Friday’s roundup

The former COO of Catholic Charities in Washington said the decision to end spousal benefits for employees is “devastating” and will hurt the agency’s ability to recruit quality employees. The Iowa teacher who refused to let a student build a Wiccan altar in shop class has been suspended; he’s not happy about it. A federal judge in Arizona has said two churches can keep ringing their bells, at least for now, because Phoenix’s noise ordinance is too vague. On Capitol Hill, Democratic leaders trying to round up the troops are wooing a dozen anti-abortion Democrats whose support may be crucial for passing health care reform; the group, led by Michigan’s Bart Stupak, don’t like the Senate’s abortion language and would prefer their own, tighter restrictions put back in. The president of a Wyoming college says he’s sorry for promoting his school to exclusively Mormon high school students.

For traveling Jews, no more wandering alone in the wilderness

JERUSALEM (RNS) Andre Ufferfilge figures he probably could have found a couch to crash on in Israel through friends of friends, but he instead found a home-cooked kosher meal and acceptance for his traditional Jewish lifestyle. Before he left his university campus in Dusseldorf, Germany, Ufferfilge hopped online and registered with Jewgether (, a social networking site dedicated to finding a home away from home for Jews on the road. Through the site, Ufferfilge spent four days as a guest of a Jewish family in Neve Daniel, a Jewish settlement outside Jerusalem, and two more days with “liberal” students in the southern city of Beersheva. “I wanted to be in a Jewish home, where I could keep kosher and where I would not be seen as an exotic being when I pray with a tallit (prayer shawl) and tefillin (phylacteries),” Ufferflige said. “I also wanted to show Jews in foreign countries that, despite the Holocaust, Judaism is still alive and growing in Germany.”

God and the gridiron? Some are crying foul

(RNS) Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Tim Tebow won’t be on the Super Bowl field in Miami this Sunday (Feb. 7), but his expected prime-time anti-abortion ad is keeping him in the spotlight, and raising questions about the sometimes awkward balancing act between religion and sports. “He has become sort of the epitome or exemplar of the engagement between Christianity and big-time sports,” said Tom Krattenmaker, author of the new book, “Onward Christian Athletes: Turning Ballparks into Pulpits and Players into Preachers.” “I can’t recall ever seeing so much (attention) around one athlete: both incredible respect, incredible accomplishment on the field, sterling character off the field, combined with this level of controversy and discussion and hoopla.” To be sure, religion and sports haven’t always been on the same team; just ask any pastor who’s found members of his flock out on the links on a Sunday morning instead of in the pews.

Tuesday’s round up

President Obama met with Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan at the White House yesterday and pressed him to “reintegrate religious minorities,” open the Halki seminary, and give Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew some room to do his job. The Supreme Court said it will decide whether a California law school illegally discriminated against a Christian group that discriminates against gays and lesbians. With religious folks on the left and right looking on, the Senate is expected to vote on the Nelson amendment to the health-care reform bill today. Nobody seems to think it will pass, but anti-abortion provisions could be included in the final bill anyway. Former Maryland Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, not cowed by her cousin’s public spat with the Catholic Church, says the bishops conference “has lost its way” by forcefully insisting on the primacy of abortion in the health-care debate.

Wednesday’s religion round-up

Federal authorities charged two Chicago men with plotting terrorist attacks in Europe, including the offices of the Danish newspaper that published anti-Muslim cartoons several years ago. An anti-abortion activist is calling on people to burn effigies of Speaker Pelosi and Sen. Harry Reid, e-Bay says it will block an auction to raise money for the man charged with killing abortion provider George Tiller, and a federal court dismissed a Christian adoption agency’s challenge to President Obama’s policy on embryonic stem-cell research. A Georgia court ruled that a breakaway Episcopal church in Savannah must cede property rights to the Diocese of Georgia. Franklin Graham paid Sarah Palin $1,664 to deliver food to western Alaska while she was governor of the state, and evangelicals are trying to convert those frosty secularists in New England. A former Home Depot cashier says he was fired for wearing a button reading “One Nation Under God.”

GUEST COMMENTARY: Barring abortion in health care reform

(RNS) It’s time to clear the air in the current debate over whether proposed health care legislation covers abortion. What’s the truth? Number one issue: Whether the Hyde Amendment applies now The Hyde Amendment has been federal policy since 1976. It states that money from the Labor/Health and Human Services appropriations bill cannot be used for most abortions or for health coverage that includes them. The catch with the proposed health care reform bills is that they will authorize and appropriate their own funds outside the bounds of this appropriations bill.

Conscience clauses not just about abortion anymore

WASHINGTON (RNS) Faced with a request to give an unmarried female patient a prescription for birth control pills, Dr. Michele Phillips looked to her conscience for the answer. “I’m not going to give any kind of medication I see as harmful,” said Phillips of San Antonio. The drugs would not protect her patient from “emotional trauma from multiple partners,” Phillips reasoned, or sexually transmitted diseases. “I could not ethically give that type of medication to a single woman.” After the evangelical Christian refused to write the prescription, she resigned her position.

