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History > 2008 > USA > Faith (IV)



Abortion Issue

Again Dividing Catholic Votes


September 17, 2008
The New York Times


SCRANTON, Pa. — Until recently, Matthew Figured, a Sunday school teacher at the Holy Rosary Roman Catholic Church here, could not decide which candidate to vote for in the presidential election.

He had watched progressive Catholics work with the Democratic Party over the last four years to remind the faithful of the party’s support for Catholic teaching on the Iraq war, immigration, health care and even reducing abortion rates.

But then his local bishop plunged into the fray, barring Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, the Democratic vice-presidential nominee, from receiving communion in the area because of his support for abortion rights.

Finally, bishops around the country scolded another prominent Catholic Democrat, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, for publicly contradicting the church’s teachings on abortion, some discouraging parishioners from voting for politicians who hold such views.

Now Mr. Figured thinks he will vote for the Republican candidate, Senator John McCain of Arizona. “People should straighten out their religious beliefs before they start making political decisions,” Mr. Figured, 22, said on his way into Sunday Mass.

A struggle within the church over how Catholic voters should think about abortion is once again flaring up just as political partisans prepare an all-out battle for the votes of Mass-going Catholics in swing-state towns like Scranton.

The theological dispute is playing out in diocesan newspapers and weekly homilies, while the campaigns scramble to set up phone banks of nuns and private meetings with influential bishops.

Progressive Catholics complain that by wading into the history of church opposition to abortion — Mr. Biden brought up St. Thomas Aquinas, Ms. Pelosi discussed St. Augustine — Democratic officials are starting a distracting debate with the church hierarchy.

“Getting into Augustine and Aquinas — it is just not helpful,” said Chris Korzen, executive director of Catholics United, a progressive Catholic group running television commercials that emphasize the church’s social justice teachings. “It would be wise for them to focus on how policies they are going to implement as leaders are going to move forward the church teachings they say they believe in.”

Catholic conservatives, in turn, until recently had worried about a resurgence of the progressive forces in the American church. Now they are reveling. “The Democrats have actually given back some of the progress they had made,” said Deal Hudson, a Catholic conservative who worked with President Bush’s campaign and is now advising Mr. McCain’s.

Once a reliable Democratic voting bloc, Catholics have emerged as a pivotal swing vote in recent presidential races. Evenly divided in a New York Times-CBS News poll over the summer, Catholics make up about a quarter of the national electorate and about a third in the pivotal battleground states of Michigan, Missouri, Ohio and Pennsylvania. “Whoever wins the Catholic vote will generally win our state and, most of the time, the nation,” said G. Terry Madonna, a political scientist at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa.

And Scranton, a city dominated by the kind of white working-class Catholics who have often defected from the Democrats in presidential elections, is a focus of special attention this year. Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, who generally underperformed with Catholics in the Democratic primary, lost the surrounding Lackawanna County by a margin of three-to-one to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, who has family in the area. Now, the Obama campaign often highlights Mr. Biden’s local roots — he was baptized and spent his early years in Scranton — in a bid for Pennsylvania voters.

Dozens of interviews with Catholics in Scranton underscored the political tumult in the parish pews. At Holy Rosary’s packed morning Masses on Sunday in working-class North Scranton and the Pennsylvania Polka Festival downtown that afternoon, many Clinton supporters said they were planning to vote for Mr. Obama, some saying they sided with their labor unions instead of the church and others repeating liberal arguments about church doctrine broader than abortion.

“I think that one of the teachings of God is to take care of the less fortunate,” said Susan Tighe, an insurance lawyer who identified herself as “a folk Catholic, from the guitar-strumming social-justice side” of the church.

But more said they now leaned toward Mr. McCain, citing both his experience and his opposition to abortion. Paul MacDonald, a retired social worker mingling over coffee after Mass at Holy Rosary, said he had voted for Mr. Kerry four years ago and Mrs. Clinton in the primary but now planned to vote for Mr. McCain because of “the life issue.”

The choice of Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska as Mr. McCain’s running mate had clinched it for him, Mr. MacDonald said. “She is anti-abortion, anti-gay-marriage, anti-Big Oil, a lifetime member of the N.R.A., she hunts, she fishes — she is the perfect woman!”

One parishioner ruled out voting for Mr. Obama explicitly because he is black. “Are they going to make it the Black House?” Ray McCormick asked, to embarrassed hushing from a half dozen others gathered around the rectory kitchen. (Five of the six, all lifelong Democrats who supported Mrs. Clinton in the primary, said they now lean toward Mr. McCain.)

Mr. Madonna, the political scientist, said of the Catholic vote in white, working-class Scranton, “This is a tough area for Obama and some of it is race.”

Both campaigns have dispatched teams of operatives and high-profile allies to help fire up like-minded Pennsylvania Catholics. The McCain campaign also disclosed last month that the senator was meeting privately with Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia. He met with Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver shortly before the Democratic convention. Both were outspoken critics of Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Biden.

Former Gov. Frank Keating of Oklahoma, a director of Catholic outreach for the McCain campaign, said the meetings Mr. McCain has held with bishops around the country were “strictly ceremonial.” But the campaign welcomed the bishops’ comments about the Democrats and abortion, Mr. Keating said, as “statements of affectionate support” for Mr. McCain.

Both sides say that Mr. Obama has a broader grass-roots turnout operation than Mr. McCain. In Pennsylvania, the campaign has trained organizers to talk about Catholic doctrine on abortion and other issues, held about two dozen “brunch for Barack” events after Sunday Mass and organized what the campaign calls “nun banks” to call lists of Catholic voters.

Catholic Democrats outside the campaign have also worked hard to avoid repeating the experience of 2004, when a small group of outspoken bishops dominated news coverage of the church with criticism of Democratic Senator John Kerry focused on the single issue of abortion.

Many parishes distributed a voter guide, produced by an outside conservative Catholic group called Catholic Answers, which identified five “nonnegotiable” issues for faithful voters: abortion, embryonic stem-cell research, human cloning, euthanasia and same-sex marriage.

After the 2004 election, progressive Catholics started to organize and appeared to win some victories. In 2006, the bishops’ conference all but banned outside voter guides from parishes. And last fall, the bishops revised their official statement on voting priorities to explicitly allow Catholics to vote for a candidate who supports abortion rights if they do so for other reasons. And it also allowed for differences of opinion about how to apply church principles. The statement appeared to leave room for Democrats to argue that social programs were an effective way to reduce abortion rates, an idea the party recently incorporated into its platform.

Their revisions set the stage for a clash of voter guides. Catholic Answers is again promoting its “nonnegotiables” voter guide; a new group, Catholics in Alliance for Common Good, has produced a chart comparing the candidates’ views on the war, taxes, the environment and other issues as well as abortion.

