Les anglonautes

About | Search | Vocapedia | Learning | Podcasts | Videos | History | Arts | Science | Translate

 Previous Home Up Next


History > 2012 > USA > Faith (I)




Here Comes Nobody


May 19, 2012
The New York Times



I ALWAYS liked that the name of my religion was also an adjective meaning all-embracing.

I was a Catholic and I wanted to be catholic, someone engaged in a wide variety of things. As James Joyce wrote in “Finnegans Wake:” “Catholic means ‘Here comes everybody.’ ”

So it makes me sad to see the Catholic Church grow so uncatholic, intent on loyalty testing, mind control and heresy hunting. Rather than all-embracing, the church hierarchy has become all-constricting.

It was tough to top the bizarre inquisition of self-sacrificing American nuns pushed by the disgraced Cardinal Bernard Law. Law, the former head of the Boston archdiocese, fled to a plush refuge in Rome in 2002 after it came out that he protected priests who molested thousands of children.

But the craziness continued when an American priest, renowned for his TV commentary from Rome on popes and personal morality, admitted last week that he had fathered a child with a mistress.

The Rev. Thomas Williams belongs to the Legionaires of Christ, the order founded by the notorious Mexican priest Marcial Maciel Degollado, a pal of Pope John Paul II who died peppered with accusations that he sexually abused seminarians and fathered several children and abused some of them.

The latest kooky kerfuffle was sparked by the invitation to Kathleen Sebelius, the health and human services secretary, to speak at a graduation ceremony at Georgetown University on Friday. The silver-haired former Kansas governor is a practicing Catholic with a husband and son who graduated from Georgetown. But because she fought to get a federal mandate for health insurance coverage of contraceptives and morning-after pills, including at Catholic schools and hospitals, Sebelius is on the hit list of a conservative Catholic group in Virginia, the Cardinal Newman Society, which militates to bar speakers at Catholic schools who support gay rights or abortion rights.

The Society for Truth and Justice, a fringe Christian anti-abortion group, compared Sebelius to Himmler, and protesters showed up on campus to yell at her for being, as one screamed, “a murderer.”

“Remember, Georgetown has no neo-Nazi clubs or skinhead clubs on campus, nor should they,” Bill Donohue, the Catholic League president, said on Fox News. “But they have two — two! — pro-abortion clubs at Georgetown University. Now they’re bringing in Kathleen Sebelius. They wouldn’t bring in an anti-Semite, nor should they. They wouldn’t bring in a racist, nor should they. But they’re bringing in a pro-abortion champion, and they shouldn’t.”

Washington’s Cardinal Donald Wuerl called the invitation “shocking” and upbraided the Georgetown president, John DeGioia. But DeGioia, who so elegantly defended the Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke against Rush Limbaugh’s nasty epithets, stood fast against dogmatic censorship.

Speaking to the graduates, Sebelius evoked J.F.K.’s speech asserting that religious bodies should not seek to impose their will through politics. She said that contentious debate is a strength of this country, adding that in some other places, “a leader delivers an edict and it goes into effect. There’s no debate, no criticism, no second-guessing.”

Just like the Vatican.

Twenty-eight years ago, weighing a run for president, Mario Cuomo gave a speech at Notre Dame in which he deftly tried to explain how officials could remain good Catholics while going against church dictums in shaping public policy.

“The American people need no course in philosophy or political science or church history to know that God should not be made into a celestial party chairman,” he said.

I called Cuomo to see if, as his son Andrew weighs running for president, he felt the church had grown less tolerant.

“If the church were my religion, I would have given it up a long time ago,” he said. “All the mad and crazy popes we’ve had through history, decapitating the husbands of women they’d taken. All the terrible things the church has done. Christ is my religion, the church is not.

“If they make the mistake of saying that a politician has to put the church before the Constitution on abortion or other issues, there will be no senators or presidents or any other Catholics in government. The church would be wiser to take the path laid out for us by Kennedy than the path laid out for us by Santorum.”

Absolute intolerance is always a sign of uncertainty and panic. Why do you have to hunt down everyone unless you’re weak? The church doesn’t seem to care if its members’ beliefs are based on faith or fear, conviction or coercion. But what is the quality of a belief that exists simply because it’s enforced?

“To be narrowing the discussion and instilling fear in people seems to be exactly the opposite of what’s called for these days,” says the noted religion writer Kenneth Briggs. “All this foot-stomping just diminishes the church’s credibility even more.”

This is America. We don’t hunt heresies here. We welcome them.

    Here Comes Nobody, NYT, 19.5.2012,






Romney’s Faith, Silent but Deep


May 19, 2012
The New York Times


BELMONT, Mass. — When Mitt Romney embarked on his first political race in 1994, he also slipped into a humble new role in the Mormon congregation he once led. On Sunday mornings, he stood in the sunlit chapel here teaching Bible classes for adults.

Leading students through stories about Jesus and the Nephite and Lamanite tribes, who Mormons believe once populated the Americas, and tossing out peanut butter cups as rewards, Mr. Romney always returned to the same question: how could students apply the lessons of Mormon scripture in their daily lives?

Now, as the presumptive Republican nominee for president, Mr. Romney speaks so sparingly about his faith — he and his aides frequently stipulate that he does not impose his beliefs on others — that its influence on him can be difficult to detect.

But dozens of the candidate’s friends, fellow church members and relatives describe a man whose faith is his design for living. The church is by no means his only influence, and its impact cannot be fully untangled from that of his family, which is also steeped in Mormonism.

But being a Latter-day Saint is “at the center of who he really is, if you scrape everything else off,” said Randy Sorensen, who worshiped with Mr. Romney in church.

As a young consultant who arrived at the office before anyone else, Mr. Romney was being “deseret,” a term from the Book of Mormon meaning industrious as a honeybee, and he recruited colleagues and clients with the zeal of the missionary he once was. Mitt and Ann Romney’s marriage is strong because they believe they will live together in an eternal afterlife, relatives and friends say, which motivates them to iron out conflicts.

Mr. Romney’s penchant for rules mirrors that of his church, where he once excommunicated adulterers and sometimes discouraged mothers from working outside the home. He may have many reasons for abhorring debt, wanting to limit federal power, promoting self-reliance and stressing the unique destiny of the United States, but those are all traditionally Mormon traits as well.

Outside the spotlight, Mr. Romney can be demonstrative about his faith: belting out hymns (“What a Friend We Have in Jesus”) while horseback riding, fasting on designated days and finding a Mormon congregation to slip into on Sundays, no matter where he is.

He prays for divine guidance on business decisions and political races, say those who have joined him. Sometimes on the campaign trail, Mr. and Mrs. Romney retreat to a quiet corner, bow their heads, clasp hands and share a brief prayer, said Representative Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican who has traveled with them.

Clayton M. Christensen, a business professor at Harvard and a friend from church, said the question that drove the Sunday school classes — how to apply Mormon gospel in the wider world — also drives Mr. Romney’s life. “He just needs to know what God wants him to do and how he can get it done,” Mr. Christensen said.


Sacred Tenets, Secular Realm

When Mr. Romney’s former Sunday school students listen to him campaign, they sometimes hear echoes of messages he delivered to them years before: beliefs that stem at least in part from his faith, in a way that casual observers may miss. He is not proselytizing but translating, they say — taking powerful ideas and lessons from the church and applying them in another realm.

Just as Ronald Reagan deployed acting skills on the trail and Barack Obama relied on the language of community organizing, Mitt Romney bears the marks of the theology and culture of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (Mr. Romney declined to be interviewed.)

Mormons have a long tradition of achieving success by sharing secular versions of their tenets, said Matthew Bowman, author of “The Mormon People,” citing Stephen R. Covey’s “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” which he called Latter-day Saint theology repackaged as career advice.

While Mr. Romney has expressed some views at odds with his church’s teachings — in Massachusetts, he supported measures related to alcohol and gambling, both frowned upon by the church — other positions flow directly from his faith, including his objections to abortion and same-sex marriage and his notion of self-sufficiency tempered with generosity. The church, which often requests recipients of charity to perform some sort of labor in return, taught Mr. Romney to believe that “there’s a dignity in work and a dignity in helping those who are in need of help,” his eldest son, Tagg, said in an interview.

Or take Mr. Romney’s frequent tributes to American exceptionalism. “I refuse to believe that America is just another place on the map with a flag,” he said in announcing his bid for the presidency last June. Every presidential candidate highlights patriotism, but Mr. Romney’s is backed by the Mormon belief that the United States was chosen by God to play a special role in history, its Constitution divinely inspired.

“He is an unabashed, unapologetic believer that America is the Promised Land,” said Douglas D. Anderson, dean of the business school at Utah State University and a friend, and that leading it is “an obligation and responsibility to God.”

In Mr. Romney’s upbeat promises that he can rouse the economy from its long slump, fellow Mormons hear their faith’s emphasis on resilience and can-do optimism. He believes that people “can learn to be happy and prosperous,” said Philip Barlow, a professor of Mormon history at Utah State who served with him in church. “There is some depth and long tradition behind what can come across in sound bites as thin cheerleading.”

Similarly, he said, Mr. Romney’s squeaky-clean persona — only recently did he stop using words like “golly” in public — can make him seem “too plastic, the Ken side of a Ken and Barbie doll,” Mr. Barlow said.

He and others say that wholesomeness is deeply authentic to Mr. Romney, whose spiritual life revolves around personal rectitude. In Mormonism, salvation depends in part on constantly making oneself purer and therefore more godlike.

In the temple Mr. Romney helped build in Belmont, as in every other, members change from street clothes into all-white garb when they arrive, to emphasize their elevated state. As a church leader, he enforced standards, evaluating members for a “temple recommend,” a gold-and-white pass permitting only the virtuous to enter.


A Man of Rules

Mr. Romney is quick to uphold rules great and small. During primary debates, when his rivals spoke out of turn or exceeded their allotted time, he would sometimes lecture them. When supporters ask Mr. Romney to sign dollar bills or American flags, he refuses and often gives them a little lesson about why doing so is against the law.

Doing things by the book has been a hallmark of his career in public life. When Mr. Romney took over the Salt Lake City Olympics, which were dogged by ethical problems, he cast himself as a heroic reformer. As governor of Massachusetts, he depicted himself as a voice of integrity amid what he called the back-scratchers and ethically dubious lifers of state government.

In church, Mr. Romney frequently spoke about obeying authority, the danger of rationalizing misbehavior and God’s fixed standards. “Most people, if they don’t want to do what God wants them to do, they move what God wants them to do about four feet over,” he once told his congregation, holding out his arms to indicate the distance, Mr. Christensen remembered.

He often urged adherence even to rules that could seem overly harsh. One fellow worshiper, Justin Brown, recalled in an interview that when he was a young man leaving for his mission abroad, Mr. Romney warned him that some parameters would make no sense, but to follow them anyway and trust that they had unseen value.

Church officials say Mr. Romney tried to be sensitive and merciful; when a college student faced serious penalties for having premarital sex, Mr. Romney put him on a kind of probation instead. But he carried out excommunications faithfully. “Mitt was very much by the rules,” said Tony Kimball, who later served as his executive secretary in the church.

Nearly two decades ago, Randy and Janna Sorensen approached Mr. Romney, then a church official, for help: unable to have a baby on their own, they wanted to adopt but could not do so through the church, which did not facilitate adoptions for mothers who worked outside the home.

Devastated, they told Mr. Romney that the rule was unjust and that they needed two incomes to live in Boston. Mr. Romney helped, but not by challenging church authorities. He took a calculator to the Sorensen household budget and showed how with a few sacrifices, Ms. Sorensen could quit her job. Their children are now grown, and Mr. Sorensen said they were so grateful that they had considered naming a child Mitt. (The church has since relaxed its prohibition on adoption for women who work outside the home.)

Among the Belmont Mormons, stories abound of Mr. Romney acting out the values he professed in church. The Romneys left their son Tagg’s wedding reception early to take some of the food to a neighbor being treated for breast cancer.

But many also see a gap between his religious ideals — in Sunday school, he urged his students to act with the highest standards of kindness and integrity — and his political tactics. The chasm has been hard to reconcile, even though people close to him say he is serious about trying to do so.

Mormonism teaches respect for secular authorities as well as religious ones, but “politics has required him to go against form,” said Richard Bushman, a leading historian of the church who knows Mr. Romney from church.

For example, Mr. Romney had ruled out running personal attack ads against political rivals, those close to him said. When Senator Edward M. Kennedy attacked him as an uncaring capitalist in 1994, using ads that exaggerated Mr. Romney’s role in Bain-related layoffs, Mr. Romney refused to punch back and exploit Mr. Kennedy’s history of womanizing. “Winning is not important enough to put aside my ideals and principles,” Mr. Romney told aides.

But when he ran for governor in 2002, his campaign targeted the husband of his general election opponent, Shannon O’Brien (he had formerly worked as a lobbyist for Enron; the ads linked him to problems at the company that he had nothing to do with.)

Last week, Mr. Romney repudiated efforts to attack President Obama based on his past relationship with the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. But earlier this year, he suggested that Mr. Obama wanted to make the United States “a less Christian nation.”

“I have absolutely no idea how he rationalizes it,” Mr. Kimball said of Mr. Romney’s harshest statements and attacks. “It almost seems to be the ends justifying the means.”


Relying on Prayer

Though Mr. Romney almost never discusses it or performs it in public, prayer is a regular and important part of his life, say friends who have joined him. They describe him closing his eyes and addressing God with thees and thous, composing his message to suit the occasion, whether at a church meeting, at a hospital bedside or in a solemn moment with family and friends.

“Prayer is not a rote thing with him,” said Ann N. Madsen, a Bible scholar and a friend. Rather than requesting a specific outcome, he more often asks for strength, wisdom and courage, according to several people who have prayed with him. “Help us see how to navigate this particular problem,” he often asks, according to Dr. Lewis Hassell, who served with Mr. Romney in church.

Former colleagues say they do not recall Mr. Romney praying in the workplace — some say they barely heard the word “God” come from his lips — but he did pray about work from his home.

“I remember literally kneeling down with Mitt at his home and praying about our firm,” Bob Gay, a former Bain colleague and current church official, told Jeff Benedict, author of “The Mormon Way of Doing Business.” “We did that in times of crisis, and we prayed that we’d do right by our people and our investors.”

Mr. Romney also prays before taking action on decisions he has already made, asking for divine reassurance, a feeling that he is “united with the powers above,” Dr. Hassell said. Sometimes Mr. Romney would report that even though he had made a decision on the merits, prayer had changed his mind. “Even though rationally this looks like the thing to do, I just have a feeling we shouldn’t do it,” he would say, according to Grant Bennett, another friend and church leader.

Mr. Romney has also asked for divine sustenance during his political runs. The night before he declared his candidacy for governor, he and his family prayed at home with Gloria White-Hammond and Ray Hammond, friends and pastors of a Boston-area African Methodist Episcopal church.

His earlier failed run for United States Senate had all been part of God’s plan, Mrs. Romney told Ms. White-Hammond around that time. Mr. Romney had lost, but “just because God says for you to do something doesn’t mean the outcome is going to be what you want it to be,” Ms. White-Hammond remembered Mrs. Romney saying.

Having a higher purpose is part of what motivates Mr. Romney, many of those close to him say, and gives him the wherewithal to suffer the slings and arrows of political life. Mormons have a “history of persistence and tenacity, a sense of living out a destiny that is connected to earlier generations,” said Mr. Anderson, the business school dean. Mr. Romney is driven by “responsibility to his father and his father’s fathers to use his time and talent and energy and whatever gifts he’s been given by the Lord to try to make a contribution.”

And while voters tend to see Mr. Romney as immensely fortunate, those close to him say that he never forgets he is a member of an oft-derided religious minority. The chapel where Mr. Romney taught Sunday school burned in a case of suspected arson in the 1980s, a still-unsolved crime that church members attribute to prejudice.

As a candidate for governor, Mr. Romney endured crude jokes, made to his face, including about having more than one wife. After his failed 2008 presidential bid, Mr. Romney told Richard Eyre, a friend, that he wished the church could rebrand itself, replacing the name “Mormon” with “Latter-day Christian” to emphasize its belief in Jesus and the New Testament.

His response to prejudice, friends say, has always been to soldier on and to present the best possible example, knowing that others will draw conclusions about the faith based on his behavior. “In his generation, George Romney was the world’s most famous Mormon, and now Mitt is more famous than his dad,” Mr. Anderson said.

Mr. Romney told fellow Mormons at Bain & Company that they had to work harder and perform better because they had a reputation to defend. With a similar motive, Mr. Romney sent volunteer cleaning crews each week to the churches that lent space to the Belmont Mormons after the chapel fire. Confronted with the nasty joke about Mormons during the race for governor, Mr. Romney brushed it off even as his face tensed, recalled Jonathan Spampinato, his former political director.

“Romneys were made to swim upstream,” he has told friends many times.

About a year ago, Mrs. Romney told Ms. White-Hammond that her husband was probably going to run for president again, and that they were both already praying about the race.

Mr. Romney was still a bit reluctant to re-enter the fray, according to Ms. White-Hammond. But she recalled the soon-to-be candidate’s wife saying that the Romneys both “felt it was what God wanted them to do.”


Ashley Parker contributed reporting.

    Romney’s Faith, Silent but Deep, NYT, 19.5.2012?






After Obama’s Decision on Marriage, a Call to Pastors


May 13, 2012
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — About two hours after declaring his support for same-sex marriage last week, President Obama gathered eight or so African-American ministers on a conference call to explain himself. He had struggled with the decision, he said, but had come to believe it was the right one.

The ministers, though, were not all as enthusiastic. A vocal few made it clear that the president’s stand on gay marriage might make it difficult for them to support his re-election.

“They were wrestling with their ability to get over his theological position,” said the Rev. Delman Coates, the pastor of Mt. Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton, Md., who was on the call.

In the end, Mr. Coates, who supports civil marriages for gay men and lesbians, said that most of the pastors, regardless of their views on this issue, agreed to “work aggressively” on behalf of the president’s campaign. But not everyone. “Gay marriage is contrary to their understanding of Scripture,” Mr. Coates said. “There are people who are really wrestling with this.”

In the hours following Mr. Obama’s politically charged announcement on Wednesday, the president and his team embarked on a quiet campaign to contain the possible damage among religious leaders and voters. He also reached out to one or more of the five spiritual leaders he calls regularly for religious guidance, and his aides contacted other religious figures who have been supportive in the past.

The damage-control effort underscored the anxiety among Mr. Obama’s advisers about the consequences of the president’s revised position just months before what is expected to be a tight re-election vote. While hailed by liberals and gay-rights leaders for making a historic breakthrough, Mr. Obama recognized that much of the country is uncomfortable with or opposed to same-sex marriage, including many in his own political coalition.

The issue of religious freedom has become a delicate one for Mr. Obama, especially after the recent furor over an administration mandate that religiously affiliated organizations offer health insurance covering contraceptives. After complaints from Catholic leaders that the mandate undercut their faith, Mr. Obama offered a compromise that would maintain coverage for contraception while not requiring religious organizations to pay for it, but critics remained dissatisfied.

In taking on same-sex marriage, Mr. Obama made a point of couching his views in religious terms. “We’re both practicing Christians,” the president said of his wife and himself in the ABC News interview in which he discussed his new views. “And obviously this position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others.”

He added that what he thought about was “not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf but it’s also the golden rule, you know? Treat others the way you would want to be treated.”

After the interview, Mr. Obama hit the phones. Among those he called was one of the religious leaders he considers a touchstone, the Rev. Joel C. Hunter, the pastor of a conservative megachurch in Florida.

“Some of the faith communities are going to be afraid that this is an attack against religious liberty,” Mr. Hunter remembered telling the president.

“Absolutely not,” Mr. Obama insisted. “That’s not where we’re going, and that’s not what I want.”

Even some of Mr. Obama’s friends in the religious community warned that he risked alienating followers, particularly African-Americans who have been more skeptical of the idea than other Democratic constituencies.

The Rev. Jim Wallis, another religious adviser to Mr. Obama and the president and chief executive of Sojourners, a left-leaning evangelical organization, said that he had fielded calls since the announcement from pastors across the country, including African-American and Hispanic ministers. Religious leaders, he said, are deeply divided, with some seeing it as the government forcing clergy to accept a definition of marriage that they consider anathema to their teachings.

Mr. Wallis said that it was clear to him that the president’s decision was a matter of personal conscience, not public policy. But he said that some religious leaders wanted to hear Mr. Obama say that explicitly. “We hope the president will reach out to people who disagree with him on this,” Mr. Wallis said. “The more conservative churches need to know, need to be reassured that their religious liberty is going to be respected here.”

Mr. Obama has reached out to Mr. Wallis, Mr. Hunter and three other ministers for telephone prayer sessions and discussions about the intersection of religion and public policy.

Mr. Wallis would not say whether he heard from Mr. Obama as Mr. Hunter did. The Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell, another of the five and the senior pastor of Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston, said he did not. “He doesn’t need to talk with me about that,” Mr. Caldwell said.

The other two pastors, Bishop T. D. Jakes, a nationally known preaching powerhouse who fills stadiums and draws 30,000 worshipers to his church in Dallas, and the Rev. Otis Moss Jr., did not respond to messages Friday.

Mr. Obama began reaching out within hours of his announcement on Wednesday. At 4:30 p.m., he convened the African-American ministers on the call.

“It was very clear to me that he had arrived at this conclusion after much reflection, introspection and dialogue with family and staff and close friends,” said Mr. Coates, who remains confident that the undecided pastors on the call will ultimately back the president in November. “There are more public policy issues that we agree upon than this issue of private morality in which there’s some difference.”

That is a calculation the White House is counting on. The president’s strategists hope that any loss of support among black and independent moderates will be more than made up by proponents of gay marriage. But Mr. Obama’s aides declined to comment and opted not to send anyone to the Sunday talk shows for fear of elevating it further.

Religious conservative leaders said the president’s decision changed the calculus of the election. “I think the president this past week took six or seven states he carried in 2008 and put them in play with this one ill-conceived position that he’s taken,” Gary Bauer, the former presidential candidate, said on the CNN program “State of the Union.” On the same program, Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said, “I’ve gotten calls from pastors across the nation, white and black pastors, who have said, ‘You know what? I’m not sitting on the sidelines anymore.’ ”

Establishment Republicans, though, were eager to shift the subject. “For those people that this is their issue, they have a clear choice,” Reince Preibus, the party chairman, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “But I happen to believe that, at the end of the day, however, this election is still going to be about the economy.”

Mr. Obama’s efforts to mollify religious leaders came after a tumultuous week as he lagged behind Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. in advocating same-sex marriage. A senior administration official who asked not to be named said the White House contacted religious and Congressional leaders and Democratic candidates only after the president’s announcement.

Among those contacted was Cameron Strang, editor of Relevant magazine and a young evangelical leader, but he was on vacation. By contrast, the office of Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, the Catholic archbishop of New York, said he had not heard from the president after publicly calling his decision “deeply saddening.”

Mr. Hunter’s cellphone buzzed shortly after the Wednesday interview. “I’m not at all surprised he didn’t call me before because I would have tried to talk him out of it,” Mr. Hunter said.

“My interpretation of Scriptures, I can’t arrive at the same conclusion,” he said. “He totally understood that. One of the reasons he called was to make sure our relationship would be fine, and of course it would be.”

    After Obama’s Decision on Marriage, a Call to Pastors, NYT, 13.5.2012,






Methodists Vote Against Ending Investments Tied to Israel


May 2, 2012
The New York Times


The United Methodist Church, the nation’s largest mainline Protestant denomination, voted against two proposals on Wednesday to divest from companies that provide equipment used by Israel to enforce its control in the occupied territories.

