growing group in Jewish life is probably the disaffected,” Jacobs said in a recent interview at the Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, N.Y., where he’s been the rabbi for 20 years. There are 1.5 million Reform Jews and more than 900 Reform congregations in North America.

Clinton hosts summit on religious intolerance

WASHINGTON (RNS) Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrapped up a summit of international leaders this week to explore specific steps to combat intolerance, discrimination and violence on the basis of religion or belief. The closed-door meeting on Wednesday (Dec. 14) was the first of an ongoing series called “The Istanbul Process.” Representatives came from 30 countries and international organizations, including Egypt, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. “We are working together to protect two fundamental freedoms — the right to practice one’s religion freely, and the right to express one’s opinion without fear,” Clinton said in her closing remarks.

Church secretary says interracial marriage got her fired

FAYETTEVILLE, Tenn. (RNS) A white church secretary is suing her former employer, arguing that she was fired for marrying a black man. Debra Dodd, the former secretary at the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Fayetteville, Tenn., and the Rev. Tim Smith, pastor of the church, agree on one thing: Most of the members of that congregation are great people. But from there, their stories diverge. Dodd has filed a lawsuit for back wages and $500,000 in punitive damages against the church after she was fired for what she says is racial discrimination.