The same debate is already playing out almost every day in the letters section of Scranton’s newspaper, said Jean Harris, a political scientist at the Jesuit-run University of Scranton. “It is a running debate between Catholics saying ‘abortion is the only issue’ and others saying ‘you have to look at the whole teaching of the church,’ ” she said.

    Abortion Issue Again Dividing Catholic Votes, NYT, 17.9.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/17/us/politics/17catholics.html






A Teacher on the Front Line

as Faith and Science Clash


August 24, 2008
The New York Times


ORANGE PARK, Fla. — David Campbell switched on the overhead projector and wrote “Evolution” in the rectangle of light on the screen.

He scanned the faces of the sophomores in his Biology I class. Many of them, he knew from years of teaching high school in this Jacksonville suburb, had been raised to take the biblical creation story as fact. His gaze rested for a moment on Bryce Haas, a football player who attended the 6 a.m. prayer meetings of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in the school gymnasium.

“If I do this wrong,” Mr. Campbell remembers thinking on that humid spring morning, “I’ll lose him.”

In February, the Florida Department of Education modified its standards to explicitly require, for the first time, the state’s public schools to teach evolution, calling it “the organizing principle of life science.” Spurred in part by legal rulings against school districts seeking to favor religious versions of natural history, over a dozen other states have also given more emphasis in recent years to what has long been the scientific consensus: that all of the diverse life forms on Earth descended from a common ancestor, through a process of mutation and natural selection, over billions of years.

But in a nation where evangelical Protestantism and other religious traditions stress a literal reading of the biblical description of God’s individually creating each species, students often arrive at school fearing that evolution, and perhaps science itself, is hostile to their faith.

Some come armed with “Ten questions to ask your biology teacher about evolution,” a document circulated on the Internet that highlights supposed weaknesses in evolutionary theory. Others scrawl their opposition on homework assignments. Many just tune out.

With a mandate to teach evolution but little guidance as to how, science teachers are contriving their own ways to turn a culture war into a lesson plan. How they fare may bear on whether a new generation of Americans embraces scientific evidence alongside religious belief.

“If you see something you don’t understand, you have to ask ‘why?’ or ‘how?’ ” Mr. Campbell often admonished his students at Ridgeview High School.

Yet their abiding mistrust in evolution, he feared, jeopardized their belief in the basic power of science to explain the natural world — and their ability to make sense of it themselves.

Passionate on the subject, Mr. Campbell had helped to devise the state’s new evolution standards, which will be phased in starting this fall. A former Navy flight instructor not used to pulling his punches, he fought hard for their passage. But with his students this spring, he found himself treading carefully, as he tried to bridge an ideological divide that stretches well beyond his classroom.


A Cartoon and a Challenge

He started with Mickey Mouse.

On the projector, Mr. Campbell placed slides of the cartoon icon: one at his skinny genesis in 1928; one from his 1940 turn as the impish Sorcerer’s Apprentice; and another of the rounded, ingratiating charmer of Mouse Club fame.

“How,” he asked his students, “has Mickey changed?”

Natives of Disney World’s home state, they waved their hands and called out answers.

“His tail gets shorter,” Bryce volunteered.

“Bigger eyes!” someone else shouted.

“He looks happier,” one girl observed. “And cuter.”

Mr. Campbell smiled. “Mickey evolved,” he said. “And Mickey gets cuter because Walt Disney makes more money that way. That is ‘selection.’ ”

Later, he would get to the touchier part, about how the minute changes in organisms that drive biological change arise spontaneously, without direction. And how a struggle for existence among naturally varying individuals has helped to generate every species, living and extinct, on the planet.

For now, it was enough that they were listening.

He strode back to the projector, past his menagerie of snakes and baby turtles, and pointed to the word he had written in the beginning of class.

“Evolution has been the focus of a lot of debate in our state this year,” he said. “If you read the newspapers, everyone is arguing, ‘is it a theory, is it not a theory?’ The answer is, we can observe it. We can see it happen, just like you can see it in Mickey.”

Some students were nodding. As the bell rang, Mr. Campbell stood by the door, satisfied. But Bryce, heavyset with blond curls, left with a stage whisper as he slung his knapsack over his shoulder.

“I can see something else, too,” he said. “I can see that there’s no way I came from an ape.”


Fighting for a Mandate

As recently as three years ago, the guidelines that govern science education in more than a third of American public schools gave exceedingly short shrift to evolution, according to reviews by education experts. Some still do, science advocates contend. Just this summer, religious advocates lobbied successfully for a Louisiana law that protects the right of local schools to teach alternative theories for the origin of species, even though there are none that scientists recognize as valid. The Florida Legislature is expected to reopen debate on a similar bill this fall.

Even states that require teachers to cover the basics of evolution, like natural selection, rarely ask them to explain in any detail how humans, in particular, evolved from earlier life forms. That subject can be especially fraught for young people taught to believe that the basis for moral conduct lies in God’s having created man uniquely in his own image.

The poor treatment of evolution in some state education standards may reflect the public’s widely held creationist beliefs. In Gallup polls over the last 25 years, nearly half of American adults have consistently said they believe God created all living things in their present form, sometime in the last 10,000 years. But a 2005 defeat in federal court for a school board in Dover, Pa., that sought to cast doubt on evolution gave legal ammunition to evolution proponents on school boards and in statehouses across the country.

In its wake, Ohio removed a requirement that biology classes include “critical analysis” of evolution. Efforts to pass bills that implicitly condone the teaching of religious theories for life’s origins have failed in at least five states. And as science standards come up for regular review, other states have added material on evolution to student achievement tests, and required teachers to spend more time covering it.

When Florida’s last set of science standards came out in 1996, soon after Mr. Campbell took the teaching job at Ridgeview, he studied them in disbelief. Though they included the concept that biological “changes over time” occur, the word evolution was not mentioned.

He called his district science supervisor. “Is this really what they want us to teach for the next 10 years?” he demanded.

In 2000, when the independent Thomas B. Fordham Foundation evaluated the evolution education standards of all 50 states, Florida was among 12 to receive a grade of F. (Kansas, which drew international attention in 1999 for deleting all mention of evolution and later embracing supernatural theories, received an F-minus.)

Mr. Campbell, 52, who majored in biology while putting himself through Cornell University on a Reserve Officers Training Corps scholarship, taught evolution anyway. But like nearly a third of biology teachers across the country, and more in his politically conservative district, he regularly heard from parents voicing complaints.

With no school policy to back him up, he spent less time on the subject than he would have liked. And he bit back his irritation at Teresa Yancey, a biology teacher down the hall who taught a unit she called “Evolution or NOT.”

Animals do adapt to their environments, Ms. Yancey tells her students, but evolution alone can hardly account for the appearance of wholly different life forms. She leaves it up to them to draw their own conclusions. But when pressed, she tells them, “I think God did it.”