The closely watched vote, at the church’s quadrennial convention in Tampa, Fla., came after months of intense lobbying by American Jews, Israelis and Palestinian Christians. After an afternoon of impassioned debate and several votes, the delegates overwhelmingly passed a more neutral resolution calling for “positive” investment to encourage economic development “in Palestine.”

However, the Methodists also passed a strongly worded resolution denouncing the Israeli occupation and the settlements, and calling for “all nations to prohibit the import of products made by companies in Israeli settlements on Palestinian land.”

An international movement for “boycott, divestment and sanctions” has gained steam as the peace process in the Middle East has come to a virtual standstill, and allies of the Palestinians have argued that these strategies could pressure Israel to stop building settlements and return to the negotiating table.

The divestment question has come up repeatedly over the years in mainline Protestant churches, which have long cultivated relationships with Palestinian Christians and regularly send delegations to Israel and the occupied territories. These denominations support hospitals, schools and charities in the territories.

The Presbyterian Church USA will vote on a divestment measure at its general assembly, which begins on June 30 in Pittsburgh. (The Presbyterians voted for divestment in 2004, then backed off at their next general assembly two years later.)

The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, the Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, recently came out against divestment and boycotts, and instead urged Episcopalians to invest in development projects in the West Bank and Gaza.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the nation’s largest Lutheran denomination, rejected divestment in 2007 and 2011.

In Tampa, many delegates took to the floor to testify that they had traveled to the Holy Land and met with Palestinian Christians who were suffering and increasingly desperate for an end to the occupation. But in the end, they listened to some Jewish leaders and fellow Methodists who warned that divestment was a one-sided strategy that penalized only Israel.

The Rev. Alex Joyner, a Methodist pastor in Franktown, Va., and a member of an antidivestment caucus called United Methodists for Constructive Peacemaking in Israel and Palestine, said: “We are all concerned about the suffering and the ongoing occupation, because it is hurting Israeli and Palestinian society. But what the church has said is we want a positive step, and we reject punitive measures as a way of trying to bring peace.”

The Methodist delegates in Tampa, primarily occupied with proposals for church reorganization plans, were lobbied heavily on the divestment question. Divestment advocates dressed in bright yellow T-shirts passed out literature and sponsored free luncheons for delegates. Jewish Voice for Peace, a liberal American Jewish group that supports divestment, sent several organizers.

Desmond Tutu, the Anglican archbishop emeritus of Cape Town and a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, wrote an article in The Tampa Tribune likening the Israeli occupation to apartheid and saying that divestment could be as effective in Israel as it was in South Africa.

On the other side, more than 1,200 rabbis representing every stream of organized Judaism signed a letter, mailed to the delegates before the convention, beseeching them to vote against divestment. They argued that the tactic “shamefully paints Israel as a pariah nation, solely responsible for frustrating peace,” and said a vote for divestment would “damage the relationship between Jews and Christians.”

The divestment resolution called specifically for pulling investments in the church’s pension funds out of three companies: Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions.

Advocates for divestment say that Caterpillar supplies the bulldozers and earth-moving equipment used by the Israel Defense Forces to clear Palestinian homes and orchards; that Hewlett-Packard provides, sometimes through subsidiaries, biometric monitoring at checkpoints and information technology to the Israeli Navy; and that Motorola supplies surveillance equipment to illegal settlements in the West Bank and communications equipment to the occupation forces.

In two separate votes, divestment was defeated by a 2-to-1 ratio. Susanne Hoder, a Methodist from Rhode Island and a spokeswoman for a group for divestment, the United Methodist Kairos Response, said: “Though we did not get the decision we hoped for, we have succeeded in raising awareness about the persecution of Palestinian Christians and Muslims. We have awakened the conscience of the churches and pointed out the inconsistency between our words and our actions.”

Ms. Hoder said that four geographic regions, or “annual conferences,” of the Methodist Church — Northern Illinois, California Pacific, New York and West Ohio — had already voted to pull out their own investments. “We expect that more United Methodist conferences will do this,” she said.

    Methodists Vote Against Ending Investments Tied to Israel, NYT, 2.5.2012,






We Are All Nuns


April 28, 2012
The New York Times


CATHOLIC nuns are not the prissy traditionalists of caricature. No, nuns rock!

They were the first feminists, earning Ph.D.’s or working as surgeons long before it was fashionable for women to hold jobs. As managers of hospitals, schools and complex bureaucracies, they were the first female C.E.O.’s.

They are also among the bravest, toughest and most admirable people in the world. In my travels, I’ve seen heroic nuns defy warlords, pimps and bandits. Even as bishops have disgraced the church by covering up the rape of children, nuns have redeemed it with their humble work on behalf of the neediest.

So, Pope Benedict, all I can say is: You are crazy to mess with nuns.

The Vatican issued a stinging reprimand of American nuns this month and ordered a bishop to oversee a makeover of the organization that represents 80 percent of them. In effect, the Vatican accused the nuns of worrying too much about the poor and not enough about abortion and gay marriage.

What Bible did that come from? Jesus in the Gospels repeatedly talks about poverty and social justice, yet never explicitly mentions either abortion or homosexuality. If you look at who has more closely emulated Jesus’s life, Pope Benedict or your average nun, it’s the nun hands down.

Since the papal crackdown on nuns, they have received an outpouring of support. “Nuns were approached by Catholics at Sunday liturgies across the country with a simple question: ‘What can we do to help?’ ” The National Catholic Reporter recounted. It cited one parish where a declaration of support for nuns from the pulpit drew loud applause, and another that was filled with shouts like, “You go, girl!”

At least four petition drives are under way to support the nuns. One on Change.org has gathered 15,000 signatures. The headline for this column comes from an essay by Mary E. Hunt, a Catholic theologian who is developing a proposal for Catholics to redirect some contributions from local parishes to nuns.

“How dare they go after 57,000 dedicated women whose median age is well over 70 and who work tirelessly for a more just world?” Hunt wrote. “How dare the very men who preside over a church in utter disgrace due to sexual misconduct and cover-ups by bishops try to distract from their own problems by creating new ones for women religious?”

Sister Joan Chittister, a prominent Benedictine nun, said she had worried at first that nuns spend so much time with the poor that they would have no allies. She added that the flood of support had left her breathless.

“It’s stunningly wonderful,” she said. “You see generations of laypeople who know where the sisters are — in the streets, in the soup kitchens, anywhere where there’s pain. They’re with the dying, with the sick, and people know it.”

Sister Joan spoke to me from a ghetto in Erie, Pa., where her order of 120 nuns runs a soup kitchen, a huge food pantry, an afterschool program, and one of the largest education programs for the unemployed in the state.

I have a soft spot for nuns because I’ve seen firsthand that they sacrifice ego, safety and comfort to serve some of the neediest people on earth. Remember the “Kony 2012” video that was an Internet hit earlier this year, about an African warlord named Joseph Kony? One of the few heroes in the long Kony debacle was a Comboni nun, Sister Rachele Fassera.

In 1996, Kony’s army attacked a Ugandan girls’ school and kidnapped 139 students. Sister Rachele hiked through the jungle in pursuit of the kidnappers — some of the most menacing men imaginable, notorious for raping and torturing their victims to death. Eventually, she caught up with the 200 gunmen and demanded that they release the girls. Somehow, she browbeat the warlord in charge into releasing the great majority of the girls.

I’m betting on the nuns to win this one as well. After all, the sisters may be saintly, but they’re also crafty. Elias Chacour, a prominent Palestinian archbishop in the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, recounts in a memoir that he once asked a convent if it could supply two nuns for a community literacy project. The mother superior said she would have to check with her bishop.

“The bishop was very clear in his refusal to allow two nuns,” the mother superior told him later. “I cannot disobey him in that.” She added: “I will send you three nuns!”

Nuns have triumphed over an errant hierarchy before. In the 19th century, the Catholic Church excommunicated an Australian nun named Mary MacKillop after her order exposed a pedophile priest. Sister Mary was eventually invited back to the church and became renowned for her work with the poor. In 2010, Pope Benedict canonized her as Australia’s first saint.

“Let us be guided” by Sister Mary’s teachings, the pope declared then.

Amen to that.

    We Are All Nuns, NYT, 28.4.2012,






Kenneth Libo, Scholar of Immigrant Life, Dies at 74


April 8, 2012
The New York Times


Kenneth Libo, a historian of Jewish immigration who, as a graduate student working for Irving Howe in the 1960s and ’70s, unearthed historical documentation that informed and shaped “World of Our Fathers,” Mr. Howe’s landmark 1976 history of the East European Jewish migration to America, died on March 29 in New York. He was 74.

The cause was complications from an infection, said Michael Skakun, a friend and fellow historian.

Mr. Libo’s contribution was acknowledged by Mr. Howe and the publishers of “World of Our Fathers,” who listed his name beneath the author’s on the cover of the book: “With the Assistance of Kenneth Libo.”

Scholars familiar with his archival work credit Mr. Libo with adding a level of emotional detail, and a view of everyday life in the teeming tenements of the Lower East Side of Manhattan, that the book might have lacked without his six years of work. “I don’t think ‘World of Our Fathers’ could have been written without the spade work done by Ken Libo,” said Jeffrey S. Gurock, a professor of Jewish history at Yeshiva University. “He had a certain researching genius, a feel for visceral detail.”

Mr. Libo worked with Mr. Howe on two more books and shared billing on both as co-author — “How We Lived,” a 1979 anthology of pictures and documentary accounts of Jewish life in New York between 1880 and 1930; and “We Lived There, Too,” an illustrated collection of first-person accounts by Jewish immigrant pioneers who moved on from New York to settle in far-flung outposts around the country, like New Orleans; Abilene, Kan.; and Keokuk, Iowa, between 1630 and 1930.

He became the first English-language editor of The Jewish Daily Forward in 1980, lectured widely, taught literature and history at Hunter College, and later in life helped several wealthy Jewish New York families research and write their self-published family histories.

But throughout his life, Mr. Libo was known best for his involvement in “World of Our Fathers,” a best seller that Mr. Howe, a socialist and public intellectual, once described in part as an effort to reclaim the fading memory of Jewish immigration from the clutches of sentimental myth, Alexander Portnoy and generations of Jewish mother jokes.

The book was a large canvas — depicting a lost world of tenements, sweatshops and political utopianism — written with elegiac lyricism.

By most accounts Mr. Howe gave the book its vision, its voice and its intellectual legs. Mr. Libo gave it people and their stories.

He mined archives of Yiddish newspapers like The Forward, Der Tog and Freiheit; the case records of social service organizations like the Henry Street Settlement House; the letters of activists like Lillian Wald and Rose Schneiderman; memoirs by forgotten people whose books he found in the 5-cent bins of used bookstores. He interviewed old vaudevillians like Joe Smith of Smith and Dale (the models for Neil Simon’s “Sunshine Boys”) for the story of Yiddish theater.

In an essay about the book, published in 2000 in the journal of the American Jewish Historical Society, Mr. Libo wrote that in the summer months “Irving did the bulk of the writing while I remained in New York with an assistant to run down facts.”

Kenneth Harold Libo was born Dec. 4, 1937, in Norwich, Conn., one of two sons of Asher and Annette Libo. His father was a Jewish immigrant from Russia, his mother American-born. His parents operated a chicken farm, friends said.

He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1959, served in the Navy and taught English at Hunter College of the City University until he began work on “World of Our Fathers” in 1968 with Mr. Howe, who died in 1993.

He received his Ph.D. in English literature from the City University of New York in 1974. He never married and no immediate family members remain.



This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: April 9, 2012

An earlier version misspelled the name of a newspaper

whose archives Mr. Libo used for his research. It was Freiheit, not Freheit.

    Kenneth Libo, Scholar of Immigrant Life, Dies at 74, NYT, 8.4.2012,






Divided by God


April 7, 2012
The New York Times


IN American religious history, Nov. 8, 1960, is generally regarded as the date when the presidency ceased to be the exclusive property of Protestants. But for decades afterward, the election of the Catholic John F. Kennedy looked more like a temporary aberration.

Post-J.F.K., many of America’s established churches went into an unexpected decline, struggling to make their message resonate in a more diverse, affluent and sexually permissive America. The country as a whole became more religiously fluid, with more church-switching, more start-up sects, more do-it-yourself forms of faith. Yet a nation that was increasingly nondenominational and postdenominational kept electing Protestants from established denominations to the White House.

The six presidents elected before Kennedy’s famous breakthrough included two Baptists, an Episcopalian, a Congregationalist, a Presbyterian and a Quaker. The six presidents elected prior to Barack Obama’s 2008 victory included two Baptists, two Episcopalians, a Methodist and a Presbyterian. Jimmy Carter’s and George W. Bush’s self-identification as “born again” added a touch of theological diversity to the mix, as did losing candidates like the Greek Orthodox Michael S. Dukakis. But over all, presidential religious affiliation has been a throwback to the Eisenhower era — or even the McKinley era.

That is, until now. In 2012, we finally have a presidential field whose diversity mirrors the diversity of American Christianity as a whole.

Barack Obama, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum all identify as Christians, but their theological traditions and personal experiences of faith diverge more starkly than any group of presidential contenders in recent memory. These divergences reflect America as it actually is: We’re neither traditionally Christian nor straightforwardly secular. Instead, we’re a nation of heretics in which most people still associate themselves with Christianity but revise its doctrines as they see fit, and nobody can agree on even the most basic definitions of what Christian faith should mean.

This diversity is not necessarily a strength. The old Christian establishment — which by the 1950s encompassed Kennedy’s Roman Catholic Church as well as the major Protestant denominations — could be exclusivist, snobbish and intolerant. But the existence of a Christian center also helped bind a vast and teeming nation together. It was the hierarchy, discipline and institutional continuity of mainline Protestantism and later Catholicism that built hospitals and schools, orphanages and universities, and assimilated generations of immigrants. At the same time, the kind of “mere Christianity” (in C. S. Lewis’s phrase) that the major denominations shared frequently provided a kind of invisible mortar for our culture and a framework for our great debates.

Today, that religious common ground has all but disappeared.

And the inescapability of religious polarization — whether it pits evangelicals against Mormons, the White House against the Catholic Church, or Rick Santorum against the secular press — during an election year that was expected to be all about the economy is a sign of what happens to a deeply religious country when its theological center cannot hold.

Our president embodies this uncentered spiritual landscape in three ways. First, like a growing share of Americans (44 percent), President Obama changed his religion as an adult, joining Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ in his 20s after a conversion experience brought him out of agnosticism into faith. Second, he was converted by a pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, whose highly politicized theology was self-consciously at odds with much of historic Christian practice and belief. Finally, since breaking with that pastor, Obama has become a believer without a denomination or a church, which makes him part of one of the country’s fastest-growing religious groups — what the Barna Group calls the “unchurched Christian” bloc, consisting of Americans who accept some tenets of Christian faith without participating in any specific religious community.

Obama’s likely general election rival, Mitt Romney, has had a less eventful religious journey, remaining a loyal practitioner of his childhood faith. But that faith, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is the ultimate outsider church, persecuted at its inception and regarded with suspicion even now. Christian theologians wrangle over whether Mormon beliefs should be described as Christianity; Mormons, for their part, implicitly return the favor, since they believe that true Christian faith was restored to earth by Joseph Smith after nearly two millenniums of apostasy. Indeed, between its belief in a special 19th-century revelation and other doctrinal embellishments, Mormonism is arguably as far as Jeremiah Wright’s black liberation from what used to be the American religious center.

THIS leaves Romney’s last significant Republican opponent, the Catholic Rick Santorum, to represent what the America of 50 years ago would have recognized as a (relatively) mainstream religious body. Except, of course, that there’s nothing particularly mainstream about Santorum’s theological convictions. His traditionalist zeal has made him a bigger target even than Romney or Obama for fascination, suspicion and hysteria. In a nation as religiously diverse as ours, a staunchly orthodox Christianity can seem like the weirdest heresy of all.

In a sense, the fact that the 2012 presidential race has come down to a Mormon, a traditionalist Catholic and an incumbent with ties to liberation theology is a testament to the country’s impressive progress toward religious tolerance. It’s a striking thing that one of the nation’s two political parties is poised to nominate a politician whose ancestors in faith were murdered, persecuted and driven into exile.

It’s almost as remarkable that Rick Santorum’s strongest supporters are evangelical Christians in the American South, a population that once would have regarded a devout Catholic with the deepest possible suspicion. And if you took a time machine back to the tumult of the civil rights era and told people that Americans would not only someday elect a black president, but one whose pastor and spiritual mentor was steeped in the radical theologies of the late 1960s — well, that would have seemed like science fiction.

But there are costs to being a nation in which we’re all heretics to one another, and no religious orthodoxy commands wide support. Our diversity has made us more tolerant in some respects, but far more polarized in others. The myth that President Obama is a Muslim, for instance, has its origins in Obama’s exotic-sounding name and Kenyan-Indonesian background. But it’s become so rooted in the right-wing consciousness in part because Obama’s prior institutional affiliation is with a church that seems far more alien to many white Christians than did the African-American Christianity of Martin Luther King Jr., or even Jesse Jackson.

Likewise, while Santorum no longer has to worry (as John F. Kennedy did) about assuaging evangelical fears about Vatican plots and Catholic domination, his candidacy has summoned up an equally perfervid paranoia from secular liberals, who hear intimations of theocracy in his every speech and utterance. (And not only from secularists: The liberal Catholic writer Garry Wills recently resurrected the old slur “papist” — once beloved of anti-Catholic Protestants — to dismiss Santorum as a slavish servant of the Vatican.)

Nor has Mitt Romney’s slow progress to the Republican nomination altered the fact that his fast-growing church is viewed by many with deep distrust. The same polls showing that many religious conservatives don’t want to vote for a Mormon also show that many independents and Democrats feel the same way, and explicit anti-Mormon sentiment percolates among evangelical preachers and liberal columnists alike.

These various fears and paranoias are nourished by the fact that America’s churches are increasingly too institutionally weak, too fragmented and internally divided to bring people from different political persuasions together. About 75 percent of Mitt Romney’s co-religionists identify as Republicans, and it’s safe to assume that President Obama didn’t meet many conservatives in the pews at Jeremiah Wright’s church. American Catholicism still pitches a wide enough tent to include members of both parties, but the church has long been divided into liberal and conservative factions that can seem as distant from one another as Rush Limbaugh and Bill Maher.

In this atmosphere, religious differences are more likely to inspire baroque conspiracy theories, whether it’s the far-right panic over an Islamified United States or the left-wing paranoia about a looming evangelical-led theocracy. And faith itself is more likely to serve partisan purposes — whether it’s putting the messianic sheen on Obama’s “hope and change” campaign or supplying the storm clouds in Glenn Beck’s apocalyptic monologues.

Americans have never separated religion from politics, but it makes a difference how the two are intertwined. When religious commitments are more comprehensive and religious institutions more resilient, faith is more likely to call people out of private loyalties to public purposes, more likely to inspire voters to put ideals above self-interest, more likely to inspire politicians to defy partisan categories altogether. But as orthodoxies weaken, churches split and their former adherents mix and match elements of various traditions to fit their preferences, religion is more likely to become indistinguishable from personal and ideological self-interest.

Here it’s worth contrasting the civil rights era to our own. Precisely because America’s religious center was stronger and its leading churches more influential, the preachers and ministers who led the civil rights movement were able to assemble the broadest possible religious coalition — from the ministers who marched with protesters to the Catholic bishops who desegregated parochial schools and excommunicated white supremacists. Precisely because they shared so much theological common ground with white Christians, the leaders of the black churches were able to use moral and theological arguments to effectively shame many Southerners into accepting desegregation. (The latter story is told, masterfully, in David L. Chappell’s “A Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow.”)

The result was an issue where pastors led and politicians of both parties followed, where the institutional churches proved their worth as both sources of moral authority and hubs of activism, and where religious witness helped forge a genuine national consensus on an issue where even presidents feared to tread.

Today’s America does not lack for causes where a similar spirit could be brought to bear for religious activists with the desire to imitate the achievements of the past. But with the disappearance of a Christian center and the decline of institutional religion more generally, we lack the capacity to translate those desires into something other than what we’ve seen in this, the most theologically diverse of recent presidential elections — division, demonization and polarization without end.


Ross Douthat is an Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times.

This article is adapted and excerpted from his new book,

“Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics.”

    Divided by God, NYT, 7.4.2012,






Learning to Respect Religion


April 7, 2012
The New York Times


A FEW years ago, God seemed caught in a devil of a fight.

Atheists were firing thunderbolts suggesting that “religion poisons everything,” as Christopher Hitchens put it in the subtitle of his book, “God Is Not Great.” Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins also wrote best sellers that were scathing about God, whom Dawkins denounced as “arguably the most unpleasant character in fiction.”

Yet lately I’ve noticed a very different intellectual tide: grudging admiration for religion as an ethical and cohesive force.

The standard-bearer of this line of thinking — and a provocative text for Easter Sunday — is a new book, “Religion for Atheists,” by Alain de Botton. He argues that atheists have a great deal to learn from religion.

“One can be left cold by the doctrines of the Christian Trinity and the Buddhist Eightfold Path and yet at the same time be interested in the ways in which religions deliver sermons, promote morality, engender a spirit of community, make use of art and architecture, inspire travels, train minds and encourage gratitude at the beauty of spring,” de Botton writes.

“The error of modern atheism has been to overlook how many aspects of the faiths remain relevant even after their central tenets have been dismissed,” he adds, and his book displays an attitude toward religion that is sometimes — dare I say — reverential.

Edward O. Wilson, the eminent Harvard biologist, has a new book, “The Social Conquest of Earth,” that criticizes religion as “stultifying and divisive” — but also argues that religion offered a competitive advantage to early societies. Faith bolstered social order among followers and helped bind a tribe together, he writes, and that is why religion is so widespread today. And he tips his hat to the social role of faith:

“Organized religions preside over the rites of passage, from birth to maturity, from marriage to death,” Wilson writes, adding: “Beliefs in immortality and ultimate divine justice give priceless comfort, and they steel resolution and bravery in difficult times. For millennia, organized religions have been the source of much of the best in the creative arts.”

Jonathan Haidt, a University of Virginia psychology professor, also focuses on the unifying power of faith in his new book, “The Righteous Mind.” Haidt, an atheist since his teens, argues that scientists often misunderstand religion because they home in on individuals rather than on the way faith can bind a community.

Haidt cites research showing that a fear of God may make a society more ethical and harmonious. For example, one study found that people were less likely to cheat if they were first given a puzzle that prompted thoughts of God.

Another study cited by Haidt found that of 200 communes founded in the 19th century, only 6 percent of the secular communes survived two decades, compared with 39 percent of the religious ones. Those that survived longest were those that demanded sacrifices of members, like fasting, daily prayer, abstaining from alcohol or tobacco, or adopting new forms of clothing or hairstyle.

“The very ritual practices that the New Atheists dismiss as costly, inefficient and irrational turn out to be a solution to one of the hardest problems humans face: cooperation without kinship,” Haidt writes.

The latest wave of respectful atheist writing strikes me as a healthy step toward nuance. I’ve reported on some of the worst of religion — such as smug, sanctimonious indifference among Christian fundamentalists at the toll of AIDS among gay men — yet I’ve also been awed by nuns and priests risking their lives in war zones. And many studies have found that religious people donate more money and volunteer more time to charity than the nonreligious. Let’s not answer religious fundamentalism with secular fundamentalism, religious intolerance with irreligious intolerance.