Vatican to canonize Hawaii’s leper priest

VATICAN CITY (RNS) When Pope Benedict XVI proclaims Blessed Damien de Veuster a saint on Sunday (Oct. 11), among the 40,000 expected attendees at the ceremony in St. Peter’s Square will be the King and Queen of Belgium and a White House delegation including Ambassador to the Vatican Miguel Diaz and Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii. Yet no one’s presence there will give greater honor to the man known as “Father Damien,” one of five new saints to be canonized by Benedict, than 11 elderly men and women from the Hawaiian island of Molokai. All victims of Hansen’s Disease, or leprosy, they are among the last residents of a former leper colony on Molokai’s Kalaupapa peninsula, where Damien cared for the afflicted for more than 15 years in the late 19th century.

Report: Support for abortion on decline in America

WASHINGTON (RNS) Support for abortion is declining across the country, with Americans now evenly divided on whether it should be legal, a new report shows. In 2007 and 2008, supporters of legal abortion more clearly outnumbered opponents, but recent surveys by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that 47 percent now say it should be legal in all or most cases and 44 percent believe it should be illegal all or most of the time. Those figures represent a shift away from support for abortion rights in previous years, when 54 percent of respondents supported legal abortion and 40 percent who thought abortion should be illegal. Researchers found a broad range of Americans with significantly less support for abortion, including white mainline Protestants and white Catholics who attend worship services at least weekly, and Jews. While increasing percentages of Republicans are opposed to legal abortion, Democrats now are more likely to be undecided.

O’Malley defends Kennedy’s Catholic funeral

(RNS) Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston on Wednesday (Sept. 2) defended his attendance at the funeral of Sen. Ted Kennedy, a prominent dissenter from Catholic teachings on gay rights and legalized abortion. O’Malley wrote on his blog that it was “appropriate to represent the church at this liturgy out of respect for the senator, his family, those who attended Mass” and others praying for the Kennedys. “We are people of faith and we believe in a loving and forgiving God from whom we seek mercy,” the cardinal continued. The funeral for Kennedy, who died Aug.

COMMENTARY: Kidnapping unveils the `spirit of bondage’

(UNDATED) Why didn’t she escape? In 1991, 11-year-old Jaycee Lee Dugard was kidnapped by Phillip Garrido at a school bus stop near her home in South Lake Tahoe, Calif. For the next 18 years, she was held captive in a concealed area behind her abductor’s home in Antioch, Calif., about 180 miles away. There, in a squalid concealed cluster of makeshift tents, Garrido fathered Dugard’s two daughters, Starlet and Angel, now 11 and 15. Garrido and his wife, Nancy, were arrested and charged with Dugard’s kidnapping, rape, and imprisonment.

Churches step into health care debate

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Congress may be on summer recess, but Americans who are motivated by their faith are joining the conversation over changing the way that health care is paid for in the United States. The Huntsville Chapter of Health Care for Everyone-Alabama, for example, includes many who are motivated by their faith to support ways that Americans can work together to make sure that everyone has access to affordable health care. It’s an urgent need here in the buckle of the Bible Belt, where statistics show Alabama has one of the nation’s highest rates of infant mortality — in part, experts say, due to mothers’ poor health care. Dr. Pippa Abston, a deacon at United Church of Huntsville and a physician who has helped organize health care for the homeless, said her own concerns are a natural outgrowth of her faith.

Jews irked as cancer race scheduled for Rosh Hashana

PORTLAND, Ore. (RNS) Friderike Heuer has walked in the Race for the Cure breast cancer fundraiser many times, but this year she’s hit a roadblock: The date of this year’s Portland race, Sept. 20, conflicts with Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year. Her faith won’t allow her to attend. “I am pretty upset over it,” Heuer said.

Secular Buddhism

It’s no secret that mindfulness meditation and other Buddhist-based cognitive studies are gaining in popularity in the West, particularly in the U.S. But in bringing mindfulness to the masses, is something lost in translation? That is to say, are Westerners gradually stripping Buddhism of its religious roots? Vince Horn, of the podcast “Buddhist Geeks,” ponders that question and raises several more in this Beliefnet essay. A snippet: “Are we so embarrassed by certain components of Buddhism — the adherence to strict moral codes, the magical and mythical pantheon of Buddhist cosmology, the metaphysics of enlightenment, etc. — that we feel the need to throw them all out without further discourse?

Senate confirms Diaz as U.S. ambassador to the Vatican

WASHINGTON (RNS) The U.S. Senate on Tuesday (Aug. 4) confirmed a Cuban-born theologian as the ninth U.S. ambassador to the Vatican. Miguel H. Diaz, 45, will be the first theologian and the first Hispanic to serve as American envoy since Washington established formal diplomatic ties with the Holy See in 1984. A relative unknown before President Obama tapped him in May, Diaz has taught theology at the College of Saint Benedict and St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minn., since 2004.