Mr. Campbell was well aware of her opinion. “I don’t think we have this great massive change over time where we go from fish to amphibians, from monkeys to man,” she once told him. “We see lizards with different-shaped tails, we don’t see blizzards — the lizard bird.”

With some approximation of courtesy, Mr. Campbell reminded her that only a tiny fraction of organisms that ever lived had been preserved in fossils. Even so, he informed his own students, scientists have discovered thousands of fossils that provide evidence of one species transitioning into another — including feathered dinosaurs.

But at the inaugural meeting of the Florida Citizens for Science, which he co-founded in 2005, he vented his frustration. “The kids are getting hurt,” Mr. Campbell told teachers and parents. “We need to do something.”

The Dover decision in December of that year dealt a blow to “intelligent design,” which posits that life is too complex to be explained by evolution alone, and has been widely promoted by religious advocates since the Supreme Court’s 1987 ban on creationism in public schools. The federal judge in the case called the doctrine “creationism re-labeled,” and found the Dover school board had violated the constitutional separation of church and state by requiring teachers to mention it. The school district paid $1 million in legal costs.

Inspired, the Florida citizens group soon contacted similar groups in other states advocating better teaching of evolution. And in June 2007, when his supervisor invited Mr. Campbell to help draft Florida’s new standards, he quickly accepted.

During the next six months, he made the drive to three-day meetings in Orlando and Tallahassee six times. By January 2008 the Board of Education budget had run out. But the 30 teachers on the standards committee paid for their own gasoline to attend their last meeting.

Mr. Campbell quietly rejoiced in their final draft. Under the proposed new standards, high school students could be tested on how fossils and DNA provide evidence for evolution. Florida students would even be expected to learn how their own species fits into the tree of life.

Whether the state’s board of education would adopt them, however, was unclear. There were heated objections from some religious organizations and local school boards. In a stormy public comment session, Mr. Campbell defended his fellow writers against complaints that they had not included alternative explanations for life’s diversity, like intelligent design.

His attempt at humor came with an edge:

“We also failed to include astrology, alchemy and the concept of the moon being made of green cheese,” he said. “Because those aren’t science, either.”

The evening of the vote, Mr. Campbell learned by e-mail message from an education official that the words “scientific theory of” had been inserted in front of “evolution” to appease opponents on the board. Even so, the standards passed by only a 4-to-3 vote.

Mr. Campbell cringed at the wording, which seemed to suggest evolution was a kind of hunch instead of the only accepted scientific explanation for the great variety of life on Earth. But he turned off his computer without scrolling through all of the frustrated replies from other writers. The standards, he thought, were finally in place.

Now he just had to teach.

The Limits of Science

The morning after his Mickey Mouse gambit, he bounced a pink rubber Spalding ball on the classroom’s hard linoleum floor.

“Gravity,” he said. “I can do this until the end of the semester, and I can only assume that it will work the same way each time.”

He looked around the room. “Bryce, what is it called when natural laws are suspended — what do you call it when water changes into wine?”

“Miracle?” Bryce supplied.

Mr. Campbell nodded. The ball hit the floor again.

“Science explores nature by testing and gathering data,” he said. “It can’t tell you what’s right and wrong. It doesn’t address ethics. But it is not anti-religion. Science and religion just ask different questions.”

He grabbed the ball and held it still.

“Can anybody think of a question science can’t answer?”

“Is there a God?” shot back a boy near the window.

“Good,” said Mr. Campbell, an Anglican who attends church most Sundays. “Can’t test it. Can’t prove it, can’t disprove it. It’s not a question for science.”

Bryce raised his hand.

“But there is scientific proof that there is a God,” he said. “Over in Turkey there’s a piece of wood from Noah’s ark that came out of a glacier.”

Mr. Campbell chose his words carefully.

“If I could prove, tomorrow, that that chunk of wood is not from the ark, is not even 500 years old and not even from the right kind of tree — would that damage your religious faith at all?”

Bryce thought for a moment.

“No,” he said.

The room was unusually quiet.

“Faith is not based on science,” Mr. Campbell said. “And science is not based on faith. I don’t expect you to ‘believe’ the scientific explanation of evolution that we’re going to talk about over the next few weeks.”

“But I do,” he added, “expect you to understand it.”


The Lure of T. Rex

Over the next weeks, Mr. Campbell regaled his students with the array of evidence on which evolutionary theory is based. To see how diverse species are related, they studied the embryos of chickens and fish, and the anatomy of horses, cats, seals and bats.

To simulate natural selection, they pretended to be birds picking light-colored moths off tree bark newly darkened by soot.

But the dearth of questions made him uneasy.

“I still don’t have a good feeling on how well any of them are internalizing any of this,” he worried aloud.

When he was 5, Mr. Campbell’s aunt took him on a trip from his home in Connecticut to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. At the end of the day, she had to pry him away from the Tyrannosaurus rex.

If this didn’t hook them, he thought one Wednesday morning, admiring the cast of a T. rex brain case he set on one of the classroom’s long, black laboratory tables, nothing would. Carefully, he distributed several other fossils, including two he had collected himself.

He placed particular hope in the jaw of a 34-million-year-old horse ancestor. Through chance, selection and extinction, he had told his class, today’s powerfully muscled, shoulder-high horses had evolved from squat dog-sized creatures.

The diminutive jaw, from an early horse that stood about two feet tall, offered proof of how the species had changed over time. And maybe, if they accepted the evolution of Equus caballus, they could begin to contemplate the origin of Homo sapiens.

Mr. Campbell instructed the students to spend three minutes at each station. He watched Bryce and his partner, Allie Farris, look at the illustration of a modern horse jaw he had posted next to the fossil of its Mesohippus ancestor. Hovering, he kicked himself for not acquiring a real one to make the comparison more tangible. But they lingered, well past their time limit. Bryce pointed to the jaw in the picture and held the fossil up to his own mouth.

“It’s maybe the size of a dog’s jaw or a cat’s,” he said, measuring.

He looked at Allie. “That’s pretty cool, don’t you think?”

After class, Mr. Campbell fed the turtles. It was time for a test, he thought.


‘I Don’t Believe in This’

Bryce came to Ridgeview as a freshman from a Christian private school where he attended junior high.

At 16, Bryce, whose parents had made sure he read the Bible for an hour each Sunday as a child, no longer went to church. But he did make it to the predawn meetings of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, a national Christian sports organization whose mission statement defines the Bible as the “authoritative Word of God.” Life had been dark after his father died a year ago, he told the group, but things had been going better recently, and he attributed that to God’s help.

When the subject of evolution came up at a recent fellowship meeting, several of the students rolled their eyes.

“I think a big reason evolutionists believe what they believe is they don’t want to have to be ruled by God,” said Josh Rou, 17.