The new wave is skeptical but acknowledges stunning achievements, from Notre Dame Cathedral to networks of soup kitchens run by houses of worship across America. Maybe this new attitude can eventually be the basis for a truce in our religious wars, for a bridge across the “God gulf.” Let us pray ...

Earlier this year, I reported on Lady Gaga’s campaign against bullying and learned that increasingly the Department of Education sees bullying as a serious problem. So I’d like to consult the real experts — American teenagers — by holding an essay contest for students ages 14 through 19. Please help spread the word by encouraging young people to apply by writing an essay of up to 500 words about bullying, being bullied, witnessing bullying or ideas about how to address this issue. Teenagers, help us understand the problem by sharing your experiences and insights. I’m holding the contest in partnership with The New York Times Learning Network and the national magazine Teen Ink. The only prize for the winners is eternal glory: I’ll publish excerpts from the best submissions in my column or blog. To apply, go to TeenInk.com/KristofContest.

    Learning to Respect Religion, NYT, 7.4.2012,






Elan Steinberg Dies at 59; Led World Jewish Congress


April 6, 2012
The New York Times


Elan Steinberg, who brought what he called a new, “American style” assertiveness to the World Jewish Congress as its top executive, winning more than $1 billion from Swiss banks for Holocaust victims and challenging Kurt Waldheim, the former United Nations secretary general, over his Nazi past, died on Friday in Manhattan. He was 59.

The cause was complications of lymphatic cancer, his wife, Sharon, said.

As its executive director from 1978 to 2004, Mr. Steinberg was a key strategist for the congress as it grew bolder under a younger generation of Jews. He helped organize the research, hearings, press leaks and lawsuit that led the Swiss banks to agree to pay $1.2 billion to Holocaust victims in the late 1990s.

He also ruffled feathers. Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, told The New York Times that he applauded the congress’s “persistence,” but worried that the Swiss might begin to see Jews as “their enemy.” He said the congress’s crusade “fed into the stereotype that Jews have money, that it’s the most important thing to them.”

Even Simon Wiesenthal, the relentless hunter of Nazi war criminals, questioned the congress’s new aggressiveness when it threw itself into the Austrian presidential campaign in 1986 to try to defeat Mr. Waldheim, who was ultimately elected. Mr. Waldheim had hidden his membership in a Nazi military unit linked to atrocities.

Mr. Wiesenthal argued that Mr. Waldheim was “an opportunist” but not a war criminal. He worried that the congress, by inserting itself into Austria’s internal politics, was undoing years of patient work toward reconciling young Austrians and Jews.

Mr. Steinberg countered that electing Mr. Waldheim would stain all Austrians. “In the whole world it will be said that a former Nazi and a liar is the representative of Austria,” he said.

The tough stance was a departure for the congress, which was formed in 1936 in response to the rising Nazi threat in Europe and whose headquarters are now in New York. Mr. Steinberg himself used the word “strident” to describe his approach in taking the once-staid organization into quarrels, as it did in 1985 when President Ronald Reagan, alongside Chancellor Helmut Kohl of West Germany, visited a German cemetery in which Nazi SS soldiers were buried.

“For a long time,” Mr. Steinberg said, “the World Jewish Congress was meant to be the greatest secret of Jewish life, because the nature of diplomacy after the war was quiet diplomacy. This is a newer, American-style leadership — less timid, more forceful, unashamedly Jewish.”

Mr. Steinberg steered the congress in opposing the presence of a Carmelite convent at the site of the Auschwitz death camp and championing former slave laborers under the Nazis in their fight for compensation.

When Steven Spielberg was making the 1993 film “Schindler’s List,” he wanted to shoot scenes inside a building that had been part of the Auschwitz camp, Mrs. Steinberg said. As she recounted the episode, Mr. Spielberg went to the congress and conferred with Mr. Steinberg, who told him, “You cannot film on the graves of Jews.” Mr. Spielberg instead built a replica of the building.

“Whenever Jews were in danger, or Jewish honor offended, he vigorously yet elegantly spoke up,” Elie Wiesel, the author and Holocaust survivor, said in a statement read at Mr. Steinberg’s funeral. “Whenever Jewish memory was attacked, he attacked the attacker.”

Elan Steinberg was born in Rishon LeZion, Israel, on June 2, 1952, to Holocaust survivors. He grew up in the Brownsville and Borough Park sections of Brooklyn and was a graduate of Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan and Brooklyn College. He received a master’s degree in political science from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, then taught there.

He joined the congress in 1978 as its United Nations representative, and rose to executive director — first of the American section, then of the world body. Menachem Rosensaft, the congress’s general counsel, said Mr. Steinberg was instrumental in persuading the Vatican and Spain to recognize Israel.

Mr. Steinberg resigned in 2004 but remained a consultant to the congress’s president, Ronald S. Lauder. He was vice president of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants.

In addition to his wife, the former Sharon Cohen, Mr. Steinberg, who lived in Manhattan, is survived by his children, Max, Harry and Lena Steinberg, and his brother, Alex.

Mr. Rosensaft told another story to illustrate his friend’s mix of grit and wit. Mr. Steinberg was negotiating one day with the French culture minister to recover paintings stolen from Jews during the Holocaust. The minister huffed that Mr. Steinberg knew nothing about art.

“You’re right,” Mr. Steinberg said. “I don’t know anything about art. I’m from Brooklyn. I know about stolen goods.”

    Elan Steinberg Dies at 59; Led World Jewish Congress, NYT, 6.4.2012,






Ahead of Passover,

Strict Standards Transform a Brooklyn Neighborhood


April 2, 2012
The New York Times


On any ordinary day, yellow school buses with the Hebrew names of yeshivas dominate the ultra-Orthodox landscape of Borough Park, Brooklyn. But in the days before Passover, large trucks parked along many of the sidewalks are far more striking, particularly those bearing signs with a Hebrew word obscure even to most Jews: Sheimos.

Sheimos (pronounced SHAME-os) is a term for religious books containing the Hebrew name of God that need to be ritually buried in the ground.

As Passover approaches, Orthodox Jews strive to rid their homes of even the slightest trace of bread or other unleavened grain products known as chametz, almost down to the molecule. Bibles, prayer books and volumes of Talmud receive a thorough airing as well, and the most dog-eared specimens are often discarded. But Jewish religious law considers throwing them in the trash a desecration.

So parked all day on many streets in Borough Park and nearby neighborhoods like Midwood are trucks whose drivers will carry books to a cemetery upstate for a fee of about $8 to $10 a box.

Passover preparations transform a neighborhood like Borough Park just as the Christmas season transforms the nation’s Currier & Ives villages or the jostling sidewalks of Fifth Avenue. Passover, the eight-day holiday that celebrates the Exodus from Egypt, an event that defines Jews as a people, consumes many Jews who observe it, but in Hasidic and ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods the degree of fevered stringency can be breathtaking.

It is evident in the stacks of food processors for sale at The Buzz appliance store, with their special “kugel blades” for making a starchy pudding that does not require bread, or in bakeries that make matzos by hand within an exacting 18 minutes, or in garages equipped with vats of boiling water where Jews immerse cooking pots that might contain chametz. It is also evident in a seasonal uptick in employment, because the neighborhood has no shortage of experts in the finer points of fastidiously keeping kosher who supplement their livelihoods during Passover.

“God in Borough Park is like steel in Bethlehem,” joked Alexander Rapaport, a Hasid who runs Masbia, a soup kitchen organization.

The first item a customer notices when entering Gourmet Glatt, a sparkling new emporium that resembles a Whole Foods, is not food, but a tall stack of Easy-Off. That is because among the first things a Hasidic homemaker does before preparing holiday dishes is clean the oven two or three times to make sure not even a speck of chametz from the past year contaminates those dishes.

Once inside the market there are other signs of how the holiday, known in Hebrew and Yiddish as Pesach, is observed with scrupulous rigorousness. The shelves are lined with brown butcher paper so that Passover products are not exposed to the year-round boards. There are two counters of vegetables — washed and unwashed. Although the Talmudic injunction is a matter of interpretation, many Orthodox families prefer their carrots, beets, radishes and parsnips straight from the soil, with granules of dark earth still clinging. That way they can wash the vegetables themselves and be sure, or as certain as humanly possible, that no grain alcohol or leavened grain byproducts touched them.

For the same reason, Hasidim will buy only unwaxed apples — the store has such a bin — and eat only gefilte fish made of carp because it can be bought live, assuring its purity.

“On Pesach people don’t want anything chemical, even if it’s not chametz,” said Rabbi Shmuel Teitelbaum, the store’s mashgiach, or kosher monitor.

Hasidim from the Belz sect will not touch garlic during the holiday. Not because garlic is chametz, but because generations ago in Europe garlic was preserved inside sacks of wheat. Since their ancestors did not eat garlic, Belz Hasidim will not eat garlic. Tradition is tradition.

The other day, Mordechai Rosenberg, a 50-year-old Bobov Hasid wearing an astrakhan fur hat, was pushing a cart loaded with boxes of sugared cereal made from potato starch. He felt compelled to explain to another Hasid that they were for his grandchildren.

“I eat what my parents taught me,” he said. “I won’t even put jam on my matzo because it could have a little drop of water that will mix with the matzo.”

In some Hasidic ways of thinking, dipping matzo or matzo meal in water may leaven some trace of unseen flour. That is why Hasidim, as opposed to other ultra-Orthodox Jews, will not eat matzo balls with their chicken soup (they use cooked egg instead) and why kosher supermarkets sell more potato starch than matzo meal.

Rabbi Menachem Genack, the rabbinic administrator of the Orthodox Union, which certifies foods in 83 countries, explains that the rules forbidding chametz are more severe than for nonkosher foods like pork. Jewish law tolerates some contamination of kosher food, as long as it does not exceed one-sixtieth of the total consumed; with chametz, even the slightest speck renders a dish inedible.

The frenzy for Passover perfection is palpable inside The Buzz, a kosher cross between a Williams Sonoma and a Best Buy that is especially bustling this time of year. Juicers become a particularly hot item. All year long, ultra-Orthodox Jews drink Tropicana and other processed juices that bear rabbinical certification. On Passover, particularly fussy ones buy juicers to squeeze their own and avoid possible contamination in the manufacturing.

Food processors are also a best seller; The Buzz sells thousands. The most popular, said Heshy Biegeleisen, one of the owners, is a 14-cup machine made by Gourmet Grade that has the “ultimate kugel blade.” It prevents the potato batter from having a soupy consistency associated with some food processors. The blade was designed by engineers in China after Mr. Biegeleisen spent three weeks there figuring out with them how to forge a device that could create the granular texture of a hand grater (minus the blood that often comes with a cut finger). The answer was a blade that alternated large holes with small holes.

For four months ahead of Passover, Charedim Shmurah Matzah Bakery, planted in the shadow of the subway, turns out 80,000 pounds of hand-kneaded, flattened and perforated matzos in an atmosphere of high-wire tension, monitored by timers. Shmurah matzos are “guarded” from the time the grain is harvested and milled until the time the dough is baked, and only 18 minutes can pass between the mixing of the water and flour and the insertion into a very hot oven.

The process echoes the haste of the ancient Hebrews as they rushed to bake bread before escaping from Egypt. Still, at times the bakers carrying long rods loaded with discs of dough and sprinting to get them into the oven recall a less ancient phenomenon — the Olympics. They look like pole-vaulters running down a track as if the gold medal were at stake.

    Ahead of Passover, Strict Standards Transform a Brooklyn Neighborhood, NYT, 2.4.2012,






The Muslim Swing Vote


April 2, 2012
10:04 pm
The New York Times
Campaign Stops


As the 2012 presidential election picks up steam, Republican candidates find it tempting and beneficial to bash Muslims as a way to attract voters. In the wake of the 2010 midterm elections, “Americans are learning what Europeans have known for years: Islam-bashing wins votes,” the journalist Michael Scott Moore wrote that November. At the time, many of the 85 new Republican House members buoyed by the surging Tea Party movement found the political virtues of anti-Muslim rhetoric an easy way to prove their mettle to the surging conservative base.

Since then, the animosity against Muslims has only intensified. Republican presidential hopefuls Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich frequently warned that Muslims were attempting to take over the government and impose Shariah law, using “stealth Jihad,” as Gingrich put it in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute late last year.

The problem for the United States, the former speaker of the house argued, is not primarily terrorism; it is Shariah — “the heart of the enemy movement from which the terrorists spring forth.” Rick Santorum, not one to shy away from the subject, continues to conflate Muslims with radical Islamists. He has often warned audiences of the dangers of losing the war to “radical Islam,” even suggesting in a 2007 speech at the National Academic Freedom Conference that the American response to the threat should be to “educate, engage, evangelize and eradicate.”

This type of anti-Muslim rhetoric is deployed by some candidates in an apparent attempt to tap into hostility among the voters who make up the base of the party. In a sense, this approach is validated by recent polls suggesting that Republicans are more likely to have anti-Muslim sentiments. The political scientists Michael Tesler and David Sears wrote in their 2010 book, “Obama’s Race,” that feelings about Muslims are a strong predictor about feelings about Obama. They found that “general election vote choice in 2008 was more heavily influenced by feelings about Muslims than it was in either 2004 voting or in McCain-Clinton trial heats.” As we get closer to the November election, the most likely Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, will have to balance between pandering to voters on the far right of his party, some of whom are already wary of him, and more moderate voters.

While an anti-Muslim strategy may have worked in the past, it is risky because many agree that the outcome of the 2012 presidential election will probably be determined in no more than twelve states. These are the same states where minority groups, including American Muslims, are likely to play a decisive role. A report released this week by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, where I am the director of research, suggests that this community is becoming an increasingly important player in electoral politics and might well play a surprisingly important role in this year’s election.

Although it is true that American Muslims constitute a small percentage of the national population, they are concentrated in key swing states such as Michigan, Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Florida. Despite being very diverse and far from monolithic, this constituency is growing faster than any other religious community and has become increasingly visible and sophisticated in its political engagement. Republicans who found the Muslim community an easy target in the primaries may find themselves in trouble in the states that may determine the winner of the election.

Our report examined a decade’s worth of data on American Muslim political attitudes and includes a case study of Florida, which remains a perennial tossup. In addition to the razor-thin margin in 2000, the state’s 2004 and 2008 elections were settled by less than 2% of the vote. In 2000, a few hundred votes decided the election; an estimated 60,000 Muslims in Florida voted for Bush. Florida’s Muslim population, which has been growing since the 1980s, is now estimated by some to include 124,000 registered voters. No campaigner can afford to disregard them.

The rhetorical animosity from Republican presidential candidates, coupled with the rise of Islamophobia since 9/11, has mobilized the Muslim community to engage politically. An Emerge USA poll taken during the 2010 midterm elections found that more than 60% of registered Muslim voters in Florida were likely to vote. Polls also suggest that two out of three Muslims have a strong desire for political unity and feel that they should vote as a bloc for a presidential candidate.

It seems unlikely now, but Republicans long did a good job of courting Muslim voters, including in the 2000 election when George W. Bush reached out to the community. Al Gore, on the other hand, took Muslims for granted, to his detriment. Even in the immediate aftermath of September 11th, President Bush reached out to the community and condemned attacks against Muslims, making it clear that the terrorist attacks did not represent Islam or the views of American Muslim citizens. Yet specific policies, including the passing of the Patriot Act and the decision to invade Afghanistan and Iraq, caused many Muslims to shift away from the Republican Party.

Arab-American and South Asian-American Muslims, who initially supported Bush in 2000, switched overwhelmingly to the Democratic candidate, John Kerry, in 2004. Democrats further capitalized on this support with Obama’s candidacy in 2008. President Obama, for his part, has not managed to do much better in engaging the Muslim community, never finding it politically convenient to do so and consistently distancing himself.

The growing rhetorical invocation of Islam as a scare tactic to gain votes may work in some parts of the country, but candidates could pay dearly in critical battleground states. As a first step, politicians from both parties should reach out to the American Muslim community instead of ignoring, dismissing or maligning its members. Fueling animosity against Muslims as a tactic to court votes is a risky venture. The strategy is short sighted; it could easily backfire; and in a pluralistic society that prides itself on tolerance and religious freedom, encouraging this type of animosity towards a particular group is un-American.


Farid Senzai is assistant professor of political science at Santa Clara University

and director of research at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.

    The Muslim Swing Vote, NYT, 2.4.2012,






Supervising Priest Goes on Trial in Abuse Case


March 26, 2012
The New York Times


The landmark trial of a senior official of the Philadelphia Archdiocese who is accused of shielding priests who sexually abused children and reassigning them to unwary parishes began on Monday with prosecutors charging that the official “paid lip service to child protection and protected the church at all costs.”

The defendant, Msgr. William J. Lynn, 61, is the first Roman Catholic supervisor in the country to be tried on felony charges of endangering children and conspiracy — not on allegations that he molested children himself, but that he protected suspect priests and reassigned them to jobs where they continued to rape, grope or otherwise abuse boys and girls.

One of Monsignor Lynn’s lines of defense was indicated in an opening statement when his lawyers suggested that he had acted responsibly and reported allegations of abuse to higher officials, including a recently deceased cardinal.

The trial is a milestone, legal experts said, in the legal battles lasting decades over sex abuse by priests. For years, many Catholic dioceses have been battered by civil suits seeking monetary damages for failing to stop errant priests. More recently, prosecutors have brought criminal charges against abusers.

“What has not happened up to now is for church officials to be held criminally accountable,” said Timothy D. Lytton, a professor of law at the Albany Law School and an expert on Catholic abuse cases.

Whatever the outcome, he said, this trial “will dramatically increase the pressure on diocese officials to fulfill the church’s promises to be more transparent and accountable.”

More immediately, the trial promises to further roil the 1.5 million-member Philadelphia Archdiocese, which was convulsed by grand jury reports in 2005 and 2011 alleging that it had not responded forcefully to dozens of credible abuse complaints and had allowed known offenders to have continued contact with children.

From 1992 to 2004, Monsignor Lynn, who maintains he is innocent, was secretary of the clergy in the archdiocese, directing priests’ job assignments and handling complaints about their behavior.

An assistant district attorney, Jacqueline Coelho, told the jury that Monsignor Lynn had repeatedly played down credible reports of child abuse, stashing them away in secret files.

“The victims are met with skepticism, and the priests are believed at all costs,” Ms. Coelho said in a 58-minute opening statement in Common Pleas Court.

The scathing grand jury report released in January 2011, which led to the charges, described examples in which Monsignor Lynn “knowingly allowed priests who had sexually abused minors to be assigned to positions where unsuspecting parents and teachers would entrust children to their care.”

The report alleged that Monsignor Lynn had acted with the leader of the archdiocese at the time — Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua, who died in January — to shield the archdiocese from scandal and financial liability.

As the trial began, Monsignor Lynn, sitting between two lawyers and dressed in a black suit with a clerical collar, answered “not guilty” to all charges. He could face up to 28 years in prison if convicted of the two counts of endangerment and two counts of conspiracy.

Thomas Bergstrom, a defense lawyer, said in his opening statement on Monday that his client had reported abuse allegations to senior, clergy including Cardinal Bevilacqua.

“Everything that Monsignor Lynn did with respect to the allegations of abuse was put in writing and sent up the chain,” Mr. Bergstrom said.

He also attacked prosecution assertions that Monsignor Lynn had been responsible for appointing suspect priests to positions where they could prey on more children. “The only man in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia that could appoint a priest to any location is Cardinal Bevilacqua,” Mr. Bergstrom said.

Mr. Bergstrom also said the cardinal had directed the shredding of a list of suspected or actual sex offenders Monsignor Lynn obtained from a “secret archive file.”

The trial is likely to feature the videotaped testimony of Cardinal Bevilacqua, who died of cancer and dementia at age 88.

The 2011 grand jury report stated that Monsignor Lynn “was carrying out the cardinal’s policies exactly as the cardinal directed,” but that because of gaps in evidence and Cardinal Bevilacqua’s ill health, “we have reluctantly decided not to recommend charges” against him.

Prosecutors have not ruled out further indictments of senior church officials.

Monsignor Lynn is being tried together with a priest, the Rev. James J. Brennan, 49, who is charged with the attempted rape of a 14-year-old boy in 1996, after Monsignor Lynn failed to act on complaints about Father Brennan. Father Brennan also pleaded not guilty, and his lawyer questioned the accuser’s credibility.

The trial originally was to include a third defendant, Edward V. Avery, 69, a defrocked priest who was charged with raping a 10-year-old altar boy in 1999, years after Mr. Avery had been reported for sexual abuse and had been treated at a hospital for sex offenders, facts that Monsignor Lynn allegedly knew. Last week, Mr. Avery pleaded guilty to rape and conspiracy was sentenced to two and a half to five years in prison.

As the trial began, Judge M. Teresa Sarmina warned the jury of six men and six women to disregard Mr. Avery’s absence. It was not clear if his guilty plea would figure in the trial.

Prosecutors intend to present more than 20 other examples of abuse charges that they assert were mishandled by the archdiocese. The trial is expected to last for at least two months.

In October, the bishop of the Kansas City Diocese was indicted on a misdemeanor charge, accused of failing to report suspected child abuse. The bishop, Robert W. Finn, allegedly waited six months to tell the police that a priest had been taking lewd photographs of girls. A trial is scheduled for September, although on Tuesday a judge will consider the bishop’s motion to dismiss the charges.

The felony trial of Monsignor Lynn, alleging a systematic cover-up of abuses over many years, appears likely to have a far broader impact on the church, said David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, an advocacy and support group known as SNAP.

“To see one of their peers facing jail time for what he has done over many years to endanger kids,” he said, “has the possibility of sending a much more alarming message to current and former Catholic officials across the country.”


Erik Eckholm reported from New York, and Jon Hurdle from Philadelphia.

    Supervising Priest Goes on Trial in Abuse Case, NYT, 26.3.2012,






Rethinking His Religion


March 24, 2012
The New York Times


I MOVED into my freshman-year dorm at the University of North Carolina after many of the other men on the hall. One had already begun decorating. I spotted the poster above his desk right away. It showed a loaf of bread and a chalice of red wine, with these words: “Jesus invites you to a banquet in his honor.”

This man attended Catholic services every Sunday in a jacket and tie, feeling that church deserved such respect. I kept a certain distance from him. I’d arrived at college determined to be honest about my sexual orientation and steer clear of people who might make that uncomfortable or worse. I figured him for one of them.

About two years ago, out of nowhere, he found me. His life, he wanted me to know, had taken interesting turns. He’d gone into medicine, just as he’d always planned. He’d married and had kids. But he’d also strayed from his onetime script. As a doctor, he has spent a part of his time providing abortions.

For some readers his journey will be proof positive of Rick Santorum’s assertion last month that college is too often godless and corrupting. For others, it will be a resounding affirmation of education’s purpose.

I’m struck more than anything else by how much searching and asking and reflecting he’s done, this man I’d so quickly discounted, who pledged a fraternity when he was still on my radar and then, when he wasn’t, quit in protest over how it had blackballed a Korean pledge candidate and a gay one.

Because we never really talked after freshman year, I didn’t know that, nor did I know that after graduation he ventured to a desperately poor part of Africa to teach for a year. College, he recently told me, had not only given him a glimpse of how large the world was but also shamed him about how little of it he knew.

In his 30s he read all 11 volumes of “The Story of Civilization,” then tackled Erasmus, whose mention in those books intrigued him. When he told me this I was floored: I knew him freshman year as a gym rat more than a bookworm and extrapolated his personality and future from there.

During our recent correspondence, he said he was sorry for any impression he might have given me in college that he wasn’t open to the candid discussions we have now. I corrected him: I owed the apology — for misjudging him.