“Evolution is telling you that you’re like an animal,” Bryce agreed. “That’s why people stand strong with Christianity, because it teaches people to lead a good life and not do wrong.”

Doug Daugherty, 17, allowed that he liked science.

“I’ll watch the Discovery Channel and say ‘Ooh, that’s interesting,’ ” he said. “But there’s a difference between thinking something is interesting and believing it.”

The last question on the test Mr. Campbell passed out a week later asked students to explain two forms of evidence supporting evolutionary change and natural selection.

“I refuse to answer,” Bryce wrote. “I don’t believe in this.”


Losing Heart

Mr. Campbell looked at the calendar. Perhaps this semester, he thought, he would skip over the touchy subject of human origins. The new standards, after all, had not gone into effect. “Maybe I’ll just give them the fetal pig dissection,” he said with a sigh.

It wasn’t just Bryce. Many of the students, Mr. Campbell sensed, were not grasping the basic principles of biological evolution. If he forced them to look at themselves in the evolutionary mirror, he risked alienating them entirely.

The discovery that a copy of “Evolution Exposed,” published by the creationist organization Answers in Genesis, was circulating among the class did not raise his flagging spirits. The book lists each reference to evolution in the biology textbook Mr. Campbell uses and offers an explanation for why it is wrong.

Where the textbook states, for example, that “Homo sapiens appeared in Africa 200,000 years ago based on fossil and DNA evidence,” “Exposed” counters that “The fossil evidence of hominids (alleged human ancestors) is extremely limited.” A pastor at a local church, Mr. Campbell learned, had given a copy of “Exposed” to every graduating senior the previous year.

But the next week, at a meeting in Tallahassee where he sorted the new science standards into course descriptions for other teachers, the words he had helped write reverberated in his head.

“Evolution,” the standards said, “is the fundamental concept underlying all biology.”

When he got home, he dug out his slide illustrating the nearly exact match between human and chimpanzee chromosomes, and prepared for a contentious class.


Facing the Challenge

“True or false?” he barked the following week, wearing a tie emblazoned with the DNA double helix. “Humans evolved from chimpanzees.”

The students stared at him, unsure. “True,” some called out.

“False,” he said, correcting a common misconception. “But we do share a common ancestor.”

More gently now, he started into the story of how, five or six million years ago, a group of primates in Africa split. Some stayed in the forest and evolved into chimps; others — our ancestors — migrated to the grasslands.

On the projector, he placed a picture of the hand of a gibbon, another human cousin. “There’s the opposable thumb,” he said, wiggling his own. “But theirs is a longer hand because they live in trees, and their arms are very long.”

Mr. Campbell bent over, walking on the outer part of his foot. He had intended to mimic how arms became shorter and legs became longer. He planned to tell the class how our upright gait, built on a body plan inherited from tree-dwelling primates, made us prone to lower back pain. And how, over the last two million years, our jaws have grown shorter, which is why wisdom teeth so often need to be removed.

But too many hands had gone up.

He answered as fast as he could, his pulse quickening as it had rarely done since his days on his high school debate team.

“If that really happened,” Allie wanted to know, “wouldn’t you still see things evolving?”

“We do,” he said. “But this is happening over millions of years. With humans, if I’m lucky I might see four generations in my lifetime.”

Caitlin Johnson, 15, was next.

“If we had to have evolved from something,” she wanted to know, “then whatever we evolved from, where did IT evolve from?”

“It came from earlier primates,” Mr. Campbell replied.

“And where did those come from?”

“You can trace mammals back 250 million years,” he said. The first ones, he reminded them, were small, mouselike creatures that lived in the shadow of dinosaurs.

Other students were jumping in.

“Even if we did split off from chimps,” someone asked, “how come they stayed the same but we changed?”

“They didn’t stay the same,” Mr. Campbell answered. “They were smaller, more slender — they’ve changed a lot.”

Bryce had been listening, studying the hand of the monkey on the screen .

“How does our hand go from being that long to just a smaller hand?” he said. “I don’t see how that happens.”

“If a smaller hand is beneficial,” Mr. Campbell said, “individuals with small hands will have more children, while those with bigger hands will disappear.”

“But if we came from them, why are they still around?”

“Just because a new population evolves doesn’t mean the old one dies out,” Mr. Campbell said.

Bryce spoke again. This time it wasn’t a question.

“So it just doesn’t stop,” he said.

“No,” said Mr. Campbell. “If the environment is suitable, a species can go on for a long time.”

“What about us,” Bryce pursued. “Are we going to evolve?”

Mr. Campbell stopped, and took a breath.

“Yes,” he said. “Unless we go extinct.”

When the bell rang, he knew that he had not convinced Bryce, and perhaps many of the others. But that week, he gave the students an opportunity to answer the questions they had missed on the last test. Grading Bryce’s paper later in the quiet of his empty classroom, he saw that this time, the question that asked for evidence of evolutionary change had been answered.

    A Teacher on the Front Line as Faith and Science Clash, NYT, 23.8.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/24/education/24evolution.html?ref=opinion






On Religion

Iowa Church Is a Beacon After Immigration Raid


July 12, 2008
The New York Times


POSTVILLE, Iowa — Back in 2002, before all the trouble, the Rev. Paul Ouderkirk retired from St. Bridget’s Roman Catholic Church here, his last station in 43 years of ministry. He built a home 35 miles away in a town along the Mississippi, and he indulged a passion for family history, tracing his lineage to an ancestor who had arrived in New Amsterdam with the Dutch East India Company.

Once a month or so, Father Ouderkirk drove back to St. Bridget’s to officiate at a wedding or baptize a baby. He savored those rituals, proof that the Hispanic immigrants who had arrived over the past decade to work in Postville’s kosher-meat plant were setting down roots. Some had bought homes. Their children had graduated from high school, even been selected for the National Honor Society.

Then came the morning of May 12, when both satisfaction and retirement ended for the 75-year-old priest. Federal immigration agents raided the Agriprocessors factory, arresting nearly 400 workers, most of them men, for being in the United States illegally. Within minutes of the raid, with surveillance helicopters buzzing above the leafy streets, the wives and children of Mexican and Guatemalan families began trickling into St. Bridget’s Church, the safest place they knew.

It was about that time, with several dozen cowering people inside the church, when Sister Mary McCauley, the pastor administrator at St. Bridget’s, found out that Father Ouderkirk was attending a ceremony for diocesan priests nearly two hours away in Dubuque. Unable to reach him directly, she left a simple, urgent message: “We need to see a collar here.”

By the time Father Ouderkirk extricated himself and reached Postville in the evening, nearly 400 families, some of them not even Catholic, filled the rotunda and social hall of St. Bridget’s. They occupied every pew, every aisle, every folding chair, every inch of floor. Children clutched mothers. One girl shook uncontrollably.

A few volunteers from the old Postville, descendants of the Irish and Norwegian immigrants who settled here more than a century ago, set out food. Others took turns standing watch at the church door, as if the sight of an Anglo might somehow dissuade the feared Migra, as the immigrants call Immigration and Customs Enforcement, from invading their sanctuary.

Already, members of the church staff and a Spanish teacher from a nearby college were tallying the names of the detained workers. Father Ouderkirk conducted his own version of a census in this predominantly Hispanic parish. Gone were all but two members of the choir he had assembled over the years. Gone were all but one of the eight altar servers. Gone were the husbands from the weddings he had performed, and gone were the fathers of the children he had baptized.

As for the mothers, many of them also worked at Agriprocessors and had been arrested. In a putative show of compassion, federal authorities released them after putting an electronic homing device on each woman’s ankle to monitor her whereabouts. These mothers were, in the new lexicon of Postville, “las personas con brazalete,” the people with a bracelet.

During his earlier tenure at parishes in North Texas and Marshalltown, Iowa, Father Ouderkirk had experienced immigration raids twice before, but never on this scale. By the second day, he had moved back into his bedroom in the rectory.

“It’s like God saying, ‘I gave you a little practice,’ because this is the worst,” Father Ouderkirk said in an interview late last month at St. Bridget’s. “This has happened after 10 years of stable living. These people were in school. They were achieving. It has ripped the heart out of the community and out of the parish. Probably every child I baptized has been affected. To see them stunned is beyond belief.”

The only redemptive thing that can be said, perhaps, is that in the crisis at Postville — with nearly 400 immigrants imprisoned and facing deportation, with 40 mothers under house arrest awaiting their own court dates, with families that had two working parents now forced to survive on handouts from a food pantry — the beacon of the Roman Catholic Church to immigrants has rarely shone more brilliantly.

“I came to the church because I feel safe there, I feel secure,” said Irma López, the mother of a 2-year-old daughter, who was arrested along with her husband, Marcelo, after they had worked at Agriprocessors for six years. “I feel protected. I feel at peace. I feel comforted.”

At a practical level, Father Ouderkirk has hired four temporary staff members to help track the court cases and distribute food and financial aid to the affected families. Along with other religious leaders around Iowa, he had been preparing for a march in defense of immigrants’ rights. St. Bridget’s parish, which has only about 350 members, is spending $500,000 in the relief effort, he said.

One month after the raid, St. Bridget’s held a Mass in remembrance of the detainees. The name of every one was recited from the altar, and after every 20 names, a candle was lighted, usually by a persona con brazalete. The candles, half burned, remain in the nave, beneath a wood carving of the Virgin Mother, each one an offering for a miracle.

“I pray to God for the opportunity to stay in this country so my daughter can be educated here,” Mrs. López said. “That was my dream.”

Sitting in the rectory alongside Mrs. López, Rosa Zamora nodded in agreement. “When I pray, I know God is close to me,” said Mrs. Zamora, whose husband, like Mrs. López’s, is now jailed in Louisiana awaiting deportation to Guatemala. “I know there are laws, but God is the judge of everything.”

Judgment of a different sort, though, has been visited on Father Ouderkirk and his aides. One anonymous phone message warned him, “What you’re doing is against the law. Harboring criminals.” Sister Mary received an unsigned letter stating: “You are as far as possible from being the image of Mother Teresa. May you rot in hell.”

It is infuriating in a particular way for Father Ouderkirk and his staff members to hear from such nativists. St. Bridget’s Spanish-speaking lay pastor, Paul Real, has forebears who settled in what is now New Mexico in the 1500s. And Father Ouderkirk’s heritage, of course, goes back to the Dutch colonists.

“I think it’s made me more empathetic,” he said. “I think of the chances my ancestors had. Here are people who’ve been here 10 years, and to get torn up like this, it’s doesn’t make any sense to me. It cuts so deep. Like Sister Mary says, once you’ve cried for two straight weeks, you don’t have any more tears. But it doesn’t mean you stopped feeling.”

    Iowa Church Is a Beacon After Immigration Raid, NYT, 12.7.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/12/us/12religion.html





Church’s Rebuilding Troubles Typify Ground Zero Delays


July 3, 2008
The New York Times


The story of the tiny St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and its efforts to rebuild after the collapse of the World Trade Center is one of well-intentioned promises that led to endless negotiations, design disputes, delays and mounting costs.

It is, in other words, a microcosm of the seven-year, $16 billion, problem-plagued effort to reconstruct the entire trade center site.

Within a month of the attack on the trade center, Archbishop Demetrios, primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, pledged that the four-story church would rise “on the same sacred spot as a symbol of determined faith.” Gov. George E. Pataki agreed.

But today, the church exists only on blueprints. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the agency overseeing reconstruction, has not finalized the exchange of land needed to provide the congregation with a new home near ground zero. Until that deal is completed, the authority cannot proceed with building the southern foundation wall for the entire site, and cannot draw up designs for a bomb screening center for buses and trucks that would go under the new church.

And because security is crucial, delays in the vehicle security center mean delays in other parts of the site.

On Monday, the Port Authority acknowledged that many parts of the sprawling reconstruction project — including the new PATH station, a 9/11 memorial and several office towers — faced delays of a year or more and cost overruns into the billions. With 26 interrelated projects squeezed onto 16 acres in Lower Manhattan, a delay or dispute at one project is almost certain to create problems at adjoining projects, the report concluded.

The Greek Orthodox Church offers one example, but there are others. For instance, the design of the $2.5 billion World Trade Center Transportation Hub is being substantially revised, even though construction is under way, making it impossible to accurately predict its completion date or costs. That in turn has made it difficult to predict the timetable and budget for a half-dozen other projects that depend on the hub.

The church has for several years wanted to build the new St. Nicholas a block northeast of its original home on Cedar Street. But doing so would require trading land with the Port Authority, and an agreement has proven elusive. In the meantime, the church designed a domed marble complex that would be six times the size of its original home, and far more expensive.

Both St. Nicholas and the Port Authority are eager to resolve the issues quickly, especially since the authority plans to pick a contractor to build the southern perimeter wall for the entire site this summer, and it needs title to the church’s property to proceed. But officials involved in the talks say there remain substantial differences over the size of the church complex and the amount of money the Port Authority will contribute to building it.

“We understand the church’s mission,” said Chris Ward, executive director of the Port Authority. “It is part of the history of the site and we want to maintain that. We just need to put the project in the right context.”

John E. Pitsikalis, president of the St. Nicholas parish council, said his congregation of 70 families wanted both a new home and a place where visitors and tourists, regardless of their religion, could commemorate the lives lost on Sept. 11. Most of the families currently worship at SS. Constantine and Helen Cathedral in Downtown Brooklyn, where their priest, the Rev. John Romas, was assigned.