He grew up in the South, in a setting so homogenous and a family so untroubled that, he said, he had no cause to question his parents’ religious convictions, which became his. He said that college gave him cause, starting with me. Sometime during freshman year, he figured out that I was gay, and yet I didn’t conform to his prior belief that homosexuals were “deserving of pity for their mental illness.” I seemed to him sane and sound.

He said that we talked about this once — I only half recall it — and that the exchange was partly why he remembered me two decades later.

Questioning his church’s position on homosexuality made him question more. He read the Bible “front to back and took notes of everything I liked and didn’t like,” he said.

“There’s a lot of wisdom there,” he added, “but it’s a real mistake not to think about it critically.”

He also read books on church history and, he said, “was appalled at the behavior of the church while it presumed to teach all of us moral behavior.” How often had it pushed back at important science? Vilified important thinkers?

Even so, he added to his teaching duties in Africa a weekly, extracurricular Bible study for the schoolchildren. But the miseries he witnessed made him second-guess the point of that, partly because they made him second-guess any god who permitted them.

He saw cruelties born of the kind of bigotry that religion and false righteousness sometimes abet. A teenage girl he met was dying of sepsis from a female circumcision performed with a kitchen knife. He asked the male medical worker attending to her why such crude mutilation was condoned, and was told that women otherwise were overly sexual and “prone to prostitution.”

“Isn’t it just possible,” he pushed back, “that women are prone to poverty, and men are prone to prostitution?”

He has thought a lot about how customs, laws and religion do and don’t jibe with women’s actions and autonomy.

“In all centuries, through all history, women have ended pregnancies somehow,” he said. “They feel so strongly about this that they will attempt abortion even when it’s illegal, unsafe and often lethal.”

In decades past, many American women died from botched abortions. But with abortion’s legalization, “those deaths virtually vanished.”

“If doctors and nurses do not step up and provide these services or if so many obstacles and restrictions are put into place that women cannot access the services, then the stream of women seeking abortions tends to flow toward the illegal and dangerous methods,” he said.

He had researched and reflected on much of this by the time he graduated from medical school, and so he decided to devote a bit of each week to helping out in an abortion clinic. Over years to come, in various settings, he continued this work, often braving protesters, sometimes wearing a bulletproof vest.

He knew George Tiller, the Kansas abortion provider shot dead in 2009 by an abortion foe.

THAT happened in a church, he noted. He hasn’t belonged to one since college. “Religion too often demands belief in physical absurdities and anachronistic traditions despite all scientific evidence and moral progress,” he said.

And in too many religious people he sees inconsistencies. They speak of life’s preciousness when railing against abortion but fail to acknowledge how they let other values override that concern when they support war, the death penalty or governments that do nothing for people in perilous need.

He has not raised his young children in any church, or told them that God exists, because he no longer believes that. But he wants them to have the community-minded values and altruism that he indeed credits many religions with fostering. He wants them to be soulful, philosophical.

So he rounded up favorite quotations from Emerson, Thoreau, Confucius, Siddhartha, Gandhi, Marcus Aurelius, Martin Luther King and more. From the New Testament, too. He put each on a strip of paper, then filled a salad bowl with the strips. At dinner he asks his kids to fish one out so they can discuss it.

He takes his kids outside to gaze at stars, which speak to the wonder of creation and the humility he wants them to feel about their place in it.

He’s big on humility, asking, who are we to go to the barricades for human embryos and then treat animals and their habitats with such contempt? Or to make such unforgiving judgments about people who err, including women who get pregnant without meaning to, unequipped for the awesome responsibility of a child?

As a physician, he said, you’re privy to patients’ secrets — to their truths — and understand that few people live up to their own stated ideals. He has treated a philandering pastor, a drug-abusing financier. “I see life as it really is,” he told me, “not how we wish it were.”

He shared a story about one of the loudest abortion foes he ever encountered, a woman who stood year in and year out on a ladder, so that her head would be above other protesters’ as she shouted “murderer” at him and other doctors and “whore” at every woman who walked into the clinic.

One day she was missing. “I thought, ‘I hope she’s O.K.,’ ” he recalled. He walked into an examining room to find her there. She needed an abortion and had come to him because, she explained, he was a familiar face. After the procedure, she assured him she wasn’t like all those other women: loose, unprincipled.

She told him: “I don’t have the money for a baby right now. And my relationship isn’t where it should be.”

“Nothing like life,” he responded, “to teach you a little more.”

A week later, she was back on her ladder.

    Rethinking His Religion, NYT, 24.3.2012,






Arab-Muslim Comedy Finding Voice After 9/11


March 14, 2012
The New York Times


EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The comedian who made his name on the "Axis of Evil Comedy Tour" made one thing clear when he opened a recent set at Michigan State University: "Tonight, it's not Islam 101."

For every joke Dean Obeidallah made about his Arabic heritage or Muslim faith, there were others about student loans, Asian-American basketball phenom Jeremy Lin, the presidential race and full-body scans at airports.

The last topic might seem like fertile ground for a Muslim comic, but the punch line goes to another time-honored funny topic: male anatomy.

"They're looking at my image on the monitor," he said. "All I can think of is, 'please don't laugh, please don't laugh.'"

Arab-Muslim stand-up comedy is flourishing more than a decade after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. While comics like Obeidallah, Ahmed Ahmed and Amer Zahr differ on approach — and there are disagreements among some— they're all trying to do more than just lampoon themselves or their people for easy laughs.

"I think our own community pushed us a little bit. They were tired of hearing jokes about ... having problems at the airport. ... They wanted a more nuanced approach to comedy," Obeidallah said during a multi-city swing through Michigan.

"You want to be dynamic. The same act, it's boring. People will not come back to see you a second or third time."

For example, he drew big laughs for a joke about the U.S. media's current obsession with Lin: "He's a testament to all of us. If you work hard, believe in yourself and graduate from Harvard, anything can happen." Later, he poked fun at many Americans' blissful ignorance of the world beyond its borders: "We don't know much about other countries. ... We're busy— we have to keep up with the Kardashians. That takes up a lot of time."

Muslim and Arab humor didn't begin with 9/11, but it marks an important turning point for the way many Muslims looked at themselves as Americans and how they joked about it with others, said Mucahit Bilici, an assistant professor of sociology at New York's John Jay College.

"The discrimination, prejudices and stereotypes from which other Muslims suffer are a godsend for the Muslim comedian," Bilici wrote in a chapter he contributed to the book "Islamophobia/Islamophilia: Beyond the Politics of Enemy and Friend."

Obeidallah, 42, a New Yorker who started in comedy a few years before 9/11 while working as a lawyer, said most U.S. Arabs — himself included — "just thought they were white people" before 9/11. He said some in society thought differently afterward.

"Our comedy reflected that abrupt realization that our world has changed around us, even though we had nothing to do with 9/11," said Obeidallah, who is of Palestinian and Sicilian ancestry and said he has embraced the Islamic side of his heritage in recent years as a tribute to his late father.

"People began to treat me differently after 9/11, even friends. Not in a bad way, but more were asking me questions about Arabs, and they never asked me questions before about that topic. So I started to talk about that in my comedy."

Obeidallah, who calls himself a "political comedian" and envisions entering politics, said he has seen the rise of Arab and Muslim comics since 9/11 through his work with the Arab American Comedy Festival. He said it was a small pool in the early years but the New York festival has added nights and turned people away.

Amer Zahr, also originally a lawyer, began stand-up shortly after the attacks. The 34-year-old of Palestinian heritage grew up in the Philadelphia area in a Christian-Muslim household. He was in his first year of law school in 2002 at University of Michigan when a group of Arab comedians including Obeidallah came to campus.

"At that point the shows were so small, so (someone asked), 'Is there anybody who wants to get on stage to ... fill some time?'" he said. Now he tours internationally and lives in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn and performs March 9 at the Arab American National Museum.

"I told a couple stories about my Dad, and everyone loved it," he said. "So I thought, 'OK, this is kind of cool.'"

Zahr said his evolution since 9/11 hasn't been about going beyond culture and religion so much as refining it: moving past "my Dad says funny things" and "we smell like garlic" to talking about the New York Police Department's surveillance of Muslims and his encounters with Israeli soldiers.

"In the beginning it was just, 'Let me be very vanilla. We're in the spotlight and people want to hear about us,'" he said. "Later on, I was getting into really making people think twice ... about how they feel about us."

Ahmed Ahmed, 41, a comic and actor who launched what would become the Axis of Evil Comedy Tour, was born in Egypt and moved to southern California shortly after birth. He found a champion fairly early on in Mitzi Shore, who ran the influential The Comedy Store in Hollywood. He recalls some prescient conversations with Shore.

"Before 9/11 I had been doing comedy for about 7 years and the year before 9/11 was when Mitzi hired me," Ahmed said. "She had an epiphany that there would be a war between America and the Middle East. ... She said, 'Arab comics are going to be necessary in the world to break down misconceptions and stereotypes.'"

Ahmed said Shore told him she wanted him to open her club's show four days after 9/11. He resisted, but she told him, "You need to go up there and get it out of the way — you'll know what to do."

He obeyed and set about entertaining "a very somber" audience of about 40 people. He asked for a moment of silence for the victims and families, then: "For the record my name is Ahmed Ahmed, and I had nothing to do with it. I'm just saying that so nobody follows me out to the car after the show."

"We sort of broke the chain of hesitation of what was OK, what was not OK to speak about," he said.

Over the decade, he saw Arab comics "come out of the woodwork," which he considers a mixed blessing. Ahmed said it "started becoming watered-down and competitive," and "ugliness" emerged within the growing community of comics.

Some are "using religion as a platform for recognition," says Ahmed, who had a strict Muslim upbringing and considers himself one "on my good days." He said he has had disagreements with a few other Arab comics, including Obeidallah.

Of course, disputes among comedians are nothing new. Bill Cosby has berated other black comics for using the N-word. He twice turned down the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor before accepting it in 2009 because he said he was disgusted with that and other profanity thrown around by performers honoring Richard Pryor, the award's first recipient in 1998.

If that's progress, it's the kind Ahmed could do without — or find much humor in.

"It's disappointing when it's Arab or Muslim comedians ... because we're such a new sort of novelty," he said. "You would think that one would wait for several years until we've had a real voice as a comedy community."


Follow Jeff Karoub on Twitter: http://twitter.com/jeffkaroub

    Arab-Muslim Comedy Finding Voice After 9/11, NYT, 14.3.2012,






Albert Abramson, Holocaust Museum Backer, Is Dead at 94


March 13, 2012
The New York Times


Albert Abramson, who became a principal force in the creation of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington by using the same pragmatic approach that had made him a successful developer of apartments, offices and malls, died last Tuesday at his home in Bethesda, Md. He was 94.

His family announced the death.

Mr. Abramson joined the drive to create an American memorial to the Holocaust in the mid-1980s, when the venture was seen to be stalling. The aging and deaths of survivors of Hitler’s horror created a special sense of urgency.

A developer of some of Washington’s most prominent buildings, Mr. Abramson was immediately frustrated by the slow pace of raising money, developing architectural plans and creating an exhibition program. In an essay in Washington Jewish Week after Mr. Abramson’s death, Michael Berenbaum, the museum’s former project director, said Mr. Abramson complained that the museum’s leaders had so far produced only “talk, talk, talk.”

This blunt approach put Mr. Abramson at odds with Elie Wiesel, chairman of the council overseeing the museum, who at first had wanted to remodel two existing red brick buildings on the site because they reminded him of concentration camps. Mr. Wiesel, whose evocative writing about the Holocaust sliced to the core of its inhumanity, questioned whether any building could speak for Auschwitz.

Mr. Abramson, who was chairman of the museum development committee, and Mr. Wiesel, who had the support of many survivors, argued fiercely. Mr. Abramson threatened to resign unless he was given more autonomy, The New York Times Magazine reported in 1990. Soon after Mr. Wiesel won the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize, he resigned as chairman, saying the organization now needed someone with expertise in administration, finance and construction — exactly Mr. Abramson’s argument.

President Ronald Reagan appointed another major developer, Harvey M. Meyerhoff of Baltimore, to replace Mr. Wiesel. Working with him and others, Mr. Abramson recruited as architect the highly respected James I. Freed of Pei Cobb Freed & Partners ; arranged an exhibition program; organized fund-raising; and cultivated powerful supporters in Congress.

He won over survivors loyal to Mr. Wiesel by praising them as the “spiritual leaders” who kept the project alive. But, he noted, in a 1987 interview with The Washington Post, “Building a project of this complexity was something beyond their experience — just like writing a book would be beyond mine.”

Mr. Berenbaum wrote, “He had the courage to take the project forward, the temperament to work with people of disparate views and habits and the determination to get things done.”

The museum was dedicated in 1993.

Albert Abramson was born on July 6, 1917, in the Bronx, and at 4 moved to Washington, where his family ran a clothing store. He earned a law degree from George Washington University, one of the last to do so without being required to have an undergraduate degree. At the outbreak of World War II, he enlisted in the Army Air Forces as a private and rose to captain.

After his discharge he founded the Tower Companies with two partners, investing $500 of his own money. He built several thousand apartments in the Washington metropolitan area and also developed shopping centers like the White Flint Mall in North Bethesda, Md., and office buildings like the Washington Square building in downtown Washington.

He was appointed to the Holocaust museum’s council by President Reagan, and reappointed by President George Bush and President Bill Clinton. He dropped many of his personal business projects to focus on the museum. In 1998, President Clinton awarded him the Presidential Citizens Medal, the second-highest civilian honor the president can bestow.

Mr. Abramson is survived by his sons, Gary, Ronald and Jeffrey; his sister, Adele Margulies; five grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

    Albert Abramson, Holocaust Museum Backer, Is Dead at 94, NYT, 13.3.2012,






Peter Novick,

Wrote Controversial Book on Holocaust,

Dies at 77


March 13, 2012
The New York Times


Peter Novick, a history professor at the University of Chicago who stirred controversy in 1999 with a book contending that the legacy of the Holocaust had come to unduly dominate American Jewish identity, died on Feb. 17 at his home in Chicago. He was 77.

The cause was lung cancer, his wife, Joan, said.

Dr. Novick — “a nonobservant Jew,” according to his wife — was the author of “The Holocaust in American Life,” in which he asked why the Nazi genocide had “come to loom so large” and “whether the prominent role the Holocaust has come to play in both American Jewish and general American discourse is as desirable a development as most people seem to think it is.”

He was skeptical that it was, and 10 years of research, he added, “confirmed the skepticism.”

Dr. Novick did not deny the enormity of the Holocaust or suggest that it should be forgotten. But he contended that at a time of increasing assimilation, intermarriage and secularization, it had become “virtually the only common denominator of American Jewish identity in the late 20th century.”

The Holocaust, as he saw it, was also being used for political ends. That was particularly true, he said, after the Six-Day War in 1967 and the Yom Kippur War in 1973 had heightened fears of Israel’s vulnerability.

“After 1967, and particularly after 1973, much of the world came to see the Middle East conflict as grounded in the Palestinian struggle to, belatedly, accomplish the U.N.’s original intention” of creating two states, he wrote. “There were strong reasons for Jewish organizations to ignore all this, however, and instead to conceive of Israel’s difficulties as stemming from the world’s having forgotten the Holocaust. The Holocaust framework allowed one to put aside as irrelevant any legitimate grounds for criticizing Israel.”

Dr. Novick’s book drew wide and varying reactions from reviewers and academicians.

In his review of the book in The New York Times, Lawrence L. Langer, a scholar of Holocaust literature at Simmons College in Boston, was unconvinced by Dr. Novick’s contentions. “Novick rightly slights formulaic responses to the Holocaust,” he wrote, “from the ubiquitous but vacuous ‘Never again!’ to the periodic manipulations of popular sympathy by some Jewish organizations when they fear a rise in anti-Semitism or a decline in support for Israel. But the abuse of the Holocaust for political or emotional ends does not discredit the continuing significance of the atrocity itself, as a human catastrophe and an example of vast evil in our time.”

Eva Hoffman, the writer and literary scholar, writing in The New York Review of Books, was more supportive. She noted that the book had been “criticized for the harshness and alleged ‘cynicism’ of its tone” and acknowledged that it was “indeed a tough-minded work, sharp, brusque, and sometimes nearly Swiftian in its acerbities.” But, she added, “the anger is a measure of Novick’s involvement; his candor is part of the argument. Novick is clearly intent on cutting through the circumlocutions of habitual Holocaust discourse, on challenging what he sees as its obfuscations with uncompromising logic and saying out loud what is often intimated in private.”

Jan Goldstein, a friend and colleague of Dr. Novick’s at the University of Chicago, recalled that “very often historians of Jewish background would take the thesis as an attack on American Jews.”

“He was regarded by some as a self-hating Jew,” Dr. Goldstein said of Dr. Novick, “which he was definitely not.”

In 2000, The Economist cited Dr. Novick’s book as the “starting point” for a far more controversial one, “The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering,” in which the author, Norman G. Finkelstein, contended that the Holocaust was being exploited for personal, political and economic reasons.

Ms. Novick recalled the uproar over her husband’s book. “Some people hated the book,” she said. “People said: ‘This is a bad thing. You’re saying the Holocaust was not the most horrible thing in the world.’ ”

Still, she added, “Unbeliever that he was, Peter found strong supporters among many rabbis — liberals to Orthodox — who shared his concern that the Holocaust might replace religion as the central symbol of Jewishness.”

Peter Novick was born in Jersey City on July 26, 1934, to Michael and Esther Novick. His grandparents immigrated to the United States from Eastern Europe in the 1890s. After serving in the Army, Dr. Novick received his bachelor’s degree in 1957 and his doctorate in 1965, both from Columbia University. Besides his wife, he is survived by a son, Michael.

Dr. Novick joined the University of Chicago faculty in 1966 and retired in 1999. His specialty was historiography, the study of the techniques of historical research, and even here he challenged orthodoxies.

In his 1988 book, “That Noble Dream: The ‘Objectivity Question’ and the American Historical Profession,” he questioned the idea of objectivity itself in historical research. Tracing its development, he wrote that history was long considered a kind of literary genre until the late 19th century, infused with an author’s point of view. That changed when the prevailing ideal became fact-based documentation without preconception. Dr. Novick was again skeptical, believing that the “myth of objectivity breaks down,” as Dr. Goldstein put it — “that there is no such thing as a fact in isolation from a preconceived theory or narrative.”

Of the criticism of his Holocaust book, Dr. Novick told the Chicago Tribune in 1999: “I knew I’d get some static and controversy on this,” adding that the reaction was “divided between those who say, ‘Right on!’ and those who are scandalized and outraged.”

“They don’t just pay me here for the teaching I do,” he said. “I produce scholarship.”

    Peter Novick, Wrote Controversial Book on Holocaust, Dies at 77, NYT, 13.2.2012,






Church Puts Legal Pressure on Abuse Victims’ Group


March 12, 2012
The New York Times


Turning the tables on an advocacy group that has long supported victims of pedophile priests, lawyers for the Roman Catholic Church and priests accused of sexual abuse in two Missouri cases have gone to court to compel the group to disclose more than two decades of e-mails that could include correspondence with victims, lawyers, whistle-blowers, witnesses, the police, prosecutors and journalists.

The group, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, known as SNAP, is neither a plaintiff nor a defendant in the litigation. But the group has been subpoenaed five times in recent months in Kansas City and St. Louis, and its national director, David Clohessy, was questioned by a battery of lawyers for more than six hours this year. A judge in Kansas City ruled that the network must comply because it “almost certainly” had information relevant to the case.

The network and its allies say the legal action is part of a campaign by the church to cripple an organization that has been the most visible defender of victims, and a relentless adversary, for more than two decades. “If there is one group that the higher-ups, the bishops, would like to see silenced,” said Marci A. Hamilton, a law professor at Yeshiva University and an advocate for victims of clergy sex crimes, “it definitely would be SNAP. And that’s what they’re going after. They’re trying to find a way to silence SNAP.”

Lawyers for the church and priests say they cannot comment because of a judge’s order. But William Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, a church advocacy group in New York, said targeting the network was justified because “SNAP is a menace to the Catholic Church.”

Mr. Donohue said leading bishops he knew had resolved to fight back more aggressively against the group: “The bishops have come together collectively. I can’t give you the names, but there’s a growing consensus on the part of the bishops that they had better toughen up and go out and buy some good lawyers to get tough. We don’t need altar boys.”

He said bishops were also rethinking their approach of paying large settlements to groups of victims. “The church has been too quick to write a check, and I think they’ve realized it would be a lot less expensive in the long run if we fought them one by one,” Mr. Donohue said.

However, a spokeswoman for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Sister Mary Ann Walsh, said Mr. Donohue was incorrect.

“There is no national strategy,” she said, and there was no meeting where legal counsel for the bishops decided to get more aggressive.

Mr. Clohessy and others founded the survivors network as a loose collective of volunteers who had been victimized by Catholic priests. Their goal was to help others grapple with the emotional and psychological fallout. They make referrals to therapists and lawyers, and hold protests outside church offices.

The group has three paid staff members, two part-time administrators and volunteers who lead 55 chapters in the United States and about 8 overseas. Its total revenue for 2010 was $352,903, some of it donations by lawyers who have sued the church. The group says it has spent about $50,000 and hundreds of hours of staff time since the subpoenas began, and is now arranging for lawyers who will work pro bono.

When the scandal over clergy sexual abuse reached a peak in Boston in 2002, American bishops met at their conference in Dallas with network members who gave emotional testimony about the toll of the abuse. But relations have deteriorated since then, and SNAP members say bishops now refuse to meet with them.

The first indication that the network would be caught up in legal proceedings came from Kansas City, where Bishop Robert W. Finn last year became the first American bishop ever to be criminally indicted for failure to report suspected child abuse.

Mr. Clohessy received a subpoena in October at his St. Louis home, where he works, regarding the case John Doe B.P. v. the Rev. Michael Tierney and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.

Four plaintiffs are accusing Father Tierney of sexually abusing them years ago. The cases would be outside the statute of limitations in Missouri, but the plaintiffs contend they recovered their memories of abuse only recently.

The subpoena asked that Mr. Clohessy turn over all documents in the last 23 years that mention repressed memory, any current or former priest in Kansas City, the diocese, Father Tierney, John Doe or Rebecca Randles, the attorney for the plaintiffs.

The church’s lawyers say they need to see SNAP’s records to investigate whether Ms. Randles violated a gag order by giving the group information about one of the Tierney cases before it was filed, which the group then included in a news release.

Ms. Randles said in an interview: “I certainly didn’t violate the gag order that is based on the ethics rules. And I did get an informal opinion from the Missouri bar ethics council indicating that it was acceptable to give an advance copy of the petition as long as my client had given me permission to do so.”

Ten victims’ advocacy groups filed a supporting brief arguing that the subpoena was unconstitutional. The Missouri Press Association also filed a supporting brief.

However, Judge Ann Mesle of Missouri Circuit Court in Jackson County ruled that Mr. Clohessy must release the files and be deposed because he “almost certainly has knowledge concerning issues relevant to this litigation”

Mr. Clohessy was deposed in January by lawyers for five accused priests and the diocese. In the 215-page transcript, made public on March 2, most of the questions were not about the case but about the network — its budget, board of directors, staff members, donors and operating procedures.

Mr. Clohessy testified that he had never had contact with John Doe.

“It was not a fishing expedition,” Mr. Clohessy said. “It was a fishing, crabbing, shrimping, trash-collecting, draining the pond expedition. The real motive is to harass and discredit and bankrupt SNAP, while discouraging victims, witnesses, whistle-blowers, police, prosecutors and journalists from seeking our help.”