“My main concern is having a church for our community as soon as possible,” Mr. Pitsikalis said. “Our congregation has not had a building for almost seven years. They’re restless.”

Mr. Pitsikalis said his family is linked to the origins of St. Nicholas Church. In 1919, five families, including his grandfather, raised $25,000 to buy a tavern at 155 Cedar Street and converted it into a church. Before that, the congregation had conducted services in a hotel owned by his grandfather at Greenwich and Liberty Streets, where the former Deutsche Bank building is now being demolished. It was a neighborhood of Lebanese, Greek and Syrian immigrants, filled with small businesses and produce stands.

The sliver of a church, with its four-story whitewashed exterior and lavishly decorated interior, survived even as the World Trade Center was built in the 1960s, just to the north. On Wednesdays, the church opened its doors to the public, and dozens of office workers and tourists found it a soothing refuge from the hurly-burly of Lower Manhattan. Although many of its congregants moved to the suburbs, St. Nicholas rebuffed offers for the property from the Milstein real estate family, which owned the parking lot that surrounded the church.

Its quiet existence ended on Sept. 11, 2001, when the church was crushed by the fall of the south tower.

The congregation quickly vowed to rebuild, but from the beginning it realized it would be a “small player” in the huge undertaking of rebuilding the trade center, said Nicholas P. Koutsomitis, an architect who prepared a master plan for St. Nicholas.

In 2005, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation bought the Milsteins’ parking lot — less than a half acre — for $59 million. Its plan was to transform the land into Liberty Park, stretching west from Greenwich to West Street, between Cedar and Liberty Streets.

But the church retained the 1,200-square-foot parcel where its building once stood. Initially, the Port Authority suggested that St. Nicholas move to the northeast corner of Cedar and West Streets, a stone’s throw away. But parish leaders and the archbishop balked, saying that the site would be more than 20 feet above street level because of the screening center that is to be constructed below, and that they wanted a more prominent location on Greenwich Street.

The church settled on an alternative, at the southwest corner of Liberty and Greenwich Streets, in front of the soon-to-be-demolished Deutsche Bank building. The idea was to swap the church’s land on Cedar Street for that spot, which is seven times larger.

But a deal was never struck, as negotiations were interrupted time and again by an array of disasters and distractions, including the discovery of human remains atop the former Deutsche Bank tower in 2005 and a fire at the bank tower in which two firefighters died in 2007.

There have also been design problems. The entrance to the screening center was moved to Cedar Street, just below the spot the church wanted. That would require the church to install an expensive blast-proof concrete slab beneath its building to protect it from a possible explosion on the screening center ramps. The authority estimates the cost of the church’s foundation at about $35 million.

In keeping with the archbishop’s vision, Mr. Koutsomitis planned for a roughly 24,000-square-foot marble church and adjoining spiritual center at an estimated cost of up to $40 million. But church leaders say they have raised only $4 million. JPMorgan Chase has agreed to give $10 million toward the rebuilding of St. Nicholas, as part of the bank’s tentative deal to build an office tower on the site of the Deutsche Bank building.

The Port Authority and the church are reluctant to talk about their negotiations publicly. But officials familiar with the talks say they have taken on a familiar refrain in light of current efforts to eliminate some of the grander and more costly elements of the $2.5 billion transit hub.

The church wants the authority to provide roughly $55 million toward the estimated $75 million cost of rebuilding St. Nicholas. The Port Authority in turn wants the church to scale back its plans, move the location slightly and raise more money privately.

“The church’s role in the rebuilding effort is complementary, not adversarial,” Mr. Koutsomitis said. “We need a resolution on the land so we can move on with the design. We’re talking about a modest facility, larger than what was there before, but modest by any standard.”

    Church’s Rebuilding Troubles Typify Ground Zero Delays, NYT, 3.7.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/03/nyregion/03trade.html






Catholic Aid for Abortion

Creates Stir in Virginia


July 3, 2008
The New York Times


The Roman Catholic bishop of Richmond, Va., apologized this week after workers from a Catholic organization helped a teenager in its care have an abortion.

“I join my sadness to yours at the loss of the life of an unborn child whose teenage mother was in the foster care of Commonwealth Catholic Charities,” said Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo in a letter published on Monday in The Catholic Virginian. “Obviously, respect for the life of the unborn is a basic tenet of our Catholic faith and morality.”

“I express my profound apology for the loss of the life of one of the most vulnerable among us,” the bishop added.

The situation involved a 16-year-old Guatemalan, who church officials said already had one child and wanted to end her pregnancy, said Stephen S. Neill, a spokesman for the bishop.

The girl was being cared for by a program that helps illegal immigrant children in the country without guardians obtain foster care, Mr. Neill said. She received the abortion in January after a staff member of Commonwealth Catholic Charities signed a consent form and after a volunteer drove her to the facility, he said.

Four staff members were fired in March in connection with the case, Mr. Neill said.

Joanne D. Nattrass, executive director of Commonwealth Catholic Charities, said in a statement on Tuesday that she had been told on the afternoon of Jan. 17 that the girl was scheduled to have an abortion the next morning. Ms. Nattrass said that she had notified Bishop DiLorenzo that day and that he had said, “I forbid this to happen.” Based on incorrect information provided to Ms. Nattrass, the bishop was told that the abortion could not be stopped, the statement said.

“That information included that there was nothing Catholic Charities and the Catholic Diocese of Richmond could do to affect the outcome,” Paula Ritter, a spokeswoman for Ms. Nattrass, said in an e-mail message.

Neither agency nor diocesan money was used to pay for the abortion, Mr. Neill said.

A spokesman for the United States Department of Health and Human Services said that in April the department asked its inspector general to investigate whether the charity or the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops had violated state and federal laws. The conference receives $7.6 million a year in federal money, and Commonwealth Catholic Charities is a subcontractor of the bishops’ conference, the spokesman said.

Federal law forbids the use of federal money to pay for abortions, with exceptions for rape, incest or threats to the life of the pregnant woman. Virginia law requires parental consent for an abortion for a girl under 18.

Mr. Neill said neither the bishop nor Ms. Nattrass had been contacted directly by federal officials.

    Catholic Aid for Abortion Creates Stir in Virginia, NYT, 3.7.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/03/us/03abortion.html






Obama Plan Would Expand Faith-Based Program


July 2, 2008
The New York Times


ZANESVILLE, Ohio – With an eye toward courting evangelical voters, Senator Barack Obama arrived here on Tuesday to present a plan to expand on President Bush’s program of investing federal money into religious-based initiatives that are intended to fight poverty and perform community aid work.

“The fact is, the challenges we face today — from saving our planet to ending poverty — are simply too big for government to solve alone,” Mr. Obama is expected to say, according to a prepared text of his remarks. “We need all hands on deck.”