Many of the questions were intended to prove that the group does not meet the definition of a rape crisis center. If it did, the group’s records would be shielded under a Missouri statute.

In a damaging admission, Mr. Clohessy answered, “Sure,” when asked whether his group had ever issued a press release that contained false information. In an interview on Monday, he said his response had been an acknowledgment that there must have been some errors in the thousands of news releases and alerts that the group had sent out over the years, “but never intentionally, and never mistakes of substance.”

While Mr. Clohessy was being deposed, another network employee in St. Louis, Barbara Dorris, received a subpoena involving the case of Jane Doe 92 v. the Archdiocese of St. Louis, et al.

That subpoena was nearly identical to the one issued to Mr. Clohessy, said Ken Chackes, the attorney for Jane Doe. It requested all correspondence about repressed memory even though the Jane Doe case does not involve repressed memory.

Mr. Chackes said, “I assume there’s some kind of communication” between the church lawyers in the two cities.

In the Kansas City case, SNAP refused to turn over all the subpoenaed documents or answer all the questions in the deposition. So attorneys for the church and the priests have filed a motion to compel SNAP to comply. A hearing on the motion is scheduled for April 20.

The experience has sent a chill through the network’s volunteers, Ms. Dorris said. “They want to do what’s right, and they want to help others, but this is a threat,” she said. “I think for some it’s strengthened their resolve, but others are scared.”

    Church Puts Legal Pressure on Abuse Victims’ Group, NYT, 12.3.2012,






Kelly Defends Surveillance of Muslims


February 27, 2012
The New York Times


Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly defended the New York Police Department’s counterterrorism program on Monday, saying “people have short memories as to what happened here in 2001.”

Mr. Kelly’s remarks, made during an appearance on WOR-AM (710), were in response to growing criticism of the department’s surveillance methods, including monitoring of Muslim communities in New York City and beyond, and its reliance on stop-and-frisk interactions as a crime-fighting tool.

He defended the surveillance conducted by the Police Department, saying, “It would be folly for us to focus only on the five boroughs of New York City, and we have to use all of our resources to protect everyone.”

Mr. Kelly suggested that criticism from political candidates amounted to “pandering” that ignored the department’s core mission. “What we’re trying to do is save lives, and the tactics and strategies that we’ve used on the streets of this city have indeed saved lives,” he said.

Mr. Kelly’s remarks on Monday were the latest in which he has mounted a strong defense of the Police Department, which has been criticized in the last several months over its handling of the Occupy Wall Street protests last year and the rising numbers of street stops in high-crime areas.

More recently, the latest in a series of articles by The Associated Press on the department’s surveillance of Muslims examined how the police had mapped out Muslim neighborhoods in Newark, focusing on businesses and mosques, and how police reports had been based on information gleaned by monitoring Web sites of Muslim student organizations at universities across the Northeast. After the articles were published, a number of universities issued statements expressing concern over the Police Department’s scrutiny of their student organizations, and some New Jersey officials expressed alarm at the Police Department’s operations in their state.

Last week, in an article under Mr. Kelly’s name in The Daily News, he described the Police Department’s strategy for combating gun violence. Then on Monday, he was the subject of a front-page column in The Daily News by Mike Lupica, in which Mr. Kelly said he was not going to backtrack.

“So apologize for doing what I’m paid to do, for being realistic about the way we protect this city, and what we know about the way radical Islam works?” Mr. Kelly said in the column. “Not happening.”

Speaking on WOR, during a segment hosted by Representative Peter T. King, Republican of Long Island, Mr. Kelly continued his defiant tone, saying that regardless of criticism, the Police Department was going to do “what we believe has to be done to protect our city.” He criticized the news media as being shortsighted, saying that “they forget” that New York City has been the target of numerous terrorist plots — Mr. Kelly put the number at 14 — since the Sept. 11, 2001, attack.

Mr. King referred to an elected official who said that people in his district were more frightened by the Police Department than they were of drug dealers. “I find those remarks absolutely disgraceful,” Mr. King said.

“Absolutely,” Mr. Kelly replied. “Well, you know, pandering is going on, that’s the season that we’re entering now.”

    Kelly Defends Surveillance of Muslims, NYT, 27.2.2012,






Women’s Health Care at Risk


February 28, 2012
The New York Times

A wave of mergers between Roman Catholic and secular hospitals is threatening to deprive women in many areas of the country of ready access to important reproductive services. Catholic hospitals that merge or form partnerships with secular hospitals often try to impose religious restrictions against abortions, contraception and sterilization on the whole system.

This can put an unacceptable burden on women, especially low-income women and those who live in smaller communities where there are fewer health care options. State regulators should closely examine such mergers and use whatever powers they have to block those that diminish women’s access to medical care.

Gov. Steve Beshear of Kentucky, for example, recently turned down a bid by a Catholic health system to merge with a public hospital that is the chief provider of indigent care in Louisville. He cited concerns about loss of control of a public asset and restrictions on reproductive services.

The nation’s 600 Catholic hospitals are an important part of the health care system. They treat one-sixth of all hospital patients, and are sometimes the only hospital in a small community. They receive most of their operating income from public insurance programs like Medicare and Medicaid and from private insurers, not from the Catholic Church. They are free to deliver care in accord with their religious principles, but states and communities have an obligation to make sure that reproductive care remains available. This should be a central goal for government officials who have a role in approving such consolidations.

As Reed Abelson wrote in a recent report in The Times, these mergers are driven by shifts in health care economics. Some secular hospitals are struggling to survive and eager to be rescued by financially stronger institutions, which in many cases may be Catholic-affiliated. By one estimate, 20 mergers between Catholic and non-Catholic hospitals have been announced over the past three years and more can be expected.

The 2009 “Ethical and Religious Directives” issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops warns that Catholic institutions should avoid entering into partnerships “that would involve them in cooperation with the wrongdoing of other providers.” Catholic hospitals have refused to terminate pregnancies, provide contraceptive services, offer a standard treatment for ectopic pregnancies, or allow sterilization after caesarean sections (women seeking tubal ligations are then forced to have a second operation elsewhere, exposing them to additional risks).

In one case, the sole hospital in a rural area in southeastern Arizona announced in 2010 that it would partner with an out-of-state Catholic health system, and would immediately adhere to Catholic directives that forbid certain reproductive health services. As a result, a woman whose doctors wanted to terminate a pregnancy to save her life had to be sent 80 miles away for treatment. A coalition of residents, physicians and activists campaigned against the merger and it was called off before it was finalized.

Over the past 15 years, MergerWatch, an advocacy group based in New York City, has helped block or reverse 37 mergers and reached compromises in 22 others that saved at least some reproductive services. As mergers become more common, state and local leaders would be wise to block proposals that restrict health services.

    Women’s Health Care at Risk, NYT, 28.2.2012,






Theocracy and Its Discontents


February 23, 2012
9:00 pm
The New York Times

Timothy Egan on American politics and life, as seen from the West.


Ah, the founders, those starch-collared English souls planting liberty in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 17th century. For those who didn’t follow rules handed down by God through man, these New World authorities could cut out your tongue, slice off your ears or execute you. O.K., Puritans, wrong role-model founders.

Then let’s look west, beyond the Wasatch Mountains in the 19th century, where Brigham Young built a Mormon empire in which church rule and civil law were one and the same — the press, a military brigade and the courts all controlled by the Seer and Revelator of a homegrown religion. Oops, wrong founders again.

American political bedrock — God’s house and the people’s government guiding separate worlds — wasn’t always in place. Reason ultimately won out. But theocracy certainly had its colonies and its advocates; it might have prevailed but for a few outstanding voices.

One of those voices was Roger Williams’s. Banished by the Puritans, he established what became Rhode Island and created in 1636 “the first government in the world which broke church and state apart,” as John M. Barry writes in “Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul,” a new book on this founding episode.

The idea that civil law and religious law are separate has coursed through American society ever since. It was a radical thought in 1636. It’s written in the Constitution now. And yet, with Rick Santorum riding high in the Republican primaries, it looks as if this issue will get another go-round.

Santorum, who makes Mitt Romney look blandly secular by comparison, has a well-known animus against accepted sexual practices that he believes defy “God’s law” — his words, not mine. He opposes sex for reasons other than producing babies, sex outside of marriage, homosexuality, prenatal testing, and on and on. Contraception, he has said, gives people “a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.”
Erik S. Lesser/European Pressphoto AgencyRick Santorum and his family prayed with a pastor at a campaign rally in a Cumming, Ga. church on Feb. 19.

Most Americans won’t begrudge him his beliefs; he’s free to practice them, and imbue his children with them, as he did by home-schooling his family. But most Americans also will part ways with him when he advocates that civil code should adhere to his religious beliefs.

“God gave us laws that we must abide by,” he said early on the campaign. Notably, Santorum, a far-right Catholic, has taken issue with President John F. Kennedy, a moderate Catholic, for having said that his presidency would not be dictated by his faith. This view, Santorum said in 2010, has caused “great harm to America.”

So, bring on the argument, once again, with history as the guide. Williams was a Puritan convert who left Britain to escape religious persecution by a king who was head of state and head of the Church of England. After initially being welcomed into the Massachusetts Bay Colony, he was persecuted for his more enlightened views and put on trial. He faced the possibility of torture, or execution. Ultimately, he was banished.

In founding Providence as a place of religious tolerance, Williams drew Jews, Quakers and nonbelievers to his new colony, and gave up trying to convert the Indians. “Forced worship stinks in God’s nostrils,” he said.

In Barry’s book, Williams is charismatic and heroic, but also far ahead of his time. “The Bay leaders, both lay and clergy, firmly believed that the state must enforce all of God’s laws,” Barry writes. Williams “believed that humans, being imperfect, would inevitably err in applying God’s laws.” And certainly, those heretics who were hanged in New England paid the ultimate price for such errors.

The Mormons, for all the cheery optimism of their present state, were birthed in brutal theocracy, first in Nauvoo, Ill., and later in the State of Deseret, as their settlement in present-day Utah was called. The Constitution, separating church from state, press from government, had no place in either stronghold. And it took a threat to march the United States Army out to the rogue settlement around the Great Salt Lake to persuade Mormon leaders that their control did not extend beyond matters of the soul.

Santorum is itching to add another chapter to this book. Last weekend, he seemed to question President Obama’s faith, alluding to a “phony theology” that supposedly guides his presidency. Who knew there was a religious test through the gates of the White House?

He also used his Biblical beliefs to deny climate change, saying, “We are put on this earth as creatures of God to have dominion over the earth.” You may think he’s running for chief deacon, and should swap his sweater vest for a clerical collar.

But his followers know exactly what he’s talking about. In Wednesday night’s debate in Arizona, Santorum defended his religious-themed campaign: “Just because I talk about it doesn’t mean I want a government program to fix it.” But in fact, he does. Santorum has long tried to get his Biblical principles taught to children in public schools — insisting that “creationism” should be in every American classroom, and trying to enforce that through riders to education bills when he was a senator. Better yet, the kids should read about Roger Williams, a man of faith, and of reason — the American model that will prevail long after Santorum has left the pulpit.

    Theocracy and Its Discontents, NYT, 23.2.2012,






Rick’s Religious Fanaticism


February 21, 2012
The New York Times



Rick Santorum has been called a latter-day Savonarola.

That’s far too grand. He’s more like a small-town mullah.

“Satan has his sights on the United States of America,” the conservative presidential candidate warned in 2008. “Satan is attacking the great institutions of America, using those great vices of pride, vanity and sensuality as the root to attack all of the strong plants that has so deeply rooted in the American tradition.”

When, in heaven’s name, did sensuality become a vice? Next he’ll be banning Barry White.

Santorum is not merely engaged in a culture war, but “a spiritual war,” as he called it four years ago. “The Father of Lies has his sights on what you would think the Father of Lies would have his sights on: a good, decent, powerful, influential country — the United States of America,” he told students at Ave Maria University in Florida. He added that mainline Protestantism in this country “is in shambles. It is gone from the world of Christianity as I see it.”

Satan strikes, a Catholic exorcist told me, when there are “soul wounds.” Santorum, who is considered “too Catholic” even by my über-Catholic brothers, clearly believes that America’s soul wounds include men and women having sex for reasons other than procreation, people involved in same-sex relationships, women using contraception or having prenatal testing, environmentalists who elevate “the Earth above man,” women working outside the home, “anachronistic” public schools, Mormonism (which he said is considered “a dangerous cult” by some Christians), and President Obama (whom he obliquely and oddly compared to Hitler and accused of having “some phony theology”).

Santorum didn’t go as far as evangelist Franklin Graham, who heinously doubted the president’s Christianity on “Morning Joe.”

Mullah Rick, who has turned prayer into a career move, told ABC News’s Jake Tapper that he disagreed with the 1965 Supreme Court decision striking down a ban on contraception. And, in October, he insisted that contraception is “not O.K. It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.”

Senator Sanitarium, as he was once dubbed on “The Sopranos,” sometimes tries to temper his retrogressive sermons so as not to drive away independent and Republican women who like to work, see their kids taught by professionals and wear Victoria’s Secret.

He told The Washington Post on Friday that, while he doesn’t want to fund contraception through Planned Parenthood, he wouldn’t ban it: “The idea that I’m coming after your birth control is absurd. I was making a statement about my moral beliefs, but I won’t impose them on anyone else in this case.”

That doesn’t comfort me much. I’ve spent a career watching candidates deny they would do things that they went on to do as president, and watching presidents let their personal beliefs, desires and insecurities shape policy decisions.

Mullah Rick is casting doubt on issues of women’s health and safety that were settled a long time ago. We’re supposed to believe that if he got more power he’d drop his crusade?

The Huffington Post reports that Santorum told Philadelphia Magazine in 1995 that he “was basically pro-choice all my life, until I ran for Congress.” Then, he said, he read the “scientific literature.”

He seems to have decided that electoral gold lies in the ruthless exploitation of social and cultural wedge issues. Unlike the Bushes, he has no middle man to pander to prejudices; he turns the knife himself.

Why is it that Republicans don’t want government involved when it comes to the economy (opposing the auto bailouts) but do want government involved when it comes to telling people how to live their lives?

In a party always misty for bygone times bristling with ugly inequities, Santorum is successful because he’s not ashamed to admit that he wants to take the country backward.

Virginia’s Republican governor, Bob McDonnell, touted as a vice presidential prospect, also wants to drag women back into a cave.

This week, public outrage forced the Virginia Legislature to pause on its way to passing a creepy bill forcing women seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound, which, for early procedures, would require a wand being inserted into the vagina — an invasion that anti-abortion groups hope would shame some women into changing their minds once they saw or heard about traits of the fetus.

Democratic Delegate Lionell Spruill hotly argued that the bill would force “legal rape.” “I cannot believe that you would disrespect women and mothers in such a way,” he chided colleagues. “This legislation is simply mean-spirited, and it is bullying, bullying women simply because you can.”

While the Democratic-controlled Maryland House of Delegates just passed a bill that would allow same-sex marriage, the Republican-controlled Virginia Legislature passed a bill allowing private adoption agencies to discriminate against gays who want to be parents.

The Potomac River dividing those states seems to be getting wider by the day.

    Rick’s Religious Fanaticism, NYT, 21.2.2012,






Sex and the Secularists


February 8, 2012
9:00 pm
The New York Times


In my old neighborhood in a patch at the north end of Spokane, Washington, not only was John F. Kennedy a saint, but the family from which he came was viewed as the norm – that is, a brood of nine or more kids, each a year or so apart. Birth control in the mid-1960s was the rhythm method, and its failed efficacy was evident in the size of the clans. “The I-got-rhythm method,” my dad called it.

Today, it’s the rare Roman Catholic family in America that produces enough children to field its own baseball team. What that tells you is that most young parents in good standing with the church are practicing a method of birth control abhorred by the clerical elite. Specifically, according to a survey by the respected Guttmacher Institute, 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women have used birth control other than church-approved natural methods (rhythm!).

It’s worth keeping this figure in mind as we parse the latest campaign trail grenade thrown by Republican leaders, ever eager to cast the opposition party as militant secularists. The phony political outrage is one thing. But the policy at the core of the issue – a federal rule that insurance plans, including those at many Catholic-run hospitals and universities, cover birth control – is a step too far. There are ways to resolve this delicate struggle between conscience and accepted medical practice.

The administration has already granted an exemption to institutions that cover a strictly religious employee pool. Perhaps a larger resolution can come from that kind of flexibility, in the same way that churches in states where same-sex marriage is legal can take a pass.

First, the politics. Newt Gingrich, who became a Catholic after violating the church’s age-old sanction against adultery, says the new provision is evidence that the Obama administration is waging a “war on the Catholic Church.” Mitt Romney is late to the parade, but is now using some of the same language, even though he was never able to prevent his Massachusetts plan from offering birth control. Rick Santorum, and the dopey dropout from the race, Rick Perry, have consistently accused the president of fighting a “war on religion.”

This is an unfortunate and expedient dumbing down of a word weighted with genuine tragedy.

A war on Christians is certainly being waged from West Africa to parts of Egypt, where vigilantes have murdered worshipers and burned churches. The Iraq war, started by a president who wore his religion on his cowboy boots, resulted in upward of 600,000 Christians having to flee their longtime homes, as sectarian hatreds flared with the conflict. Those are wars on Christians – people slaughtered, or displaced, for their faith. A rule in the new health care act that mandates access to birth control methods already used by most Catholics does not a war make.

Those who worship in the church of their ancestors yet ignore much of its outdated and even medieval dogma are dismissed as “cafeteria Catholics,” cruising the theological food court to pick and choose their beliefs. But the reality, backed by survey after survey, is that most Americans in the church are in fact cafeteria Catholics.

The latest snapshot of the faithful, brought out last year by the National Catholic Reporter, found that most members of the church believe in the core theological constructs, but ignore the church’s teachings on sex – always the great hang-up. Only one in five Catholics said that church leaders were the proper arbiters in such matters as divorce, abortion, sexual conduct, homosexuality and abortion. Even fewer people, only 10 percent of Catholics, believe that the church should have the final say about contraceptive use.

By contrast, almost 70 percent believe that “helping the poor” is very important to being a Catholic.

The church position on birth control is tied, in its modern incarnation, to Pope Paul VI’s 1968 Humanae Vitae, in which he said that contraception was “intrinsically wrong.” All the evidence now suggests that on this issue, American Catholics believe it is the church’s position that is intrinsically wrong.

American Catholics love the tradition, the sense of community and the cultural ties that connect them to distant struggles from Ireland to Africa. They are going to ignore church rulings on birth control and homosexuality, and continue to show up at Mass, to baptize their children, cheer at weddings and weep at funerals, no matter what the bishops tell them.

Eventually, the church position will catch up to the beliefs and practices of 21st-century Catholics. This transition is already under way. Witness Pope Benedict’s suggestion in 2010 that condom use is acceptable in some cases.

But the point is that the living church will change from within, by the will of its faithful. And that’s why the Obama administration should allow the church to find a third way. The change shouldn’t come from the government.

Roughly one in six patients in the United States are cared for in a Catholic hospital. Millions of those patients are not Catholic. So why should they be denied birth control, which doctors and social scientists say is a proper tool for healthy living? It gets even trickier when religious institutions take government money, and dole out policies at odds with the Constitution’s establishment clause.

There must be a third way. When I lived in Italy, my kids could opt out of the religion class at the local public school by learning about road signs (or deconstructing John Lennon’s “Imagine,” as they did once).

Last month, the administration extended the time until August of 2013 for religious institutions to comply with the law. In that window, surely a workable balance can be found.

In 2008, Obama won the Catholic vote, with 54 percent. He should carry it again this year, given that his governing philosophy of economic fairness and help for the poor is consistent with the majority sentiment of most Catholics. It would be a pity if this one issue got in the way.

    Sex and the Secularists, NYT, 8.2.2012,






Whose Conscience?


February 8, 2012
9:00 pm
The New York Times

Linda Greenhouse on the Supreme Court and the law.


In the escalating conflict over the new federal requirement that employers include contraception coverage without a co-pay in the insurance plans they make available to their employees, opposition from the Catholic church and its allies is making headway with a powerfully appealing claim: that when conscience and government policy collide, conscience must prevail.

The rhetoric in which this claim is put forward grows more inflammatory by the day. “The Obama administration has just told the Catholics of the United States, ‘To Hell with you!’ ” according to Bishop David A. Zubik of the Diocese of Pittsburgh. The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a nondenominational organization that litigates on behalf of religious interests, is circulating a petition under the heading: “The Obama Administration is giving you one year to stop believing” (a reference to the one-year delay the regulation offers to religious employers). Mitt Romney, the likely Republican presidential nominee, joined the chorus this week, calling the regulation “a violation of conscience.”

This aggressive claiming of the moral high ground is close to drowning out the regulation’s supporters, inside and outside of the Obama administration. Maybe I’m missing something, but I haven’t seen a comparably full-throated defense of the regulation, issued last month by the Department of Health and Human Services, except on pure policy grounds. (And there are indications this week that even some in the administration, or at least in President Obama’s campaign apparatus, may be getting cold feet.) While the policy grounds are fully persuasive – the ability to prevent or space pregnancy being an essential part of women’s health care, one that shouldn’t be withheld simply because a woman’s employer is church-affiliated – the purpose of this column is to examine the conscience claim itself, directly, to see whether it holds up.

An obvious starting point is with the 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women who, just like other American women, have exercised their own consciences and availed themselves of birth control at some point during their reproductive lives. So it’s important to be clear that the conscientious objection to the regulation comes from an institution rather than from those whose consciences it purports to represent. (Catholic women actually have a higher rate of abortion than other American women, but I’ll stick to birth control for now.) While most Catholics dissent in the privacy of their bedrooms from the church’s position, some are pushing back in public. The organization Catholics for Choice, whose magazine is pointedly entitled Conscience, is calling on its supporters to “tell our local media that the bishops are out of touch with the lived reality of the Catholic people” and “do not speak for us on this decision.”

But suppose the counter-factual – that only half, or one-quarter, or five percent of Catholic women use birth control. The question would remain: Whose conscience is it? The regulation doesn’t require anyone to use birth control. It exempts any religious employer that primarily hires and serves its own faithful, the same exclusion offered by New York and California from the contraception mandate in state insurance laws. (Of the other states that require such coverage, 15 offer a broader opt-out provision, while eight provide no exemption at all.) Permitting Catholic hospitals to withhold contraception coverage from their 765,000 employees would blow a gaping hole in the regulation. The 629-hospital Catholic health care system is a major and respected health care provider, serving one in every six hospital patients and employing nearly 14 percent of all hospital staff in the country. Of the top 10 revenue-producing hospital systems in 2010, four were Catholic. The San Francisco-based Catholic Healthcare West, the fifth biggest hospital system in the country, had $11 billion in revenue last year and treated 6.2 million patients.

These institutions, as well as Catholic universities – not seminaries, but colleges and universities whose doors are open to all – are full participants in the public square, receiving a steady stream of federal dollars. They assert – indeed, have earned – the right to the same benefits that flow to their secular peers. What they now claim is a right to special treatment: to conscience that trumps law.

But in fact, that is not a principle that our legal system embraces. Just ask Alfred Smith and Galen Black, two members of the Native American Church who were fired from their state jobs in Oregon for using the illegal hallucinogen peyote in a religious ceremony and who were then deemed ineligible for unemployment compensation because they had lost their jobs for “misconduct.” They argued that their First Amendment right to free exercise of religion trumped the state’s unemployment law.