On the second day of a weeklong tour intended to highlight his values, Mr. Obama traveled to the battleground state of Ohio on Tuesday to present his proposal to get religious charities more involved in government programs. He is scheduled to give an afternoon speech here outside of the Eastside Community Ministry, a program providing food, clothes and youth ministry.

“Now, I know there are some who bristle at the notion that faith has a place in the public square,” Mr. Obama intends to say. “But the fact is, leaders in both parties have recognized the value of a partnership between the White House and faith-based groups.”

Mr. Obama is proposing $500 million per year to provide summer learning for 1 million poor children to help close achievement gaps for students. He proposes elevating the program to the “moral center” of his administration, calling it the Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

He called for rules to make certain the new council wouldn’t violate the separation of church and state. Groups receiving money, aides said, would have to demonstrate the effectiveness of their programs.

The plan was met with praise from officials who crafted the Bush administration’s proposal, including John DiIulio, who in 2001 served as the director of Mr. Bush’s office on faith based initiatives.

“Senator Barack Obama has offered a principled, prudent, and problem-solving vision for the future of community-serving partnerships involving religious nonprofit organizations,” Mr. DiIulio said in a statement. “He has focused admirably on those groups that supply vital social services to people and communities in need. His plan reminds me of much that was best in both then-Vice President Al Gore's and then-Texas Governor George W. Bush's respective first speeches on the subject in 1999.”

Mr. Obama and his advisers are seeking support among relatively moderate evangelicals and are trying to take advantage of signs that some conservative Christians are rethinking their politics, urged along by a new generation of leadership and intensified concern about issues including climate change, genocide, AIDS and poverty.

Between now and November, the Obama forces are planning as many as 1,000 house parties and dozens of Christian rock concerts, gatherings of religious leaders, campus visits and telephone conference calls to bring together voters of all ages motivated by their faith to engage in politics. It is the most intensive effort yet by a Democratic candidate to reach out to self-identified evangelical or born-again Christians and to try to pry them away from their historical attachment to the Republican Party.

Mr. Obama is building his appeal in part on calls to heal political rifts and address human suffering. He is also drawing on his own characteristics and story, including his embrace of Christianity as an adult, a facility with biblical language and imagery and comfort in talking about how his religious beliefs animate his approach to public life.

But the subject of religion has become entangled in the false rumor that he is a Muslim. And it has been complicated by the effects of his association with his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., whose brand of black liberation theology brought religion, race and patriotism into the campaign in ways not helpful to Mr. Obama. He also faces significant hurdles in appealing to religious voters because of his tolerance for abortion and same-sex marriage.

It appears that Mr. Obama’s religious outreach efforts will be met by an increasingly intense reaction from the religious right.

James C. Dobson, one of the most prominent evangelical leaders on the right, accused Mr. Obama last week of employing a deviant reading of Scripture and a “fruitcake interpretation of the Constitution” to justify his theology and world view.

The lobbying arm of another leading conservative Christian organization, the Family Research Council, began running advertisements last week highlighting Mr. Obama’s support for abortion rights and accusing him of hypocrisy for saying that he stands for family responsibility.

Joshua DuBois, director of religious affairs for the Obama campaign, said that the campaign expected resistance from a large part of the evangelical community, but that millions of faith voters were persuadable.

“We’re not going to convince everybody,” said Mr. DuBois, 25, a former associate pastor of a Pentecostal Assemblies of God church in Massachusetts. “The most committed pro-lifers probably won’t vote for him. But others will be open to him because they see he’s a man of integrity, a person of faith who listens to and understands people of all religious backgrounds.”

The Obama campaign does not need to convince everybody in order to have an effect on the voting outcome in key states, only a relatively narrow slice of the religiously motivated voters who supported Mr. Bush by substantial margins in 2000 and 2004. And polls indicate that evangelicals and other religious voters are already migrating away from their overwhelming support of the Republicans, some because of disillusionment about the war, others because of concern about global warming, still others because of uncertainty about the economy.

Corwin E. Smidt, a political scientist who directs the Henry Institute at Calvin College, a Christian liberal arts institution in Grand Rapids, Mich., said a survey of Christian voters he completed found that mainline Protestants were moving in a more Democratic direction.

“One of the things our survey revealed is that the kinds of issues that Obama is stressing would resonate with that particular group,” Mr. Smidt said.

He said that if Mr. Obama could chip into the 78 percent vote that Mr. Bush received from white evangelical Christians in 2004 it could affect the outcome of this year’s election.

Mr. Obama won one important vote from the evangelical community when he received the endorsement of the Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell, leader of a Methodist megachurch in Houston, who has long been close to Mr. Bush and who officiated at Jenna Bush’s wedding in May in Crawford, Tex. Mr. Caldwell denounced Mr. Dobson for his critique of Mr. Obama’s faith and has assembled a group of religious leaders to defend Mr. Obama.

Mr. McCain, who was raised an Episcopalian but switched to the Baptist church of his wife, Cindy, has never had the same levels of support among this group as Mr. Bush enjoyed, not least because he once labeled the evangelical leaders Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson “agents of intolerance,” a characterization he has since backed away from.

Mr. McCain does not talk much in public about religion, and Christian conservatives have been slow to embrace him. He turned some off by quickly denouncing two supporters, the Rev. John Hagee and the Rev. Rod Parsley, after controversial statements they made came to light.

Mark DeMoss, a public relations executive who represents Franklin Graham and other church leaders and conservative religious organizations, said recently that Mr. Obama could conceivably win as much as 40 percent of the evangelical vote.

“He is going to do reasonably well,” Mr. DeMoss said, “and that is due to a combination of things. One of them is a lack of passion and enthusiasm for John McCain among a lot of these folks, and Obama seems to be doing the right kinds of things to reach out to them.”

Mr. DeMoss cited the meeting two weeks ago in Chicago in which Mr. Obama met privately with 30 religious leaders from many traditions and political persuasions, including several, like Mr. Graham, who were never likely to support him.

Mr. Obama won praise for his openness to those who disagreed with him, Mr. DeMoss said, but he stood firm in his support for abortion rights and cemented opposition from those for whom that is a bedrock issue.

Mr. Obama is also reaching out to young evangelicals, the so-called Joshua generation, a group that would seem to be a fertile ground for recruitment.

Leaders of the movement of progressives on religion and values, including Mara Vanderslice, Eric Sapp and Burns Strider (who advised Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton), are also working alongside the Obama campaign to attract support from these younger religious voters.

Gabe Lyons, founder of the Fermi Project, a nonprofit group that educates church and youth leaders about Christianity and society, said many young evangelicals from the left and right had been turned off to politics.