In a 1990 decision, Employment Division v. Smith, the Supreme Court disagreed. Even a sincere religious motivation, in the absence of some special circumstance like proof of government animus, does not merit exemption from a “valid and neutral law of general applicability,” the court held. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the opinion, which was joined by, among others, the notoriously left wing Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist.

A broad coalition of conservative and progressive religious groups pushed back hard, leading to congressional passage of the tendentiously titled Religious Freedom Restoration Act. It provided that a free exercise claim would prevail unless the government could show a “compelling” reason for holding a religious group to the same legal requirements that applied to everyone else. After a Catholic church in Texas invoked that law in an effort to expand into a landmark zone where no new building was permitted, the Supreme Court declared the Religious Freedom Restoration Act unconstitutional as applied to the states. The law remains in effect as applied to the federal government, although its full dimension remains untested.

Senator Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican, sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday asserting that the contraception regulation violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and it’s not unlikely that one or more lawsuits may soon test that proposition. The question would then be whether the case for the mandate, without the broad exemption the church is demanding, is sufficiently “compelling.” Such a case would pit the well-rehearsed public health arguments (half of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended, and nearly half of those end in abortion – a case for expanded access to birth control if there ever was one ) against religious doctrine.

The court has recently been active on the religion front. In a unanimous decision last month, the justices for the first time recognized a constitutionally-based “ministerial exception” from laws concerning employment discrimination. An employee deemed by a church to be a “minister” – in this case, a kindergarten teacher in a Lutheran school who had received ministerial training and taught some religion classes – cannot sue the church over an adverse employment decision, the court held in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The plaintiff, supported by the federal government, had argued that the 1990 Employment Division v. Smith decision precluded the recognition of a ministerial exception from generally applicable employment laws. Rejecting that argument in his opinion for the court, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. explained: “But a church’s selection of its ministers is unlike an individual’s ingestion of peyote. Smith involved government regulation of only outward physical acts. The present case, in contrast, concerns government interference with an internal church decision that affects the faith and mission of the church itself.”

That language is certainly suggestive of deference, beyond the employment area, to a church’s doctrinal claims to special treatment. But while all nine justices signed the opinion, that doesn’t necessarily mean that all nine would agree on its application to the contraception requirement. The question would be whether a church that has failed to persuade its own flock of the rightness of its position could persuade at least five justices.

    Whose Conscience?, NYT, 8.2.2012,






Tales From the Kitchen Table


February 8, 2012
The New York Times


This is a really old story, but let me tell you anyway.

When I was first married, my mother-in-law sat down at her kitchen table and told me about the day she went to confession and told the priest that she and her husband were using birth control. She had several young children, times were difficult — really, she could have produced a list of reasons longer than your arm.

“You’re no better than a whore on the street,” said the priest.

This was, as I said, a long time ago. It’s just an explanation of why the bishops are not the only Roman Catholics who are touchy about the issue of contraception.

These days, parish priests tend to be much less judgmental about parishioners who are on the pill — the military was not the first institution in this country to make use of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” system. “In most parishes in the United States, we don’t find them preaching about contraception,” said Jon O’Brien of Catholics for Choice. “And it’s not as though in the Mass you have a question-and-answer period.”

You have heard, I’m sure, that the Catholic bishops are in an uproar over an Obama administration rule that would require Catholic universities and hospitals to cover contraceptives in their health care plans. The Republican presidential candidates are roaring right behind. Mitt Romney claimed the White House was trying to “impose a secular vision on Americans who believe that they should not have their religious freedom taken away.”

Let’s try to work this out in a calm, measured manner. (Easy for me to say. I already got my mother-in-law story off my chest.)

Catholic doctrine prohibits women from using pills, condoms or any other form of artificial contraception. A much-quoted study by the Guttmacher Institute found that virtually all sexually active Catholic women of childbearing age have violated the rule at one point or another, and that more than two-thirds do so consistently.

Here is the bishops’ response to that factoid: “If a survey found that 98 percent of people had lied, cheated on their taxes, or had sex outside of marriage, would the government claim it can force everyone to do so?”

O.K. Moving right along.

The church is not a democracy and majority opinion really doesn’t matter. Catholic dogma holds that artificial contraception is against the law of God. The bishops have the right — a right guaranteed under the First Amendment — to preach that doctrine to the faithful. They have a right to preach it to everybody. Take out ads. Pass out leaflets. Put up billboards in the front yard.

The problem here is that they’re trying to get the government to do their work for them. They’ve lost the war at home, and they’re now demanding help from the outside.

And they don’t seem in the mood to compromise. Church leaders told The National Catholic Register that they regarded any deal that would allow them to avoid paying for contraceptives while directing their employees to other places where they could find the coverage as a nonstarter.

This new rule on contraceptive coverage is part of the health care reform law, which was designed to finally turn the United States into a country where everyone has basic health coverage. In a sane world, the government would be running the whole health care plan, the employers would be off the hook entirely and we would not be having this fight at all. But members of Congress — including many of the very same people who are howling and rending their garments over the bishops’ plight — deemed the current patchwork system untouchable.

The churches themselves don’t have to provide contraceptive coverage. Neither do organizations that are closely tied to a religion’s doctrinal mission. We are talking about places like hospitals and universities that rely heavily on government money and hire people from outside the faith.

We are arguing about whether women who do not agree with the church position, or who are often not even Catholic, should be denied health care coverage that everyone else gets because their employer has a religious objection to it. If so, what happens if an employer belongs to a religion that forbids certain types of blood transfusions? Or disapproves of any medical intervention to interfere with the working of God on the human body?

Organized religion thrives in this country, so the system we’ve worked out seems to be serving it pretty well. Religions don’t get to force their particular dogma on the larger public. The government, in return, protects the right of every religion to make its case heard.

The bishops should have at it. I wouldn’t try the argument that the priest used on my mother-in-law, but there’s always a billboard on the front lawn.

    Tales From the Kitchen Table, NYT, 8.2.2012,






Ruling on Contraception Draws Battle Lines

at Catholic Colleges


January 29, 2012
The New York Times


Bridgette Dunlap, a Fordham University law student, knew that the school’s health plan had to pay for birth control pills, in keeping with New York state law. What she did not find out until she was in an examining room, “in the paper dress,” was that the student health service — in keeping with Roman Catholic tenets — would simply refuse to prescribe them.

As a result, students have had to go to Planned Parenthood or private doctors to get prescriptions. Some, unable to afford the doctor visits, gave up birth control pills entirely. In November, Ms. Dunlap, 31, who was raised a Catholic and was educated at parochial schools, organized a one-day, off-campus clinic staffed by volunteer doctors who wrote prescriptions for dozens of women.

Many Catholic colleges decline to prescribe or cover birth control, citing religious reasons. Now they are under pressure to change. This month the Obama administration, citing the medical case for birth control, made a politically charged decision that the new health care law requires insurance plans at Catholic institutions to cover birth control without co-payments for employees, and that may be extended to students. But Catholic organizations are resisting the rule, saying it would force them to violate their beliefs and finance behavior that betrays Catholic teachings.

“We can’t just lie down and die and let religious freedom go,” said Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a spokeswoman for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The administration’s rule has now run headlong into a dispute over values as Republican presidential contenders compete for the most conservative voters. In an election season that features Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, who have stressed their Catholic faith, scientific thinking on the medical benefits of birth control has clashed with deeply held religious and cultural beliefs.

The Obama administration relied on the recommendations of the Institute of Medicine, an independent group of doctors and researchers that concluded that birth control is not just a convenience but is medically necessary “to ensure women’s health and well-being.”

About half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned, and about 4 of 10 of those end in abortion, according to the Institute of Medicine report, which was released in July. It noted that providing birth control could lower both pregnancy and abortion rates. It also cited studies showing that women with unintended pregnancies are more likely to be depressed and to smoke, drink and delay or skip prenatal care, potentially harming fetuses and putting babies at increased risk of being born prematurely and having low birth weight.

But the Republican candidates have said that moral and religious values weigh heavily in birth control issues. Andrea Saul, a spokeswoman for Mitt Romney, said in an e-mail that he regarded the administration’s rule requiring religious employers to furnish birth control as wrong. “This is a direct attack on religious liberty and will not stand in a Romney presidency,” she said. Mr. Romney has also pledged to end a federal program, Title X, that provides family planning services to millions of women.

Mr. Santorum has taken the position that health insurance plans should not be required to cover birth control. He also favors allowing states to decide whether to ban birth control. He and Mr. Gingrich both support “personhood” initiatives that would legally declare fertilized eggs to be persons, effectively banning not just all abortions but also certain contraceptives, including IUDs and some types of birth control pills.

Mr. Gingrich wants to withdraw government money from Planned Parenthood because it performs abortions in addition to providing contraceptives, though the federal money cannot be used for abortion.

The Obama administration has itself not been consistent in following experts’ advice on birth control. In December, it overruled scientists at the Food and Drug Administration and blocked increased access to an emergency contraceptive, citing potential risks to young girls who might use them without parental help. The decision was widely seen as an effort to avoid the ire of socially conservative voters and to defuse anger about its pending rule requiring the provision of birth control in insurance plans of Catholic institutions.

The Catholic Church considers it morally wrong to prevent conception by any artificial means, including condoms, IUDs, birth control pills and sterilization.

Some Catholic colleges are likely to ask for a yearlong delay in implementing the rule on birth control coverage, said Michael Galligan-Stierle, president of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities. In the longer run, he predicted in a statement that either Congress or the Supreme Court would invalidate the rule. Belmont Abbey College, which is Catholic, and the interdenominational Colorado Christian University have already sued the Department of Health and Human Services, arguing that the birth control requirement violates the right to freedom of religion.

Birth control is considered a “preventive service” under the new health care law, but Mr. Galligan-Stierle said such services should be limited to preventing disease, not pregnancy.

“We do not happen to think pregnancy is disease,” he said. “We think it’s a gift of love of two people and our creator.”

Despite Catholic teachings, surveys have found that 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women, as in the general population, have used contraceptives.

At Catholic universities, some students support the right of the schools to uphold religious doctrine. But others, particularly professional and graduate students, have found the restrictions on birth control coverage onerous. Undergraduates are often covered by their parents’ insurance, but graduate students are usually on their own and are more likely to be married or in relationships and in regular need of birth control.

At some schools, students say the rules are so stringent they have a hard time getting coverage even if they need birth control pills for strictly medical reasons.

One recent Georgetown law graduate, who asked not to be identified for reasons of medical privacy, said she had polycystic ovary syndrome, a condition for which her doctor prescribed birth control pills. She is gay and had no other reason to take the pills. Georgetown does not cover birth control for students, so she made sure her doctor noted the diagnosis on her prescription. Even so, coverage was denied several times. She finally gave up and paid out of pocket, more than $100 a month. After a few months she could no longer afford the pills. Within months she developed a large ovarian cyst that had to be removed surgically — along with her ovary.

“If I want children, I’ll need a fertility specialist because I have only one working ovary,” she said.

A spokeswoman for Georgetown, Stacy Kerr, said that problems like this were rare and that doctors at the health service knew how to help students get coverage for contraceptives needed for medical reasons.

Asked if Georgetown would begin covering birth control under the new rule, she said, “We will be reviewing and evaluating the new regulations, ever mindful of our Catholic and Jesuit identity and mission.”

Some Georgetown professors question the wisdom of the university’s current policy. “I wish Catholic institutions would have more open conversation about how bans on birth control can increase abortion rates among students,” said Robin L. West, a law school professor. “Both are contrary to Catholic teaching, but abortion as I understand it is the graver of the sins, and certainly the greater injury to the fetus and the woman.”

The university declined to comment on her remarks.

A 23-year-old who asked that her name not be used said she became pregnant while studying at Fordham. In high school, she said, she had taken birth control pills, but she gave them up at Fordham because she could not afford the doctor visit needed for a prescription. She and her boyfriend were using condoms when she became pregnant. Though Catholic, she considered abortion, but chose to have the baby. She said she knew six other Fordham students who had become pregnant and had abortions.

Senior Catholic officials said that students at Catholic universities should know what to expect, and that those who disagree with the policies can choose to go elsewhere. “No one would go to a Jewish barbecue and expect pork chops to be served,” Mr. Galligan-Stierle said.

At Fordham Law School on Tuesday night, Ms. Dunlap and five other law students who had worked against the university’s birth control policy sat together at a lecture by Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, who had personally asked President Obama to exclude Catholic institutions from the contraception requirement and called the decision against the church “unconscionable.”

During his lecture, Archbishop Dolan criticized people who postponed conception with “chemicals and latex,” calling them part of the “culture of death.”

Ms. Dunlap and her colleagues were feeling proud: they had just won a small victory, persuading Fordham to change its Web site to explain the birth control policy more clearly. Now, they wrote down questions on index cards, expecting them to be put to the archbishop after his speech. One concerned contraception.

The moderator read through the questions and deemed some of them too “pointed.”

“If I don’t ask your question,” he said, “I either apologize or I don’t care.”

Ms. Dunlap’s queries did not make the cut. Her frustration nearly brought her to tears.

“I can’t believe they didn’t take our questions,” she said, adding that the moderator was trying to silence disagreement. “It dishonors the law school.”

    Ruling on Contraception Draws Battle Lines at Catholic Colleges, NYT, 29.2.2012,






How to Fight The Man


February 2, 2012
The New York Times


A few weeks ago, a 22-year-old man named Jefferson Bethke produced a video called “Why I Hate Religion, but Love Jesus.” The video shows Bethke standing in a courtyard rhyming about the purity of the teachings of Jesus and the hypocrisy of the church. Jesus preaches healing, surrender and love, he argues, but religion is rigid, phony and stale. “Jesus came to abolish religion,” Bethke insists. “Religion puts you in bondage, but Jesus sets you free.”

The video went viral. As of Thursday, it had acquired more than 18 million hits on YouTube. It speaks for many young believers who feel close to God but not to the church. It represents the passionate voice of those who think their institutions lack integrity — not just the religious ones, but the political and corporate ones, too.

Right away, many older theologians began critiquing Bethke’s statements. A blogger named Kevin DeYoung pointed out, for example, that it is biblically inaccurate to say that Jesus hated religion. In fact, Jesus preached a religious doctrine, prescribed rituals and worshiped in a temple.

Bethke responded in a way that was humble, earnest and gracious, and that generally spoke well of his character. He also basically folded.

“I wanted to say I really appreciate your article man,” Bethke wrote to DeYoung in an online exchange. “It hit me hard. I’ll even be honest and say I agree 100 percent.”

Bethke watched a panel discussion in which some theologians lamented young people’s disdain of organized religion. “Right when I heard that,” he told The Christian Post, “it just convicted me, and God used it as one of those Spirit moments where it’s just, ‘Man, he’s right.’ I realized a lot of my views and treatments of the church were not Scripture-based; they were very experience based.”

Bethke’s passionate polemic and subsequent retreat are symptomatic of a lot of the protest cries we hear these days. This seems to be a moment when many people — in religion, economics and politics — are disgusted by current institutions, but then they are vague about what sorts of institutions should replace them.

This seems to be a moment of fervent protest movements that are ultimately vague and ineffectual.

We can all theorize why the intense desire for change has so far produced relatively few coherent recipes for change. Maybe people today are simply too deferential. Raised to get college recommendations, maybe they lack the oppositional mentality necessary for revolt. Maybe people are too distracted.

My own theory revolves around a single bad idea. For generations people have been told: Think for yourself; come up with your own independent worldview. Unless your name is Nietzsche, that’s probably a bad idea. Very few people have the genius or time to come up with a comprehensive and rigorous worldview.

If you go out there armed only with your own observations and sentiments, you will surely find yourself on very weak ground. You’ll lack the arguments, convictions and the coherent view of reality that you’ll need when challenged by a self-confident opposition. This is more or less what happened to Jefferson Bethke.

The paradox of reform movements is that, if you want to defy authority, you probably shouldn’t think entirely for yourself. You should attach yourself to a counter-tradition and school of thought that has been developed over the centuries and that seems true.

The old leftists had dialectical materialism and the Marxist view of history. Libertarians have Hayek and von Mises. Various spiritual movements have drawn from Transcendentalism, Stoicism, Gnosticism, Thomism, Augustine, Tolstoy, or the Catholic social teaching that inspired Dorothy Day.

These belief systems helped people envision alternate realities. They helped people explain why the things society values are not the things that should be valued. They gave movements a set of organizing principles. Joining a tradition doesn’t mean suppressing your individuality. Applying an ancient tradition to a new situation is a creative, stimulating and empowering act. Without a tradition, everything is impermanence and flux.

Most professors would like their students to be more rebellious and argumentative. But rebellion without a rigorous alternative vision is just a feeble spasm.

If I could offer advice to a young rebel, it would be to rummage the past for a body of thought that helps you understand and address the shortcomings you see. Give yourself a label. If your college hasn’t provided you with a good knowledge of countercultural viewpoints — ranging from Thoreau to Maritain — then your college has failed you and you should try to remedy that ignorance.

Effective rebellion isn’t just expressing your personal feelings. It means replacing one set of authorities and institutions with a better set of authorities and institutions. Authorities and institutions don’t repress the passions of the heart, the way some young people now suppose. They give them focus and a means to turn passion into change.

    How to Fight The Man, NYT, 2.2.2012,






Student Faces Town’s Wrath in Protest Against a Prayer


January 26, 2012
The New York Times


CRANSTON, R.I. — She is 16, the daughter of a firefighter and a nurse, a self-proclaimed nerd who loves Harry Potter and Facebook. But Jessica Ahlquist is also an outspoken atheist who has incensed this heavily Roman Catholic city with a successful lawsuit to get a prayer removed from the wall of her high school auditorium, where it has hung for 49 years.

A federal judge ruled this month that the prayer’s presence at Cranston High School West was unconstitutional, concluding that it violated the principle of government neutrality in religion. In the weeks since, residents have crowded school board meetings to demand an appeal, Jessica has received online threats and the police have escorted her at school, and Cranston, a dense city of 80,000 just south of Providence, has throbbed with raw emotion.

State Representative Peter G. Palumbo, a Democrat from Cranston, called Jessica “an evil little thing” on a popular talk radio show. Three separate florists refused to deliver her roses sent from a national atheist group. The group, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, has filed a complaint with the Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights.

“I was amazed,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the foundation, which is based in Wisconsin and has given Jessica $13,000 from support and scholarship funds. “We haven’t seen a case like this in a long time, with this level of revilement and ostracism and stigmatizing.”

The prayer, eight feet tall, is papered onto the wall in the Cranston West auditorium, near the stage. It has hung there since 1963, when a seventh grader wrote it as a sort of moral guide and that year’s graduating class presented it as a gift. It was a year after a landmark Supreme Court ruling barring organized prayer in public schools.

“Our Heavenly Father,” the prayer begins, “grant us each day the desire to do our best, to grow mentally and morally as well as physically, to be kind and helpful.” It goes on for a few more lines before concluding with “Amen.”

For Jessica, who was baptized in the Catholic Church but said she stopped believing in God at age 10, the prayer was an affront. “It seemed like it was saying, every time I saw it, ‘You don’t belong here,’ ” she said the other night during an interview at a Starbucks here.

Since the ruling, the prayer has been covered with a tarp. The school board has indicated it will announce a decision on an appeal next month.

A friend brought the prayer to Jessica’s attention in 2010, when she was a high school freshman. She said nothing at first, but before long someone else — a parent who remained anonymous — filed a complaint with the American Civil Liberties Union. That led the Cranston school board to hold hearings on whether to remove the prayer, and Jessica spoke at all of them. She also started a Facebook page calling for the prayer’s removal (it now has almost 4,000 members) and began researching Roger Williams, who founded Rhode Island as a haven for religious freedom.

Last March, at a rancorous meeting that Judge Ronald R. Lagueux of United States District Court in Providence described in his ruling as resembling “a religious revival,” the school board voted 4-3 to keep the prayer. Some members said it was an important piece of the school’s history; others said it reflected secular values they held dear.

The Rhode Island chapter of the A.C.L.U. then asked Jessica if she would serve as a plaintiff in a lawsuit; it was filed the next month.

New England is not the sort of place where battles over the division of church and state tend to crop up. It is the least religious region of the country, according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. But Rhode Island is an exception: it is the nation’s most Catholic state, and dust-ups over religion are not infrequent. Just last month, several hundred people protested at the Statehouse after Gov. Lincoln Chafee, an independent, lighted what he called a “holiday tree.”

In Cranston, the police said they would investigate some of the threatening comments posted on Twitter against Jessica, some of which came from students at the high school. Pat McAssey, a senior who is president of the student council, said the threats were “completely inexcusable” but added that Jessica had upset some of her classmates by mocking religion online.

“Their frustration kind of came from that,” he said.

Many alumni this week said they did not remember the prayer from their high school days but felt an attachment to it nonetheless.

“I am more of a constitutionalist but find myself strangely on the other side of this,” said Donald Fox, a 1985 graduate of Cranston West. “The prayer banner espouses nothing more than those values which we all hope for our children, no matter what school they attend or which religious background they hail from.”

Brittany Lanni, who graduated from Cranston West in 2009, said that no one had ever been forced to recite the prayer and called Jessica “an idiot.”

“If you don’t believe in that,” she said, “take all the money out of your pocket, because every dollar bill says, ‘In God We Trust.’ ”

Raymond Santilli, whose family owns one of the flower shops that refused to deliver to Jessica, said he declined for safety reasons, knowing the controversy around the case. People from around the world have called to support or attack his decision, which he said he stood by. But of Jessica, he said, “I’ve got a daughter, and I hope my daughter is as strong as she is, O.K.?”

Jessica said she had stopped believing in God when she was in elementary school and her mother fell ill for a time.

“I had always been told that if you pray, God will always be there when you need him,” she said. “And it didn’t happen for me, and I doubted it had happened for anybody else. So yeah, I think that was just like the last step, and after that I just really didn’t believe any of it.”

Does she empathize in any way with members of her community who want the prayer to stay?

“I’ve never been asked this before,” she said. A pause, and then: “It’s almost like making a child get a shot even though they don’t want to. It’s for their own good. I feel like they might see it as a very negative thing right now, but I’m defending their Constitution, too.”


Jen McCaffery contributed reporting.

    Student Faces Town’s Wrath in Protest Against a Prayer, NYT, 26.1.2012,






In Shift, Police Say Leader Helped With Anti-Islam Film

and Now Regrets It


January 24, 2012
The New York Times


The New York City police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, through a top aide, acknowledged for the first time on Tuesday that he personally cooperated with the filmmakers of “The Third Jihad” — a decision the commissioner now describes as a mistake.

The film, which says the goal of “much of Muslim leadership here in America” is to “infiltrate and dominate” the United States, was screened for more than 1,400 officers during training in 2010.

Deputy Commissioner Paul J. Browne told The New York Times on Monday that the filmmakers had relied on old interview clips and had never spoken with the commissioner.

On Tuesday, the film’s producer, Raphael Shore, e-mailed The Times and provided a date and time for their 90-minute interview with the commissioner at Police Headquarters on March 19, 2007. Told of this e-mail, Mr. Browne revised his account.

“He’s right,” Mr. Browne said Tuesday of the producer. “In fact, I recommended in February 2007 that Commissioner Kelly be interviewed.”

In an e-mail, Mr. Browne said that when he first saw the film in 2011, he assumed the commissioner’s interview was taken from old clips, even though the film referred to Mr. Kelly as an “interviewee.” He did not offer an explanation as to why he and the commissioner, on Tuesday, remembered so much of their decision.

The Police Department’s admission suggests a closer relationship between it and the provocative film, which has drawn angry condemnation from Muslim and civil rights groups, than officials had previously acknowledged.