“Obama is doing a better job of talking about his religious views and values than John McCain is,” Mr. Lyons, 33, said. “The challenge is that the closer young evangelicals get to understanding his policies the more they will struggle with them and many will slowly back off because for them abortion is such a huge point.”

In a brief video shown at the beginning of meetings with religious voters, Mr. Obama says he is “blessed” to help lead a conversation about the role of religious people in changing the world. He speaks of poverty and war, health care and unemployment, and says that addressing these problems “will require not just a change in government policy but a change of heart and a change of attitude.”

    Obama Plan Would Expand Faith-Based Program, NYT, 2.7.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/02/us/politics/02campaigncnd.html?hp







Obama Delivers Speech on Faith in America


July 1, 2008
The New York Times


Following are the remarks on faith Senator Barack Obama will deliver in Zanesville, Ohio, as prepared for delivery and provided by the Obama campaign.


You know, faith based groups like East Side Community Ministry carry a particular meaning for me. Because in a way, they’re what led me into public service. It was a Catholic group called The Campaign for Human Development that helped fund the work I did many years ago in Chicago to help lift up neighborhoods that were devastated by the closure of a local steel plant.

Now, I didn’t grow up in a particularly religious household. But my experience in Chicago showed me how faith and values could be an anchor in my life. And in time, I came to see my faith as being both a personal commitment to Christ and a commitment to my community; that while I could sit in church and pray all I want, I wouldn’t be fulfilling God’s will unless I went out and did the Lord’s work.

There are millions of Americans who share a similar view of their faith, who feel they have an obligation to help others. And they’re making a difference in communities all across this country – through initiatives like Ready4Work, which is helping ensure that ex-offenders don’t return to a life of crime; or Catholic Charities, which is feeding the hungry and making sure we don’t have homeless veterans sleeping on the streets of Chicago; or the good work that’s being done by a coalition of religious groups to rebuild New Orleans.

You see, while these groups are often made up of folks who’ve come together around a common faith, they’re usually working to help people of all faiths or of no faith at all. And they’re particularly well-placed to offer help. As I’ve said many times, I believe that change comes not from the top-down, but from the bottom-up, and few are closer to the people than our churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques.

That’s why Washington needs to draw on them. The fact is, the challenges we face today – from saving our planet to ending poverty – are simply too big for government to solve alone. We need all hands on deck.

I’m not saying that faith-based groups are an alternative to government or secular nonprofits. And I’m not saying that they’re somehow better at lifting people up. What I’m saying is that we all have to work together – Christian and Jew, Hindu and Muslim; believer and non-believer alike – to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

Now, I know there are some who bristle at the notion that faith has a place in the public square. But the fact is, leaders in both parties have recognized the value of a partnership between the White House and faith-based groups. President Clinton signed legislation that opened the door for faith-based groups to play a role in a number of areas, including helping people move from welfare to work. Al Gore proposed a partnership between Washington and faith-based groups to provide more support for the least of these. And President Bush came into office with a promise to “rally the armies of compassion,” establishing a new Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

But what we saw instead was that the Office never fulfilled its promise. Support for social services to the poor and the needy have been consistently underfunded. Rather than promoting the cause of all faith-based organizations, former officials in the Office have described how it was used to promote partisan interests. As a result, the smaller congregations and community groups that were supposed to be empowered ended up getting short-changed.

Well, I still believe it’s a good idea to have a partnership between the White House and grassroots groups, both faith-based and secular. But it has to be a real partnership – not a photo-op. That’s what it will be when I’m President. I’ll establish a new Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. The new name will reflect a new commitment. This Council will not just be another name on the White House organization chart – it will be a critical part of my administration.

Now, make no mistake, as someone who used to teach constitutional law, I believe deeply in the separation of church and state, but I don’t believe this partnership will endanger that idea – so long as we follow a few basic principles. First, if you get a federal grant, you can’t use that grant money to proselytize to the people you help and you can’t discriminate against them – or against the people you hire – on the basis of their religion. Second, federal dollars that go directly to churches, temples, and mosques can only be used on secular programs. And we’ll also ensure that taxpayer dollars only go to those programs that actually work.

With these principles as a guide, my Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships will strengthen faith-based groups by making sure they know the opportunities open to them to build on their good works. Too often, faith-based groups – especially smaller congregations and those that aren’t well connected – don’t know how to apply for federal dollars, or how to navigate a government website to see what grants are available, or how to comply with federal laws and regulations. We rely too much on conferences in Washington, instead of getting technical assistance to the people who need it on the ground. What this means is that what’s stopping many faith-based groups from helping struggling families is simply a lack of knowledge about how the system works.

Well, that will change when I’m President. I will empower the nonprofit religious and community groups that do understand how this process works to train the thousands of groups that don’t. We’ll “train the trainers” by giving larger faith-based partners like Catholic Charities and Lutheran Services and secular nonprofits like Public/Private Ventures the support they need to help other groups build and run effective programs. Every house of worship that wants to run an effective program and that’s willing to abide by our constitution – from the largest mega-churches and synagogues to the smallest store-front churches and mosques – can and will have access to the information and support they need to run that program.

This Council will also help target our efforts to meet key challenges like education. All across America, too many children simply can’t read or perform math at their grade-level, a problem that grows worse for low-income students during the summer months and afterschool hours. Nonprofits like Children’s Defense Fund are working to solve this problem. They hold summer and afterschool Freedom Schools in communities across this country, and many of their classes are held in churches.

There’s a lot of evidence that these kinds of partnerships work. Take Youth Education for Tomorrow, an innovative program that’s being run by churches, faith-based schools, and others in Philadelphia. To help narrow the summer learning gap, the YET program hires qualified teachers who help students with reading using proven learning techniques. They hold classes four days a week after school and during the summer. And they monitor progress closely. The results have been outstanding. Children who attended a YET center for at least six months improved nearly 2 years in reading ability. And the average high school student gained a full grade in reading level after just three months.

That’s the kind of real progress that can be made when we empower faith-based organizations. And that’s why as President, I’ll expand summer programs like this to serve one million students. This won’t just help our children learn, it will help keep them off the streets during the summer so they don’t turn to crime.

And my Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships will also have a broader role – it will help set our national agenda. Because if we are going to do something about the injustice of millions of children living in extreme poverty, we need interfaith coalitions like the Let Justice Roll campaign standing up for the powerless. If we’re going to end genocide and stop the scourge of HIV/AIDS, we need people of faith on Capitol Hill talking about how these challenges don’t just represent a security crisis or a humanitarian crisis, but a moral crisis as well.

We know that faith and values can be a source of strength in our own lives. That’s what it’s been to me. And that’s what it is to so many Americans. But it can also be something more. It can be the foundation of a new project of American renewal. And that’s the kind of effort I intend to lead as President of the United States.

Obama Delivers Speech on Faith in America, NYT, 1.7.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/01/us/politics/01obama-text.html




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