Mr. Browne said that the director of the film, Erik Werth, whom he described as part of an “Emmy-nominated ‘Dateline NBC’ team and Clinton administration staffer on security matters,” asked to speak to the commissioner for a cable film on “foiled terrorist plots and the current threat matrix.”

Mr. Shore, in a follow-up e-mail, cast doubt on this explanation. “Mr. Browne,” he said, “was informed that the interview was for a documentary on radical Islam.”

In any case, Mr. Browne said, the commissioner was not pleased.

“Commissioner Kelly told me today that the video was objectionable,” he said, “and that he should not have agreed to the interview five years ago, when I recommended it.”

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said Tuesday that whoever showed the film to city police officers during training “exercised some terrible judgment.”

“I don’t know who,” he said. “We’ll find out.”

Much about the film remains mysterious, from its financing to how it ended up in a police training center. Tom Robbins, a former Village Voice columnist, first reported in January 2011 that the film was being shown to police officers. At that time, Mr. Browne described it as “wacky” and said it had been shown “a few times” to a relative handful of officers.

The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School filed a Freedom of Information request in April 2011 seeking the release of internal Police Department memos concerning the training. The department responded to part of this request in the last few weeks.

The film, according to these memos, was shown on a “continuous loop” for between three months and a year to officers receiving antiterrorism training. The film, amid images of assassinations, bombings and executions, portrays many mainstream American Muslim leaders as closet radical Islamists, and states that their “primary tactic” is deception.

Mr. Shore, the producer, says that one of the more inflammatory images, of a black and white Muslim flag flying over the White House, was taken from an Islamist Web site.

Police officials stated in the internal memos that the movie apparently was obtained from a midlevel Department of Homeland Security employee, or a contractor for that agency. But although the Brennan Center has requested it, the Police Department has released no information on who made the decision to show the film. Nor has the department divulged how materials are chosen for training, and who vets them.

John Eligon contributed reporting.

    In Shift, Police Say Leader Helped With Anti-Islam Film and Now Regrets It, NYT, 24.1.2012,






In Police Training, a Dark Film on U.S. Muslims


January 23, 2012
The New York Times


Ominous music plays as images appear on the screen: Muslim terrorists shoot Christians in the head, car bombs explode, executed children lie covered by sheets and a doctored photograph shows an Islamic flag flying over the White House.

“This is the true agenda of much of Islam in America,” a narrator intones. “A strategy to infiltrate and dominate America. ... This is the war you don’t know about.”

This is the feature-length film titled “The Third Jihad,” paid for by a nonprofit group, which was shown to more than a thousand officers as part of training in the New York Police Department.

In January 2011, when news broke that the department had used the film in training, a top police official denied it, then said it had been mistakenly screened “a couple of times” for a few officers.

A year later, police documents obtained under the state’s Freedom of Information Law reveal a different reality: “The Third Jihad,” which includes an interview with Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, was shown, according to internal police reports, “on a continuous loop” for between three months and one year of training.

During that time, at least 1,489 police officers, from lieutenants to detectives to patrol officers, saw the film.

News that police trainers showed this film so extensively comes as the department wrestles with its relationship with the city’s large Muslim community. The Police Department offers no apology for aggressively spying on Muslim groups and says it has ferreted out terror plots.

But members of the City Council, civil rights advocates and Muslim leaders say the department, in its zeal, has trampled on civil rights, blurred lines between foreign and domestic spying and sown fear among Muslims.

“The department’s response was to deny it and to fight our request for information,” said Faiza Patel, a director at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School, which obtained the release of the documents through a Freedom of Information request. “The police have shown an explosive documentary to its officers and simply stonewalled us.”

Tom Robbins, a former columnist with The Village Voice, first revealed that the police had screened the film. The Brennan Center then filed its request.

The 72-minute film was financed by the Clarion Fund, a nonprofit group whose board includes a former Central Intelligence Agency official and a deputy defense secretary for President Ronald Reagan. Its previous documentary attacking Muslims’ “war on the West” attracted support from the casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, a major supporter of Israel who has helped reshape the Republican presidential primary by pouring millions of dollars into a so-called super PAC that backs Newt Gingrich.

Commissioner Kelly is listed on the “Third Jihad” Web site as a “featured interviewee.” Paul J. Browne, the Police Department’s chief spokesman, wrote in an e-mail that filmmakers had lifted the clip from an old interview. The commissioner, Mr. Browne said, has not asked the filmmakers to remove him from its Web site, or to clarify that he had not cooperated with them.

None of the documents turned over to the Brennan Center make clear which police officials approved the showing of this film during training. Department lawyers blacked out large swaths of these internal memorandums.

Repeated calls over the past several days to the Clarion Fund, which is based in New York, were not answered. The nonprofit group shares officials with Aish HaTorah, an Israeli organization that opposes any territorial concessions on the West Bank. The producer of “The Third Jihad,” Raphael Shore, also works with Aish HaTorah.

Clarion’s financing is a puzzle. Its federal income tax forms show contributions, grants and revenues typically hover around $1 million annually — except in 2008, when it booked contributions of $18.3 million. That same year, Clarion produced “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West.” The Clarion Fund used its surge in contributions to pay to distribute tens of millions of copies of this DVD in swing electoral states across the country in September 2008.

“The Third Jihad” is quite similar, in style and content, to that earlier film. Narrated by Zuhdi Jasser, a Muslim doctor and former American military officer in Arizona, “The Third Jihad” casts a broad shadow over American Muslims. Few Muslim leaders, it states, can be trusted.

“Americans are being told that many of the mainstream Muslim groups are also moderate,” Mr. Jasser states. “When in fact if you look a little closer, you’ll see a very different reality. One of their primary tactics is deception.”

The film posits that there were three jihads: One at the time of Muhammad, a second in the Middle Ages and a third that is under way covertly throughout the West today.

This is, the film claims, “the 1,400-year war.”

How the film came to be used in police training, and even for how long, was not clear. An undated memorandum from the department’s commanding officer for specialized training noted that an employee of the federal Department of Homeland Security handed the DVD to the New York police in January 2010. Since then, this officer said, the video was shown continuously “during the sign-in, medical and administrative orientation process.” A Department of Homeland Security spokesman said it was never used in its curriculum, and might have come from a contractor.

As it turned out, it was police officers who blew the whistle after watching the film. Late in 2010, Mr. Robbins contacted an officer who spoke of his unease with the film; another officer, said Zead Ramadan, the New York president of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, talked of seeing it during a training session the previous summer. “The officer was completely offended by it as a Muslim,” Mr. Ramadan said. “It defiled our faith and misrepresented everything we stood for.”

When the news broke about the movie last year, Mr. Browne called it a “wacky film” that had been shown “only a couple of times when officers were filling out paperwork before the actual course work began.”

He made no more public comments. Privately, two days later, he asked the Police Academy to determine whether a terrorism awareness training program had used the video, according to the documents.

The academy’s commander reported back on March 23, 2011, that the film had been viewed by 68 lieutenants, 159 sergeants, 31 detectives and 1,231 patrol officers. The department never made those findings public.

And just one week later, the Brennan Center officially requested the same information, starting what turned out to be a nine-month legal battle to obtain it.

“It suggests a broader problem that they refuse to divulge this information much less to discuss it,” Ms. Patel of the Brennan Center said. “The training of the world’s largest city police force is an important question.”

Mr. Browne said he had been unaware of the higher viewership of the film until asked about it by The New York Times last week.

There is the question of the officers who viewed the movie during training. Mr. Browne said the Police Department had no plans to correct any false impressions the movie might have left behind.

“There’s no plan to contact officers who saw it,” he said, or to “add other programming as a result.”

    In Police Training, a Dark Film on U.S. Muslims, NYT, 23.1.2012,






The Theological Differences

Behind Evangelical Unease With Romney


January 14, 2012
The New York Times


The Rev. R. Philip Roberts, the president of a Southern Baptist seminary in Kansas City, Mo., is an evangelist with a particular goal: countering Mormon beliefs.

Mr. Roberts has traveled throughout the United States, and to some countries abroad, preaching that Mormonism is heretical to Christianity. His message is a theological one, but theology is about to land squarely in the middle of the Republican presidential primary campaign.

As the Republican voting moves South, with primaries in South Carolina on Saturday and in Florida on Jan. 31, the religion of Mitt Romney, the front-runner, may be an inescapable issue in many voters’ minds. In South Carolina, where about 60 percent of Republican voters are evangelical Christians, Mr. Romney, a devout Mormon and a former bishop in the church, faces an electorate that has been exposed over the years to preachers like Mr. Roberts who teach that the Mormon faith is apostasy.

Many evangelicals have numerous reasons, other than religion, for objecting to Mr. Romney. But to understand just how hard it is for some to coalesce around his candidacy, it is important to understand the gravity of their theological qualms.

“I don’t have any concerns about Mitt Romney using his position as either a candidate or as president of the United States to push Mormonism,” said Mr. Roberts, an author of “Mormonism Unmasked” and president of the Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, who said he had no plans to travel to South Carolina before the voting. “The concern among evangelicals is that the Mormon Church will use his position around the world as a calling card for legitimizing their church and proselytizing people.”

Mormons consider themselves Christians — as denoted in the church’s name, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Yet the theological differences between Mormonism and traditional Christianity are so fundamental, experts in both say, that they encompass the very understanding of God and Jesus, what counts as Scripture and what happens when people die.

“Mormonism is a distinctive religion,” David Campbell, a Mormon and an associate professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame who specializes in religion and politics. “It’s not the same as Presbyterianism or Methodism. But at the same time, there have been efforts on the part of the church to emphasize the commonality with other Christian faiths, and that’s a tricky balance to strike for the church.”

On the most fundamental issue, traditional Christians believe in the Trinity: that God is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit all rolled into one.

Mormons reject this as a non-biblical creed that emerged in the fourth and fifth centuries. They believe that God the Father and Jesus are separate physical beings, and that God has a wife whom they call Heavenly Mother.

It is not only evangelical Christians who object to these ideas.

“That’s just not Christian,” said the Rev. Serene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary, a liberal Protestant seminary in New York City. “God and Jesus are not separate physical beings. That would be anathema. At the end of the day, all the other stuff doesn’t matter except the divinity of Jesus.”

The Mormon Church says that in the early 1800s, its first prophet, Joseph Smith, had revelations that restored Christianity to its true path, a course correction necessary because previous Christian churches had corrupted the faith. Smith bequeathed to his church volumes of revelations contained in scripture used only by Mormons: “The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ,” “The Doctrine and Covenants” and “Pearl of Great Price.”

Traditional Christians do not recognize any of those as Scripture.

Another big sticking point concerns the afterlife. Early Mormon apostles gave talks asserting that human beings would become like gods and inherit their own planets — language now regularly held up to ridicule by critics of Mormonism.

But Kathleen Flake, a Mormon who is a professor of American religious history at Vanderbilt Divinity School, explained that the planets notion had been de-emphasized in modern times in favor of a less concrete explanation: people who die embark on an “eternal progression” that allows them “to partake in God’s glory.”

“Mormons think of God as a parent,” she said. “God makes the world in order to give that world to his children. It’s like sending your child to Harvard — God gives his children every possible opportunity to progress towards this higher life that God possesses. When Mormons say ‘Heavenly Father,’ they mean it. It’s not a metaphor.”

It is the blurring of the lines between God, Jesus and human beings that is hard for evangelicals to swallow, said Richard J. Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary, an evangelical school in Pasadena, Calif., who has been involved in a dialogue group between evangelicals and Mormons for 12 years and has a deep understanding of theology as Mormons see it.

“Both Christians and Jews, on the basis of our common Scriptures, we’d all agree that God is God and we are not,” Mr. Mouw said. “There’s a huge ontological gap between the Creator and the creature. So any religious perspective that reduces that gap, you think, oh, wow, that could never be called Christian.”

Mormons tend to explain the doctrinal differences more gently. Lane Williams, a Mormon and a professor of communications at Brigham Young University-Idaho, a Mormon institution, said the way he understands it, “it’s not a ‘we’re right and they’re wrong’ kind of approach. But it’s as though we feel we have a broader circle of truth.

“My daily life tries to be about Jesus Christ,” he said. “And in that way, I don’t think I’m much different from my Protestant friends.”

In a Pew poll released in late November, about two-thirds of mainline Protestants and Catholics said Mormonism is Christian, compared with only about a third of white evangelicals. By contrast, 97 percent of Mormons said their religion is Christian in a different Pew poll released this month.

Mr. Mouw said that only a month ago he was called to Salt Lake City to mediate a theological discussion about Mormonism among four evangelical leaders who had collaborated with Mormon leaders to pass the Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage in California. After two and a half days of discussions, the group was divided on Mormon theology, Mr. Mouw said.

“Two concluded that while Mormons are good people, they don’t worship the same God,” Mr. Mouw said. “Two concluded that Mormons love Jesus just as the evangelicals do, and they accepted the Mormons as brothers and sisters in Christ.

“That’s the split,” Mr. Mouw said, “and it’s very basic.”

    The Theological Differences Behind Evangelical Unease With Romney, NYT, 14.1.2012,






Evangelicals, Seeking Unity, Back Santorum for Nomination


January 14, 2012
The New York Times


BRENHAM, Tex. — Evangelical leaders pursued a last-ditch effort on Saturday to exert influence in the Republican presidential primary race, voting to support the candidacy of Rick Santorum in hopes of undercutting Mitt Romney’s march to the nomination.

A week before the South Carolina primary, a group of more than 100 influential Christian conservatives gathered at a ranch here and voted overwhelmingly to rally behind Mr. Santorum. An organizer described the vote as an “unexpected supermajority,” a decision that was intended to help winnow the Republican field and consolidate the opposition to Mr. Romney.

But the broader effect on the contest is less clear, particularly if the Republican field remains fractured. If the support had come earlier in the primary campaign, before Mr. Romney emerged as the leading candidate to beat, it could have had greater impact. In most surveys, Mr. Romney outpaces his rivals when respondents are asked who has the best chance of defeating President Obama.

Mr. Santorum, who fought Mr. Romney to a draw in the Iowa caucuses and has stirred enough concern in the eyes of a pro-Romney group to warrant a negative television ad in South Carolina, beamed when asked about the endorsement at a campaign stop on Saturday.

“They’ve looked at not just what we’ve been able to accomplish during this primary season so far,” Mr. Santorum told reporters in Mount Pleasant, S.C. “But they’ve looked at the track record of someone that’s been a strong, consistent voice across the board on all the conservative issues.”

Conservatives, after finding success in Congressional elections two years ago, are under significant pressure to reassert themselves in hopes of blunting the rise of Mr. Romney, who is derisively referred to by his opponents as a “Massachusetts moderate.” They openly question his consistency on social and fiscal conservatism.

Evangelical leaders, along with many other components of the conservative movement, have been fractured over the race, which contributed to Mr. Romney’s success in Iowa and New Hampshire. But with time running short and Mr. Romney holding considerable advantages, the leaders sought to table their divisions and chose, by a wide margin, to support Mr. Santorum over Newt Gingrich or Gov. Rick Perry of Texas.

The extent to which those attending the meeting will be able to mobilize their followers behind Mr. Santorum remains unclear. The group’s vote is not binding on participants and the leaders did not directly ask Mr. Gingrich or Mr. Perry to drop out of the race.

“There is a hope and an expectation that this will have an impact on South Carolina,” Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council and a spokesman for the group, said in a telephone news conference after the private meeting concluded.

The decision here in Texas came on the eve of the final Sunday church services before the South Carolina primary on Saturday. Mr. Santorum said that he raised $3 million in the last week and expected that the support would likely help him raise even more money and strengthen his campaign organization in the state.

“People are trying to assess not just who’s the most electable conservative, vis-à-vis Mitt Romney, but who’s the most electable, period,” Mr. Santorum said Saturday, adding that he was “not going to call on anybody to drop out of the race.”

The moment that word spread about the decision in Texas, allies of Mr. Gingrich forcefully pushed back against the suggestion that Mr. Santorum won the group’s support outright. They noted that many evangelical leaders remain firmly divided and have little sway over their congregations or members.

The power of the support for Mr. Santorum will be tested over the next seven days in South Carolina. In the Republican presidential primary there four years ago, exit polls found that 60 percent of voters said they considered themselves “born again” or evangelical Christians.

Evangelicals tend to be better informed and more independent that they were a generation ago, when the endorsement from a leader like Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson held huge sway, said Rev. Paul Jimenez, pastor of Taylors First Baptist Church in Greenville, S.C.

“People will take note of what the leaders say, but the days are gone when you could stand up and say this is our guy,” said Mr. Jimenez, who previously worked in Washington for the late Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina. “Evangelicals have so many voices now.”

But organizers of the Texas meeting said they expected to see new endorsements and fund-raising efforts for Mr. Santorum before Republicans in South Carolina vote on Saturday, followed by the Florida primary on Jan 31. Their hope is that if evangelicals unite around one candidate, they can head off the nomination of Mr. Romney, whom they regard as too moderate.

At a forum for Republican presidential candidates in Charleston, S.C., which was broadcast Saturday evening on the Fox News Channel, Mr. Romney refuted the suggestion that he had a moderate record as governor of Massachusetts. He told a woman who said she was an undecided voter, “I don’t know whether in a minute I can convince you, but I have a conservative record.”

Mr. Romney did not mention the decision by the evangelical leaders at a campaign stop Saturday afternoon. A spokeswoman declined to comment.

The meeting in Texas began Friday afternoon at the ranch of Paul and Nancy Pressler, who are longtime patrons of conservative causes. James C. Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family, Donald E. Wildmon, the founder of the American Family Association, and Mr. Perkins were among the organizers.

After an evening and a morning of what Mr. Perkins called “cordial but passionate” discussions, including presentations by advocates for each of the major candidates except former Gov. Jon M. Huntsman Jr. of Utah, the group held a series of three secret ballots.

The field was narrowed to Mr. Santorum and Mr. Gingrich after the first vote. By the third ballot, Mr. Perkins said, 114 people voted, with Mr. Santorum receiving 85 votes to 29 for Mr. Gingrich.

Mr. Perkins declined to explain why participants moved toward Mr. Santorum, other than to praise his consistent record on social and economic issues. In the discussions, Mr. Perkins said, participants were as concerned about repealing Mr. Obama’s health care law and fighting the national debt as they were about abortion and same-sex marriage.

And many evangelicals have said they are bothered not only by Mr. Gingrich’s three marriages, but by his attacks on Mr. Romney’s work in private equity, which they believe amounts to attacks on free enterprise.

In the interest of unity, Mr. Perkins said, some people who had previously supported Mr. Gingrich, or who were on the fence, switched to Mr. Santorum. But he added that perhaps a quarter of the participants continued to support Mr. Gingrich. Mr. Perkins stressed that participants would happily support Mr. Gingrich or Mr. Perry — if they emerged victorious — but he was less certain about Mr. Romney.

Rick Tyler, a longtime adviser to Mr. Gingrich who now runs a “super PAC” supporting the Gingrich campaign, dismissed the vote. He called it “a straw poll that had questionable methodology.”

“Rick has a very good record on evangelical issues, but has no ability to beat Mitt Romney and less so for Barack Obama,” Mr. Tyler said of Mr. Santorum. “Endorsing Rick only serves to help Romney, who has a terrible record on the issues evangelicals care about.”

The shared goal, many participants said, was to see if it would be possible to unite conservative Christians around a single alternative to Mr. Romney and avoid repeating the experience of 2008, when their disarray helped Senator John McCain, whom they considered a moderate, to take the nomination.

“I think in the end,” Mr. Perkins said, “it was not so much what was wrong with one candidate but rather what was right about the one that people ended up rallying around.”


Erik Eckholm reported from Brenham, Tex.,

and Jeff Zeleny from Mount Pleasant, S.C.

Robbie Brown contributed reporting from Sumter, S.C.

    Evangelicals, Seeking Unity, Back Santorum for Nomination, NYT, 14.1.2012,






Struggling, Perry Finds Place Where His Message Sticks


January 11, 2012
The New York Times


GREENVILLE, S.C. — Jack Boyer’s father died when Mr. Boyer was 8. Raised by a single mother, he “lived a wicked life,” married at 19 and, two years later, after “she and the Lord straightened me out,” accepted Jesus Christ as his personal savior. Almost four decades later, he is pastor of a Baptist church in the northwest part of this state.

On Monday evening, Mr. Boyer and his wife drove to Stax’s Original Restaurant here to hear Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, whom he is supporting in the presidential race. “I prayed about my decision about him,” he said. “I already knew what I wanted, and I found it in him.” He cannot think of a single issue, he said, where he disagrees with Mr. Perry.

Mr. Perry is still in the doldrums here in the latest polls, and it is not yet clear whether his recent decision to stay in the presidential race and compete here will prove smart. With poor showings in Iowa, New Hampshire and recent polls, he barely met the hurdle for qualification for the Jan. 19 CNN debate in Charleston, two days before the South Carolina primary.

Despite those setbacks, Mr. Perry seems to have found in South Carolina a place where he can connect with some crowds, with stump speeches, sometimes before a hundred people, that preach reverence for Jesus Christ and for the military. He appears looser and more confident than he has been for some time, perhaps since the days when he was considered a front-runner, which ended with his string of poor debate performances.

Now, though, he has more humor and humility as he courts the votes of South Carolinians. He recounts a journey from “walking down the aisle of my church and giving my heart to Jesus Christ when I was 14 years old” to “standing up for the Ten Commandments on the grounds of our Capitol in Texas.”

“The fight never ends,” he says.

It is a contrast to his experience in New Hampshire. There, despite an investment of time and effort, he often got skeptical questions, charmed some but won over few, limped out of the state weeks before Tuesday’s primary and received fewer than 2,000 votes.

In Iowa, where social conservatives are more powerful, he drew crowds in rural areas, but even after hearing him speak, many folks would still tick off all their options — Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich — unsure of their choice.

Here, though, the crowds who have come to see him the past few days in the more socially conservative parts of the state have seemed to like more of what he believes in. That often has had more to do with how he and his wife, Anita, come across personally than with any particular piece of policy.

“What you see is what you get, and he stands on the same foundation that I stand on,” said Patty Whetsell, a Republican activist in Greenville who was at Stax’s. “He acknowledges God in his life, and without God, where would we be? He’s not like some pastors who think they own their church. He acknowledges those around him. And his wife is a great asset. She’s submissive to him, as she should be.”

While the warmer reception may be lifting his spirits, the question is whether it will boost his electoral prospects, still spiraling downward as of the latest poll: last week a survey by CNN, Time and ORC International found that he had just 5 percent of support from likely South Carolina primary voters, compared with 8 percent a month earlier. That drop is all the more surprising because Mrs. Bachmann, who had also invested a lot of time here and was thought to have similar appeal to social conservatives, left the race before the survey was conducted.

Part of the explanation is plain: many of Mrs. Bachmann’s supporters — and, it would seem, some of Mr. Perry’s, too — have migrated to Rick Santorum. In response, Mr. Perry has been attacking Mr. Santorum as the “King of Earmarks.” He has also outdone another rival, Newt Gingrich, in delivering the most caustic attack on Mitt Romney’s leveraged-buyout career, calling him a “vulture” who picked the bones of companies clean.

Mr. Perry still has influential Republican backers here working for him, including Representative Mick Mulvaney and the former state party chairman Katon Dawson, and a small-government, hawkish platform that should play well with a lot of voters here. But even so, others in the party say, the debates will most likely prove too much to live down.

“A lot of South Carolinians were eager to like him, but then they got a good look in those early debates and decided that he wasn’t presidential timber,” said Chad Walldorf, a business owner who helped lead the transition team of Gov. Nikki R. Haley, who has endorsed Mr. Romney. “You get one chance to make a first impression.”

Mr. Perry will not say whether he will pull out of the race, as is widely expected, if he has another poor showing at the Jan. 21 primary. “That’s trying to call the game in the first quarter,” he said, adding, “I’m not here to come in second.”

    Struggling, Perry Finds Place Where His Message Sticks, NYT, 11.1.2012,






Mormons Uneasy in the Spotlight


January 12, 2012
The New York Times


A new poll of Mormons in the United States finds that while one of their own is making unprecedented progress in a bid for the presidency, many feel uneasy in the spotlight, misunderstood and unaccepted in the American mainstream.

Despite this, a majority of the Mormons polled said they believed that acceptance of Mormonism was rising and that the American people were ready to elect a Mormon as president. It is a sunny outlook for a religion that is consistently ranked near the bottom, along with Muslims and atheists, on favorability surveys of various groups.

“On the one hand, Mormons do feel they are discriminated against, and that their coverage in the news and, even more so, in popular culture isn’t helping,” said David Campbell, associate professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame and a Mormon who served as a consultant on the poll. “But you also find this strain of optimism that things are going to get better and this is an important moment for Mormonism.”

The survey of more than 1,000 Mormons by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life was conducted between Oct. 25 and Nov. 16, 2011, by landline and cellphone and has a margin of error of plus or minus five percentage points.

Mormons make up less than 2 percent of the American population.

In a church known for its energetic young missionaries, three out of four Mormon respondents were raised in the faith, and about one in four were converts.

Two-thirds of the Mormons polled described themselves as politically conservative (compared with 37 percent of American adults), and 74 percent of them said they were either registered Republicans or lean toward the G.O.P. (That compares with 45 percent of American adults over all.)

Mitt Romney, who is leading in the Republican presidential contest, is resoundingly popular among Mormons, rated favorably even by 62 percent of the Mormon registered voters who said they were Democrats or leaned that way. The reason?

“He’s seen as more than just a political candidate,” Mr. Campbell said. “He’s a path breaker for the faith.”

Other Mormon politicians did not fare as well, though, perhaps because they are perceived as too liberal or because they are not as well known: Jon M. Huntsman Jr., the former governor of Utah who is also seeking the Republican nomination, was perceived favorably by half of Mormons in the poll who are registered voters.

Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, a Democrat from Nevada, was rated favorably by only 22 percent.

Nearly all Mormons in the survey, 97 percent, said they considered Mormonism to be a Christian religion. That stands in stark contrast to the general public, of whom just over half agree. But a vast majority of Mormons in the poll said they believed in Mormon doctrines that were distinctive from traditional Christian churches: 94 percent said they believed that the president of the church is a prophet of God, and 95 percent said they believed that families can be bound together eternally in temple ceremonies. Only 22 percent said that some teachings of the Mormon church “are hard for me to believe.”

Mormons are more devout than those of other faiths, the survey found. Three out of four said they attended religious services at least weekly, while four out of five said they prayed at least once a day and tithed the required 10 percent of their income to the church each year.

Gregory Smith, senior researcher at the Pew Forum, said, “That is a level of religious commitment that is much, much higher than we see among the public as a whole, and is even higher than we see among other religious groups with high levels of religious commitment,” like white evangelicals and black Protestants.

“Mormons and evangelicals have a fair amount in common with each other,” Mr. Smith said. “Large numbers in both groups are politically conservative, are Republican and are religiously committed.

“Despite that,” he said, “Mormons perceive a fair amount of hostility directed at them from evangelicals.”

Half of the Mormons polled agreed that evangelical Christians were “unfriendly toward Mormons,” compared with 22 percent who said that “people who are not religious” were unfriendly.

    Mormons Uneasy in the Spotlight, NYT, 12.1.2012,






Religious Groups Given ‘Exception’ to Work Bias Law


January 11, 2012
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — In what may be its most significant religious liberty decision in two decades, the Supreme Court on Wednesday for the first time recognized a “ministerial exception” to employment discrimination laws, saying that churches and other religious groups must be free to choose and dismiss their leaders without government interference.

“The interest of society in the enforcement of employment discrimination statutes is undoubtedly important,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote in a decision that was surprising in both its sweep and its unanimity. “But so, too, is the interest of religious groups in choosing who will preach their beliefs, teach their faith and carry out their mission.”

The decision gave only limited guidance about how courts should decide who counts as a minister, saying the court was “reluctant to adopt a rigid formula.” Two concurring opinions offered contrasting proposals.

Whatever its precise scope, the ruling will have concrete consequences for countless people employed by religious groups to perform religious work. In addition to ministers, priests, rabbis and other religious leaders, the decision appears to encompass, for instance, at least those teachers in religious schools with formal religious training who are charged with instructing students about religious matters.

Douglas Laycock, a law professor at the University of Virginia who argued the case on behalf of the defendant, a Lutheran school, said the upshot of the ruling was likely to be that “substantial religious instruction is going to be enough.”

Asked about professors at Catholic universities like Notre Dame, Professor Laycock said: “If he teaches theology, he’s covered. If he teaches English or physics or some clearly secular subjects, he is clearly not covered.”

The case, Hosanna-Tabor Church v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, No. 10-553, was brought by Cheryl Perich, who had been a teacher at a school in Redford, Mich., that was part of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the second-largest Lutheran denomination in the United States. Ms. Perich said she was fired for pursuing an employment discrimination claim based on a disability, narcolepsy.

Ms. Perich had taught mostly secular subjects but also taught religion classes and attended chapel with her class.

“It is true that her religious duties consumed only 45 minutes of each workday,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote, “and that the rest of her day was devoted to teaching secular subjects.”

“The issue before us, however, is not one that can be resolved with a stopwatch,” he wrote.

Instead, the court looked to several factors. Ms. Perich was a “called” teacher who had completed religious training and whom the school considered a minister. She was fired, the school said, for violating religious doctrine by pursuing litigation rather than trying to resolve her dispute within the church.

The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said Wednesday’s decision could have pernicious consequences, by, for instance, barring suits from pastors who are sexually harassed.

“Blatant discrimination is a social evil we have worked hard to eradicate in the United States,” he said in a statement. “I’m afraid the court’s ruling today will make it harder to combat.”

Bishop William E. Lori, chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ ad hoc committee for religious liberty, called the ruling “a great day for the First Amendment.”

“This decision,” he said in a statement, “makes resoundingly clear the historical and constitutional importance of keeping internal church affairs off limits to the government — because whoever chooses the minister chooses the message.”

Chief Justice Roberts devoted several pages of his opinion to a history of religious freedom in Britain and the United States, concluding that an animating principle behind the First Amendment’s religious liberty clauses was to prohibit government interference in the internal affairs of religious groups generally and in their selection of their leaders in particular.

“The Establishment Clause prevents the government from appointing ministers,” he wrote, “and the Free Exercise Clause prevents it from interfering with the freedom of religious groups to select their own.”

The decision was a major victory for a broad range of national religious denominations that had warned that the case was a threat to their First Amendment rights and their autonomy to decide whom to hire and fire. Some religious leaders had said they considered it the most important religious freedom case to go to the Supreme Court in decades.

Many religious groups were outraged when the Obama administration argued in support of Ms. Perich, saying this was evidence that the administration was hostile to historically protected religious liberties.

The administration had told the justices that their analysis of Ms. Perich’s case should be essentially the same whether she had been employed by a church, a labor union, a social club or any other group with free-association rights under the First Amendment. That position received withering criticism when the case was argued in October, and it was soundly rejected in Wednesday’s decision.

“That result is hard to square with the text of the First Amendment itself, which gives special solicitude to the rights of religious organizations,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote. “We cannot accept the remarkable view that the religion clauses have nothing to say about a religious organization’s freedom to select its own ministers.”

Requiring Ms. Perich to be reinstated “would have plainly violated the church’s freedom,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote. And so would awarding her and her lawyers money, he went on, as that “would operate as a penalty on the church for terminating an unwanted minister.”

In a concurrence, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the courts should get out of the business of trying to decide who qualifies for the ministerial exception, leaving the determination to religious groups.

“The question whether an employee is a minister is itself religious in nature, and the answer will vary widely,” he wrote. “Judicial attempts to fashion a civil definition of ‘minister’ through a bright-line test or multifactor analysis risk disadvantaging those religious groups whose beliefs, practices and membership are outside of the ‘mainstream’ or unpalatable to some.”

In a second concurrence, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., joined by Justice Elena Kagan, wrote that it would be a mistake to focus on ministers, a title he said was generally used by Protestant denominations and “rarely if ever” by Roman Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Hindus or Buddhists. Nor, Justice Alito added, should the concept of ordination be at the center of the analysis.

Rather, he wrote, the exception “should apply to any ‘employee’ who leads a religious organization, conducts worship services or important religious ceremonies or rituals, or serves as a messenger or teacher of its faith.”

At the argument in October, some justices expressed concern that a sweeping ruling would protect religious groups from lawsuits by workers who said they were retaliated against for, say, reporting sexual abuse.

Chief Justice Roberts wrote that Wednesday’s decision left the possibility of criminal prosecution and other protections in place.

“There will be time enough to address the applicability of the exception to other circumstances,” he wrote, “if and when they arise.”


Laurie Goodstein contributed reporting from New York.

    Religious Groups Given ‘Exception’ to Work Bias Law, NYT, 11.1.2012,






New York’s Next Cardinal


January 6, 2012
The New York Times


IT is not a good time for the Roman Catholic Church in America, but Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, the cardinal-designate of New York, has made it his mission to remind people that there is more to the church than scandal. Taping his weekly radio show last month, he praised the beauty of a recent church service in Yonkers and recounted an emotional visit to the solitary confinement wing at Rikers Island.

At the heart of this charm offensive was the man himself — big, earthy, unexpected and frequently funny. While he gives no ground on doctrinal issues, he also makes it clear that weakness is human.

Archbishop Dolan, the head of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, did so on Friday morning, at a news conference announcing his elevation to cardinal, when he joked, patting his belly, that he hoped his new role would elevate his message, “not my weight or blood pressure.” And he did so during the radio taping, when he spent several minutes extolling the deliciousness of a box of fancy French pastries that a producer had brought him as a gift.

“I am going to give these to a hungry person,” Archbishop Dolan said, as one would expect of a man wearing a huge pectoral cross and a white clerical collar. “Namely me at about 4 o’clock.”

It was classic Archbishop Dolan humor: self-deprecating and unself-conscious. He can fill a room with his sonorous belly laugh and catch people off-guard with a one-liner.

Pope Benedict XVI plans to make Archbishop Dolan a cardinal at a ceremony on Feb. 18 in Rome, giving him the red hat that signifies his new stature as a prince of the church. But even now, two and a half years after Archbishop Dolan arrived at the helm of the New York Archdiocese, his personality is not well known outside of religious circles. And the question remains whether this distracted, liberal, scandal-weary city is willing to listen to a conservative voice even as entertaining as his.

Since arriving in New York from Milwaukee, Archbishop Dolan, who was raised in Ballwin, Mo., has most often caught the public’s attention as the traditional unyielding Catholic voice of “no” — to same-sex marriage, to abortion and to sex education in public schools. His show, “A Conversation With the Archbishop,” which is broadcast on Sirius XM satellite radio, is an attempt to change that. It uses a modern talk-show format, with an Ed McMahon-like sidekick and guests, and features the archbishop’s booming bass voice and interest in subjects as varied as the Sept. 11 attacks and exorcism, along with jokes when the tone gets heavy.

“In our big cities, there are very often more coven groups than there are Catholic schools, parishes and rectories put together,” the Rev. Dennis D. McManus, the archdiocese’s special adviser on demonic possession, warned on a show broadcast one Thanksgiving.

“Good Lord, I’ve been to some of them for dinner,” the archbishop said. “But go ahead.”

There is trendy theme music (“City of Blinding Lights,” by U2). And after his regular sign-on, “Praise be Jesus Christ,” the 6-foot-3, barrel-chested archbishop finds ways to work in regular jabs about his own weight (“I’m the only guy that breaks a sweat while he’s eating”), his ratings (“my mother is my only listener”) and his Irish heritage (“I tried to trace my family roots in Ireland, but I got so embarrassed that I had to stop. It was not a pretty picture.”).

His humor is both authentic and strategic, as he readily acknowledges. His hope is that by highlighting the ebullience he finds at the heart of the faith, he will win back some of the nation’s millions of straying or ex-Catholics. “Happiness attracts,” he often says.

But his goal is even larger: to be a force for restoring the image of the Catholic Church in America in the wake of the sexual abuse crisis.

“What weighs on me the most,” he said in an interview in December, “is the caricature of the Catholic Church as crabby, nay-saying, down in the dumps, discouraging, on the run. And I’m thinking if there is anything that should be upbeat, affirming, positive, joyful, it should be people of faith.”

Or, as he recently said on the show to the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest who writes about the importance of humor: “We priests, and religious sisters and brothers, sometimes give the impression of being crabs, that we are burdened, and that things are so bad. And who would want to join that?”

Archbishop Dolan signaled his gregarious, folksy style from the start of his appointment as New York’s 10th archbishop, asking reporters to identify themselves at his first news conference “ ’cause I should get to know ya,” and talking about what he was “thinkin’ ” and “hopin’.”

Archbishop Dolan’s elevation to cardinal was not unexpected — most of his predecessors over the past century have been similarly honored by the church. But Archbishop Dolan’s style is a striking shift from that of the man he replaced, Cardinal Edward M. Egan, who was known as a no-nonsense and at times aloof administrator during his tenure overseeing the New York Archdiocese, from 2000 to 2009. The last charismatic figure to lead the archdiocese was Cardinal John J. O’Connor, from 1984 to 2000, whose eloquence in expressing the church’s views made him a major figure in the life of the city and beyond.

Catholicism in the key of joy is not an easy sell. Archbishop Dolan is a rising star within the Catholic Church in America — even before his elevation to cardinal, he was the elected president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. But reframing the church’s public image will take much more than a radio show on the archdiocese-run satellite Catholic Channel, which reaches only those already interested enough to tune in.

“Among Catholic insiders, Dolan is a huge hit,” said John L. Allen, a correspondent for The National Catholic Reporter who recently wrote a book about the archbishop. “But the problem for Dolan is that he has aspirations beyond just playing to that insider crowd. And at that level, he’s got to find a way to make himself visible in the national conversation on something other than the controversial policies” of the church on issues like abortion and same-sex marriage.

In Milwaukee, his last post before New York, Archbishop Dolan had more time to mingle at parish events and baseball games, reaching out to parishioners in a city reeling from the sex-abuse crisis and another scandal: The archbishop’s predecessor, Rembert G. Weakland, had resigned after admitting to an affair with a man whom the archdiocese later paid $450,000.

It was there that Archbishop Dolan began experimenting with using the airwaves for evangelism, starting out with 60-second radio messages around the holidays, and later appearing as a guest on a morning talk show hosted by his brother Bob, a professional radio personality. Later, the two brothers hosted an occasional Sunday television show, “Living Our Faith,” that featured discussions of the Gospel and a taste of the good-natured ribbing they learned at their large Irish-American family’s dinner table growing up.

“There is no need to stand on a soapbox in Milwaukee,” Bob Dolan said in an interview. “He was just an approachable guy.”

But the New York Archdiocese, which includes Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island, as well as several suburban counties, counts 2.6 million Catholics in its borders — compared with 630,000 in Milwaukee — and Archbishop Dolan’s public image here is “still a work in progress,” the archbishop said.

“It’s tough to get your arms around New York,” he said in his elongated Midwestern accent, pronouncing the name of his new hometown as New Yaark. “It’s tough to embrace, because it’s so diverse, it’s so expansive, it’s so big.”

His biggest frustration, he said, is that between the national job and demands from Rome, he does not have as much time locally as he would like. And once the archbishop becomes a cardinal, his travel duties will grow significantly, as he takes on the increasing global workload of a higher-ranking church leader.

“Periodically, you just want to say, ‘Let me just stay here, will ya?’ ” he said.

Sirius XM says it does not track ratings for the archbishop’s show, which airs Thursdays at noon on Channel 129 and is rebroadcast several times each weekend. But Archbishop Dolan said he thought of the show as a way to chat informally with the public, picturing himself at their kitchen tables.

The tone can be stern, as when he describes the threat to religious liberty he sees in the government’s taking government contracts away from Catholic charities for refusing to offer adoption services to same-sex couples. “We see within our culture a drive to neuter religion, to push it back into the sacristy,” he said. “And, gosh darn it, we are worried about it.”

But in the banter with the Rev. Dave Dwyer, his co-host, and their guests, some of them famous, like Martin Sheen, he also talks about why he hates the rose vestments he must wear on the third Sunday of Advent: “I felt like a bottle of Pepto-Bismol,” he said. And he waxes rhapsodic about his favorite sandwich: fresh bologna with mustard, pickles and cheese on rye bread. “In fact, I like a little cream cheese. Mmmm,” he told listeners in November.

Ever the faithful Catholic, he is quick to stress that humor — and the faith and hope he says undergird it — is a gift from above. And humor is present at even the highest level of the church, Archbishop Dolan said, illustrating that assertion with a story about his visit to Pope John Paul II in 2004 to report on the state of the Milwaukee Archdiocese.

“I said: ‘Holy Father, we have good news. The Archdiocese of Milwaukee is growing,’ ” he said.

The pope stopped and said — and here the archbishop switched into an impression of the pope’s throaty Polish accent — “So is its archbishop.”

Then the archbishop let out his signature belly laugh, as if to prove the pope’s point.

“I said, ‘Holy Father,’ ” he continued, “ ‘please assure me that is not an infallible statement.’ ”

    New York’s Next Cardinal, NYT, 6.1.2012,






Catholic Church Unveils New Home for Ex-Episcopalians


January 1, 2012
The New York Times


Opening its doors more widely to disaffected Episcopalians, the Roman Catholic Church has established the equivalent of a nationwide diocese in the United States that former Episcopal priests and congregations can enter together as intact groups, the Vatican announced Sunday.

Converts who join the new entity will be full-fledged Catholics, expected to show allegiance to the pope and oppose contraception and abortion. But they will be allowed to preserve revered verses from the Book of Common Prayer. And, in what one Catholic leader called “an act of generosity,” priests who are married will be exempted from the Catholic requirement of celibacy, though they may not become bishops.

The new grouping, called the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, will have its headquarters in Houston and be led by Jeffrey N. Steenson, a former Episcopal bishop and father of three who left the church in 2007 and became a Catholic priest in 2009, under an existing exemption for converting Anglicans.

With the title of ordinary, Father Steenson will be a member of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and will report directly to the Vatican, church officials said.

Catholic leaders and some former Episcopalians are celebrating the announcement as a small but notable event in an often tortuous history of relations between the Vatican and the Anglican Church, which includes the Episcopalians, after their break in the 16th century.

The Episcopal Church is the main American branch of the Anglican Communion, a loose global body whose symbolic head is the archbishop of Canterbury, head of the Church of England. It has been shaken by discord from conservatives who object to the ordination of female priests, the acceptance of bishops with homosexual partners and changes in the liturgy.

While it involved only a small fraction of the Episcopal Church in the United States, which has more than 7,000 priests and two million members, dozens of entire parishes have broken away to join alternative Anglican branches. Many do not want to become Catholics but a share of disaffected Episcopalians are seeking to convert, something they say they have long dreamed about.

“I’m excited about the opportunity for those who, for the most part, are already with the Catholic Church in their hearts,” Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, said in an interview. The cardinal supervised planning of the ordinariate.

Since the Vatican’s grant of an exemption from celibacy in 1980, scores of Episcopal priests have joined the Catholic priesthood, remaining married. The new ordinariate will allow priests and their existing congregations to switch en masse, establishing new parishes with an Anglican flavor. Unmarried Anglican priests who join the ordinariate will not be allowed to marry later on.

So far, more than 100 priests and groups of members totaling more than 1,320, including six congregations of 70 or more, have asked to join the ordinariate, said Father Scott Hurd, a Catholic priest in Washington, D.C., and a former Episcopalian who helped design the new system.

Father Steenson said he expected more former Episcopalians to join after they saw how the new group operated. He said that he personally had always longed for closer ties with the Catholics, a feeling that only intensified as the Episcopal Church broke with tradition on female priests and acceptance of homosexuality, dividing the churches further. But he is also overjoyed to preserve elements of the Anglican liturgy, he said. The expectation is that this parallel structure will continue indefinitely.

When the Vatican authorized creation of these entities in 2009, some Anglican leaders, especially in England, expressed concern that it was trying to take advantage of their turmoil. In England, where a similar grouping was formed last year, about 60 priests and more than 1,000 members have joined so far.

But Cardinal Wuerl and Father Hurd said that the system was developed in response to a growing demand.

“There have been Anglican groups requesting this for 30 years,” Father Hurd said. “This is not an effort at poaching or sheep-stealing.”

Charles K. Robertson, canon to the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, in New York, said that the reports of departures from the church were often exaggerated. He noted that the numbers expected to join the Catholics were small and that in recent decades a steady stream of Catholics, frustrated by restrictions on women and marriage, had joined the Episcopal Church.

Catholic leaders said they did not believe that the presence of married priests, most of whom will work in the parallel system of the ordinariate, would sow discord within the church.

“It’s been very clear to everyone that these married priests will be an exception, that celibacy remains the norm,” said Father Hurd. “It’s an act of generosity to these communities so they can come in with their pastors, and maintain the bond that has developed between them.”

Cardinal Wuerl said, “The commitment to celibate clergy in the Latin church is a very deeply rooted, long-lived tradition.” Future seminary applicants who want to enter the ordinariate must commit to celibacy, so married priests will disappear over time, he said.

Charles Hough III, 57, of Fort Worth, an Episcopal priest of 31 years, has been unhappy with liberal trends and warring factions in the Episcopal Church. In 2008, he joined a rival Anglican domination, but he has dreamed for years of leading his congregation into the Roman Catholic Church, he said in an interview.

“This is something we have been praying for,” he said of the ordinariate.

He resigned his Anglican post in March and became a Catholic, along with 30 followers. Like dozens of other former Episcopal priests who have already applied, he will start an online class in Roman Catholic theology and procedures in late January, and hopes to be ordained in June.

In the meantime, Mr. Hough leads prayer services for his small congregation at a makeshift church in Cleburne, Tex., just south of Fort Worth. In conservative Forth Worth, where almost the entire diocese left the mainstream Episcopal Church a few years ago, at least four different congregations, including Mr. Hough’s, are now seeking to join the ordinariate and become new Catholic parishes.

Many of these were already, like Mr. Hough, steeped in the “Anglo-Catholic” wing of Anglicans, which has long hoped for reunification with Rome.

“It’s a joy to be able to embrace the fullness of the church,” Mr. Hough said. “God is repairing his church.”

Mr. Hough, who has been married for 38 years, has a son, Charles Hough IV, who is also a former Episcopal priest now seeking ordination as a Catholic. The son, who is 30, married and has two small children, previously led an Episcopal church of 70 but is now teaching catechism, as a layman, in a Catholic church of 10,000 in Forth Worth. He expects that he will keep working at that church after he is ordained.

Working alongside celibate priests, the son said, he had detected no resentment. “Both of us see the sacrifices and the graces of each side,” he said. A celibate priest has more time for religious duties and devotion, he said, while a married man faces “a balancing act with the family.”

“There will be a time-management factor,” he said.

Catholic Church Unveils New Home for Ex-Episcopalians, NYT, 1.1.2012,




home Up